It’s been curious to me to note that the Cato Institute, flagship institution of libertarianism in America, hasn’t had anything to say about Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act on its website, especially because their Executive Vice President David Boaz praised Paul yesterday though without specifically tackling the controversy. Brink Lindsey who works at Cato offers comments to AOL News in disagreement with Paul and I know that some other Cato staff agree with Lindsey.
It seems, however, that Roger Pilon who heads up their work on legal issues, is in agreement with Paul. He doesn’t seem inclined to speak up on the issue at the moment, but here’s a selection from his essay “The Right to Do Wrong” collected in Boaz’s book, The Libertarian Reader:
And insofar as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 eliminated Jim Crow, it is to be commended. But the idea behind the early civil rights acts was to give force at last to the principle of equal freedom upon which this nation was founded, however imperfect that founding. The idea was not, most decidedly, to recognize “rights” that were inconsistent with that principle.
With the Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, that precisely is what took place. Driven by the very real problem of discrimination, but failing to utterly distinguish between the appalling institution of public discrimination, in the form of Jim Crow, and its private counterpart, the authors of the 1964 act created a “right” against private discrimination on certain grounds and in certain contextss, which has been expanded over the years. That “right,” of course, is nowhere to be found in the Constitution or in its underlying principles. Indeed, its enforcement is inconsistent with that document and with those principles. For if we do have a right to be free, to plan and live our own lives as we choose, limited only by the equal right of others, then we have a right to associate, or to refuse to associate, for whatever reasons we choose, or for no reason at all. That is what freedom is about. Others may condemn our reasons — that too is a right. But if freedom and personal sovereignty mean anything, they mean the right to make those decisions for ourselves, even when they offend others.
It seems a little shameful of me that Pilon isn’t being more outspoken about this. He concedes earlier in the essay that opposition to the Civil Rights Act won’t “earn one popular acclaim” but insists nevertheless that “if we are serious about getting to the heart of the matter, however, and about understanding the core of the American vision, the fundamental questions must be examined.” In other words, Paul is taking a brave stand that Pilon once deemed necessary to understand the core of the American vision. And he’s being pilloried for it. But here we have the Vice President for Legal Studies at a large, well-established Washington, DC think tank refusing to stand up for him despite their agreement on the merits of the issue.