Is Libertarianism Ever About Community?

Jeff Fecke at Alas, a Blog, talks about Rand Paul and his libertarian-based thoughts on the Civil Rights Act. Apparently, according to Paul, he would have supported the Civil Rights Act, but only up to a point — he’s all about getting the government to stop being so discriminatory, but god help anyone who tries to tell a private business that it can’t put up a “whites-only” bathroom if it wanted to. Fecke rightly points out:

Note that this is not a case of Rand Paul being particularly racist. It’s a case of him embracing, wholeheartedly, the idea at the core of libertarianism, that only government can restrict liberty. That only government can practice discrimination. That only government can be the problem.

But the brave men and women who staged sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters weren’t just doing so to end government-led discrimination. They were doing it to get the business owners to open up their lunch counters, as well. I’m grateful that we live in a country where their actions were not in vain, and where their cause was eventually, if grudgingly, supported by the very government that had spent centuries working against them.

I can understand libertarian values and can even support them up to a point — but for me, that point has always been called “reality.” There is something quite romantic about the ideal of the self-made person, someone who relies totally upon himself, makes his own way and doesn’t cause any drain on public funds — which shouldn’t be there because we should all be taking care of the others in our own groups. This is, anyway, the way I’ve always understood libertarianism, and it’s quite romantic. Which means, of course, that, like most romances, it fades away when the harsh light of the day hits it. The self-made person myth assumes that we are pristine and untouched by the world around us, that we are uninfluenced and unbiased by things like race, class, gender, sexual identity and other things that color the lenses through which we observe the world. Only people who “don’t have” these things — race, gender, class, etc. — can play along. And that’s the fallacy right there.

Anyway, it gets me wondering if Libertarianism is ever about community, if it’s a a batch of individuals who are all making a push toward one goal, but aren’t really together, or if it’s a collective of individuals marching together toward one goal. I’m really asking because I know I’m pretty naive here about this political philosophy and I’d like to have that conversation. All I know is, backing Fecke in his post, is that Civil Rights didn’t happen just because the government stopped discriminating; changes had to be implemented across the board until they became part and parcel of our landscapes, so that even the idea of the “whites only” bathroom is abhorrent to most of us. Well, I guess it depends for some of us on where that bathroom might be installed …

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