Rand Paul, Libertarianism, and Legislating Morality

Rand Paul and Ayn Rand: Birds of a Feather
Rand Paul and Ayn Rand: Birds of a Feather

Rand Paul's Libertarian Beliefs

 

This past week, America received a glimpse into the mind of libertarianism through the words and positions of Dr. Rand Paul.  For those who don’t know, Dr. Paul, son of libertarian Republican senator Ron Paul of Texas is himself the Republican candidate for Senate from Kentucky.  After winning this nomination, some of his positions on various topics in law emerged and he began making further statements in interviews on National Public Radio and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.

 

Let’s review some of these statements to show Paul is taking a stand that is consistent and principled (though, as we shall see, his principles are quite questionable and problematic).

 

The first comes from a letter to the editor written prior to his candidacy in 2002:

 

“In a May 30, 2002, letter to the Bowling Green Daily News, Paul's hometown newspaper, he criticized the paper for endorsing the Fair Housing Act [of 1968], and explained that "a free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination, even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin." David Weigel, The Washington Post, 20 May 2010, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/right-now/2010/05/rand_paul_in_2002_i_may_not_li.html; brackets and italics mine

And:

‘"A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination," wrote Paul, "even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin. It is unenlightened and ill-informed to promote discrimination against individuals based on the color of their skin. It is likewise unwise to forget the distinction between public (taxpayer-financed) and private entities."’ [ibid]

After his nomination, Paul’s camp felt the need to clarify:

“Jesse Benton, a spokesman for Paul, cautioned that Paul's statements about federal laws in no way mean he's interested in repealing laws that prevent discrimination.

‘"The federal government has the power under the Civil Rights Act to make sure citizens don't discriminate on race," said Benton. "He's not going to repeal it. The only people who are talking about changes to civil rights legislation are people on the left are people who want to use this as a political attack tool. Not any serious people talking about policy."’ [ibid]

It would be easy to let it go at that – Rand Paul, in 2002 was just talking out of his hat.  But we ought not be willing to accept that answer for two reasons:  1) Paul has laid down his principles, namely that private property rights are absolute and the government may make no laws to tell a private property owner what to do with his property, no matter how “unenlightened and ill-informed” – or immoral – the property owner may be in his use of property; and 2) This tells us clearly not so much how Paul would vote on the Housing Act – which has been settled law since 1968 – but how he plans to vote in the future should become a senator and what sort of bills he might propose or support. 

We know this because he has never renounced the principle and has suddenly become tight-lipped towards the mainstream press (as of this writing he pulled out of Meet the Press for 23 May, becoming only the third person in 60 years or so to do so).

People began looking into Rand Paul’s beliefs because of his appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show where Maddow asked him specific questions about positions he’d taken in an interview with NPR earlier in the day.

In he NPR interview, Paul questioned the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but also the Americans With Disabilities Act:

“Here's the interview in a nutshell, from Paul's response to a question about whether or not he thinks the ADA is an example of federal "overreach":

‘"I think a lot of things could be handled locally," Paul told Siegel. "For example, I think that we should try to do everything we can to allow for people with disabilities and handicaps...I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who's handicapped, it might be reasonable to let him have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator. And I think when you get to solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions."’ Sam Stein, The Huffington Post, 20 May 2010, “Rand Paul on Civil Rights Controversy: I Shouldn’t Have Talked to Rachel Maddow,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/20/rand-paul-civil-rights-rachel-maddow_n_583292.html?view=print

But more real difficulties in Paul’s beliefs surfaced in the subsequent Rachel Maddow interview:

“Maddow: Do you think that a private business has a right to say that 'We don't serve black people?' [One of the many segregationist policies that led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.]

“Paul: I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But do discriminate.

“[Paul:] But I think what's important in this debate is not getting into any specific "gotcha" on this, but asking the question 'What about freedom of speech?' Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent. Should we limit racists from speaking. I don't want to be associated with those people, but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things that freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn't mean we approve of it...”  The Huffington Post, 20 May 2010, “Rand Paul on ‘Maddow’ Defends Criticism of Civil Rights Act , Says He Would Have Worked to Change the Bill.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/20/rand-paul-tells-maddow-th_n_582872.html?view=print, brackets and italics mine

Paul makes no distinction between freedom of speech and freedom of action – most of us recognize that there is something different between talking about something and actually acting on it; and most of us recognize a further distinction between actions that may be repugnant yet directly affect no one else and actions that are both repugnant and damage others in some meaningful way.  The only distinction he is willing to make is between the “public sphere” – government, which should be limited by law – and the “private sphere of ‘liberty’” – which is supposed to be absolutely free of interference from the  government and law.

No, Rand Paul does not agree with racism – we will take him on his word here; he says he abhors “discrimination in any form.”  But notice his choice of words in this part of the interview as it is crucial to understanding the theoretical underpinnings of libertarianism: While he, personally, dislikes racism and segregationist actions and the like (like all of us, one is quite certain Paul has a long list of things he privately dislikes), he is happy to say that “personal freedom” is absolute (we are returning to this term “absolute” many times); Paul dislikes racism, but others like it and choose it as a way of life and belief system – but, not only that, he believes property rights are absolute, so racists are free to use their property in the community (e.g. restaurants) to express their feelings and beliefs, not only by speech, but by imposing them on others through the policies they enact within their tiny kingdoms.  Or large kingdoms, should they be wealthy and own and control much property.

Notice that Rand Paul makes no distinctions between types of private property.  He treats a restaurant, which operates with its doors open to serve the public and community and which is, itself, situated within a community of various sorts of people, as if it were a private residence. 

Obviously, the concept of freedom, as we generally understand it in the West now, entails that we have a great deal of control over the private space of our home – even if we rent it.  We generally decide who may come and go within our domicile and when they may arrive and when they must leave and what they may and may not do while there.

But if we operate a “public business,” it would seem that we lose some of that freedom – or, to state it properly, our personal freedom as regards that property is different and more limited.  We never had the freedom to do just anything we wish with our property in the first place.  The notion we can exclude some people from our business based on non-objective criteria, such as race or religion, or sexuality, or hair or eye color, or left-handedness, or regional accent seems strange to many of us, just on the surface.  But beneath the surface is the idea of justice.

Simple legality isn’t what is in question – legal justice – but justice as a moral principle prior to being a basis for law.  The ancient Greeks defined justice as treating equals as equals and unequals as unequals; or to say it in modern language: Giving each his or her due.  Our question then becomes, are accidents of birth or differences of belief an essential difference between people inasmuch as they are simply human – in other words, does someone become less or more human by being of this race or that, this religion or that, this eye or hair color, left or right handedness, and so forth. 

Racists, of course, mistake visual differences – skin color or place of origin – for essential differences; their belief is irrational and unsupportable by rational argumentation.  It is the result of deep seated prejudices and a misunderstanding of biology and philosophy and, often, religion.  It is a superstition, and an immoral one as it leads to unjust treatment of others – it makes the racist an unjust person, who is immoral as well as foolish.

There is no good reason to exclude a person from a public business because of race.  Period.  If people cannot give good reasons for their behavior at crucial moments, at the moments one’s actions affect others especially, one cannot be socially tolerated – and if one’s actions actually damage or demean others and reduce them to second class citizens, we can and must move from social censure (disapproval and boycott, for example), to using the power of law to forcibly limit those who cannot voluntarily govern themselves rationally.

The burden is always on a real human being (in this case, a business owner) to show her policies are as rational or reasonable as possible in dealing with others, even when the question is the use of her property.  One does not escape the bounds of morality by taking refuge within a public business one might happen to own – one still must practice a bare minimum of rationality and decency when dealing with others there.  Should one wish to be irrational and immoral (say, racist in conduct), one generally has the space to do that within the precincts of one’s home, which is far more private by definition than a business dealing with others.

But, for the libertarian, none of the foregoing makes any sense, as he will not accept the premise that moral limits can occasionally be legislated and made law.  A libertarian will tie himself into knots to claim that “free market forces” and “social pressure” alone will correct any obnoxious behavior . . . but, when push comes to shove, part of the reason for this is that the libertarian believes, not only that people do believe whatever they wish, but that that they should – and others have no business restraining them except in a very narrowly defined set of circumstances (e.g. people shouldn’t be allowed to murder one another). 

Meanwhile, government is to be completely restrained from stepping in and redressing grievances towards private individuals and their private business – private property belongs to the owner and no one may, by law, tell him what to do with his property.  One may argue with him, one may attempt to enlighten him in conversation, one may boycott him, but one may not force him to act as a rational human minimally ought to act when his actions adversely affect society or minorities.

One final quote from the Maddow interview to drive home the point:

Maddow:... How about desegregating lunch counters?

Paul: Well what it gets into then is if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant even though the owner of the restaurant says 'well no, we don't want to have guns in here' the bar says 'we don't want to have guns in here because people might drink and start fighting and shoot each-other.' Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant? These are important philosophical debates but not a very practical discussion...

Maddow: Well, it was pretty practical to the people who had the life nearly beaten out of them trying to desegregate Walgreen's lunch counters despite these esoteric debates about what it means about ownership. This is not a hypothetical Dr. Paul.” [ibid]

Note that Rand Paul thinks the moment that anyone points out that one’s behavior is limited by rational morality and society imposes this limit with a statute, we have decided, in this case, “restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned.”  And notice that nowhere did Rachel Maddow, in her interview suggest, nor is this writer suggesting, that property use is socialized by being limited by law or morality.  Nor did America imply this in the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, the ADA Act and other such civil rights (or other) legislation.  Businesses have certainly gone on making money since 1964 and society does not seize all or even most of the profits, nor does it intrude into businesses on a regular basis to impose random and senseless laws and rules to micromanage how business is done.

Libertarians will not agree with even this latter statement – they protest involuntary taxation, the minimum wage laws, OSHA safety regulations, discrimination in hiring policies, and on and on.  If something is not held to be completely voluntary where the use of one’s property is concerned, it is an infringement of one’s absolute liberty, usually spelled “Liberty” – as if their interpretation of the idea becomes clearer or closer to true by capitalizing the first letter.

Libertarians see tyranny lurking everywhere.  It should be obvious why since they define both liberty and tyranny so broadly.

Why We Can and Must Legislate Morality From Time to Time

One should find the libertarian fear of “legislating morality” completely suspect. Because, if one notices, they have no terror of legislating their own minimalistic conception of ethics. Laws that limit government from assisting oppressed minorities against oppression – these they will pass or support at a heartbeat; principles that allow suspect “liberties” (e.g. absolute property rights) to be used unjustly in the social sphere they will defend and work to enshrine in the law. Morally, making no distinction between license and liberty, thus collapsing the two entirely different ideas into one undifferentiated mass, they wish to legislate accordingly. Rand Paul’s interviews and letter are examples of this, as are his views on the absolute nature of private property rights.

A deeper question than, “Should we legislate morality?” would be to inquire whether libertarian beliefs about ethics are true, good for creating good human beings, people who are good at being human beings – whether the ethical philosophy underlying libertarian political positions offers greater benefits for all people than other approaches to morality.

The position of this writer is that the answer should be negative, but that argument is beyond the scope of this essay. For the moment, let our questions simply be: “Can and should government legislate based on ethical principles?”

First, let’s make a distinction between rational morality – morality that attempts to make rational arguments based on evidence and ideas available to all people to support itself – and irrational ethics which holds some set of beliefs as completely self-evident and refuses to argue for their truth. Let’s also distinguish rational ethics from a-rational ethics: a-rational ethics are things we may believe, say, by faith, which we cannot demonstrate rationally, but which do not violate anything we may know by reason.

For our purposes, one thinks it should be clear that governments, certainly the American form of government, if they do legislate using ethical principles, ought to only legislate using rational ones. This because, in principle, the arguments for them would be understandable and disputable by everyone who is rational, while irrational “principles” are more or less random or prejudicial and a-rational beliefs require a common ground of faith to argue from.

To make this clearer, take the Christian belief that one must receive Holy Communion. This is a belief held on faith, religious faith, but there is no purely rational argument that would convince rational people they ought to do it. On the other hand, nothing about receiving the Eucharist violates anything we know rationally – it hurts no one and nothing if people do it or believe in it. It is not a belief advanced by most without a very solid theological argument (so it isn’t an irrational belief), but since the argument is theological and not philosophical, appealing to common evidence outside scripture and a specific religious tradition, it is a-rational. One cannot make a good rational argument, then, that any laws ought to be made that require everyone or anyone to receive Holy Communion.

This is one of the reasons we have a separation of Church and State in our Constitution. There are other reasons, but this is one important example of why there is a separation.

If we grasp this much, it immediately follows that the number of rational moral values available to us to use in legislation is already limited at the outset. It is not as if there is an infinite number of principles with which to work. Moreover, many moral principles focus entirely on purely private conduct and refer solely to the individual human being as a moral agent – and these, likewise, are by and large outside anything a government could or should use in legislating.

For example, if (for argument’s sake) it is a moral value that people ought to be courageous, it is difficult to see where it would ever be necessary to enshrine this in common laws (unless, perhaps, it is implicit in laws concerning soldiers who, as a matter of duty, must be courageous in an obvious way to perform their duties without deserting their posts).

Next, let’s see if governments actually do use ethics in making laws, our government in America, to be specific. And the answer is yes. From the Constitution on down, the law is full of articles and statutes based on moral ideas and values. Any discussion of rights, for example, involves a rational conception of human beings – that we have certain needs, must be treated in certain ways. Laws against things such as murder exist, not at random or “just because” some lawmakers decided this would be a nice thing, but because prohibitions on murder are a pre-condition for the existence of all human societies. Humans did not create this pre-condition, it pre-exists us, objectively in some way, and makes life as humans possible.

But since, left to our own devices, without law, some people will and do choose to murder for whatever reason, this prohibition has been enshrined into law along with various definitions of degrees of murder, types of murder, levels of culpability (e.g. manslaughter involves less culpability than first degree murder in our code) extenuating circumstances (e.g. self-defense), and so forth. The limits that ethics place on behavior without law (e.g. murder is wrong, murderers are not living up to being good humans, murderers are not treating their victims justly), law openly spells out in this case to restrict the activities of those who would not live morally without exterior restrictions and system of punishment.

The law does this to maintain peace and stability in the society it exists to protect, and to protect the individuals and their rights within that society.

Libertarians are all for laws on murder, for example, for reasons of their own. The two great sins in the libertarian dictionary are ”use of force and fraud” to get one’s way. To be honest, this writer has yet to read a convincing argument why a society of selfish, greedy individuals (and libertarians are egoists who define greed as the mainspring of progress) should place these tools – force and fraud – off limits or that, in practice, a libertarian society would do so (for example, being absolute free marketers, no legal limits would ever be placed on advertizing, and advertizing is a form of manipulation and can be quite subtle and misleading – and this is fraudulent behavior).

But this minimalist conception of the role of government – to protect sovereign individuals from force and fraud alone – doesn’t seem to explain the need to do more than this, in ethics or law. For example, taking care of children. This, like the prohibition on murder, is a universal moral value, a pre-condition of human society and human life. And we have laws that protect children and mandate their care to force those who will not do this to assist in it. Abstaining from force and fraud will not meet the needs of raising children and our laws, as they evolved, have grown to recognize that the needs of children require the positive protection of legislation.

I think the question of whether we can or ought to legislate morality has been answered, or a way towards a more complete answer has been sketched. Let’s turn to another question, more tricky: When should we legislate morality and enforce it by law?

In the American system, laws are not supposed to be enacted unless necessary. Where there is no problem or where there is no looming danger of a problem, legislators, at the national or local level, are not encouraged to sit about and make up laws to ensure the populace becomes more “moral.” This is done, especially in the state bodies, at times, but it genuinely runs against the grain of the notion of limited government – which is a valid one when not conceived in the libertarian fashion.

But in cases where rights are violated and social pressure does not succeed in stifling the injustice, or in cases where the citizens who should be stifling the injustice are themselves the cause of injustice, it seems clear government’s duty is to step in and protected the oppressed.

This was the case in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act, in 1968 with the Fair Housing Act, and in the 1990s with the Americans with Disabilities Act – all of which we saw Rand Paul has difficulties with, and we may take Paul as a fair representative of what libertarian-minded people wish to vote for.

We may take it as a matter of course he and others like him would oppose government intervention to protect anyone from private oppression, even where a whole community, region, or state’s culture is prejudiced and oppressive to a minority. As if community force were not every bit as effectively force, unwritten law, as governmental law.

To sum it up, the libertarian is interested in property rights and private liberties when the issue is human rights and societal responsibilities to honor those rights. He cannot see all of these must co-exist in our country; not one set or the other: both; and that human rights trump property rights -- the law exists to serve humans, not property.

As we saw earlier in this essay, the moral issue in ’64, ’68, and the ‘90s revolved around justice and personal injustice and exactly how far one can be unjust and when and be tolerated. This was the moral issue. Libertarians have little notion of justice in their ethic – what they have is radical selfishness, selfishness elevated to the status of a virtue. Their main philosopher, Ayn Rand wrote explicitly on this from which I derive my interpretation of libertarian values – she even penned a collection of short essays called “The Virtue of Selfishness.” And she was not being witty. It contains her moral theory.

One approach to moral questions is to ask, “Who am I if I do this sort of thing?” not “How will I personally benefit or profit from this?” And then, “Is this a good example of being human? What is the value of the moral standard I am putting into action in my life?” Another is to wonder, “How much of this sort of behavior could a society tolerate if everyone acted as I wish to do? Could I live in such a world?”

If we find people within society acting unjustly and adversely affecting others, undermining the structure of society, a good community will apply social pressures to curb these people – citizens will not cooperate with them, citizens will openly criticize their beliefs and motives, social institutions will apply pressures such as economic ones. But if this fails, or if a given society does not recognize that one of the essential structural elements in a society is that all who are citizens must benefit equally from being in the society and abiding by the laws and rules, then government will have to intervene to some degree, up to making a new law, if necessary, spelling out the just usages of property – or whatever the subject may be.

Richard Van Ingram

22 May 2010

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Comments 16 comments

Taleb odaj 3 years ago

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Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Evan -- I have responded to you in an essay: A Conversation With a Libertarian. No quarter given, none expected.


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Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Evan -- the last part of your post got cut off. Unfortunately, this thing has space limits. Post the rest for me to read.

I'm going to have to answer you with an essay. There is really no way to adequately address the serious issues you bring up without full explanations. I will say you seem to conflate the fact that people can come to bad conclusions by misusing reason and logic with actually using reason and logic adequately and properly. You also collapse rhetoric -- the capacity to talk people into believing one's positions -- with having positions that are true. Just because reason and rhetoric can be misuded and abused does not mean law isn't and can't be based on rational morality.

You also misunderstand that simply because some people are irrational and subjectivistic, that hardly means true moral values are subjectivistic and there is no objective truth to be had about them. Go back to my argument about why murder is wrong and show me how it is logically and factually wrong -- even if some people subjectively could care less.

Morality has been the basis for law in the West since Greek times -- it is not some radically new idea I'm proposing here. It may be new to you, but it is not particularly innovative. The entire constitution and Declaration rest on a very particular morality -- it isn't entirely Locke-ian, either (hence Jefferson talks about the foundation of the nation being, in part, "pursuit of happiness," not "ownership of private property"). Virtue and what we now call virtue ethics was the main position of the Founders, not some sort of "ethics of capitalism," or "ethics of egoism and selfishness." That would be an extreme re-writing of history.

Again, it is not just "any" theory of morality that will do for legislation -- only moral arguments supportable by rational arguments and common evidence are acceptable. The Nazis, whom you return to as a couter-example, never made any truly rational arguments for their morality or laws. They made arguments, they used reason and emotionalistic rhetoric, but mainly what they did was make propaganda which was easily refuted by rational argumentation and examination.

What I find ironic is you insist we cannot legislate using morality, but you insist we must legislate using your morality -- private property rights (which you are describing as absolute while maintaing they are not -- why you do this, I do not understand; perhaps you don't grasp how I'm using "absolute" in the context of my writings)and unfettered greed are supposed to limit and guide how we legislate. How did your position earn such prominence if you do not, in fact, believe it to be universally true for all people -- and the basis for law?


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Evan G Rogers 6 years ago from Dublin, Ohio

Hey, thanks for engaging me - I didn't meant to come off as offensive. I hope we'll have a good debate. Perhaps we'll move closer to some sort of agreement - or further strengthen our own beliefs.

quote: "The problem is, Rand Paul/libertarians tend to think that freedom of speech and freedom to treat others any way one wishes, possibly short of killing them, is the same thing."

I'm afraid this is incorrect. I don't think I've ever met a libertarian who thinks this. The golden rule of libertarianism is "You can do that with your property as you wish, so long as it doesn't interfere with others' right to do the same". No where in that golden rule is violence EVER even suggested - nor allowed.

Quote: "Are “property rights” the only rights people have? Is it not possible to “do bad things” and violate far more and worse than a person’s property rights?"

The right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness (locke wrote "property" instead of PoH), all qualify as property rights: You own your body, liberty is the freedom to do as you wish with your property, and ... property is property - the pursuit of happiness follows the golden rule listed above easily. (and vice versa)

Quote: "Why are property rights absolute and not limited?"

Property rights are what humans use to define theft, murder, and just about every other crime... It seems like a fantastic judge of 'evil' to me.

Why would we want to limit property rights? especially if doing so is unconstitutional.

Quote: "But if you own a business open to the public, that is not a home, not anything like a home – it depends on the community to function in a myriad of ways, "

... so does a home...? Lord knows I didn't make my own home, and it required, possibly, thousands of people to make! With my home, I can choose to let anyone in that I choose. If I own a different building, why does it suddenly mean I can't do that? Should I also be required to let the local axe murderer in? (no, i'm not saying minorities are axe murderers, or anything remotely similar)

Quote: "all people have as much right to eat in a restaurant as any other person;"

I must demand that, no , they don't. The same reason that trendy clubs only let in the culturally elite (and get away with it), so too can the private property owner be allowed to choose who to let into their property.

Quote: "“Racist” is not a race, so no. "

But it is a life choice. If the political tides shift to say that Gay people are a life choice, then they can be legislated against easily.

The "legislating morality" thing just opens up too many chances for abuse. If X can be outlawed on private property, then so can A, B, and C.

"Definition of rational debate": *Mexicans steal Americans' jobs, thus we should get rid of immigrants.* Obviously this is a ridiculous, albeit rational, idea. Rationality has its limits, and can be manipulated - that's all I'm saying.

Quote: "if some racist excludes people from his business, we should all care."

Indeed, and if we all choose to care, then the racist will go out of business! that's how businesses work.

Quote: "Even your “Social Darwinism” argument is flawed – just ask any biologist;"

WHOA WHOA WHOA!!! that is NOT my argument. My argument is that a bozo with a stupid mustache who can speak eloquently can use idiotic premises for logic, and can then convince the whole nation to "legislate morally" and then we end up with people with yellow stars on their jackets, scarlet As on their blouses, and people in gas chambers.

If you read much of the Nazi propaganda, it rests on flawed rational arguments that relied on legislating morality.

***Do not even TRY to connect me to being racist, or to Social Darwinism - I'm merely defending the right to own property rights and not have them interfered with. I do NOT in any way support racism. My argument follows the logic of the 1st amendment: you may disagree with what I write, but you still have the right to write it; you may disagree with racists, but they still have the right to be racists.***

Quote: "Until you actually make an argument there is something morally wrong with being homosexual,"

I DID make an argument against homosexuality - it was not an argument I agree with. And I used the argument to show how easy it is to "legislate morally" and end up throwing gay people in ovens. Here's the argument, again, summed up:

We need a population=> gays don't reproduce => thus they are wastes of resources=> thus they should be immediately wiped out of the society.

*I disagree with this argument*, *I'm using it to show how EASY it is to change "morality" and thus use rational arguments to proceed to atrocities*

Quote: "If there cannot be an “established religion,” that means there cannot be a state church"

BUT THE 1ST AMENDMENT ONLY BANS THE FEDERAL GOV'T FROM ESTABLISHING A RELIGION! THE STATES ARE FREE TO DO SO!!

Quote: "You’re all over the board. Nothing in the first amendment gives anyone the right to be a racist in his actions"

Oops, i had a typo: when i wrote "notice the first word: CONGRESS" i proceeded to say that states could be as *racist* as they wanted. I mistyped: meant Religious. Sorry bout that. The RE threw me off.

Quote: "You don’t own yourself. No one can own you."

So, now, we're not only arguing against racists, but we're arguing against people who like to be dominated?

Voluntary slavery is perfectly moral. If I choose to let someone else own me (perhaps just for a day), then it is 100% moral for me to do so (so long as they don't use me to infringe on other people's rights). If person likes to be dominated, then it should be allowed. You CAN be owned, and it is perfectly moral to be *voluntarily* owned.

Quote: "we arrive with an absolute value as rational beings."

I have to disagree. If someone is a complete waste of life: doesn't produce anything, demands to be fed 'or else', and proceeds to broach on everyone else's rights, then they don't really have any worth, do they? ... I will admit that it is VERY difficult to reach the "0% value level" as a human, but surely - if we try hard enough - we could reach it.

Nothing has absolute value. Absolute value is nonsense. Value is created when someone wants something. If it is desired, then it is valuable. Just ask all those bozos who bought "pet rocks" back in the 70s: they were just rocks, but they were being sold for (how much?) 20 bucks or so. They were just rocks, but they suddenly had more value based completely and solely on the fact that people wanted those specific rocks that had "pet rock" written on them.

Gold, Silver, money, salt, food, nor humans have absolute value.

Quote: "Morality is not subjective. If you want to argue with me it is, you will have to prove it is using a rational argument, not just assert it – that proves nothing"

... actually... it does? The simple fact that we're having this debate shows us that morality is VERY subjective. I think that racists should be allowed to be racist with their property, and you disagree...

... that proves that morals are subject: I (you) disagree with your (my) position on morals!, ergo, morals are subjective.

I'm not saying that "moral subjectivism" is good, I'm simply saying that morals can be completely irrational, and that it's best to completely keep morality out of law: just let people have their rights to property (as you've seen me argue, I strongly believe that life is a property that you can own **as long as it's voluntary -- I am not in favor of forced slavery**).

If we let morals into law, we have to deal with the possibility that religious freaks will come to power. Or that *gasp* libertarians will come to power. Or that sado-masochists might come to power. Or that Social Darwinists might come to power. Or that any type of moral belief system - all of which use rational thoughts and logic - can come to power and make things illegal that shouldn't be (by mine, or your, standards).

Avoid the issue, just let people be people.

Quote: "I’m interested in taking power away from racists and making them socially unacceptable."

Yikes! That's spooky. All we have to do is replace "racists" with "6-foot tall ba


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Continued...

[Evan]: “Legislating morality should only be reserved to True Gods - not people thinking they are smart -- everyone thinks they're smart.”

[Me]: Laws are made by people, humans, using human morality imperfectly, but through an ongoing process of review and re-writing. It is done by a plurality of legislators to ensure that at least a few people involved are “smart” and it’s not written in stone so bad laws can be overturned at a later date if “idiots” don’t do their job well.

[Another quote from me]: Quote: [i] "Laws against things

such as murder exist, not at random or “just because” some lawmakers decided this would be a nice thing, but because prohibitions on murder are a pre-condition for the existence of all human societies."[/i]

[Evan]: “Actually, there's a very strong argument for libetarianism here. Why is murder wrong? Because you're taking someone else's right to their life: you own your life, and taking it through aggression is a violation of rights. It isn't "moral" it is simply a violation of property rights.”

[Me]: This is actually the worst argument about human value I’ve ever heard. You don’t own yourself. No one can own you. You are not a thing – only things can be owned or become property. A human being is inherently valuable – we arrive with an absolute value as rational beings. We bestow use-value on everything else or recognize inherent values – such as in other rational beings or in moral principles. If you only have value because you own yourself, you have the same value as a screwdriver or a table or any other inanimate object; the only difference is you can literally sell yourself or be exploited by someone else just as they would any form of property they acquire. You’ll have to actually make an argument to prove you own yourself and that you are just a thing – feel free to try it. Until then, this is just an assertion that makes little sense on the surface of it.

[Evan]: “Because morality is entirely subjective, libertarian beliefs completely avoid the issue and just let people live the way they want to, so long as they don't infringe on property rights.”

[Me]: At last, we get to the crux of the issue. Morality is not subjective. If you want to argue with me it is, you will have to prove it is using a rational argument, not just assert it – that proves nothing. I can show you good reasons why subjectivism is one of the worst, most irrational, illogical moral theories ever invented (in fact, I’m working on an essay about morality, so you may want to wait to fight about that after you read my arguments; if not, try it here).

[Another quote from me]:

Quote: [i]"We may take it as a matter of course he and others like him would oppose government intervention to protect anyone from private oppression, even where a whole community, region, or state’s culture is prejudiced and oppressive to a minority."[/i]

[Evan]: “I fully agree that racism is a problem, but i don't think that even if we legislate it into a black market it will ever disappear.”

[Me]: I’m very realistic. I’m not interested in it “disappearing”: it won’t and nothing will cause it to except people changing their minds little by little – and even then, it will remain. I’m interested in taking power away from racists and making them socially unacceptable. That’s all law can hope to accomplish.

[Evan]: “And then you proceed to claim that morality and profit seeking are not one in the same. They usually are, actually - after Hurricane Katrina, greed mobilized many merchants from around the country to get down there and sell what people needed (sure it was at a higher than usual price, but at least the stuff got down there! Benevolence didn't do that!).”

[Me]: Plenty of people and companies donated supplies and help out of sheer benevolence. Period. Wal-Mart trucked in water at its own expense. One of the great problems in our country at this moment is this idea that we should seek profit or effects and not focus on the excellence or worth of our actions first. Most people who are truly good at something, including good at being human, focus on doing a good, quality job at whatever they do, just as a master craftsman focuses on the excellence of his techniques and work. After doing good, quality work or actions, then rewards tend to follow – but the work is not done simply for the reward. The work is the reward, the quality and intensity of good actions are the reward; recognition by others, in money or words, are secondary . . . and not even the most essential part of the process. Such a person will do quality work and perform high quality actions even in times when external rewards do not come or when there is adversity.

Look at this mess in the Gulf of Mexico. BP followed your model, seeking to maximize profits by cutting corners and ignoring safety – and now we will all pay and BP may even be bankrupted. That’s where the “greed is virtue” model gets us more often than not.

[Evan]: “Morals can not, and SHOULD not be the basis of laws... after all, WHO's morals should be made law? i sure as heck hope it ain't yours! (and you sure as heck hope it ain't mine).”

[Me]: Again, I reject your premise that moral principles belong to anyone or are inventions of any person. They simply are, and we recognize them well, poorly, better or worse. We see them using reason and building up rational arguments to reveal them, not by our feelings or matters of simple subjective preference.


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Evan,

You quote me: Quote: [i]"Paul makes no distinction between freedom of speech and freedom of action" [/i]

And then say, “Yes he does. He surely can tell you the difference between saying "I hate black people" and going out to lynch black people. The problem is just that people are dumb enough to read "i hate black people", agree, and then go out and kill people... then we blame the person who wrote it.”

[Me] No. The problem is, Rand Paul/libertarians tend to think that freedom of speech and freedom to treat others any way one wishes, possibly short of killing them, is the same thing. As I argued, this is erroneous. However, you prove my interpretation of the libertarian position by saying:

[Evan]: “[Paul] believes fully that people should be allowed to not only write bad things, but do bad things --- SO LONG AS THEY DON'T INTERFERE WITH OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTY RIGHTS!” This is the entire issue: If I'm racist against black people, but don't interfere with their rights, why is that bad?”

[Me]: My response:

1) Are “property rights” the only rights people have? Is it not possible to “do bad things” and violate far more and worse than a person’s property rights?

2) Why are property rights absolute and not limited? Who came down from Heaven or Ayn Rand Land and made this a law of reality?

3) If you can be racist and do so inside your own home, never affecting anyone outside your home, you may have a point. In fact, it would be one of the many points I made. But if you own a business open to the public, that is not a home, not anything like a home – it depends on the community to function in a myriad of ways, from interstate highway systems that trucks deliver goods on to electrical grids to side walks to police forces that keep them safe, to a banking system, to the agreement of the public not to block the doors of the business so the business can run. In return for these and other great gifts of living in a civil society, the businessperson cannot randomly pick out subgroups of the public and refuse to serve them or hire them for no good reason.

“I am a racist” is not a good reason. I’ve argued why.

No one can own a business like a restaurant and be unreasonably discriminatory without affecting the rights of others – all people have as much right to eat in a restaurant as any other person; the burden is on the business owner to make a rational argument that shows why excluding some people is acceptable (e.g. no shirt, no shoes, no service because of sanitation concerns).

[Evan]: “Isn't the minority being 'racist' for hating people who are racist?”

“Racist” is not a race, so no. That makes no sense.

[Evan]: “That's the whole issue: If some racist guy opens up a bar, but he doesn't want black people in it, who the hell cares?”

[Me]: No, the issue is, if some racist excludes people from his business, we should all care.

[Evan]: “why do we need the 9 High Priests from On High to float down demanding "oyez oyez oyez"? It's a simple thing to fix: don't eat there.”

[Me]: That’s not how it worked or works in the first place. The Congress, which makes laws (not The Supreme Court, which determines if laws are Constitutional), passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and that was the simple fix.

Just “not eating there” hadn’t fixed segregation in the South for 100 years nor had it caused anyone to face the issue of institutionalized racism – it had allowed racists and segregationists to run roughshod over the legal rights of minorities, and not just their right to eat where they wished, but their right to vote, their right to attend universities, marry who they wished, move and travel where they desired, live where they wanted, and so on.

[Evan]: “The judges aren't destroying racism, they're simply destroying the right to be racist openly.”

[Me]: And that was enough to begin to break the racists stranglehold on power, especially in the segregated Jim Crow South. The law made the racists, if they wished to be racists, practice it in privacy, not through the use of public and political control. And, again, it wasn’t judges that made the law, but Congress.

[Evan]: “Legislating Morality is NONsense.”

[Me]: As I argued and showed, legislating morality AT KEY POINTS is a fact, and a good thing.

[Here you quote me again]: "For our purposes, one thinks it should be clear that governments, certainly the American form of government, if they do legislate using ethical principles, ought to only legislate using rational ones."

Then say:

[Evan]: Define rational.

[Me]: I enjoy it when someone says that, as if it is terribly difficult. Philosophers, geometers, mathematicians, and scientists have been using and defining reason in their fields for millennia. Reasoning is the use of logic, experience, principles, and adequate premises to arrive at conclusions through a process of argumentation, inference, deduction, and/or induction “Rational” would involve things or processes or conclusions or principles that can be supported by the application of such a process.

[Evan]: “How is "hating gays" irrational, but "hating racists" rational?”

[Me]: I don’t recall recommending hating anyone, but racists are immoral and arguments about homosexuals being immoral almost always rest on premises that involve irrational and unproven (and unprovable) prejudices. Even your “Social Darwinism” argument is flawed – just ask any biologist; no mainstream biologist supports Social Darwinism as a a scientific application of Darwinian theories to morality.

[Evan]: “When Arizona passed the law, everyone started talking about banning trade from them. ... but... why is it ok to be gay but not racist? (ps, I have many gay friends, They're actually pretty fun. I don't want to be bashing gays, but it's just a great analogy). Until you can answer this question, you need to realize that you are wrong.”

[Me}: Until you actually make an argument there is something morally wrong with being homosexual, you need to recognize you haven’t made an argument, much less one that shows I’m “wrong.”

[You quote me again]:

Quote: [i]"This is one of the reasons we have a separation of Church and State in our Constitution."[/i]

[Evan]: “No there isn't. Please re-read the 1st amendment... heck i'll post it: [i]Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[/i] “

[Me]Yes, there is. If there cannot be an “established religion,” that means there cannot be a state church. If there cannot be a state church, no religion can use its theological arguments alone to make legislation everyone else has to abide by. The church cannot make law. The state cannot make theology in America.

Religious people can and should participate in government, but as citizens, not theologians, and when being legislators, they must make purely rational arguments. That was the ideal of the Founders. It breaks down from time to time, but to our detriment, not benefit, when it does.

[Evan]: “Notice the first word: CONGRESS. States can be as racist as they want. Congress can't. There is no 100% separation of church and state (unfortunately, I personally don't like religion that much. But who am I to deny it to those who like it?)”

[Me]: You’re all over the board. Nothing in the first amendment gives anyone the right to be a racist in his actions. In any case, after the Civil War, and again, beginning in the 1950s with school desegregation, then in ’64 with the Civil Rights Act, and ’68 with the Fair Housing Act, and the Court’s overturning of miscegenation laws, the Federal Laws stripped down and defined exactly what you could and couldn’t legally get away with as a racist in America. And as Federal Law supersedes the laws of the states, any state laws that allowed racists to do more became null and void.

[Evan]: “Legislating morality should only be reserved to True Gods - not people think


Evan G Rogers profile image

Evan G Rogers 6 years ago from Dublin, Ohio

Quote: [i]"Paul makes no distinction between freedom of speech and freedom of action" [/i]

Yes he does. He surely can tell you the difference between saying "I hate black people" and going out to lynch black people. The problem is just that people are dumb enough to read "i hate black people", agree, and then go out and kill people... then we blame the person who wrote it.

He believes fully that people should be allowed to not only write bad things, but do bad things --- SO LONG AS THEY DON'T INTERFERE WITH OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTY RIGHTS! This is the entire issue: If I'm racist against black people, but don't interfere with their rights, why is that bad? Isn't the minority being 'racist' for hating people who are racist? (I understand people are born a minority, and people choose to be racist - but I didn't choose my family, and many people didn't 'choose' to be jewish or catholic, or protestant... So saying that 'just because someone chooses something, it should be ok' is nonsense. Legislating against racists is the exact same action as legislating against Christians or Jews - Both "CHOSE" to be what they were).

That's the whole issue: If some racist guy opens up a bar, but he doesn't want black people in it, who the hell cares? why do we need the 9 High Priests from On High to float down demanding "oyez oyez oyez"? It's a simple thing to fix: don't eat there.

And, hell, why would a black person WANT to eat at a racists restaurant? If Jimbob the racist had a restaurant, excluded blacks, and then the Nine Mighty Judges yelled "OYEZ!!" and swung their mighty gavels of moral justice to open the restaurant to blacks.... blacks still wouldn't want to eat there: they wouldn't want spit in their soup. The judges aren't destroying racism, they're simply destroying the right to be racist openly.

This is perfectly analogous to gay rights, but backwards. Imagine if it were "moral" to hate gay people (i mean, heck, they can't reproduce, I don't need religion to make an argument against gay rights. i can use science quite easily - that's what Hitler did. It's called social darwinism), and then, because our heroic government leaders were legislating morality, they made it illegal to be openly gay. Sure, you can be gay in secret, but not OPENLY gay. ... that's exactly what Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did to racists: you can't be OPENLY racist, just secretly racist.

Legislating Morality is NONsense.

"For our purposes, one thinks it should be clear that governments, certainly the American form of government, if they do legislate using ethical principles, ought to only legislate using rational ones."

Define rational. How is "hating gays" irrational, but "hating racists" rational? When Arizona passed the law, everyone started talking about banning trade from them. ... but... why is it ok to be gay but not racist? (ps, I have many gay friends, They're actually pretty fun. I don't want to be bashing gays, but it's just a great analogy). Until you can answer this question, you need to realize that you are wrong.

Quote: [i]"This is one of the reasons we have a separation of Church and State in our Constitution."[/i]

No there isn't. Please re-read the 1st amendment... heck i'll post it: [i]Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[/i]

Notice the first word: CONGRESS. States can be as racist as they want. Congress can't. There is no 100% separation of church and state (unfortunately, I personally don't like religion that much. But who am I to deny it to those who like it?)

Legislating morality should only be reserved to True Gods - not people thinking they are smart -- everyone thinks they're smart.

Quote: [i] "Laws against things such as murder exist, not at random or “just because” some lawmakers decided this would be a nice thing, but because prohibitions on murder are a pre-condition for the existence of all human societies."[/i]

Actually, there's a very strong argument for libetarianism here. Why is murder wrong? Because you're taking someone else's right to their life: you own your life, and taking it through aggression is a violation of rights. It isn't "moral" it is simply a violation of property rights.

Because morality is entirely subjective, libertarian beliefs completely avoid the issue and just let people live the way they want to, so long as they don't infringe on property rights.

Quote: [i]"We may take it as a matter of course he and others like him would oppose government intervention to protect anyone from private oppression, even where a whole community, region, or state’s culture is prejudiced and oppressive to a minority."[/i]

I fully agree that racism is a problem, but i don't think that even if we legislate it into a black market it will ever disappear.

After all, even I am racist: I hate snakes. ...There... *phew* i said it. It was ugly.. but... It's just that... SOMETHING about snakes freaks me out. I hate them.

And ... tigers! Ever tiger I've ever met that wasn't put behind a cage has been a total jerk to me. I don't want to be near them, and I want to keep them off my property.

... but why doesn't the Supreme Court make THIS illegal? after all, I'm infringing on the rights of Tiger owners! If I opened a restaurant, and said "no tigers allowed", I'm being anti-tiger-lover.

And then you proceed to claim that morality and profit seeking are not one in the same. They usually are, actually - after Hurricane Katrina, greed mobilized many merchants from around the country to get down there and sell what people needed (sure it was at a higher than usual price, but at least the stuff got down there! Benevolence didn't do that!). Of course, the people ended up being arrested, and the starving, thirsty masses cheered the arrests... but they remained starving and thirsty. Greed mobilized people to help one another, and "righteous morals" caused those people helping to be thrown in jail.

Morals can not, and SHOULD not be the basis of laws... after all, WHO's morals should be made law? i sure as heck hope it ain't yours! (and you sure as heck hope it ain't mine).


Evan G Rogers profile image

Evan G Rogers 6 years ago from Dublin, Ohio

I just read your article, and I've typed an article about the whole fiasco (mine in favor of Rand Paul)

... And you just made me wish even that I lived in Kentucky so I could vote for him!

Ron Paul / Rand Paul 2012!


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Thank you, Degenerate MAC. Your words are generous and meaningful to me, as always.

I have been hacking around at a book on ethics for a couple of years. It has a long way to go, but I see it as the central problem to be addressed at this stage of history -- is there such a thing as a universally valid moral theory or a set of theories that complement one another universally? What does it look like? How do we know it? For the past several weeks I've been attempting to sketch an outline of this theory that would be presentable in this format readable by laypeople -- and if it can't be understood by people without specialized training, what use is a moral theory?

I think the Stoics laid the foundation for morality -- humanity all over the world has based its morality on principles that are very much like Stoicism when humans have done well, and, in the West, Stoicism has never died -- it just goes in and out of fashion and people really don't explicitly know the teachings even when they act on its ideas. It's not an alien thing most of us aren't partially familiar with in our culture.

I think that's where the answer to many deviations from a true or more true version of morality lie -- an ethic pointed in the right direction even if it doesn't have all possible answers to all questions; and this includes the strongest answers to libertarian and egoism possible.

Now, if I can get it down on paper, so to speak . . . .


Degenerate MAC 6 years ago

RVI-

Naturally, this is a nice piece of work. Thanks for boiling it down as only you can do. One brilliant point: The lack of distinction between liberty and license. This is a critical point, and I will surely work it in on my next opportunity to debate my resident libertarian.

I look forward to some future essay - of which I only caught a glimpse, as through a glass darkly - but which may treat a question deeper than "should we legislate morality..."


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Thank you, D.G. Good comments. I suppose I come from a point of view that freedom is never absolute -- in some contexts more freedom is tolerable and necessary and in other contexts the proper level of freedom is more restricted. And there is no such thing as freedom to be immoral -- immorality is a form of slavery and disability, not freedom. Since many people do not recognize this and see freedom as simply "freedom to do as they please," whatever it is, law has to exist in societies to place an artifcial limit on those without inner restraint and self-control.

That said, law cannot make people moral. Law makes the immoral or those with an uneven sense of morality less dangerous, and that is all. I think you are right to think of law as "bastardized morality" -- it is the failure of people to voluntarily be and act as they ought.

Again, thank for reading! I look forward to seeing your hubs as well.


D.G. Smith profile image

D.G. Smith 6 years ago

nice article

Legislating morality can and does impede freedom, and is mediocre law at best, but in the real world there really is no true choice. We legislate because the human condition dictates that we must. So, until the human condition changes and ‘man’ has the ability to live in a society without harming his neighbor, we will be forced to try and legislate justice and live within the basterdised morality that law provides.


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Thank you, glenn -- and thanks for reading.


glenn wallace profile image

glenn wallace 6 years ago

Good analysis, with some real research behind it.


Richard VanIngram profile image

Richard VanIngram 6 years ago from San Antonio, Texas Author

Thank you, paradise7, as always for being a reader. I have some fear we are headed into some dark times in this country -- or darker times, really. Rand Paul is the tip of the iceburg. He is far from being alone in his beliefs.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

This was a great hub, and it made a key point, about the stance of legislators on issues that DO hurt somebody, if the boorish biased bigots are to have their way. There is a difference between the public and private sectors. I consider housing and employment not exactly the private sector, in that the public is admitted for review, and discrimination based on race is really, really, totally unfair in those situations.

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