I got into a long conversation yesterday with a Paul supporter who took me to task for my criticisms of Paul’s positions. For one thing, he insisted, Paul’s position on abortion wasn’t as bad as I made it out, because Paul just thinks abortion is a matter for the states. I pointed out that in my book, saying that states can violate the rights of women is no more libertarian than saying that the federal government can violate the rights of women. But it only later occurred to me that even the premise is not true: Paul is not a supporter of federalism on the question of abortion.
He was the author of the Sanctity of Life Act, a proposed federal law, which would have declared that life begins at conception—so that abortion would be murder—regardless of the position of states on the issue. You can read Paul’s bill yourself here. Not only would it have declared that all embryos nationwide are human beings (which, just to be clear, they are not) but it would also have prohibited federal courts from reviewing the bill for its constitutionality. Now, a guy like Paul, who complains so loudly (and often with justification) about the White House acting like it’s above the Constitution, is sponsoring a bill that includes an “immune from constitutional analysis” provision? And, again, where exactly is the federalism in this bill? It would have declared that “each State has the authority to protect lives of unborn children residing in the jurisdiction of that State,” (are “unborn children” capable of “residing”?) but it contained no reference to states that might believe in protecting a woman’s right to an abortion. This was a one-way, one-size-fits-all, federal-gubmit-overriding-the-sovereign-states bill, only.
As I said before, even when he is scrupulous about federalism, it is only to disguise his hostility to civil rights that all true libertarians consider important. No genuine believer in liberty would say
Consider the Lawrence case decided by the Supreme Court in June. The Court determined that Texas had no right to establish its own standards for private sexual conduct, because gay sodomy is somehow protected under the 14th amendment “right to privacy.” Ridiculous as sodomy laws may be, there clearly is no right to privacy nor sodomy found anywhere in the Constitution. There are, however, states’ rights—rights plainly affirmed in the Ninth and Tenth amendments. Under those amendments, the State of Texas has the right to decide for itself how to regulate social matters like sex, using its own local standards. But rather than applying the real Constitution and declining jurisdiction over a properly state matter, the Court decided to apply the imaginary Constitution and impose its vision on the people of Texas.
That is to say, this alleged libertarian believes that states have “the right to decide…how to regulate social matters like sex.” Regulate, of course, is a euphemism for “coercion.” He believes the government may tell us whom we may sleep with in the privacy of our own homes (since privacy isn’t protected by the Constitution) and to throw us in jail for not complying. If this is libertarianism, then libertarianism isn’t what it was when I was young.
Ron Paul is in exactly the same position that Stephen Douglas was in before the Civil War, when he insisted that he didn’t care if slavery was voted up or voted down in the territories. But as Lincoln pointed out, once you say that slavery—or the violation of women’s rights, or the rights of sexual privacy—can be legitimately voted on, you’ve already abandoned the principle of liberty. At that point, said Lincoln, you’ve embraced the principle that if one man wishes to enslave another, no third man should object. That is a lot of things—it is certainly Texan—but it is definitely not libertarian.
Libertarians do not pretend that discrimination, the suppression of individual rights or the betrayal of the principles of the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments are any “better” when they occur at the state level rather than at the federal level. Libertarians understand that “states’ rights” is an insolent fiction: individuals have rights; states have powers—powers that they can and do abuse unless properly checked.
Finally, libertarians do not fear the shibboleth of “activist judges”—sorry, “rogue judges.” No libertarian fears a judge more than a politician (or bureaucrat). No libertarian fears a federal court more than a state legislature (or city council). No libertarian denies the unarguable historical fact that for over two centuries it has been judges, especially federal judges, who have been responsible for—and have generally acted responsibly in—defending individual liberties against oppression at the hands of the rest of government.
A libertarian does not say such things. A libertarian who disbelieves such things does not say them anyway just to gain or keep political office.
Therefore, the candidate who said these things is not a libertarian. Never was, never will be.
Update: Omnia Omnibus accuses me of “conclud[ing] that a fellow is not X because he is not your brand of X.” I don’t think this is accurate at all. My point is that Ron Paul believes that the state can control our private decisions. That is the precise opposite of libertarianism, and cannot therefore be described as a “different brand” of libertarianism. Paul is among the (unfortunately many) paleo-conservatives who masquerade as libertarian. This is accomplished by, among other things, using federalist rhetoric to mask one’s hostility to individual liberty.
In these previous posts (here; and in a series here: I, II; III; IV), I discussed what are the fundamentals of libertarianism. Paul fails an honest examination of these positions. One might agree with Paul, as Omnia does, and claim that a “healthy originalism” allows the government to send armed agents of the state into our private bedrooms and drag us from the arms of our loved ones. But whether that position is right or wrong is beside the point I am making, which (as I said at the opening of my first Philippic) is that Paul is not an acceptable spokesman for libertarianism. He is no more a “different brand” of libertarian than a Protestant is a “different brand” of Catholic. They may have things in common, but they are not isotopes.