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Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Sensible libertarians acknowledge that a free market is not enough to end all racial discrimination — and that a certain amount of it is the price we pay for living in a free society. This is a fine argument to make as an abstract principle — but it isn’t a path to political victory.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

May 26, 2010 - 12:08 am
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This isn’t an abstract concern; the discrimination that CRA64 sought to prohibit was widespread and profoundly destructive.  I went to church with a man named Lindsay in California. He had some stories about what things were like before CRA64 similar to those that I have heard repeatedly from other blacks.  In the 1950s, when Lindsay’s band went to perform in what is now politically correct Sonoma County, California, Lindsay often had to sleep in his car: there were no motels there that would rent to a black man.

Nor is this all ancient history. As recently as 1993, blacks were discriminated against in a Denny’s in Annapolis. How do we know that they were discriminated against for being black, and not because they were badly dressed? These were on-duty Secret Service agents attached to the president’s security detail and you know the Secret Service is pretty demanding about dress code.

Did CRA64 reduce racial discrimination? Many liberals argue that such laws have an “educative” function that by punishing stupid and destructive behavior, such laws teach people that racism is wrong. They send a strong and unmistakable message that the majority has standards of appropriate behavior that everyone must follow. If you want to argue that CRA64, representing majority will in the U.S. in 1964, is a legitimate use of governmental power, then a lot of other laws that are “educative” in their effects are equally legitimate: abortion bans, marijuana prohibition, and laws against homosexuality.  Antidiscrimination laws impose the majority’s moral code on the minority (as do all laws).  What makes CRA64 “educative” and those other laws “oppressive”?  It’s only whose ox is being gored.

As I said at the beginning, I have conflicting feelings about antidiscrimination laws. Racism is offensive and contrary to scripture. Big government worked long and hard to create the level of racism against blacks; a certain amount of big government trying to eradicate it has a certain rough justice to it. But where does this end?  Can government prohibit employment discrimination against people with facial piercings? Santa Cruz County, California, passed such an ordinance a few years ago.  Is it “unfair” for restaurants to discriminate against people that haven’t bathed in weeks, and refuse them service?  How dare they put up discriminatory signs like, “No shirts, no shoes, no service.”  Why should a fashion modeling agency be allowed to discriminate against the obese and ugly?

Sensible libertarians acknowledge that a free market is not enough to end all racial discrimination — and that a certain amount of it is the price we pay for living in a free society.  This is a fine argument to make as an abstract principle but it isn’t a path to political victory.

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Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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