Saturday, May 22, 2010

Libertarians and Civil Rights

I must thank a friend of mine for making this post possible because my discourse with her is what motivated it. By now, most everyone has heard of the bruhaha over Rand Paul's interview with Rachel Maddow over the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I do not want to rehash the interview, so I will just show it here.

According to some critics, including one prominent ex-Marxist, all of this means nothing because the libertarians have no chance of taking up the Civil Rights Act anyway. To others, it merely illustrates that Rand Paul is inarticulate, and really not as threatening as a liberal with cruise missiles or a moderate president (an issue worth a post on another day). After all, the libertarians want to dismantle the war on drugs, which disproportionately targets African Americans.* And of course there are those defenders who will claim that the criticism is reductionist because Paul and the libertarians are not racist, just believers in the principle of the private ownership of property.

This posturing on Rand Paul to show some kind of post-civil rights understanding of libertarianism is at best overthinking, at worst the type of revisionism that has left the civil rights movement out of the next generation of school text books, courtesy the Texas state board of education. People are losing the big picture on civil rights. It does not matter if the libertarians are intentionally racist (they are probably the few ones on the right who for the most part are not). The result is what matters. 87% of Mississippians in 1964 voted for Goldwater because of his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, and Goldwater then was considered someone who only defended it on the grounds of proprietorship--that somehow this should make it all better, since the representative does not personally hate the group he thinks his constituents should have the legal right to oppress. No, it does not.

This is why I so objected to Ron Paul. Like most white Southerners, his views on slavery and the Civil War betray a complete lack of understanding of the inhumanity of the institution and the people who suffered under it. Moreover, Rep. Paul voted against the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, claiming it violates states' rights, in spite of the fact almost all of the voter suppression of black voters continue to be in the Deep South--meaning we are not living in some distant, post-civil rights era (these issues are ongoing, as well as the mindset and attitudes of the perpetrators).

Some of these posters, and that includes the ex-Marxist-turned-libertarian lemming, treat this stuff as ancient history, or to others that it somehow only dealt with blacks in some bygone era. The war against civil rights goes far beyond the 1960s, but relates perfectly with what is going on in Arizona as I write--the purposeful targeting of Latinos, setting up a system of internal passports, kicking out babies born in the US or refusing to recognize their citizenship (in violation of our Constitution). And yes, dear apologists who never have to live through this discrimination, Rand Paul is an exponent of this xenophobia, the one form of federal law (even though it is not in our Constitution) he wants to zealously enforce.

What is transpiring in this country is the release of that white frustration and fear of our coming minority (an attitude exacerbated by the 2008 elections), and if the ex-Marxist and his libertarian friends think Rand is harmless on civil rights because the political system will never take it up, he needs to ask himself how Arizona's anti-immigration law happened, or how over 30 members of Congress (all white and almost all from the South), voted against reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (including everyone's favorite representative in Texas). Or how the same forces are giving bulwark support for rewriting the 14th Amendment, which they oppose anyway (along with the other Reconstruction amendments), to expel the babies born to Mexican mothers in the US. Views have consequences, especially when people with those kinds of beliefs get elected to positions of power.

All of this strikes at the greatest weakness of libertarianism, the core of its ideology, which is the equation of freedom with ownership. But ownership does not necessarily correlate with freedom. If it did, then the slaveholders were the embodiment of liberty. Freedom is about human dignity, which at times violates the principles of ownership (be it a living wage, health care, right to collectively bargain), something no libertarian can ever concede. Like with the neo-liberals, for libertarians we are nothing more than commodities, to be privatized, individualized, and bought and sold.

* For the war on drugs, concerned parties need to pay closer attention to what Rand and Ron Paul say. They are not in favor of full legalization or eliminating our prison industrial complex. They just believe these are matters are best left to the states, not the federal government. Nevertheless, the largest jailer is not the federal government, but our states, something which few libertarians ever criticize or write about.

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