What Really Divides Us?
The overwhelming media response to recent remarks by Senator Trent Lott shows that the nation remains incredibly sensitive about matters of race, despite the outward progress of the last 40 years. A nation that once prided itself on a sense of rugged individualism has become uncomfortably obsessed with racial group identities.
In the aftermath of the Lott debacle, we must not allow the term "states' rights" to be smeared and distorted into code words for segregationist policies or racism. States' rights simply means the individual states should retain authority over all matters not expressly delegated to the federal government in Article I of the Constitution. Most of the worst excesses of big government can be traced to a disregard for states' rights, which means a disregard for the Ninth and Tenth amendments. The real reason liberals hate the concept of states' right has nothing to do with racism, but rather reflects a hostility toward anything that would act as a limit on the power of the federal government.
Yet it is the federal government more than anything else that divides us along race, class, religion, and gender lines. The federal government, through its taxes, restrictive regulations, corporate subsidies, racial set-asides, and welfare programs, plays far too large a role in determining who succeeds and who fails in our society. This government "benevolence" crowds out genuine goodwill between men by institutionalizing group thinking, thus making each group suspicious that others are receiving more of the government loot. Americans know that factors other than merit in the free market often play a part in the success of some, and this leads to resentment and hostility between us.
Still, the left argues that stringent federal laws are needed to combat racism, always implying of course that southern states are full of bigoted rednecks who would oppress minorities if not for the watchful eye of Washington. They ignore, however, the incredible divisiveness created by their collectivist big-government policies.
Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans only as members of groups and never as individuals. Racists believe that all individual who share superficial physical characteristics are alike; as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called "diversity" actually perpetuate racism. Their intense focus on race is inherently racist, because it views individuals only as members of racial groups.
Conservatives and libertarians should fight back and challenge the myth that collectivist liberals care more about racism. Modern liberalism, however well intentioned, is a byproduct of the same collectivist thinking that characterizes racism. The continued insistence on group thinking only inflames racial tensions.
The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence, not skin color, gender, or ethnicity. In a free market, businesses that discriminate lose customers, goodwill, and valuable employees — while rational businesses flourish by choosing the most qualified employees and selling to all willing buyers. More importantly, in a free society every citizen gains a sense of himself as an individual, rather than developing a group or victim mentality. This leads to a sense of individual responsibility and personal pride, making skin color irrelevant. Rather than looking to government to correct what is essentially a sin of the heart, we should understand that reducing racism requires a shift from group thinking to an emphasis on individualism.
December 24, 2002
Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.