ron paul may not be racist, but racists sure like ron paul
Let’s start with a thumbnail sketch of libertarian theory: laissez-faire – hands-off, as long as it’s voluntary, it’s ok. Now, there’s two sides to this coin. You have the right to do good and bad. With regard to race, the libertarian position implies that we should be equally tolerant, for example, of people who want to live in mixed race neighborhoods and those who wish to live in segregated neighborhoods. As long as force isn’t used, we should tolerate it, even if we don’t approve of it.
That brings me to Ron Paul. He’s been dogged for years by inflammatory racial articles in his newsletters. If you read them, you’ll see that they are disgusting. The puzzling part is that there is not much to indicate that Paul himself hates Blacks. In fact, some of his arguments about policy might have been written by the most bleeding heart liberals. For example, he has publicly argued that the drug war disproportionately hurts minorities and has racist origins. Most observers have guessed that the inflammatory articles have been written by someone else who is very racist.
The problem with a philosophy of hyper-tolerance is that you attract repulsive people, like Paul’s racist associates. That’s doesn’t always happen. ACLU style free speech activists rarely share beds with the neo-Nazis whose rights they defend. But sometimes it is a problem. Since libertarian philosophy dictates a tolerance, but not an endorsement, of people who dislike other racial groups, hyper-tolerance may come off as a signal of approval for racism. Furthermore, followers of a hyper-tolerant philosophy, like libertarianism, may seek short term political gain by building coalitions with repulsive people. And of course, truly evil people, like hard core racists, may dress up their views with a sheen of tolerance. The result? The philosophy of tolerance co-mingles with the repulsive.
That’s a problem for libertarianism as a social practice. For it to become more mainstream, it will have to move beyond policy and come up with a more serious theory of social practice. It has to be a philosophy that breaks out of utilitarian arguments over economic policy, and provide an ethic beyond minimalist tolerance. Otherwise, libertarians who care, like Paul does, about the drug war, foreign wars, and other issues of wide appeal will be left explaining why their room mate has a David Duke poster on the wall.