Ph.D. Octopus

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Once again: The Civil Rights Movement and Abolitionists were NOT Libertarians

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By Wiz

I know I should leave this alone, but god-damn Rand Paul is at it again, comparing himself to abolitionists and Civil Rights leaders. In an op-ed with a Kentucky newspaper he writes:

I am unlike many folks who run for office. I am an idealist. When I read history I side with abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas who fought for 30 years to end slavery and to integrate public transportation in the free North in the 1840s. I see our failure to end slavery for decade after decade as a failure of weak-kneed politicians. I cheer the abolitionist Lysander Spooner, who argued that slavery was unconstitutional 20 years before the Civil War. I cheer Lerone Bennet when he argues that the right of habeas corpus guaranteed in the Constitution should have derailed slavery long before the Civil War.

Point one: This it nit-picky, but Lysander Spooner and William Lloyd Garrison took the exact opposite position on the constitutionality of slavery. Spooner thought slavery was unconstitutional, Garrison was almost certainly correct in thinking that slavery was constitutional, and that was why the constitution was “the most bloody and heaven-daring arrangement ever made by men.” I’ve already written about why its nonsense to think abolitionists were modern libertarians. Garrison did not support Rand’s beloved Constitution.

Second, Lysander Spooner? Who the fuck is this Lysander Spooner you’re asking? Spooner was a bit-player in abolitionist circles. But he has taken on a second life as a hero for the modern libertarian right. They’ve made him a hero, partly on the basis of his failed attempt to compete with the US Postal service, and his opposition to slavery. Apparently the hilariously named Laissez Faire Books used to give out a Lysander Spooner award. Even Justice Scalia has gotten in the act, citing Spooner in defense of gun rights.

Spooner makes, let’s say, a bit of an awkward hero for the libertarian right. Among other things he was opposed to wage labor, which he believed in proto-marxist fashion stripped men of the fruits of their labor, a proponent of soft-money inflationary policies (not like our modern Gold-bugs), an anti-imperalist, and a supporter of the labor movement. In many ways he’s more of an anarchist of sorts, then a libertarian properly understood.

A bunch of those libertarians from the U.A.W. and I.U.E. marching with Martin Luther King

Its just one more case of right-wingers trying to adopt the mantle of people who would have detested what they stood for. The violence to history done by people like Paul is tremendous. The worst, absolute worst example of this, is Glenn Beck, who is going to give a speech on the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of King’s I have a Dream Speech. Rand Paul as well claims to act in King’s legacy, which is, of course, far more outrageous and offensive than their grave-robbing of Spooner. Neither Beck nor Paul, it seems, can get beyond a few out of context quotes from King about color-blindedness. As if the man who died supporting a strike of public workers, who spoke out against the Vietnam war, and who was leading a poor people’s march demanding the government to ensure high paying jobs was a right-wing libertarian.

There is a tremendous erasure of history required for the modern right to claim historical heroes among the abolitionists and Civil Rights movement. Later in the op-ed Rand Paul claims to believe deeply in Martin Luther King Jr’s vision. Let’s take that seriously for a second. Its not like King has been dead for 500 years. People and institutions who, you know, were his actual allies and friends in the Civil Rights Movement are still alive. Not that Jesse Jackson, or John Lewis, or the UAW or whoever gets to speak for King, but they have a better claim on it than Rand Paul does. They actually marched with him in real life, not in their fantasies, like Paul did. The point is, Paul apparently believes that he knows better than the actual Civil Rights activists what the legacy of the Civil Rights movement was.

In other words: a shocking display of white arrogance, entitlement, and willful ignorance.


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

June 9, 2010 at 14:09

One Response

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  1. I certainly agree that there’s an active erasure of history, probably the least of which is the history of the actual valences of the term “libertarian”, which, prior to the Goldwater campaign, more often referred to anarchism than to free-market capitalism – invoking the sometimes unspoken referents “socialism” and “communism.”


    June 9, 2010 at 14:46

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