Reason magazine’s jihad against Ron Paul has been a useful means of exposing the major fault-lines within libertarianism. Of course, this is mostly of academic interest. No one votes libertarian, and “small ‘l'” libertarianism has declined as a force in the Republican Party simultaneously with its abandonment of the “Southern Strategy.” Ron Paul has achieved modest success as a conservative because he is a small government, paleoconservative. He is not making a big show of drug legalization, because decent people, even those who favor drug legalization, do not have natural and emotional sympathy with drug pushers. The new purist libertarians have bolted from Ron Paul because he once upon a time wrote critically of criminals, welfare cases, the L.A. rioters, affirmative action advocates, and other people that libertarians used to realize were their natural opponents.
Radley Balko in his latest salvo shows the intellectual poverty of the new generation of “hipstertarians.” For starters, he casually dismisses a variety of controversial statements in favor of “race realism” without analysis. This is the same anti-intellectual tactic liberals use whenever their consensus positions are criticized. Radley even once said that the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity is racist.
To Radley and his buddies, it’s obvious that any account of racial differences is not worth taking seriously, even when it’s demonstrably (and tragically) true. He unveils for ritual condemnation an old article from the Von Mises Institute because the author called for deliberate attention by police to racial differences among populations. Radley condemned this thinking out of hand as “not libertarian.” I agree that such a policy would be unwise and untenable. Law enforcement right now seems to capture offenders roughly in proportion to their rates of offending, as one would want and expect. But is this alternative proposal necessarily opposed to libertarianism?
Libertarianism is by design focused on the substantive activity and ends of government. It does not require democracy, for example. Bastiat famously argued that monarchies are actually more friendly to liberty because democracies will naturally lead the more numerous poor to use state power to soak the rich. If one accepts a basically libertarian framework of government ends–the prevention of private violence, fraud, and little else–this does not necessarily say how the police will go about enforcing the circumscribed legal code. Much else that the cosmopolitan think tankers take for granted would have to be ditched if libertarians came to power. Libertarianism does not require private institutions not to be racist. It does not require a particular type of franchise or jury selection process or public rhetoric. It does not forbid the state enforcing restrictive covenants or discriminatory hiring practices, nor does libertarianism forbid a harsh punitive regime for criminal offenders of all races. Nineteenth Century England, in which Classical Liberalism was dominant, was famous for its liberal application of the death penalty, an arguable necessity considering its small police force and high rate of unsolved crimes.
Libertarians take pride that their philosophy leaves much to the private realm, i.e., social ostracism, private belief, religion, social tradition, and the like. Libertarians also concede that the practical questions of government–how to finance government, how police should solve crimes and punish malefactors–largely occupy the realm of reasonable disagreement. So for Radley to call the heterodox racial opinions of paleolibertarians wrong because they are “not libertarian” is a disingenuous argument. Much of what libertarians believe is not libertarians because it rests in the realm of practicality and taste, in contrast the smaller realm of “natural rights.” Libertarianism does not mandate a particular view on race, practical police work, religion, gay marriage, art, manners, or much else. Yet the new libertarians rescue their philosophy from its habitual dismissal by liberals by bringing harsh criticism to bear upon any libertarian that utters an illiberal opinion on race. In doing so, the new libertarians sow a great deal of confusion, because they do little to distinguish the non-libertarian foundations for these occasional purges from libertarianism proper.
Libertarians could reasonably conclude (as they did in the early 90s) that the symbiotic alliance of the poor and the welfare state creates an opening for a philosophy that caters to the self reliance of “Middle Americans,” fed up with the parasitical nature of the welfare state and its constituents. After all, these potential libertarians are the same people who fled America’s cities for the suburbs after government mandates for school bussing scared the bejesus out of them and their kids. This revulsion at do-gooder big government liberals was only enhanced by the simultaneous manifestations of ingratitude and a crime explosion in America’s urban, mostly minority, ghettos. Among Middle Americans, it seems obvious that Ron Paul and his appeals to the productive classes have had a far larger appeal than Radley and Reason’s alternative: maudlin portraits of career criminals, perverts, and drug dealers. Tyrone the Drug Dealer shot dead in a “no knock” warrant just doesn’t resonate with most libertarian-minded people like the case of gun-owner Randy Weaver or the ATF’s victims at Waco.
Then again, this hostility of old and new libertarians might also point the way towards another truth: most of the people that the paleolibertarians tried to appeal to were really conservatives, who want government to stay out of their lives, even as they also want that same government to stays very involved in policing the lives of the disorderly denizens of America’s housing projects, trailer parks, and ghettos.