Mike the Mad Biologist

Amanda Marcotte has a must-read post about Rand Paul, and why we shouldn’t just sweep his libertarianism under the rug. I’ll get to Amanda in a bit, but, to explain the title, I want to first provide some context by way of deceased Republican political operative Lee Atwater:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N-gger, n-gger, n-gger.” By 1968 you can’t say “n-gger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N-gger, n-gger.”

One of the things that first got libertarian rhetoric off the ground in the Goldwater era was the ability to dress up racism in ideological clothing. Back to Amanda (italics mine):

It strikes me as highly unlikely that many average white Americans suddenly discovered they favored a very narrow reading of the commerce clause in the mid-to-late 60s just because there was something in the drinking water that woke them up….

However, a lot of average white people did and still do believe that they should be able to keep other people who aren’t white from using the same spaces as them, living next door to them, or having the same access to jobs and education and health care. And they have to be forced by the federal government not to gang up on non-white people to deprive them of equal access. The power that the federal government used to stop them is the very same power that the federal government uses to regulate businesses on their labor and environmental standards. And because of this, a lot of people who otherwise would think the commerce clause is just common sense are highly motivated to believe arguments in favor of a more narrow reading. Libertarians are the ones who exploit this motivation. But it is, for the people who buy their philosophy, a self-destructive thing. To echo Thomas Frank: Buy into the belief that you can keep black people out of your public bathroom, sign on to allowing BP to turn your coastline into pure oil and dead birds. Buy into keeping black people from buying in your neighborhood, sign on to economic collapse when big finance creates a housing bubble with shady accounting. Buy into allowing your workplace to discriminate in its hiring practices, sign on to having a dangerous and dirty workplace without any recourse.

I think the one other thing to add is that ideologies take own a life of their own–and this is how libertarians today can protest so strongly that they’re not racist. What started out as a rhetorical ploy to defeat a not-for-whites-only New Deal has now become a self-sustaining ideology. Granted, as an ideology, it doesn’t really make much sense and is internally inconsistent, in largely because this operational* libertarianism was designed to fill a very specific role (to enable bigoted whites to retain their prerogative without openly embracing segregation), not to be a consistent governing ideology.

Having embraced this rhetoric, Republicans are now intellectually trapped: either they admit the racist consequences (if not intentions) of their policies, or they admit they appeal to a racist base.

Forty years after the advent of the Southern Strategy, they finally are beginning to reap what they have sown.

*Some libertarians will start engaging in “No True Scotsman” hooey. Libertarianism, as enact as policy by the Republican Party, is what really matters, not some idealized (if utterly unrealistic) version.

Comments

  1. #1 James Davis
    May 26, 2010

    This is the kind of junk that made me realize that Libertarianism is just anarchy for rich white people.

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    May 26, 2010

    This is the kind of junk that made me realize that Libertarianism is just anarchy for rich white people.

    Yes and no. To a nontrivial extent, some of it is just pure anarchic fantasy. Ayn Rand, for instance, wasn’t grinding a racist axe (whatever kind of insanity you care to ascribe to her, that wasn’t it.)

    If you can force yourself, have a read of some of the “libertarian” science fiction from the last few decades [1]. I don’t really care if Vernor Vinge actually believes that shit or whether it’s just prudent marketing. Net result is that there’s a lot of “once the iron heel of the State is removed everything will be puppies and rainbows” reality disconnect.

    Which, if you actually get any of the Libertarian Party’s leadership drunk, is exactly what they’re after: anarchy.

    No Republican connections required to see where that takes us.

    [1] Examples collected together at Baen’s Give Me Liberty

  3. #3 Kate from Iowa
    May 26, 2010

    I’m glad the nonsensical nature of “pure” libertarian ideology was brought up. It always just kills me when the people I know that think they’re libertarians try to argue with me. I try to hit on a few very important points that they tend to be use-blinded to when they start on the “anti-tax”/”your federal/state/local govermnent should leave me alone” crap. Stuff like:
    public roads, highways, bridges and transportation
    public gas, water, sewage/garbage disposal and electricity
    national and other parks and parks services sites
    food, drug and consumer safety and standards
    (and especially) thier future social security and medicare.

    Yes, it shuts them right the hell up.

  4. #4 Mike Crichton
    May 26, 2010

    D. C. Sessions: Vernot Vinge has gotten better over the years. In his latest novel, Rainbow’s End, he seems to espouse the view “In a world where nanotech makes it possible for any schmuck to build a tacnuke in his garage, the iron heel of the state is all that keeps the world from ending”. A lot of the other Baen writers haven’t budged though.

  5. #5 Theo
    June 2, 2010

    Kate from Iowa must have friends as stupid as herself.
    Libertarianism = Racism?!
    Where do you people get this crap?
    At least read Reason magazine.
    You sound like the people who used to call everyone a “pinko” or a “faggot” if they disagreed with you.
    Yes, there is an anarchy wing of a group that might self-attribute “libertarian”, but that is not Libertarianism.
    The left these days sounds as reactionary as the right. Libertarians, basically, say “Don’t tread on me.” (Ring any bells, people?)

  6. #6 walter
    June 9, 2010

    #2
    Ayn Rand talked a lot against racism, but contradicted herself with her ideology. Libertarians have a pathological inability to understand themselves or other human beings. They are infected with a logical myopia, and like a dog chasing its own tail they can run in logical circles until the end of time. Libertarianism and racism are both forms of Social Darwinism therefore share similar thought patterns and circular logic. Below is what Ayn Rand said regarding the Native Americans.

    “[The Native Americans] didn’t have any rights to the land and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using…. What was it they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves above it. Any white person who brought the element of civilization had the right to take over this continent.” * Source: “Q and A session following her Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, March 6, 1974

  7. #7 walter
    June 9, 2010

    Compare Ayn Rand’s ideology with that of the Spanish conquistadors. Since the natives did not believe in Jesus and the authority of the pope, they were not full human beings, therefore the Spaniards had the right to enslave and conquer them. The Catholic Church believed in human rights, but defined as human only those who conformed to its beliefs. Ayn Rand believed in freedom, but only if you were converted to her way of thinking, otherwise if you contradicted her you had no rights. This might not be racism in the absolute sense. But what makes racism bad is not the preference of one color over another, but the belief that one group of people is intrinsically better than another. It does not matter if said people are defined by race, gender, ability to compete in a dog eat dog world or whatever other attributes we consider important. The Native American economic system was the product of their cultural history, just like skin color is the product of biological history. We cannot escape one more than the other. Social Darwinism is what it is, it does not matter if its driven by race or libertarian capitalist ideology, in the end it is all the same garbage.

  8. #8 ricketson
    June 11, 2010

    “What started out as a rhetorical ploy to defeat a not-for-whites-only New Deal has now become a self-sustaining ideology.”

    I think that the ideology predated the Republican’s cynical use of its rhetoric. You seem to be criticizing the Republicans for being conservative, as if that were news. Conservatives want to make sure that the “haves” get to keep what they have, regardless of how they got it or its impact on others. If libertarian ideology provides a convenient argument, they will use it, just as they will use managerialist and communitarian arguments, and even socialist arguments when it suits them.

    The wider libertarian movement is not associated with this conservative mirage of libertarianism. Ask a Tea Partier what they think about reducing America’s military spending or ending the drug war. These are the two most racist policies of the modern US government, and they are opposed by all “real” libertarians (including Ron Paul)– most of whom are not associated with the Dems or Reps, and some of whom are Democrats.

    For what it’s worth, I ranted about the conservative corruption of libertarianism over at FreedomDemocrats. I included the link as my URL.

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