22 July 2013

Rand Paul and the libertarian 'southern strategy'

An aide to Sen. Paul of Kentucky is resigning amid unwelcome attention to his past as a self-styled "Southern Avenger." Jack Hunter, the co-author of one of Paul's books, may be characterized as a "neo-confederate." He believes that the states always retain the option of seceding from the Union and once claimed, however jokingly, to celebrate the birthday of John Wilkes Booth. Hunter's resignation comes after hostile Republicans put his past in the spotlight. His most prominent critic was the National Review writer, Fox News commentator and syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg, who argued that Paul's association with Hunter made him unelectable as a presidential candidate.

The "Southern Avenger" controversy casts a spotlight on the division within Republican ranks between libertarians sympathetic with the Paul family and a different faction whom the Paul sympathizers are quick to label as neocons. Goldberg takes a swipe at one such apologist, Andrew Napolitano, in his column. Napolitano accuses Paul's "neocon" critics of avowing a "dying ideology," while Goldberg ripostes that the ideas represented by Hunter, if not by Rand Paul, are "far more deserving of death." Meanwhile, another Paul sympathizer, Jeffrey T. Kuhner, slams Goldberg as an apologist for the Republican party's "ruling elite." In Kuhner's view, Goldberg is one of the " self-appointed arbiters of what is permitted — and acceptable — conservative thought." Goldberg allegedly resents Paul because Paul has an anti-interventionist foreign policy, and because Hunter dares question the "myth" of Lincoln. Readers will recall that Lincoln is no hero for some of today's Republicans, who see him as the progenitor of, and the Civil War as the pretext for, modern "big government." As far as Goldberg is concerned, however, this is changing the subject.

While Goldberg seems willing to grant Hunter the benefit of the doubt when the erstwhile Avenger denounces racism, he sees Hunter and the Pauls as hopelessly tainted by what Goldberg, apparently hoping not to alienate all libertarians, calls "paleolibertarianism." This is a counterpart to "paleoconservatism," and one might be forgiven for believing that "paleo" is a prefix meaning "racist." Goldberg identifies paleolibertarianism with two men: Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell. These contrarians -- Rothbard was an enemy of Ayn Rand -- pursued a course akin to the "southern strategy" adopted by the Republican party in the 1960s. In Goldberg's account, Rothbard and Rockwell, both of whom were involved with Ron Paul's infamous newsletters, believed that reactionary southern whites would form the base of an anti-statist movement that would do without the "cultural liberalism" they also despised. As Goldberg puts it, these two thought that even the Koch brothers were decadent liberals. They seem to have espoused a potentially contradictory populist libertarianism more concerned with people's right to uphold their traditions against all challengers than with anyone's right to challenge traditions. In Goldberg's judgment, their pandering to white supremacism was downright "sinful." Kuhner, however, dismisses this commentary as a "red herring." In his view, the early effort to block a Rand Paul presidential campaign is all about foreign policy. He argues that you can't end the welfare state without also ending the warfare state, and that only Sen. Paul will do both.

Goldberg is careful not to accuse Rand Paul or the mass of Paul supporters of sharing the views of Hunter or the paleolibertarians. The senator has been suspect in many eyes, however, ever since the interview with Rachel Maddow that exposed his reservations about some civil-rights legislation. He has a curious attitude about discrimination. As a libertarian (regardless of prefix), he opposes state-mandated discrimination (i.e. the Jim Crow laws of yore) but seems to draw a philosophical line when it comes to individual prerogatives. That is, he doesn't quite like it when the state says that individuals can't ever discriminate, however irrational he claims discrimination to be. His beliefs can be discussed without dragging Jack Hunter into it. But if Paul ever hopes to become President, Goldberg insists that the senator has to aggressively repudiate paleolibertarian racism. Noting that past candidates like McCain and Romney could be tarred as racists simply for being Republican, Goldberg clearly feels that Paul wouldn't have a chance. His only hope would depend on "thoroughly interring an ideology far more deserving of death" than the neocon interventionism Paul's fans abhor. That Paul suffers a handicap is obvious. His Republican rivals can go Nixon on him, piously refusing to be "PC" about Paul's ties to reputed racists while reminding us at every opportunity how the PC Democrats will exploit those ties. Or they could simply call him a racist wherever they think it will get them primary votes. Goldberg is right to be skeptical about Paul's chances in 2016, especially considering his own attempt to weaken them.


Anonymous said...

Not to defend Ron Paul, but I certainly wouldn't want my friends judged by my views, neither would I wish to be judged by the views of some of my friends.

Tangentially, I have to wonder why it is these men have such an abhorrence of "big government", but implicitly trust "big business". It seems quite reasonable to me that, in a society such as ours, government, no matter how big, is answerable to the electorate, whereas a business - especially big business - is answerable only to it's board of directors and stockholders (who may or may not even be citizens of the nation).

The only reason I can think of that fits is that these men do not wish to be answerable to anyone else, regardless of their actions. That makes me very suspicious of their motives for being involved in government to begin with.

Samuel Wilson said...

Libertarians believe that business is accountable to "the market," and that the public can make any business change its ways by not buying its products. But just as they suspect that politicians can manipulate an irrational electorate and thus stay in power, they should acknowledge that irrational impulses in the marketplace can reward harmful businesses.

Some libertarians and conservatives are distrustful of "big" business when they suspect that businesses have gotten big by exploiting government or conniving with politicians -- they're critics of "crony capitalism" but tend to think the solution is less government rather than less capitalism.

Anonymous said...

But, in their demented view, business is NOT accountable to the people it exploits, the resources it may steal, the unethical and, perhaps, amoral actions of it's owners/directors.

In other words, libertarians, despite their protests, are lacking in any real morality other than pure profit.

Without government to rein in business and an educated and informed public to rein in government, you can not have a democratic society based on equality.

Samuel Wilson said...

The big libertarian blind spot is the assumption that "business" can't coerce people the same way government does, that in "commerce" there's never the theoretical (or literal) gun to someone's head forcing them to do something they'd rather not. They think entirely in terms of the contractual transaction and rarely if ever in terms of the consequences to which no one consents.