Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Rationalization Engine

Matthew Yglesias -- normally my hero for his clarity of thought -- falls for the Libertarian gambit.

He reports that Rand Paul, the libertarian nominee of the Republican Party for Senate in Kentucky "admitted that under his brand of libertarian conservatism he can’t support the 1964 Civil Rights Act or other non-discrimination legislation as applied to private businesses."

Yglesias, to his shame, endorses the libertarian excuse:
The point to make about Paul, however, is that what he suffers from here is an excess of honesty and ideological rigor not an unusual degree of racism. Basic free market principles really do lead one to the absurd conclusion that government regulation of private business is a greater evil than institutionalized segregation. That’s why Barry Goldwater, William F Buckley, the Young Americans for Freedom, and the other progenitors of the postwar conservative movement all opposed the Civil Rights Act and the civil rights movement. And, indeed, under the kind of hyper-restrictive construction of the constitution that today’s rightwingers use to say the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, the Civil Rights Act would probably also be invalidated.

"Basic free market principles" lead to no such conclusion at all. On the contrary, non-discrimination laws are in an ancient, common law tradition, which requires those businesses that offer public accomodation, like restaurants and hotels, to serve all, who present themselves in good order. The efficiency of competitive markets, enshrined in economic theory, presumes that the participants are not undermining the social fabric, with organized efforts to make a subgroup of the society, second-class citizens.

Libertarianism, in fact, is just a rationalization engine, a philosophical apparatus for generating arguments in support of a policy position, while obscuring the true (reprehensible) motives for it.

As Matthew observes, Rand Paul "goes out of his way to explain that he doesn’t actually favor segregated lunch counters, he just thinks it would be wrong to do anything about them. Similarly, I suppose the Cato Institute’s Dan Mitchell would tell you he doesn’t actually want poor children to suffer from starvation or malnourishment he just thinks it’s folly to try to do anything about it . . ."

Denial is a tell.

Since the argument of the libertarian is false, there's really little use in arguing with it.

Of course, many actual libertarians are "sincere" -- they are just fools, who have discovered that libertarian ideology allows them to generate dozens of seemingly sophisticated, philosophically impressive opinions and arguments. And, they like winning the battle of the water cooler.

But, mostly arguing with libertarians is a confusing waste of time. And, it is undermines democratic deliberation, because there's no compromising with such false rationalizations. Compromises between opposing interests, with opposing desiderata are possible, but a compromise with a false principle? What is that?

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