Paul Varnell, a gay writer and activist, was the first libertarian I ever met. He wrote a nationally syndicated column in gay media. Every time he and I bumped into each other on the streets of New Town, he would drill me on the work of Leo Strauss because I received my PhD from the University of Chicago while Strauss was teaching there. I had never heard of Strauss but I soon developed a mini-expertise on him just so I could navigate my next encounter with Varnell.
Curiously, as far as I could tell, Strauss had little to say about libertarianism and a lot to say about what is wrong with modern classical liberalism, which fails to see man as a political animal deeply involved in the pursuit of virtue in the polisnot a libertarian theme. In expanding my research into other alleged sources of libertarian thinking, I discovered another curiosity: Ayn Rand, often cited as an iconic font for libertarian thought, frequently voiced her loathing of libertarians, all sorts of libertarians, in strikingly acerbic rhetoric ( See: Mayhew. Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A. p 72. 2005 ).
Varnell, a true public intellectual, was capable of negotiating the philosophical and political traffic jams of theory and practice. Not easily flummoxed by contradictions in principles and policy statements, Varnell understood that politicians often change their minds and positions in order to get elected. But I think that even Varnell would have some trouble explaining how Rand Paul can be considered a libertarian.
Rand Paul calls himself "libertarian-ish." He told Sean Hannity on FOX that he is "either libertarian conservative or constitutional conservative." www.newsweek.com/rand-paul-real-libertarian-319959 .
Let me quote from the Libertarian Party Platform 2014:
"Individuals own their bodies and have rights over them that other individuals, groups, and governments may not violate … ." 1.1 Self-Ownership.
And: "Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government's treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws. Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships. Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships." 1.4 Personal Relationships.
Yet, Rand Paul says that the idea of gay marriage "offends him" and that the legalization of gay marriage should be left to the states. One can imagine the legal chaos that would ensue from such a scheme. In my judgment, were Rand Paul an authentic libertarian he would hold that the two consenting adults marry each other and that the state is the legal witness to this contract not the "validator" of it.
"Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration." 1.5 Abortion.
Yet, in March 2013 Sen. Paul introduced S.583 a bill that would extend to the unborn the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "The Life at Conception Act legislatively declares what most Americans believe and what science has long known that human life begins at the moment of conception, and therefore is entitled to legal protection from that point forward," Sen. Paul said. "The right to life is guaranteed to all Americans in the Declaration of Independence and ensuring this is upheld is the Constitutional duty of all Members of Congress." www.paul.senate.gov/files/documents/LCA.pdf .
Admittedly, there are all types of libertarians: communist libertarians, socialist libertarians, anarchist libertarians, neo-libertarians, capitalist libertarians, libertarian-ish libertarians, and confused libertarians. ( See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism . ) And, admittedly, politicians must do what they have to do to get elected. Nonetheless, it would be good for Sen. Paul to clearly inform us on what his policies will be should he be elected president.
The best that I can determine about Paul is that he is opposed to big government and in favor of maximum freedom for the individual. But these two "principles" are next to meaningless if they are not explicated by specific policy proposals that demonstrate to us their practical meanings in our society.
It would be dangerous for us to underestimate Paul and his supporters. Do not comfort yourself by thinking that he has no chance of winning the Republican nomination for president. We must hold Paul to a high standard of accountability for his statements and public policy positions. That is how we show him respect and require him to respect us by speaking clearly to what matters most to usour liberty.
Nick Patricca is professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago, president of Chicago Network and playwright emeritus at Victory Gardens Theater.