The recent statements of Rand Paul reveal the inherent limits of defining freedom as liberty, and the failure of containing libertarianism within conservatism.
When Rand Paul won the Republican Kentucky primary to become the candidate for U.S. Senate, it was assumed that it was a major victory for the Tea Party movement. A few days later the candidate, the son of outspoken libertarian-minded Congressman Ron Paul, stated that if he were in Congress at the time he would probably alter the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Particularly, he found a problem with private businesses having to comply with this law. Paul added that private businesses that discriminated should be publicly condemned and not be patronized, but that these businesses had the right to not be “forced” by the government to allow everyone. The media coverage of these statements has greatly expanded to such a degree that it was seriously questioned whether Rand Paul was fit to be a candidate for any office. But the media coverage appears to portray the statements as more a case of racist attitude rather than the cognitive dissonance that can occur with a strict adherence to defining freedom as solely liberty.
Ron Paul has for a long time been an outspoken elected official who has advocated for libertarianism, and many voters in the primary saw similar qualities in Rand Paul in Kentucky. While the father has been a very strict follower of libertarian principles of anti-state and pro-capitalism, the son has been swayed more by the Tea Party movement which has taken on a more conservative position. Whereas libertarianism can have a small connecting point to anarchism and other types of anti-state left libertarianism, conservatism is a pro-state movement that is also pro-capitalism. This convergence of the state and capitalism can be expressed in the conservative’s strong support of the military and a strong opposition to social services that are necessary to fill in the economic gaps left by capitalism. These social services as necessary bring to light the flaws that are found within capitalism. On the other hand, Ron Paul has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, and the power of large corporations which he views as a distortion of the free market. In other words, compared to conservatives, there can at least be the potential for progressives and anti-state leftists to discuss the issues of the day and political theory with libertarians. There is a small but crucial overlap of agreement in which new political policies can be enacted. However, conservatives operate along the absolute divide of ally and enemy that is covered over by a jingoistic nationalism to such a degree that it is impossible to have a political dialogue.
Rand Paul, aligning himself with the Tea Party movement, is more of a conservative who compresses large ideas of freedom into the small compartment of liberty. Liberty is specifically defined as freedom from government, and in his words on the Civil Rights Act he has demonstrated that he views the situation as an issue only of liberty. In this view, the government can not discriminate but the government also can not force private individuals to not discriminate. Obviously, it is possible for a centralized state to take away the freedom of its citizens, and history has shown that it has happened too many times before. This oppressiveness of the state comes from an inequality of power that develops into a hierarchy of those who give orders and those who take orders. But there is also another type of inequality of power that is ignored by Paul’s rhetoric. This is the hierarchy that can form between citizens, either through economic means or using direct physical force. The history of discrimination in the United States is not only the de jure cases of racist laws enacted by a government, but the de facto racism that was continued beyond the official ending of slavery. This de facto discrimination still prevailed in the social body, and made use of the inequality of power in order to deny minorities access to basic services and opportunities.
The real lesson to be learned from the strange verbal adventures of Dr. Rand Paul is not that the Tea Party is inherently racist. That is a matter for a separate debate on the entire movement. But when purely libertarian theory is coopted by conservatism and its respective political elite, one will see that the real problem to deal with in America is that of power. Specifically, in order for a real comprehensive freedom to exist that is more autonomy than just liberty, the problem of the inequality of power must be addressed. In a democracy, there must be a strict equality of power between voters and representatives or officials within the government. But that equality of power is just a hollow gesture if there is not an equality of power between citizens within the public sphere. As long as there is a hierarchy, there is the lack of true freedom. A democratic process, not only in government but in the economy, can be the best method to insure that hierarchies do not grow and exploitation and abject control is put in check. The Tea Party does not understand this, but the Green Party as an example of an anti-state left movement has incorporated this idea in its principles of grassroots democracy, community economics, and decentralization. In the final analysis, it is clear who are the true supporters of an authentic freedom because they know that liberty is not enough.