Dr. Rand Paul:
A rare opportunity to teach




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Dr. Rand Paul, Senate candidate and son of Congressman Ron Paul, fell into hot water with the establishment this spring over some comments he made about the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Establishment talking heads, and shills for the Fabian national socialists (Republicans) and Fabian international socialists (Democrats), went on the attack against him. As usual, establishment commentary generated more heat than light and proved yet again to be mostly about confusing and distracting voters, and protecting the two-party system. Perhaps just as predictably, Dr. Paul appeared to backpedal — something one must apparently do if he wishes to exercise influence in the imperial capital.

Such sorry episodes, however, do serve at least one good purpose. They quickly teach the thoughtful and just man how not to think, providing us with an opportunity to suggest new and more effective ways of thinking. So, how should a thoughtful, reflective, and virtuous man, an honorable man, think about Dr. Paul and his comments about the 1964 act? Here we suggest a rational and systematic approach for considering the act and other government policy proposals, given the practical reality of the American state. Our method is rooted in common experience and takes the form of a series of questions that can be profitably applied to any proposed course of state action.

We start with the recognition that novel knowledge is best derived from certain knowledge. Hence, to start thinking clearly and rationally about something we're not sure about — how to rationally analyze government policy proposals — let's begin with some rational reflection about things we know well: how honorable men live their lives. In what follows we propose to reason from what we know to what we don't know, from how we think about everyday life to how we should think about government.

Our way, then, can be lighted by reflecting on some common-sense truths. Consider, then, the commonsensical questions honorable men pose to themselves, at least implicitly, as they ponder a newly suggested course of action for some group or institution they are associated with or working for. Consider, for example, the questions that flood through the mind of an honorable man as he ponders a course of action for his fraternal society, small business, or department at work.

The first truth an honorable man recognizes is an epistemological one, that novelty carries the burden of proof, that proposals must be justified before the bar of reason and experience before they can be adopted. Only then does the honorable man start to consider and reflect on the various questions that must be asked and satisfactorily answered before the burden of proof is satisfied for a proposed course of action.

Once the burden of proof is firmly shifted to the advocate of action, the honorable man will take the time to consider whether a real problem exists and whether the proposed course of action will solve the problem. Here, we concern ourselves with the second question and include the first one only for the sake of completeness. The perceptive reader will note that much of what we have to say about the second question can be readily generalized to the first.

Stipulating for the sake of discussion that a real and pressing problem exists, the first question our honorable man poses is that of moral authority: whether or not he and the organization he represents have the moral authority to embark on the proposed course of action or whether the proposed course of action somehow conflicts with an established principle or practice of morally acceptable conduct.

The second question our honorable man considers is the question of philosophical or teleological authority: whether or not the proposed course of action coheres or clashes with the purpose or mission of his society, business, or department.

The third question our honorable man takes up is the question of jurisdictional authority: whether he is in the best position to directly supervise the implementation of the proposed course of action and decide on it or whether such decisions are better left to higher or lower centers of legitimate authority.

The fourth question our honorable man ponders is the question of legal authority: whether he has the legal authority to embark on the proposed course of action or whether, instead, the proposed course of action violates some written law.

Only when all four questions have been answered in the affirmative will our honorable man pose a fifth question, the practical question of matching means to ends, of implementing the proposed course of action to achieve the desired outcome. This might be dubbed the question of scientific authority or the question whether the proposed course of action is scientifically feasible.

If our honorable man answers "yes" to all of the above questions, then much of the burden of proof appears satisfied, and all reasonable men would agree that it is permissible and rational for our honorable man to seriously consider pursuing the proposed course of action. If, however, he answers "no" to even one of the questions, then reason forbids the proposed course of action and bids the honorable man to reconsider, for his own good and the good of his organization.

A moment's reflection indicates that all of the above is readily generalized to cover all human organizations. Thus, the general limits that rationally constrain and limit human action, especially human corporate action, are epistemological, moral, teleological, jurisdictional, legal, and scientific.

Now, since government is a mere association of men, it follows that government, too, is constrained and limited by the same epistemological, moral, teleological, jurisdictional, legal, and scientific principles and considerations. Indeed, since the essence of government is force — since government action involves intimidation, coercion, and the real possibility, even inevitability, of actual physical violence — the questions and principles surrounding legitimate corporate action are all the more pressing and the burden of proof all the more strenuous. Fundamentally, the question of government is the question of when one adult, a civilian, can disagree with another adult, a government worker, without having to fear violent reprisal. It is a question of the utmost importance. Using common experience as our guide, we now endeavor to supply a rational framework for helping people answer it.

To discover the basic permissibility of a proposed course of action for the government, one must ask the same questions as our honorable man, and always with the understanding that the proposed course of action carries the burden of proof. Put simply, when confronted by a proposed course of action for government, an honorable man will first place the burden of proof where it belongs and then challenge the government to show that it possesses the moral, teleological, jurisdictional, legal, and scientific authority to pursue the course of action. If an affirmative answer is given to all five questions, then reason declares the government's freedom to at least consider acting. However, if even one negative answer is given, reason demands that government abandon the course of action.

All of this can be fleshed out a bit more. In asking the moral question, the honorable among us would demand that a proponent of state action show that it conforms to the settled principles and practices of natural or commonsensical morality, especially those principles and practices that have to do with the morally legitimate use of force. We would thus inquire into the moral propriety of the proposed act, and the moral propriety of using force to implement and sustain the proposed act, in light of objective, timeless, and universal standards of good conduct. The honorable man will countenance only morally licit acts and the morally licit use of force.

In asking the teleological question, and given our system of government, we would demand that the proponent of state action show that the action is consistent with what the Founders believed to be the proper purpose or end of government — the protection of life, liberty, and property against illicit aggression.

In asking the jurisdictional question we would demand rigorous justification for federal action, as opposed to state or local action.

In asking the legal question, issues of constitutionality become paramount, but the honorable man doesn't hesitate to hold the state accountable to the very statutes that the state holds him accountable to.

Finally, the honorable among us would challenge the proponent of state action to make his case before the bar of the natural and human sciences. In seeking the verdict of science, however, the honorable man understands that some means will better achieve his ends than other means, that some means might actually produce more problems than they solve. So, for example, not all battle plans, even in the service of a manifestly just war, will prove equally effective in securing the peace. Similarly, an honorable man might be persuaded, erroneously or not, that the criteria of moral, legal, and jurisdictional legitimacy have been satisfied when it comes to the criminalization of drugs, only to ultimately reject state involvement when he concludes that it will strongly encourage dangerously centralized, militarized, and aggressive policing practices. All vice need not be subject to state-imposed temporal penalties, for the medicine sometimes creates more harm than good.

The honorable man understands that government, an organization of mere men, is subject to the same rational order of the universe, rooted in the very nature of things, as other human organizations. The honorable man also understands that this order — the basic normative principles by which men live — can be discovered through sustained and rational analysis of common experience. Perhaps most important, the honorable man understands that government is organized force and that the use of force must be rigidly constrained by these normative principles of human action. Hence, government must assume the burden of rationally justifying its commandments and intrusions into daily life; government must shoulder the burden of proof; government must show that a proposed course of action is good.

And how does government attempt to meet that burden? Like any other human organization, government must show that the proposed course of action is morally good, teleologically sound, jurisdictionally authorized, legally acceptable, and scientifically feasible. Only then will the honorable man extend to government the latitude to further consider implementing the proposed course of action.

To the best of my knowledge, contemporary government action, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, is rarely if ever evaluated within the framework described here. Indeed, we might fear for the continued existence of government should such a demanding analytical and normative framework gain wide acceptance.

Despite Dr. Paul's initial retreat, he and others like him now have the opportunity and the intellectual tools to subject the government, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act in particular, to a serious and systematic normative analysis in light of sound principles. It is important to note that the correct application of these tools is often quite straightforward — at least to the honorable among us.

So, for example, like the honorable man, Dr. Paul might start the process of evaluating the 1964 Civil Rights Act with what he knows and reason his way to what he does not know. He might start with the obvious truth that Tony in New Jersey, however concerned about the lack of Italians working in Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles, and good relations between Chinese and Italians more generally, clearly lacks the moral, teleological, jurisdictional, and legal authority to dispatch Silvio and Paulie to L.A. to make Chinese restaurateurs "an offer they can't refuse." Tony, Silvio, and Paulie simply lack the moral, teleological, jurisdictional, and legal power to use violence against such Chinese restaurateurs, even in the service of such a noble cause as increasing Italian participation in the industry.

From here, Dr. Paul, like other honorable men, might further realize the shocking truth — shocking that is, to the modern statist mind — that the men who work for the government are subject to the same moral, teleological, legal, and jurisdictional considerations as Tony, Silvio, and Paulie. And from here, Dr. Paul might draw the shocking inference that the feds, too, are not allowed to make offers to pesky restaurateurs that can't be refused. And we were able to infer that new truth without having to consider the relative scientific merits of using brass knuckles, baseball bats, or a 9mm pistol. Ω

July 16, 2010 

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