Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Direct Action in the Face of Entrenched Interests Would Not Have Succeeded Without the Power of the State to Enforce Our Constitutional Rights

Non-violent protests were succeeding at stopping this,
according to Sheldon Richman. Photo via WETA.
"For left-libertarians, southern lunch-counter racism was better battled through peaceful sit-ins than with legislation in Washington, which merely ratified what direct action had been accomplishing without help from the white elite."--Sheldon Richman
What, exactly, had direct action been accomplishing without help from the white elite? Protesters had pissed off the "white elite" in the south, which responded with murder, torture, dogs, fire hoses, and even more Jim Crow.

Does anyone sincerely doubt that had we not passed the Civil Rights Act, left libertarians would still be organizing "peaceful sit-ins" to stop Jim Crow? Do any "left" libertarians honestly think that the supporters of Jim Crow, who perverted Democracy to use the power of their state to discriminate, would still be doing that if we hadn't passed the Voting Rights Act?

Keep in mind that half of Mississippi Republicans still support laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

After all, what were all the protests for? What were the Freedom riders after? What was the March on Selma about? Trying to convince racists to just stop being racists on their own? Or to finally force the federal government to live up to the guarantees of the 14th and 15th amendments for all people? The Montgomery Bus Boycott didn't force Montgomery to desegregate its buses, a federal court order did. That court order was considered the success that launched Reverend King as a leader of the movement.

Perhaps the best example of this we-don't-need-the-state-to-get-the-right results Philosophy pops up when Libertarians suggest we shouldn't have fought the Civil War. The suggestion is that slavery was doomed to fail if we just waited a while, or that we could have just purchased the slaves from the south (Ron Paul).

As Ta-Nehisi Coates often points out, the Civil War is not tragic. It was but one, large battle in a centuries-long war on black people, which was tragic. To suggest that we could have simply purchased the slaves from a group of traitors who succeeded from the Union because their new government's "foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man" is to completely, and tragically, misread history.

The only way to get people with that kind of Philosophy to change is through force.

This is what the protesters accomplished without federal
intervention. Photo credit
Same is true of Jim Crow. The force of the federal government was necessary to end the state force of Jim Crow. Sit-ins weren't changing the minds of the racists, who fought back with the force--which they claimed they had the right to though the same "state's rights" and "local control" that libertarians claim they want.

Would the Little Rock Nine ever have made it to school without federal force? Do left libertarians really want to argue that something short of Kennedy ordering the Interstate Commerce Commission to order new desegregation orders would have caused people like Mississippi Governor Ross "The Negro is different because God made him different to punish him" Barnett to stop segregation? Was the March on Washington an attempt to persuade southern racists to stop their racism, or an appeal to the power of the federal government to force them to stop?

No amount of non-violent sit-ins were going to change the minds of the KKK, the White Citizens' Councils, and the Dixiecrats. Only the force of the Federal Government could ever free the people there from the oppression of "state's rights" and "local control." And since the rights of those people are, supposedly, paramount for left libertarians, then they must, realistically, join forces with the progressive left in order to bring the power of the state down on those who were violating the natural rights of their fellow citizens. And by "join forces with" I mean vote for the Progressives, who actually had the power to make the changes necessary to protect the constitutional rights of the minority citizens who were being discriminated against.

Mr. Richman concludes:

"Carson believes ordinary citizens are coming to “distrust the bureaucratic organizations that control their communities and working lives, and want more control over the decisions that affect them. They are open to the possibility of decentralist, bottom-up alternatives to the present system.” Let’s hope he’s right."

As an environmentalist progressive free market Democrat, I sympathize with the decentralized approach for local control of food and power production. But citizens who distrusted bureaucratic organizations that control their communities were the heart of Jim Crow. Supporters of Jim Crow wanted more control over the decisions that affect them. They found decentralist, bottom up alternatives to system that had been imposed on them through the force of war and reconstruction. While my friends in the left libertarian movement might have been happy to wait a few more decades, or centuries, for local racist attitudes and laws to change, I'm never happy to wait to uphold the rights of citizens guaranteed by the US constitution.

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