The controversy over Rand Paul's comments about the Civil Rights
Act shows a major misunderstanding of freedom and the road to racial
Fresh from his victory in last week's Kentucky Republican
senatorial primary, Rand Paul found himself caught in a whirlwind
when MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asked whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act
properly outlawed racial segregation at privately owned lunch
counters. Speaking circuitously if not evasively, Mr. Paul finally
"[O]ne of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to
be boorish and uncivilized. But that doesn't mean we approve of it."
So although he supports striking down segregationist state Jim
Crow laws, he objected to Title II of the Act, outlawing racial
discrimination in "public accommodations." "Had I been around I
would have tried to modify that," he said.
However, after a torrent of media and blogospheric criticism, he
changed course, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "I would have voted
yes.... I think that there was an overriding problem in the South,
so big that it did require federal intervention in the sixties."
Which Rand Paul had it right?
The first one. Had he known and related the full story, he could
have avoided the metamorphosis.
I write as a libertarian, something Rand Paul claims not to be.
The essence of the libertarian philosophy is that each person owns
him- or herself and whatever belongings he or she honestly acquires.
Thus individuals are due freedom of association and, logically, non-
association. It also follows that the owner of property should be
free to set the rules of use, the only constraint being that the
owner may not use aggressive force against others.
Admittedly, that leaves room for loathsome peaceful behavior,
such as running a whites-only lunch counter. Who imagined that
freedom of association couldn't have its ugly side?
Nevertheless, individuals are either free to do anything peaceful
or they are not. If politicians decide, we have arbitrary
government. But government is force, and force is moral only in
response to force.
Some champions of Title II acknowledge the opponents' consistency
with the libertarian principle but suspect it is motivated by
racism. Logically, that is absurd. Even if every racist invoked
libertarian grounds for opposing laws mandating desegregation in
private establishments, it would not follow that everyone who
invokes libertarian grounds is a racist. (Southern racists were
hardly libertarians; they supported government-mandated
Libertarian opponents of Title II are also accused of being so
unmoved by racial bigotry that they are blind to the importance of
Title II. But there is no inconsistency in abhorring bigotry and
opposing a government-based solution.
A final charge made against Title II opponents - from left and
right - is that they are so obsessed with doctrinal purity that they
ignore real-world consequences, abominable as those may be. The
premise here is, as Maddow put it, "[U]nless it's illegal . …