I’m a little late on the Rand Paul controversy, but since I’ve finished up the last of my work for college and finally have a bit of free time, I’ll give my brief take on the matter.
Rand Paul, the Tea Party-affiliated Republican nominee for one of Kentucky’s US Senate seats, has come under fire for declaring his opposition to the part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits business owners from turning away customers based on race:
I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners [what to do]. I abhor racism… but at the same time I do believe in private ownership.
After an ugly session with Rachel Maddow, Paul’s alleged racism became a national story. This is clearly a political disaster for Paul; you know a politician is in trouble when he has to issue a statement saying that he won’t try to overturn the Civil Rights Act.
Some libertarians came to Paul’s defense. In response to Paul’s assurance that he would not try to repeal the Civil Rights Act, John Stossel wrote, “None of it? How about the part that denies private citizens the right of free association? I hope Paul stands up to the pressure. If not, freedom of association is in trouble.”
This position is seriously misguided. Of course, all else equal, private businesses should be able to discriminate between potential customers. But in 1964, all else was definitely not equal. The south had, for hundreds of years, state-sponsored, institutionalized racism. There’s a difference between uncoordinated, free individuals choosing whom to associate with and an entire culture and social system based on racial oppression.
The principle of free association is a good one, but that doesn’t mean that it should never be violated, if its violation is necessary to combat some greater evil.