January 21, 2008

In response to criticism over racially incendiary comments in his old newsletters, Ron Paul told Reason, “€œMartin Luther King is one of my heroes because he believed in nonviolence, and that’s a libertarian principle.”€ 

Ron Paul talks a lot about “€œnon violence,”€ but for conservatives and most libertarians, “€œnon violence”€ is hardly an end in and of itself. Affirming the right of private property means accepting that individuals have the right to use some level of force to defend that property against aggression. 

I bring this up because the best-known example of King’s non-violent protest was the “€œsit-in,”€ in which King and his associates would occupy a segregated facility until they were arrested, forcibly removed, or eventually permitted to integrate. Sometimes this was done on public property, but many of these sit-ins were at private bars, hotels, and restaurants. King used no physical violence, but the act amounted to trespassing. By libertarian standards, the owners of these private institutions would be perfectly within their rights to eject King and his cohorts from their property. 

Paul clearly understands this distinction. As I noted in an earlier blog, Ron Paul was the sole congressman to vote against a bill praising the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul said the Act gave
the federal government unprecedented power over the hiring, employee relations, and customer service practices of every business in the country. The result was a massive violation of the rights of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of free society. The federal government has no legitimate authority to infringe on the rights of private property owners to use their property as they please and to form (or not form) contracts with terms mutually agreeable to all parties.

Furthermore, Paul clearly recognized the degree to which the “€™64 act had become the foundation for affirmative action and others “€œanti-discrimination”€ efforts by the federal government.  

While some might contest my association of “€œviolence”€ with sit-ins, I am in fact using the word less liberally than did King. In his posthumous released essay “€œA Testament of Hope,”€ King made Adrian Young look like Walter Williams when he spoke out against “€œthe violence of having to live in a community and pay higher consumer prices for goods”€ than in white areas. 

But the threat of urban rioting and looting was one major reason why merchants charged higher prices in black neighborhoods. In lamenting the “€œviolence”€ of high prices, King was putting the cart well before the horse.

In a free market economy, if merchants were charging too much out of racism, then black entrepreneurs could set up shop and easily beat out the competition. But unlike Paul, King was not a believer in the free market would never have countenanced this option. He was a self-proclaimed socialist and towards the end of his life, called for virtually every kind government intervention and program: reparations, work-training programs, public housing, union laws, minimum guaranteed income, racial quotas etc.

There were a great many injustices against African Americans prior to the civil rights movement, and it’s understandable that King wanted to fight them. But Paul should know more than anyone else that the road to hell is paved with good intentions”€”especially when the federal government is involved. Virtually every political accomplishment of King involved coercion of private businesses and local governments using the power of the state. 

Some of Ron Paul’s supporters have organized a Martin Luther King Day “€œmoney bomb.”€ For these Paul backers, King stands as a symbol for individual rights and liberty under law. This is fine. But conservatives and libertarians shouldn”€™t think for a moment that the mythologizing of MLK in contemporary society relieves them of the necessity of looking with a critical eye on the “€™64 Civil Rights Act and its political legacy.     


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