The rise from obscurity of Rand Paul has the media in full frenzy, attempting to understand and explain what it all means. Problem is that there aren't many libertarians in American newsrooms, and any who are there are still in the closet, so you have reporters and pundits trying to explain something they either don't understand or view with hostility. Most of the coverage, not surprisingly, has been simplistic, snide or stupid. But in culling through items to post on LLO's news aggregators, I picked out a few pieces that make worthwhile reading.
There's a little of that liberal media bias, but not too much, in this Time Magazine piece about how the Pauls (Rand and father Ron) are shaking up the political scene. Newsweek offers a surprisingly refreshing take on the subject, by asking whether Rand Paul's ideas are any more wacky or outlandish than the left-wing dogmas that dominate in Washington -- which is a very good question, since we have ample proof that left-wing ideas don't work.
But most recommended is this Politico piece by the Cato Institute's Bob Levy, which not only puts Rand Paul's controversial statements on the Civil Rights Act into context, explaining why his position is more defensible than critics allow, but also offers a nice precis on what libertarianism really is, and isn't, for people who aren't sure.
Here's the section that deals with libertarianism, as a philosophy:
"Of course, the media have used Paul’s forthright if impolitic pronouncement (on the Civil Right Act) as an occasion to disparage his libertarian — that is, classic liberal — philosophy. Not surprisingly, critics either do not understand or willfully distort basic libertarian principles. For starters, libertarians are proponents of limited government. We are not anarchists.
My colleague David Boaz sums it up nicely: “A government is a set of institutions through which we adjudicate our disputes, defend our rights and provide for certain common needs. ... What we want is a limited government that attends to its necessary and proper functions. “Libertarians support limited, constitutional government — limited not just in size but, of far greater importance, in the scope of its powers.”
Ideally, government’s role is to foster an environment in which individuals can pursue happiness in any manner they please — provided they do not impede other individuals’ rights to do the same. Regrettably, government does much more — and much less — than create a congenial civil environment. It burdens transactors with confiscatory taxes, favors politically connected special interests, coerces parties to engage in unwanted transactions, transfers assets and incomes without consent from one party to another and depletes our financial and human resources by undertaking foreign interventions that bear little relation to America’s vital interests. Those are the excesses of government that libertarians struggle to rein in. In addition, and perhaps least understood, a vital aspect of personal liberty is the freedom not to participate. In that regard, libertarianism is the antithesis of collectivism.
Anyone who prefers a social order that sacrifices individual liberty to attain equal outcomes is free to leave my libertarian world and form the collectivist society he favors. But he may not compel me to join. Libertarianism does not foreclose collectivist arrangements as long as participation in those arrangements is voluntary. By contrast, collectivists will not endorse libertarian enclaves within a collectivist system. Just try refusing to support the welfare state. People who believe a deregulated free market leaves us worse off can create a hyper-regulated marketplace, shackled by government to their heart’s content. They would not extend the same opt-out choice to me.
The essence of collectivism is force. The essence of libertarianism is choice."