Alex Massie

Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act

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Going out on a limb here, I'm guessing that Rand Paul's admission that he would have opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act is not going to help him become the next Republican Senator representing the great state of  Kentucky. Of course he's walking back from his comments now but going from "I wouldn't have voted for it" to "Of course I would have voted for it" is flippier than your usual flip-flop.

Paul, like his father Ron, is no white supremacist and his opposition to federal encroachment is principled and reasonably consistent. The Civil Rights Act was indeed a terrible infringement upon States' Rights. But the problem with the Paulite position is that it complains about one form of state-sponsored coercion while implicitly tolerating or at best ignoring the more iniquitous state-sponsored coercion the legislation was designed, even required, to combat.

Saying the market will provide is often fine but it's not enough when the market is rigged in the first place. If 99% of restaurants in Birmingham, Alabama were open to all and sundry, regardless of colour, then sure you wouldn't need federal intervention to make the last hold-outs agree to serve African-American customers.

But because Jim Crow was imposed and sustained by the state it's arguable that only federal intervention could have ended it. The ghastliness, of course, is that such intervention was necessary in the first place.

America has changed, of course, and so Paul's view of what - however regrettably - should have happened in 1964 are actually much more relevent to the United States of 2010 than to the 1960s. And that's because, in the end, the legislation that Paul says he would have opposed in the Civil Rights era has worked, rendering further federal interventions, in theory at any rate, unreasonable. 

Nevertheless, Paul's views reflect a certain narrow, even blinkered, libertarianism rather than the expansive, more generous, interpretation of liberty that you'll find at, say, Reason or the Cato Institute.

So Rand Paul: like his father a little kooky, a little goofy, pretty principled but in this instance anyway missing the wood for the trees. And not, of course, likely to help the GOP win any more support from African-American voters - though that may be a lost cause anyway.

UPDATE: Unsurprisingly Julian Sanchez has a very good piece on all this.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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