May 21, 2010

Why Rand Paul Is, In A Sense, Both Right And More Principled Than Those Disagreeing With Him

I didn’t support Rand Paul’s candidacy for Senate. And folks know I was not a supporter of his father, Ron Paul – I’ve opposed both his presidential and congressional candidacies. So when I say a few words in Rand Paul’s defense on this issue, please realize that I am not a part of his “Amen Corner.” So when I say that there is something admirable about this statement – and that I am more or less in agreement with it – regarding the proper scope of government power, rest assured that it isn't coming from one of the PaulBots or Ronulans from daddy's 2008 campaign.

Interviewer: But under your philosophy, it would be OK for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworths?

Paul: I would not go to that Woolworths, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but, the hard part--and this is the hard part about believing in freedom--is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example--you have too, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things. . . . It's the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior.

Now let’s break this down, because I think what he is saying and/or implying is important.

  1. Racism and discrimination are repellant, abhorrent, and immoral.
  2. Freedom, properly understood, includes the freedom to do the repellant, abhorrent, and immoral, not to mention the unpopular.
  3. Absent a compelling need to limit freedom, government ought not do so.
  4. While the repellant, abhorrent, and immoral should be tolerated by government, private action may serve to punish such behavior through the combined action of individuals.

Frankly, I agree with these propositions on a philosophical level. In an ideal world, I think that there should be no laws or regulations banning discrimination in private sector business transactions or employment. The market place will deal with it harshly if it is economically or socially unacceptable – and if society as a whole does not reject such discrimination, it is not the place of government to impose the value of non-discrimination upon an unwilling society.

That said, let me make three caveats.

First, discrimination by government is ALWAYS inappropriate, and must ALWAYS be banned.

Second, were discrimination would cause a serious and irremediable charm, it must be banned. An obvious example of this would be the providing of medical care, especially in emergency situations.

Third, there are situations where the government must intervene – and I believe the 1964 Civil Rights Act is a perfect example. Given that so much of the racial discrimination that existed at that time was the direct result of government action – in particular of laws that had imposed “separate-but-equal” as the law of the land – government action to undo the results of those laws was a moral necessity. That said, it is to be hoped that at some point such laws will be unnecessary

Now before someone accuses me of supporting segregation let me be clear – I do not. On the other hand, I am not always opposed to discrimination, and think that there are times when it might be affirmed as acceptable if voluntarily practiced in the private sector. For example, why should the law prohibit a newspaper of magazine that caters to the gay community from hiring only gay employees? Why should the government tell an African-American businessman that he cannot give preference to other members of his race? And, to use an example that we have seen again and again, what government interest is served by telling a business owner that she cannot accept or reject jobs for her photography, printing, or catering business based upon her religious principles? Businesses which do such things will prosper or suffer based upon the reaction of the public to their choices – either there is a niche for them or there is not. Shouldn’t believers in freedom be willing to allow for their existence in the name of providing greater liberty to every individual in society?

And that latter issue is where I find Rand Paul to be more principled than many of his critics. They often wrap themselves in the mantle of defenders of liberty, but then demand that actions and choices they disagree with be banned. Rand Paul offers a vision of a society in which people are more free and government is less intrusive. If he is extreme in that vision, is that truly a bad thing?

UPDATE -- A couple of posts on the Volokh Conspiracy make my points in much more academic language than I do, with more reference to the law and founding principles. So does this article.

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