L.A.: “If you’re an honest man, you’ll run this from the Christian Science Monitor – an actual libertarian take on the Rand Paul interview.”

Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act: Was he right?
By Sheldon Richman
posted May 26, 2010 at 11:29 am EDT

Little Rock, Arkansas — 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 said:

“[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.

. . .

Why assume that legislation was the only way to stop segregation and today is the only thing preventing resegregation? We can easily imagine scenarios in which private nonviolent action could pressure bigots into changing their racial policies.

But we don’t need to imagine it. We can consult history. Lunch counters throughout the South were integrating years – years! – before the civil rights bill was passed. It happened not out of the goodness of the racists’ hearts – they had to be dragged, metaphorically, kicking and screaming. It was the result of an effective nongovernment social movement. . . . Students were beaten and jailed, but they won the day, Gandhi-style, by shaming the bigots with their simple request to be served like anyone else. . . . Why is this inspirational history ignored in the current controversy? I can think of only one reason. So-called progressives at heart are elitists who believe – and want you to believe – that nothing good happens without government.

To acknowledge that young people courageously stood down the bigots long before the patronizing white political elite in Washington scurried to the front of the march would be to confess that government is not the source of all things wonderful. . . .

The effort to pass the Act diverted the grassroots movement from self-help, mutual aid, and independent community action to lobbying, legislation, and litigation – that is, dependence on the white ruling elite. Direct efforts undertaken by free individuals were demoted to at best a supporting role.

That was a loss for freedom, justice, and independence. Our country is the worse for it.

Sheldon Richman is the editor of The Freeman. He lives near Little
Rock, Arkansas.

© The Christian Science Monitor

☞ I apologize for the red ink – or for your not being able to see it if you’re reading this on a device that doesn’t support color – but I wanted to draw your attention to those two passages in particular. Like Sheldon Richman, I think we all value freedom. (Including the freedom to patronize any public place of business we want to?) But as I suggested Monday and yesterday, I think it’s a balance. Either extreme (communism or pure libertarianism) offers a bad solution in a complex, crowded world. Granted, the author was just being rhetorical, to express his distaste for views like mine. But, just for the record, no liberal I’ve ever met believes “government is the source of all things wonderful” or that “nothing good happens without government.”

Michael Axelrod: “It’s not the Bell Curve that rebuts the Randians, as you said Monday; it’s the Pareto Principle, often called the 80-20 law. Pareto observed that 20% of the population of Italy owned 80% of the land. It turns out that in general 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. It’s remarkable how general this law is. Firms find that 80% of their profits come from 20% of their customers. Or 80% of the complaints come from 20% of the customers. In health insurance, 80% of the costs come from 20% of the subscribers. Car dealers know that 20% of their salesmen sell 80% of the cars. Among nations the 20% richest have 80% of the world’s income. In academia 20% of the professors publish 80% of the journal articles. And so on. . . . The Pareto Principle is an illustration of a ‘power law’ that describes natural occurrences such as brush fires and earthquakes. Power laws have a self-similar or a scaling property. What this means is that in 20% of causes responsible for 80% of effects, 20% of those operate the same way. Thus 4% is responsible for 64%, and .8% is responsible for 51.2% etc. You can keep iterating the Principle until you get small numbers. The Pareto Principle is basically a probability law (so when you get to small samples it will break down). In other words it really refers to averages. . . . The Pareto Principle presents a problem for Democracy. Those 20% who produce the 80% tend to feel they should get back 80% of the production. Naturally the 80% disagree. So they want the political process to transfer wealth to them. Since the Pareto Principle seems to be some kind of basic law of nature, it means we are always going to get conflict. What’s more, as I said it applies at all scales. So if the 20% broke off and formed their own company or country, they would still face the 80-20 law except at a higher level of production. In other words they would end up with the same conflicts. . . . The challenge is to make some kind of organization that can cope with the 80-20 nature of life. Too much democracy doesn’t work. The founding fathers knew this, and so they created various anti-majoritarian institutions like the Electoral College, Senate, the Supreme Court and the doctrine of enumerated powers. As this original setup erodes towards a more pro-rata system, the conflict builds. We see that now. If it keeps up, we could face a new Civil War one day, which we certainly don’t want. It’s a real challenge to cope with the reality of 80-20, and I have no solution other than to look to, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Franklin etc. They thought long and hard about this problem, and being schooled in the classics they had a real sense of what works and what doesn’t.”

☞ Food for thought for a long weekend. Enjoy yours! And try to find time to be sure your kids understand what it’s about.


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