It seems that yesterday US Senate candidate Rand Paul let the cat out of the bag and admitted that under his brand of libertarian conservatism he can’t support the 1964 Civil Rights Act or other non-discrimination legislation as applied to private businesses. He goes out of his way to explain that he doesn’t actually favor segregated lunch counters, he just thinks it would be wrong to do anything about them. Similarly, I suppose the Cato Institute’s Dan Mitchell would tell you he doesn’t actually want poor children to suffer from starvation or malnourishment he just thinks it’s folly to try to do anything about it collectively. Maybe private charity will feed kids, or maybe not. Maybe voluntary action will undue Jim Crow, or maybe not.
The point to make about Paul, however, is that what he suffers from here is an excess of honesty and ideological rigor not an unusual degree of racism. Basic free market principles really do lead one to the absurd conclusion that government regulation of private business is a greater evil than institutionalized segregation. That’s why Barry Goldwater, William F Buckley, the Young Americans for Freedom, and the other progenitors of the postwar conservative movement all opposed the Civil Rights Act and the civil rights movement. And, indeed, under the kind of hyper-restrictive construction of the constitution that today’s rightwingers use to say the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, the Civil Rights Act would probably also be invalidated.
It’s worth noting that not only does Paul oppose the Civil Rights Act, but plenty of mainstream libertarian institutions that are far too savvy to actually spend time denouncing the Civil Rights Act are enthusiastic about Paul and his brand of politics. Here’s Ilya Shapiro from the Cato legal team and here’s his colleague David Boaz. Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine, also seems to be a Paul fan.