Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fake Libertarians

The MSNBC commentator Lawrence O'Donnell recently called Ron Paul a "fake libertarian" because of his stands on sex and abortion, evoking predictable outrage from Paul fans on the Internet. Now, I'm not totally convinced by O'Donnell: a libertarian who believes abortion is murder would surely favor outlawing it, and a moralistic prig can be a libertarian as long as he doesn't impose his views on anyone else.

Much more troubling is Paul's pretentiously named and ludicrously unconstitutional We the People Act, which among other things would bar federal courts (including the Supreme Court) from adjudicating any claim based on "the right of privacy, including issues of sexual practices, orientation, or reproduction."

The subtext here is not only Roe v. Wade, but also Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the Texas law against sodomy and is still a sore point among Texas Republicans. But how can a libertarian be against a right to privacy? Paul's response is that such a right is not found in the Constitution.

This is an odd argument for a libertarian to make. The Ninth Amendment (part of the Bill of Rights,of course) says, in its entirety: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." One would think that this view of rights--that they inhere in the people, rather than being conferred by the government--would be popular with libertarians. So is Paul a fake libertarian? What's he after here?

The problem is not really that Paul is a fake, by the standards of American libertarianism. The problem is the fundamental phoniness of American libertarianism. It claims to stand for individual liberty and against government interference in our lives. But it sees no problem in state government interference in our lives. Libertarianism is much more about keeping the Federal government off the backs of the states than keeping the states off the backs of the people.

Take a look at the other things that Federal courts would be specifically barred from adjudicating under Paul's bill: "the right to marry without regard to sex or sexual orientation where based upon equal protection of the laws," and, of all things, "state or local laws, regulations, or policies concerning the free exercise or establishment of religion." In other words, keep your Federal hands off my city's hundred-foot cross. And its practice of reciting the Lord's Prayer in public schools. And if we want, we can declare Christianity the official religion of Texas, or outlaw the practice of Islam. Does that sound like individual liberty? More like collectivist tyranny.

Unfortunately, libertarianism has identified itself with the cause of states' rights, and to say the least that's not a cause that has ever been very friendly to liberty. Don't call them "libertarians." Call them "statists."

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