This is a continuation of my discussion of Ron Paul (a mostly Libertarian running for President as a Republican) from a leftist political perspective. To see my last post on this topic, click here.
I’m not sure I believe Ron Paul, but if you assume the best of his intentions and trust his honesty in this matter, he still let some pretty atrocious stuff go out in a newsletter bearing his name; I think this calls his ability to serve as President into serious question.
But since race is on the table now, I thought though it might be worthwhile to see what Ron Paul does say on the issue of race…
The overwhelming media response to recent remarks by Senator Trent Lott shows that the nation remains incredibly sensitive about matters of race, despite the outward progress of the last 40 years. A nation that once prided itself on a sense of rugged individualism has become uncomfortably obsessed with racial group identities.
In the aftermath of the Lott debacle, we must not allow the term “states’ rights” to be smeared and distorted into code words for segregationist policies or racism. States’ rights simply means the individual states should retain authority over all matters not expressly delegated to the federal government in Article I of the Constitution. Most of the worst excesses of big government can be traced to a disregard for states’ rights, which means a disregard for the Ninth and Tenth amendments. The real reason liberals hate the concept of states’ right has nothing to do with racism, but rather reflects a hostility toward anything that would act as a limit on the power of the federal government.
Yet it is the federal government more than anything else that divides us along race, class, religion, and gender lines. The federal government, through its taxes, restrictive regulations, corporate subsidies, racial set-asides, and welfare programs, plays far too large a role in determining who succeeds and who fails in our society. This government “benevolence” crowds out genuine goodwill between men by institutionalizing group thinking, thus making each group suspicious that others are receiving more of the government loot. Americans know that factors other than merit in the free market often play a part in the success of some, and this leads to resentment and hostility between us.
Still, the left argues that stringent federal laws are needed to combat racism, always implying of course that southern states are full of bigoted rednecks who would oppress minorities if not for the watchful eye of Washington. They ignore, however, the incredible divisiveness created by their collectivist big-government policies.
The inescapable truth here is that combatting government-imposed racial discrimination often requires federal intrusion on the autonomy of state and local governments. Recognizing this is in no way inconsistent with libertarianism, a political philosophy in which the allocation of power between different levels of government is a purely instrumental value. It does, however, seem to be a blind spot for Ron Paul and his campaign.
UPDATE: It is only fair to note that, to my knowledge, Ron Paul is the sole candidate in either party to denounce the harm done to inner city African-Americans by the War on Drugs, the federal government policy that has probably done more damage to minority communities than any other over the last several decades. I don’t think that the War on Drugs is inherently racist, but it certainly has been prosecuted with almost criminal indifference to the welfare of low-income minorities.
Ron Paul’s basic argument on the issue of racism — that collectivism is the real problem, and that government efforts to stop racism, only make it worse — is interesting, but also wrong.
I, like many Americans, admire the ideal of rugged individualism. However, part of a belief in this ideal is that of “do no harm.” Or to say it another way (and paraphrase Thoreau), we do not have a proactive duty to stop the unjust actions of others, but we do have a duty to at the very least not contribute to that injustice.
If pure individualism (which Ron Paul prescribes as the antidote to the evils of collectiveism) is the answer, it must begin with personal responsibility, and this is in many ways impossible to do if one truly embraces living in our modern society.
For instance, many of us are the recipients of “white privilege” in some fashion. Maybe we didn’t get any big inheritance from our parents, but we did likely get more of an advantage in life than people of color do. The odds are that white people have more of a cushion of inherited wealth or at least the possibility of economic support from our families (a better discussion on this can be found here:PBS.org: Book review of The Hidden Cost of Being African American, by Michael Hout). The reality is that the “game” of our capitalistic economic system depends on capital and capital was never fairly distributed, and as a result racism still exists. The only way that this can change is if weath is redistributed. I would prefer that we take Thoreau’s approach (and that of the anarchist Catholic Worker movement), but I do think one way or another, wealth has to be redistributed.
Ron Paul and other believers in the capitalist system have not come to grips with one key issue — how can the free market system be truly fair, when the initial start-up capital is unfairly distributed? Most Black Americans have as their ancestors people who were once slaves, and in later generations folks who were oppressed and not allowed to even compete at all in the system. So, is it fair now for folks like Ron Paul to ignore this issue and just tell the victims of racism to essentially “suck it up” and fight harder for their share of the pie.
That ain’t right. The reality is that the free market system stands firmly on the foundation of oppression. It’s roots go down deep in that oppression and because that is its reality, it itself continues to foster oppression.
Eliminating collectivism is a panacea. Racism was going strong during the hyper-capitalistic era of the slave trade, so obviously capitalism will not in and of itself cure racism.
I think a better answer is voluntary socialism, cooperativism, and just good ol’ fashioned basic human kindness. The enemy of the poor is not governmental intrusion (or at least that isn’t the big issue). The enemy of the poor is our free market system itself. We must smash the capitalistic system of oppression to smithereens and rebuild something better, and more loving and more beautiful.
I also think that if we really want to eliminate racism, we must look at how different races are played against each other. Back in the day, poor white folks were kept under the control of rich white people, by way of letting poor white folks think they were superior to black folks. And black folks were kept under control by having “house slaves” feel superior to “field slaves.” As long as poor folks feel better than somebody, they won’t rise up and join together in fighting their common oppressors.
The reality is that the common enemy of poor people of all colors is the rich. The capitalist system keeps us all too busy competing with each other to even recognize the crappy way we are being kept down, so it serves the purposes of the rich. The working class folks have to wake up and realize that we are played like fools and being sold a crappy set of circumstances— work your ass off and someday you’ll be rewarded. Meanwhile the rich keep getting richer by virtue of their capital “working” for them. Who is winning here? It ain’t the working man, I’ll tell you that.