Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Civil Rights and the Libertarian Principle

My take on the Rand Paul flap is in today's Christian Science Monitor.

BTW: "They thought all along that they could call me a libertarian and hang that label around my neck like an albatross, but I'm not a libertarian."


Anonymous said...

So Rand wants to win more than he wants to be ideologically pure. I am torn by these kind of situations. I guess I would rather see a Rand than a Republican or Democrat.

But I would rather see a Sheldon ( if you could stomach it )

Gus S. Calabrese

Robert Higgs said...

Excellent article in the Monitor, Sheldon. Congratulations.

As for Rand Paul: We all know that some people suffer a presumption of guilt by association. In contrast, Rand seems to enjoy a presumption of innocence by association. Makes no sense to me.

Sheldon Richman said...

Gus, I couldn't stomach it.

Bob, thanks!

dennis said...

I don't think it's a case of ideological purity, I just don't think he is a libertarian. I think of his father as a borderline libertarian. I am not too concerned with who wins in Kentucky, as the British say, "no matter who gets elected, we end up with the government." This issue is more important because it highlights the utter contempt for freedom that exists on what is called "the left." It is just another post Bush reminder that the left are every bit as anti-freedom as the right, the right just tends to be uglier about it.

Matthew Allen said...

Great piece, but I have one worry. Might one point out that a sit-in is a kind of property-rights violation, and therefore not something a libertarian can admit as a justified means for fighting discrimination? If so, then these sit-in examples don't quite make the libertarian case.

Sheldon Richman said...

The short answer is that they did not resist being carried out of the stores. I will be elaborating on this in the near future.

D. Saul Weiner said...

Glad to see your clear defense of libertarian principles make it into the CSM. As for Rand's performance, I will just share the following quote by a man who knew a thing about arguing with the statists of his day:

"The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended." ~ Frederic Bastiat

ais000 said...

That was a great piece. I actually wrote a comment to an article about this issue at the website True/Slant:


A few hours after I posted that comment at True/Slant, I saw on your blog that you had written about Zora Neale Hurston who I had never heard of. I thought her article in the Orlando Sentinel was very applicable to what I wrote so I posted it as a follow-up comment too!

D. Saul Weiner said...

This quote from Mises also came to mind:

"A free man must be able to endure it when his fellow men act and live otherwise than he considers proper. He must free himself from the habit, just as soon as something does not please him, of calling for the police."

D. Saul Weiner said...

I am confounded by the notion that Rand Paul thinks the label libertarian is an albatross and that conservative is a more favorable identity. As Lew Rockwell has stated (in so many words), conservatism today means an insatiable appetite for war and support for torture and the police state (whatever it may have meant years ago). That sounds like an albatross to me. Though maybe that's what Kentucky voters like.

I have noticed the same tendency in Ron Paul (who, in my view is heroic) to call himself conservative. I have to believe this alienates a lot of voters who think conservative means the Bush/Cheney program, while Paul was their most consistent and strident critic.

Neera said...

Sheldon - great article. Can you give a ref. for the student sit-ins? Was NC less racist than other southern states, where segregation continued to be practiced?

Sheldon Richman said...

Thanks, Neera. The NC story
is here.

The Nashville story is here.

I've never heard that NC was less racist. The effort in Greensboro got the ball rolling elsewhere. The demonstration effect was powerful and energizing. Nashville was regarded as a more progressive city, and blacks could vote in municipal elections. Its campaign followed Greensboro's.

Mark D Hughes said...

Another bull's-eye Sheldon.

"Why is this inspirational history ignored in the current controversy? I can think of only one reason. So-called progressives at heart are elitists who believe – and want you to believe – that nothing good happens without government."

Mark D Hughes
Executive Director
Institute for the Study of Privacy Issues (ISPI)
Mark@PrivacyNews.com www.PrivacyNews.com

Edward said...

This may be a minor quip, but I am curious about why you included "Gandhi-like" in the article. Which leads to the question, what do you think of Gandhi?

Mark D Hughes said...

Some libertarians accept Gandhi as a genuine libertarian by way of the non-aggression axiom (see
Mohandas Gandhi: Libertarian! http://tinyurl.com/2vm4gmn ). Others see him as someone friendly to libertarian ideals. Indeed, even Murray Rothbard, despite his unsympathetic rant about Gandhi's mysticism and economic illiteracy (see 'The New Menace of Gandhism,' in "Libertarian Forum," March 1983 http://mises.org/journals/lf/1983/1983_03.pdf ) felt this way. I know for a fact that he was sympathetic to -- and appreciative of -- Gandhi's anti-statist and anti-empire pronouncements. I was privileged to enjoy several conversations with him regarding voluntarism and non-violent resistance. He clearly included Gandhi in that group he affectionately referred to as "libertarian fellow travelers."

Anonymous said...

Great article, Sheldon. I emailed it to Andrew Tobias, Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, who has been jabbing at libertarians for the past few days since the interview, and he was honest enough to run your article (excerpting but with a link to the full piece).


Sheldon Richman said...

Thanks, Less!

Edward, the woman who led the Nashville Student Movement attended a program on organization put on by a man who spent time in India studying Gandhi's tactics. I am no expert on Gandhi. As I understand it, his approach was to use nonviolent resistance to shame the oppressor by confronting him with his injustice. As for his economic views, I can relate one anecdote that I got from Sudha Shenoy, the Austrian economist born in India and whose father was India's most influential free-market economist. When Nehru took power after Indian independence, he announced plans to impose wage and price controls. Gandhi threatened a general strike if Nehru went through with it. The threat worked. I asked Sudha why Gandhi did this? She said he had good common-sense instincts.

Tom said...

Since Rand Paul never claimed to be a libertarian, I don't hold him to a libertarian purity test. That said, I still think he was wrong not to come out against the CRA of 1964(The 1st Rand Paul did, the 2nd one didn't), or at least parts of it. I guess there could be a minarchist case to be made for one government to overrule another government. If I were a minarchist, I would be an extreme "States' Righter" and come out against the entire CRA because of the dangers of centralization.

As far as the sit-ins go, I don't think that libertarians should have supported that method of resisting the law. After all, those students were trespassing. However, if the lunch counter owner also disagreed with the law and both he and the students conspired to break the law, then I would consider that an act of civil disobedience. I believe that was the case with Homer Plessey and the Louisiana Railroad company. The company opposed the segregation law because it was bad for business.

Sheldon Richman said...

Let me correct a common error: integrated lunch counters were not illegal throughout south. In some places, yes, but usually it was the owner's policy and not a statute that kept blacks out. Here's how we know: In many places segregation ended by agreement between sit-in organizers and store managers. That could not have happened if the law required segregation.

Tom said...


Thanks. I wasn't aware of that.

P.S. I enjoyed the podcast with you and Gardner Goldsmith.

Brittney said...

Your CSM article is the best, most concise presentation of the anti-Title II position I have read. I always enjoy your work! Maybe Rand should too. (And Andrew Tobias ought not to conflate multiple definitions of "public.")

Edward said...

I was unaware that Gandhi opposed Nehru on this. It was my understanding that the main tension between Nehru and Gandhi was between forced industrialization and and forced primitivism.
My main reason for faulting Gandhi is that even if he was not a proponent of the INC's controlled industrialization he still should be blamed for it because he should have easily foreseen that a more controlled economy would result form the British withdrawal.

Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Edward: My main reason for faulting Gandhi is that even if he was not a proponent of the INC's controlled industrialization he still should be blamed for it because he should have easily foreseen that a more controlled economy would result form the British withdrawal.

India under the INC government certainly had a controlled economy. But I deny that it had a more controlled economy. The Indian economy was plenty controlled under British colonialism. (You may, for example, remember a minor tiff over a government salt monopoly.) Although it was, of course, controlled in different directions, and for different interests.

In any case, given that Gandhi's satyagraha campaigns were consistently directed against government control and, when they touched on economic issues, for economic freedom from colonial restrictions, I do not see how he should be blamed for the actions of third parties, which he often opposed. You can be aware of likely bad consequences of ending an existing form of government violence, but still be for ending the existing violence, without approving of, or being to blame for, those consequences. The blame lies with the third parties actually inflicting them.