The Ron Paul Affair and Libertarian Culture Clash
Loosely speaking, I think the clash can be described as between people who see non-PC speech as a positive virtue and those who see it as a fault--or, if you prefer, between people who approve of offending liberal sensibilities ("liberal" in the modern sense of the term) and those who share enough of those sensibilities to prefer not to offend them. The former group see the latter as wimps, the latter see the former as boors.
Let me offer, as a simple example, possible reactions to the following sentence:
"According to FBI statistics, more than a third, perhaps more than half, of murderers are black, even though blacks make up only about 13% of the U.S. population."
As it happens, the statement is true; the "perhaps" reflects the number of murderers whose race is unknown. The question is how different people would react to it. The answer, I think, is that one group of libertarians would prefer not to state it and, if stating it, would be inclined to qualify their statement in order to make it clear that they were not racially prejudiced. A different group would state it with mild glee, in order to make it clear that they were not PC, not constrained by what they view as ideological commitments to shade the truth when it contradicts fashionable opinion.
I think this difference shows up in the strength of the condemnations of the newsletter quotes, a strength appropriate in terms of current conventions of what one does or does not say but exaggerated, I think, in terms of the literal content of the quotes. In that respect it reminds me a little of the flap some years ago over H.L. Mencken's diary, although that was a more extreme case—labeling an author racist for using currently unacceptable language despite evidence that he was less, not more, racially prejudiced than most of us.
In what sense were the quotes "racist?" While I may have missed something, I do not think any of them either asserted innate inferiority of blacks or hatred of blacks qua blacks. What they did was express a derogatory opinion of particular blacks--Watts rioters or muggers--in a gleeful fashion. They were thus likely both to appeal to racists and to offend liberals—more generally, to offend people who accepted current conventions of acceptable and unacceptable speech. My guess is that both effects were intentional
I myself have somewhat mixed feelings on issue of being deliberately non-PC. On the one hand, I find it disturbing that, in our society as it now exists, true statements about certain questions are likely to result in serious negative consequences for those who make them, with the forced resignation of the president of Harvard the most striking recent example. On the other hand, I think offending other people for the fun of it is both rude and counterproductive.
Which gets me to what I suspect is another difference between the two groups—for simplicity I will label them "wimps" and "boors"—their attitude to those who disagree with them politically. The wimps, I suspect, have friends they respect who not only are not libertarian but are well to the left on the political spectrum, hence wimps are likely to think of their opponents to the left as reasonable people who are mistaken. The boors are likely to see opponents to their left as stupid or evil. On the other hand, the boors are rather more likely to have friends who are conservatives, even kinds of conservatives, such as religious fundamentalists or neo-confederates, whom the wimps disapprove of. So in that case the pattern may reverse, with the wimps seeing those they disagree with as evil or stupid, the boors seeing them as holding some mistaken views.
No doubt all of this is an oversimplification of a complicated situation, and no doubt exceptions to the pattern I describe could be found in both directions. But I think it has a good deal of truth to it.
All of which reminds me of an old piece by Murray Rothbard, on crucial questions that divide libertarians, in which he accused me of failure to hate the state. He was correct. I don't view the state as a diabolical plot by evil people to exploit innocent victims, merely as an understandable and unfortunate mistake. In that regard, at least, I am a wimp, not a boor.