Ron Paul, Federalism, And Racism

Prior to Thanksgiving, I noted the criticism that law professor David Bernstein had leveled against the Ron Paul campaign for the associations that have been noted with neo-nazi groups like Stormfront.

In a follow-up post, Bernstein talks about the Paul campaign’s official statement on racism which in essence states:

Government as an institution is particularly ill-suited to combat bigotry. Bigotry at its essence is a problem of the heart, and we cannot change people’s hearts by passing more laws and regulations.

It is the federal government that most divides us by race, class, religion, and gender. Through its taxes, restrictive regulations, corporate subsidies, racial set-asides, and welfare programs, government plays far too large a role in determining who succeeds and who fails. Government “benevolence” crowds out genuine goodwill by institutionalizing group thinking, thus making each group suspicious that others are receiving more of the government loot. This leads to resentment and hostility among us.

Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than as individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called “diversity” actually perpetuate racism.

The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence – not skin color, gender, or ethnicity.

Bernstein responds as follows:

[A]t best this statement reveals a naive faith in the idea that government is the root of all problems, as in the old joke, “How many libertarians does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, the market will take care of it!” Don’t like racism? Reduce the federal government and it will go away!

At worst, by completely ignoring the historical role of racism in American society, and the diminished but not insubstantial role racism by whites continues to play in our society, and focusing criticism only on advocates of “diversity,” (even, apparently, when they advocate only voluntary, non-governmental action to achieve diversity), the Paul campaign is appealing to the Pat Buchanan (and beyond) wing of the “Old Right”, while trying to preserve some plausible deniability on race to its more tolerant libertarian constituency.

That’s not to say that personally Paul isn’t really against racism; in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I assume that he is. Rather, the point is that his campaign seems to be taking the same unfortunate position that Goldwater did in 1964; condemning racism in general on principled libertarian grounds, but providing winks and nods that support from racists for racist reasons would be welcome.

Dale Franks makes even stronger comments about the Paul campaign’s statement:

In essence, Mr. Paul’s message is that government causes racism. But he ignores what must be a necessary corollary of that belief: if government has the power to cause racism, it must also necessarily have the power to combat it. You simply cannot have the power to do one without the other.

In a certain sense, of course, Mr. Paul makes a valid point. To the extent that government itself attempts to create favored and disfavored groups, it perpetuates racism. And one can certainly argue that government has in some cases done precisely that.

But one cannot ignore the fact that government action has, by and large, reduced overt discrimination in the last two generations. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 essentially destroyed—completely and permanently—the Jim Crow laws of the South. Yet, any acknowledgment of this is sadly lacking in Mr. Paul’s statement. Yes, government at the state level created Jim Crow. But government at the federal level eliminated it.

On some level, it seems clear that Bernstein and Franks are correct, at least about the naivety of the idea that it’s only primarily the Federal Government that is the source of the problems that create racism.

For one thing, such a view ignores a good part of the history of the United States from the end of the Civil War until the birth of the Civil Rights Movement when it was states and local governments that were the primary sources and enforcers of an entire culture of racism and second class citizenship for black Americans, both in the South and in the North. When the Civil Rights Movement finally came into being, it took the action of Federal Judges and a federalized National Guard to allow black children in Little Rock, Arkansas to go to a public school, or to stand up to an Alabama Governor who campaign on a platform of “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” and who vowed to defy any effort to eliminate Jim Crow.

For more than 100 years, racism was enforced, and in some cases, imposed by the state governments, not the Washington, D.C. And when the time came that American society finally recognized that treating a group of people differently because of their race was inconsistent with it’s founding document, it was the states that resisted the efforts of the Federal Government to protect the liberty, property, and, in some cases, the lives of their African-American citizens.

Blaming the Federal Government for racism is, quite frankly, is as misplaced as blaming the United States for 9/11.

More importantly, the problem I have with Paul’s statement is the fact that it seems to suggest the racism is strictly a function of the evil of government when the truth is that it is, at its root, an example of imperfectability of man, something which Dale Franks also notes:

[A]ll to often, the problem is people themselves. And government, whatever its virtues or vices, does not solve the problems that arise from human nature. Neither, for that matter, does liberty. To argue otherwise is to argue for the perfection of man through political means. And that, my friends, is the very basis of collectivism.

In other words, and as I’ve said before in comments here, racism exists because certain people define themselves not as individuals but as members of a (racial, national, ethnic, or religious) group and believe either that their group is superior to all others, or that some other group is inferior.

That philosophy is incompatible with the idea that human beings are individuals entitled to individual rights, and it’s incompatible with anything that dares call itself libertarianism.

And that’s why anyone who considers themselves a libertarian or classical liberal should have nothing to do with Stormfront, David Duke, or anyone of their ilk.