Conservatives in Libertarian Clothing

Rand PaulThis morning at Political Animal, Ed Kilgore wrote an excellent article, Rand Paul’s “Bible-Thumping” Nothing New. It discusses perhaps my biggest problem with Rand Paul and to a lesser extent his father Ron. Rand Paul is a social conservative. So how is it that also has this reputation as the libertarian white knight?

As I am fond of pointing out, it used to drive me crazy that at libertarian events, 95% of the people were really Republicans. In fact, a clear majority of these people were Rush Limbaugh fans. What distinguished them from ordinary conservatives was that they had systematized their ideology. But that didn’t generally turn them into libertarians. They were instead, conservatives with a libertarian gloss. And this is why, for example, you find “libertarians” who are anti-choice. Sure, they can make a libertarian argument: they just make the totally unreasonable assumption that full citizen rights apply to zygotes. No real libertarian who hold such a belief and indeed, the Libertarian Party has generally been pro-choice, even if their candidates and much of their rank-and-file are not.

An even better example is racism. It’s amazing how Paul will claim that he absolutely, positively is not a racist. But somehow his biggest policy positions feed right into the desires of bigots throughout the nation. When there was news that Ron Paul’s newsletter editorials were filled with explicit and implicit racism, the nation was shocked. But it shouldn’t have been. The very basis of libertarian thinking is that everyone gets what they deserve and when that isn’t so it is just because of government interference. So if dark skinned people are poor, it must be in their genes. Jason Richwine isn’t an aberration: he is what the movement is all about.

And it isn’t just people on the margins. Remember Ayn Rand’s apologia for the theft of the land of the native peoples in America:

They 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 that they were fighting for, when 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, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.

This isn’t even a libertarian argument; it is fascism, pure and simple. Our culture is better than theirs so we have a right to do whatever we want. But notice how Biblical the argument is: the land is given to us to developed. And there is this strange anti-evolutionary notion that somehow we aren’t animals. Even if Ayn Rand was an atheist, there is a lot of religion in her work. And that’s true of most libertarians, most especially Rand Paul.

Kilgore lays it out perfectly:

And as every alert observer should realize by now, the “constitutional conservative” movement of which Rand Paul is a leading champion fuses theocratic and capitalist ideological tenets into a sort of free-market authoritarianism in which the only legitimate role of the state is to defend absolute property rights and traditional culture. The proper question isn’t whether Paul can maintain a tactical alliance with the Christian Right; it’s whether constitutional conservatives like Paul can maintain a tactical alliance with actual libertarians.

Of course, the reason we have the likes of Rand Paul is that “actual libertarians” are extremely rare. It is not only an extremely hard philosophy, it is an extremely naive one. And Paul’s position on war only indicates that he doesn’t care about anyone else; it isn’t a principled stand. It goes right along with the conservative belief that the US Constitution only applies to citizens. We Americans are good and the rest of you can go to hell. (The fact that Paul reaches the right conclusion with the wrong thinking doesn’t matter.)

So when you hear Rand Paul pontificating as he is wont to do, just remember: he’s a conservative with a libertarian gloss. Or if you prefer: a conservative in libertarian clothing.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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