This op-ed of mine is back from July 2004 (from my old blog), when the U.S. Congress hailed the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Ac and. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) was the lone dissenter. It remains applicable now that Rand Paul, Rep. Paul’s son who is running for the U.S. Senate, is back and forth regarding the Civil Rights Act. I argue that a lack of a moral dimension for liberty (especially when it comes to black folks) is a libertarian Achilles heel:
Last week, Congress hailed the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a libertarian Republican, was the only dissenter. Rep. Paul argues that the CRA didn’t improve race relations or enhance individual freedom, but instead dictated “forced integration.” This is where I part ways with most white libertarians. Reading this piece reminded me of comments by Michael Bowen, a black Republican, hoping that “black libertarians could neutralize some of [Libertarians'] post-modernist yuppie crap in the process.” This is one of those times.
Rep. Paul acts as if there was no conflict before CRA. Did the “racial strife” & “racial balkanization” (Rep. Paul’s words) caused by denial of freedom under Jim Crow mean nothing? If I met Rep. Paul, I would ask: what about blacks’ individual freedom? Those of whites who wanted to associate with blacks? Here we have Jim Crow’s massive human rights violations — the state as evil oppressor, tyranny running rampant in the South — and yet libertarian capitulation and appeasement. Why?
I would ask Rep. Paul why black taxpayers should’ve paid for public facilities or government activities which we couldn’t access. Why blatant violation of voting rights – taxation without representation – was OK, under “states’ rights.” Or why it was OK for states to outlaw boycotts and civil rights groups like the NAACP, thus violating freedom of peaceful assembly. Or outlawing blacks’ freedom to launch a privately-funded bus boycott, when Montgomery tried to ban cab drivers who wanted to lower their fares for the boycotters. Or passing measures to prevent insurance companies from underwriting an alternative transport system.
Jim Crow violated the 1st Amendment (freedom of association, freedom of speech), 14th Amendment (equal protection) and 15th Amendment (voting rights). Jim Crow also empowered states to interfere with the rights of Southern whites who wanted to open their businesses, etc. to blacks, as they saw fit (many tried to do so and met state and private repercussions). Isn’t this initiation of force by the state, abuse of power? The Civil Rights Act, through the pre-existing interstate commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution, enforced laws already on the books.
Rep. Paul’s statement rings quite hollow to those of us whose relatives actually experienced Jim Crow. For example, my family fled Mississippi in 1923 because the Ku Klux Klan assaulted a family member, said “niggers be out of town by sundown tomorrow,” and burned down our small family farm (my great-grandparents were apparently “too uppity”). Physical assault and violated private property rights (and local government wouldn’t enforce the law), and yet what does Rep. Paul have to say here but “too bad.” Or did “states’ rights” override my family’s individual freedom and private property rights because of our race and because federal government didn’t do it?
Rep. Paul is also disingenuous when he tries to attach affirmative action to the Civil Rights Act. I oppose affirmative action. However, it began under a Republican administration (Richard Nixon), which he willfully overlooks. He also overlooks that the Act paved the way for Southern prosperity, since the region shed its statist ways and has since led USA in job and demographic growth. Given Gallup Poll and General Social Survey opinion polls illustrating declining racial conflict over the decades, I’m curious at how Rep. Paul concludes that racial conflict has increased.
Lack of a moral dimension for liberty is a libertarian Achilles heel and many wind up becoming apologists for imperiling the very freedom that they promote.
Shamara Riley is the founder of Booker Rising, a news site for black moderates and black conservatives (www.bookerrising.net).