Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rand Paul, Title 2, and the Importance of Principles

The Randal Paul upset in the May Kentucky GOP senate primary exploded recently into a controversy surrounding his previously elicited views concerning the “public accommodations” clause in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, known officially as Title 2. Paul is on record as opposing that portion of the Act. Thus, he has shined a spotlight on an issue that was thought to be long ago “settled”.

Title 2 is the segment of the Act that legally bans discrimination in privately owned establishments offering “public accommodations” based upon race, national origin, color, or religion. The rest of the Act deals only with the elimination of laws upholding segregation and discrimination … i.e., government sanctioned and/or enforced segregation. Thus, most of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is valid, just, and necessary.

My concern here is with Title 2. It is not with Rand Paul. There is much to say on this subject. This post will serve as an introduction in which I state my position, and give a brief outline of the fundamental issues that underlie my reasons for that position. From time to time, in subsequent posts and as time permits, I will elaborate on the points in that outline. I’ve posted numerous online comments regarding key aspects of this issue. So, much of the raw material is already written.

The controversy surrounding Title 2 that Rand Paul ignited is one of those signature issues that encapsulates core premises regarding individual rights, the proper role of government, and human nature. Since this blog is dedicated to ascertaining the role of ideas in concrete events – and upholds, as right, the ideas of the Enlightenment, America’s Founding ideals, and Objectivism - it is necessary for me to make unequivocal where I stand. The fundamental ideas I uphold, and fundamental ideas as such, are tied in to this issue.

Here are the key issues I will be covering in future posts, as they relate to Title 2:

1. Title 2 violates Property Rights.

2. Title 2 violates the right to freedom of association … and disassociation.

3. Title 2 violates the right to live by your own ideas, and to act on your own judgement and moral principles.

4. Title 2 was an unnecessary infringement of individual rights, if eliminating racial injustice was the goal. The question is, did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 lead to the abolition of racial segregation? Or was a powerful, established cultural trend already under way, dealing a deathblow to segregation, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being the culmination of that trend? My contention is not that the Act shouldn’t have been passed (except for Title 2), but that cause and effect has been reversed by many historians. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was possible only because of massive and growing cultural pressure against segregated America.

5. Title 2 lays a vital building block of tyranny. It places into the hands of government the power to decide which ideas are officially “acceptable”, which types of human associations are valid, and which of both are not.

6. The role of the ancient doctrine of Original Sin in justifying laws such as Title 2 will be examined.

7. There are proper, practical, and powerful private means at the disposal of free people to defeat and marginalize non-rights-violating injustice. “Non-rights-violating injustice” is not an oxymoron. In a free society that respects individual rights, reason, voluntary persuasion, and justice eventually win out over irrationality and injustice without resorting to freedom-endangering governmental coercion.

I will be arguing against Title 2, and by implication against all similar laws, from the standpoint of the principles of freedom that it violates. This is a warning to those shallow minds whose knee-jerk reaction will be to see my position not as a defense of freedom's but of racism and racial segregation. What they must learn is that when you defend the rights of any one person, regardless of his character, you defend the rights of all. Indeed, defending the rights of all is the only way to defend the rights of all. Either rights are unalienable, or they are not. If they are not, then we return to the dark days before the Enlightenment, when people acted by permission, the state was free to do as it pleased with no constraints, and brute force was the ruling principle.

Since my views on this very sensitive issue that Rand Paul brought to the forefront are defined by my passionate belief in the moral principle of individual rights, let me first define my terms. What do I mean by principles? Since my foundational philosophy is Objectivism, I will offer as my reference Ayn Rand’s definition:

“A principle is ‘a fundamental, primary, or general truth, on which other truths depend.’ Thus a principle is an abstraction which subsumes a great number of concretes. It is only by means of principles that one can set one’s long-range goals and evaluate the concrete alternatives of any given moment. It is only principles that enable a man to plan his future and to achieve it.”

Focus for a moment on the phrase, “an abstraction which subsumes a great number of concretes”. This is key to understanding the powerful, irresistible force of ideas in the course of human events. There is no such thing as an isolated concrete issue in human affairs. Human beings are, by their very nature, conceptual beings. That is how a vast sum of knowledge can be held in a single mind. How is it that you can walk into a room and see an elevated, flat object that you have never seen before, yet know instantly that it is a table? Because, you hold in your mind the abstract knowledge of the concept “table”, which you learned many years before, and which you can draw upon an unlimited number of times. How many tables are in the world? They have unlimited differences in terms of shape, color, number of legs, etc. Yet, you know what each and every one of them is, by means of a single concept.

The same is true of concrete socio-political issues. Europe is the birthplace of fascism – specifically, Italy and Germany. If it arose in America, would you be able to identify it, even if you weren't alive in the early 20th century, or experienced it? Yes, by the same method of abstraction that you would identify that table – by zeroing in on fascism’s essential characteristics. Each issue implies at least one abstract concept, or principle, which can be used to identify all similar issues regardless of specific concrete differences. Each time you form an opinion on any specific issue regarding human affairs, you can not escape the underlying abstract implications of that issue. You can ignore it, at your peril. But you can not escape it. The only question is, do you seek to discover the implications – the fundamental ideas and premises, i.e., the principles – that underlie it? Or, not. When a law is passed to ban smoking in restaurants, a principle has been established. When, five years later, another law is passed to ban transfats in menu items, that same previously established principle is at work. And when, five years later another law is passed that requires the calorie count of all menu items to be listed, we once again see that principle at work. And when the owner of a restaurant chain complains that his costs will rise dramatically because of this latest law, will he know that he is encountering the consequences of a principle established ten years earlier – or perhaps in 1964?

When a culture accepts a fundamental abstract premise in relation to one particular issue, it has unleashed – for good or for evil – consequences that range far and wide beyond that one issue. When you understand this, you have gained the intellectual key that helps explain the seemingly inexplicable. This understanding helps you to integrate world events. It helps you to figure out where we are, how we got here, and where we are heading.

There was once a towering group of men who understood exactly where the world stood, where they wanted to take it, and how to get it there. I speak, of course, of the Founding Fathers of this country. They understood the role of ideas, defined the principles that would guide them, and then pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on them.

The Founder' reverence for principle is demonstrated in these excerpts from James Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments". In his dramatic defense of religious liberty in opposition to Virginia's proposed tax to support the Christian Church, he said:

"Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties [the Church assessment]. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle." (Emphasis added.)

The principle James Madison was referring to was the one underlying a Virginia law, known as “A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion”. He understood that once any governmental “department of power” (the legislature or the Executive branch) “overleap[s] the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people”, there is no way to contain that power, because " ‘the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience’ " is held by the same tenure with all our other rights.” (Emphasis added.) He continued:

“Either we must say, that they may control the freedom of the press, may abolish the Trial by Jury, may swallow up the Executive and Judiciary Powers of the State; nay that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary Assembly or, we must say, that they have no authority to enact into the law the Bill under consideration.”

Notice the broad sweep of the rights that Madison saw threatened by a single religion-funding bill in a single state. Keep Madison's wisdom in mind as you read this and subsequent related posts, in which I "deny the principles" behind Title 2 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in order to "avoid the consequences" rather than "wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents". We've already embarked down that road strewn with “exercise” and “precedent”, but its not too late.

Notice that Madison is not concerned with whether the religious or Christian ideas the tax money would have supported were good or bad, or whether or not he personally agreed or disagreed with them. His concern was with the destructive consequences of the principle of “usurped power” to religious freedom - and ultimately all freedoms - which follow when government funds religion.

Although there was not unanimous agreement with Madison on this concrete issue, the Founders were united in their belief in the importance of universal truths. In this instance, Madison’s powerful principled arguments carried the day handily. Such was the intellectual stature of America’s Founding Fathers. To those who would say that there is no connection between abstract theory and practice, I say that America exists because a radical group of activist intellectuals believed exactly the opposite! America exists because men at the time understood the importance and power of principles. America is perishing because that understanding has largely been lost, thanks to the twin mind-poisons of Pragmatism and Progressive Education.

Principles matter, whether one chooses to acknowledge that fact or not. To once again quote Ayn Rand:

“The present state of our culture may be gauged by the extent to which principles have vanished from public discussion, reducing our cultural atmosphere to the sordid, petty senselessness of a bickering family that haggles over trivial concretes, while betraying all its major values, selling out its future for some spurious advantage of the moment.

“But there is nothing as impractical as a so-called “practical” man. His view of practicality can best be illustrated as follows: if you want to drive from New York to Los Angeles, it is “impractical” and “idealistic” to consult a map and to select the best way to get there; you will get there much faster if you just start out driving at random, turning (or cutting) any corner, taking any road in any direction, following nothing but the mood and the weather of the moment.

“The fact is, of course, that by this method you will never get there at all. But while most people do recognize this fact in regard to the course of a journey, they are not so perceptive in regard to the course of their life and of their country.

“Concrete problems cannot even be grasped, let alone judged or solved, without reference to abstract principles.

“When men abandon principles (i.e., their conceptual faculty), two of the major results are: individually, the inability to project the future; socially, the impossibility of communication.”

Ayn Rand’s reverence for principles parallels that of the Founders, which is one reason why I consider her to be America’s Last Founding Father.

Any breach of the fundamental principles underlying our freedoms undermines all of the concrete values subsumed under those principles. Therefor, the most despicable practitioners of our unalienable rights must be defended with full moral conviction. Yes, it is hard … sometimes excruciatingly hard … to defend the rights of those who hold the most irrational and the most evil ideas, such as those who would hang a “no blacks” or “no Mexicans” sign in their windows. It’s so much easier to make exceptions in those cases. But, that is precisely where the courage of one’s convictions counts most. Principles matter, and it is in regard to the most difficult issues that principles matter most. The exception you make is exactly the kind of breach through which the wedges of statism gain entrance into the legal structure of a free society.

So, here is my statement:

Title 2 is politically, culturally, morally, and philosophically wrong, because it violates the principles of freedom … i.e., individual rights.

I will defend that statement systematically in subsequent posts.

There is one more thing I want to say here. I believe that Title 2, and all of the interlocking myriad of rights-violating laws we have on the books, should be abolished. However, I do not support any attempt to repeal Title 2 at this time, or for the foreseeable future. For one thing, my reading of the comments sections of online articles demonstrate that the heart-wrenching memories of the victims and their families of what life was like in segregated America are still too real and vivid. Time-wise, we are not that far removed from that period.

More importantly, it would be politically impossible to repeal Title 2 without the proper philosophical foundation in the culture. It is the building of that foundation, not repeal, that is my goal at this time. Politics follows ideas. Since the fundamental ideas of America’s Founding and of freedom - and fundamental ideas as such - are ignored, forgotten, misunderstood and even met with outright hostility, the primary job today is educational. To change the political direction of the country and unwind bad law, the right ideas must first be absorbed into the culture.

So, time and energy spent seeking outright repeal would be futile, in my view, and can be better spent advocating for the ideals that will ultimately lead to repeal, and simultaneously to a society without racism and prejudice. My attack on Title 2 should be seen for what it is – philosophical base-building rather than an activist call for repeal.

Related Reading:

1964 Civil Rights Act party voting percentages

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