Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Theoretical Principles and Societal Costs

Wow.  Nearly seven months without an entry.  It would seem that I have been severely distracted.  More on that another time.  For now, I'll simply repost my reaction to a Washington Post blog entry about Rand Paul's letter in 2002 criticizing his local paper's support for the Fair Housing Act.

Such statements are more indicative of Rand Paul's overly simplistic view of individual liberty than his racial prejudice. I don't really know enough about him to understand what's in his heart when it comes to race. But my understanding is that he's a fan of Ayn Rand. As part of a seminar on justice back in college, I remember reading an article she authored in defense of individual liberty and against enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Very similar reasoning there as here: it's as appropriate for government to tell privately-owned restaurants that they must accommodate people of all races as it is for government to tell privately-owned restaurants that they must serve chocolate, vanilla and strawberry cake. The problem for Ayn Rand and Rand Paul is that they're arguing in a vacuum -- some theoretical world in which the Constitution does not exist. But the Constitution does exist, and it gives Congress the power to do what's necessary and proper to regulate interstate commerce. Of course, Ayn Rand, unlike Rand Paul, wasn't running for a seat in the Senate; we didn't need to worry much about her philosophical musings finding their way into public policy. It's perhaps not as productive to ask whether Rand Paul is a racist as it is to ask whether he's so disconnected from the world in which we live that he, as a United States Senator, would roll back two centuries of settled Constitutional law and stake out an interpretation of the Constitution that guts Congress of its authority to enact laws that regulate interstate commerce -- even if such an interpretation, taken to its logical extreme, should require a repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.