The trouble with libertarians is that they sound smart and engaging right up to the moment they sound like cloistered imbeciles. End the war on drugs? Start taxing churches? Get us out of Iraq? No problem! But then. . . then the conversation shifts away from the abstract, and weird things start to happen. Your clever libertarian friend starts to sound like a middle-schooler convinced he konws the ways of the world. In my experience, any conversation involving race or civil rights inevitably leads a libertarian to intellectually flatline. Rep. Ron Paul’s recent statement that he would have opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, one of the biggest weapons in the fight to end racial segregation, is the perfect example.
It’s not because he’s a racist. Oh heavens to Betsy, not that. It’s just that he has these principles, see, and that means the duty of upholding property rights takes precedence over, say, breaking the economic and political stranglehold Jim Crow inflicted on black Americans. Anyway, Jim Crow was going to wither away on its own, without any government busybodies stepping in. Just like slavery was going to go away on its own, without the Civil War to muddy things up.
The thing is, you can’t go in and tell the owner of that lunch counter he can’t just arbitrarily refuse to serve people on the basis of race, because once you do that it’s only a matter of time before you hear the sound of jackboots coming down the street. In LibertarianLand, the fact that black Americans were already living under police state conditions matters not at all, compared with the theoretical possibility of another kind of police state somewhere down the road.
So, is Ron Paul a principled dolt (i.e., a libertarian too fixated on ideology to address the real world) or a dissembling bigot (i.e., an opportunist who puts on a Milton Friedman Halloween mask to cover his swinish racism)? At this point, the distinction is meaningless — a distinction without a difference. As long as his words and actions give aid and comfort to racists, it really doesn’t matter how many times he’s been personally nice to black people. The best you can say for him is that he’s useless, which serves as a pretty good description of libertarians in general.