-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1782)
For about a year while I was in college I roomed with a young man who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. To my considerable relief, he didn't swan about in the idiotic habiliments of that organization, although he did wear a Klan insignia ring with a certain peculiar pride.
The second oddest thing about this housing arrangement was the fact that Charles (not his real name, but close) is the one who invited me to be his roommate. The oddest thing about our off-campus housing arrangement was the fact that we were living in the back of a mortuary. We shared a small apartment rent-free in exchange for doing custodial work and manning the phones from time to time.
One evening, after Charles had consumed a couple of wine coolers, he explained to me -- in as matter-of-fact a voice as he could muster in his partially inebriated condition – the racial hierarchy as he understood it. In what he probably considered an act of tremendous magnanimity, Charles explained that though I'm dark brown guy of Latino heritage (who has passed for everything from Egyptian to Basque), I was to the “safe” side of a racial dividing line that is obvious only to people who share his tragic obsession with melanin content.
What was even more perplexing was the fact that this proud young Klansman had a very close friend who was (and, I think it's safe to say, still is) black. My memory fails me as to this fellow's name, but I recall that he ran for a position in the student government and Charles eagerly helped with his campaign.
Charles wasn't a bad kid -- confused and somewhat self-destructive, certainly, but I never knew him to act on his professed racial views. To the best of my knowledge, he never did any injury to anyone but himself: A diabetic, he twice drank himself into an insulin coma (chugging wine coolers wasn't the best treatment protocol for his condition), the second time nearly killing himself. (I had to call the paramedics on both occasions, and the second time I had to give him an injection – which, if Charles had become a genuinely bad guy, might have put me in the same ironic position as Jay Sherman when he invented his eponymous “oil.” Take the time to watch that episode to the end, and you'll see what I mean.)
Samuel Johnson famously pointed out that no man is a hypocrite in his pleasures, and I think a similar principle applies to prejudices of various kinds. In Charles' case, some of his chosen associations – with his invited dark-skinned Latino/Irish/who-knows-what else roommate, and his black friend – made him a hypocrite, at least as far as his racial ideology was concerned.
This type of hypocrisy is entirely commendable, and I suspect it's more common than most people think. Twain seemed to brush up against this reality when he penned Huckleberry Finn's anguished but triumphant exclamation, “All right, I'll go to hell!” because he couldn't find anything sinful in regarding the slave Jim to be his equal, and helping him escape.
And I'm sure each of us knows some hidebound guy who occasionally salts his conversation with ethnic humor, but is functionally color-blind when it comes to helping people in need. (If you've never met a person of that description, your life is poorer for it.)
To be sure, there are genuine bigots in this world. I've run into a few, although nowhere near as hard as I'd like to if given the chance. (Just kidding. Sorta.)
For example, I was accosted by an authentic bigot while jogging in Mobile, Alabama a number of years ago. This seedy guy, who was missing both an upper lip and, apparently, everything but his reptilian brain, seems to have confused me with a local black power militant, and he threatened unspecified harm to me for jogging “in the wrong neighborhood.” I was perplexed, amused, and a little disgusted, but since I was leaving in about an hour (I was touring the Southern States with a musical group), I wasn't particularly concerned about it.
I had the same reaction to an early morning phone call I received just a few days ago from someone who very thoughtfully informed me that I'm “nothing but a f*****g n*gger.” The only distress caused by that phone call was the fact that, owing to a nasty bout of viral bronchitis that made it nearly impossible for me to speak, I couldn't correct the record by pointing out that I'm actually a f*****g sp*c. It's a small matter, of course, but certainly large enough to fill to capacity the minuscule brain of someone who'd make a phone call of that kind.
Every human being is, to use Will Durant's phrase, a colorful medley of discordant fragments. Each of us has his prejudices; most of them are benign, some of them invidious, and none of them of any consequence to others as long as they are not coupled with deceit or coercion. It is when force or fraud is introduced in a way that impinges on individual rights that we should take alarm over prejudice.
This doesn't happen, for example, when a business owner is willing to forego profit by banning customers of a certain ethnic background, or who speak a language he doesn't like: The business is his property, and if he's willing to factor a prejudice premium into his business expenses, if he's more concerned with the hue of a potential customer's skin than the color of his money, let the fool alone.
That's how things would operate in a free society. It's decidedly not how it works in the society we inhabit, however – one in which the central government and its affiliates, in the name of “civil rights,” claim a mandate to regulate daily interactions that should be defined by the market.
After all, even bigots have rights. And that's a fortunate thing, too: Given the frailty of the human condition, and the perverse creativity of self-appointed custodians of tolerance, all of us at some point will be tagged with that epithet by someone.
It does me no injury for my neighbor – or college roommate – to say that brown people are innately inferior to people his color. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. The same can't be said of government, which incessantly plunders my earnings while holding over my head the prospect of lethal violence, should I transgress any of the myriad enactments the political class is pleased to call “laws.”
Any government that gets into the business of policing private attitudes – however pernicious the attitudes, and however apparently unobtrusive the policing might be – is totalitarian in principle. The only excuse for the existence of government is to protect the innocent from the depredations of pickpockets and leg-breakers, if I might paraphrase Jefferson yet again. Unfortunately, all that government does is to pick pockets and break legs, and governments that assert the power to regulate what goes on inside the minds of their subjects tend to use such violence promiscuously.
I am inclined to think that one's perspective on this subject qualifies as a “shibboleth/sibbolet”-style defining question regarding his true beliefs about government. And the contrived furor over the most recent re-discovery of Ron Paul's ancient newsletters – the yellowing, curling pages supposedly saturated with "bigoted rhetoric," including racism and the attitude dishonestly called “homophobia” -- and the publicity given to carefully framed excerpts therefrom by a small clique of foundation-funded Beltway “libertarian” figures.
Since the most recent paint-by-numbers hit piece was published in The New Republic two weeks ago by the precious little Jimmy Kirchick (a writer of unremarkable skills who looks like the tragic issue of a disowned carnal transaction between David Frum and a chipmunk), most of the discussion has focused on whether or not Dr. Paul knowingly allowed his name to be attached to various “bigoted” statements.
Let's get this straight, shall we? You see these kind people rallying on behalf of "liberty, prosperity, and peace" -- folks who oppose centralized power, collectivism, and military aggression? They are obviously not neo-Nazis....
Reading everything I can find about this entirely manufactured controversy, I've yet to find a single example in which “bigotry” was attached to a policy proposal that would enhance the power of government to transgress individual rights.
Nor have Dr. Paul's critics cited such an example from his voting record, or his current campaign platform. Nor can they.
... on the other hand, these folks are neo-Nazis (the swastika flag being something of a clue)...
Just as one can't be a hypocrite in his pleasures, a politician can't be a hypocrite in his record, however duplicitous his rhetoric may be – and Dr. Paul's record is that of a constitutional purist who believes that individual liberty is the supreme political good.
Dr. Paul's mistake, and it was a significant one, was to franchise his name to other people whose priorities weren't necessarily the same and whose editorial voice was entirely different from his. He has pointedly and explicitly owned up to that lapse. That having been said, I have to confess that nothing I've read in the supposedly scabrous newsletters has caused me to swoon like a Victorian maid when first exposed to the gamier passages of Fanny Hill.
... and these charming people, whose bloody handiwork has been pointedly criticized by Dr. Paul, richly deserve the "neo-Nazi" label, as well: While many of them wouldn't pass the Third Reich's ridiculous tests for Aryan "purity," their agenda -- centralize power in the Executive, propagate foreign wars without end, create detention camps in which people can be held indefinitely, tortured, or summarily disposed of -- certainly bears a family resemblance to the policies of the Reich.
Yes, there was discussion – in the aftermath of the “Rodney King Riots” -- of a possible race war that didn't materialize (thank God). But the tone was monitory, not incendiary; the concern was that collectivist policies imposed by Leviathan would result in the kind of Hobbessian tragedy that has consumed other multi-ethnic countries, from Lebanon to Yugoslavia to Iraq. And the emphasis was on the need to end those collectivist policies, rather than mobilizing government power on behalf of different collectives, such as “Euro-Americans.”
(By the way -- does anybody else remember that the late Carl Rowan, a couple years after the publication of the purportedly vicious Ron Paul newsletters, published a book entitled The Coming Race War in America: A Wake-Up Call? It would be difficult to accuse the late Mr. Rowan of harboring latent white supremacist sentiments, although about twenty years ago he did prove to be a crypto-NRA symp.)
In his capable demolition of the anti-Paul smear campaign, Justin Raimondo points out that those elements of the Washington libertarian Establishment that are behind it are “really threatened by the existence of a mass libertarian movement – because it's a movement over which they have no control.” The smear-and-purge routine is the option of first resort for self-appointed Gatekeepers seeking to reassert control over a movement no longer under centralized discipline.
It is immensely revealing that for the Beltway libertarian clique, the priority is to traduce Ron Paul and his supporters, rather than directing their efforts at the Regime.
Our country is rapidly descending into the mire of literal fascism – imperial executive power, permanent warfare, summary suspension of due process, institutionalized torture, ubiquitous surveillance, the emergence of a “Your Papers, Please” system of travel restrictions. And the “libertarian” affiliate of the Smearbund is investing its efforts in trying to convince the public that the Paul campaign's focus on “liberty, prosperity, and peace,” the candidate's lifelong record of defending individual rights, and his amply attested personal kindness to people of all backgrounds is simply an elaborate and very clever disguise, and that the fundamental “truth” of what Ron Paul represents is found in a handful of supposedly scandalous statements – orphaned from their context – found in yellowing and long-forgotten newsletters.
Given all of this, it's an indigestibly rich irony that one of the accusations spewed at Paul by Kirchick is that he's a “conspiracy theorist.”
For “libertarians” of the sort under discussion, Dr. Paul's all-but-flawless record of support for individual liberty is less important than his failure to burn incense to the State's official deities (such as Lincoln and Martin Luther King) and his willingness to associate with people who say and write things that violate the canons of political correctness.
Their perspective can be summarized in a gloss on the familiar nursery rhyme: The State and its goons may break our bones, but "bigoted" words alone can hurt us. That's a peculiar kind of “libertarianism,” but it's one that's perfectly harmless to the Imperial State – which is why, in the final analysis, those who subscribe to it are so welcome and comfortable in the Imperial Capital.
Dum spiro, pugno!