By Manifesto Joe
Why is anyone shocked about Rand Paul, and his views on the Civil Rights Act of 1964? I confess to being a recovering libertarian, and therefore I understand that viewpoint better than most left-leaning people do. It's about absolute property rights.
John Galt, that shadowy character in Ayn Rand's magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, articulated this view about as well as something that silly can be. This is from a Wikipedia article on Rand's 1957 novel:
Atlas Shrugged endorses the belief that a society's best hope rests on adopting a system of pure laissez-faire. Rand's view of the ideal government is expressed by John Galt, who says, "The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force," and claims that "no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality — to think, to work and to keep the results — which means: the right of property." Galt himself lives a life of laissez-faire capitalism as the only way to live consistently with his beliefs.
The obvious extension of this philosophy isn't much of a stretch. Nobody is obligated to pay taxes -- they would come only at the generous sufferance of volunteer property owners who realize they will have to have roads and bridges to drive on. Your neighbors would be theoretically "free" to bury dioxins in their back yards, and you have no say in the matter. A machine shop owner could hire you, require you to furnish your own tools, ignore safety issues -- and when you get hurt, well, tough, buddy. Go home and get well, and maybe we'll see you again some day. Of course, bear in mind that wage slaves are always "free" to change masters.
And, the private owners of lunch counters would be "free" to segregate, or to ban minorities altogether, as they did before 1964.
This brings to mind a simple observation: No civilized society has been able to function for long with the notion that property rights are generally absolute. It's not workable, and never has been.
I admit, long ago I thought this way, regarding property rights as more or less something that cannot be abridged in a "free" society. To get past this, one must deconstruct the underpinnings of the idea.
Libertarians, and many conservatives, often point to nature as justification for absolute property rights. Territory is visible throughout nature, and animals will fight to defend it.
But this is actually crucial to the point: In nature, there is no property, only territory. And if you're going to keep territory, you'd better be able to defend it.
If one goes back to a time before property rights were codified among hominids, territory was something that belonged to the Baddest MF in the Valley. Let's figure that he had a few rivals across the river, and that there were constant fights over water.
But a generation goes by, and the Baddest MF in the Valley sees his kids grow up. His sons aren't nearly as bad as he was. His little tribe of warriors is growing old and soft. He sees his power over territory slowly slipping away.
So, he arranges a meeting with rivals, now also aging, from across the river. "Gentlemen," he says. "Enough of all this senseless violence and killing. We must have laws -- to govern us!"
And so, the codification of property rights is born. But, who will enforce those rights? The police department and the courts are soon born. Disputes are settled peacefully for a change, and yes, civilization is born.
But are such rights absolute or conditional? It should be obvious. Property rights exist because of government, not in spite of it.
Without codified property rights, my grasp over my home and yard would be tenuous. I would have to be able to defend them, as my territory. If someone could get the drop on me, kill me, my wife and my dogs, and bury us in the back yard -- well, the territory would "belong" to that person. It is the codification of my property rights that would enable the police and the courts to intervene. But I realize that my rights are conditional. I have to pay property taxes, and I don't have the right to let my grass grow over a foot tall.
As for Rand Paul?
I'm going to toss in recent video
of Dr. Paul, now the Kentucky Republican U.S. Senate nominee, talking to Rachel Maddow.
A lot of commentators are painting Dr. Paul as a racist over this. I cannot say whether he is one, as I cannot read his mind. But he is clearly the same thing that I was long, long ago -- an ideologue who has never had the experience of driving into a town, tired and hungry, and finding nearly all public accommodations segregated or just plain closed to him.
I will take the doctor at his word that he opposes segregation. But he also clearly buys into the idea of absolute property rights, something that distinguishes his brand of libertarian conservative from the older and more pragmatic style of Burkean conservatism. And it certainly sets him apart from modern liberalism, which has evolved a great deal since the days of Manchester liberals.
The notion of absolute property rights is certainly common in America, but the idea falls apart upon proper deconstruction. No civilized society could function that way for long. In a sense, it's time for many Americans, especially the Tea Party variety, to grow up and get over it. They are part of a larger society as much as they are individuals. It's time for people to start acting like it.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.