Among the more curious arguments made in the wake of the Ron Paul newsletters affair is the charge that those libertarians who decried the racism and homophobia of the newsletters are revealing their underlying statism. The most complete version of this argument is here. You can also see it here, where I've been declared a "Libertarian War Criminal" for "Siding with the State’s Thought Control in the Ron Paul Newsletter Affair." It has also been made in different forms, or cut and pasted from the first blog, into a number of comments threads at Hit & Run and elsewhere. A representative sample from the first link:
Political correctness is a very strong signal of statism. In the mind of a statist, something is either required or banned. Either homosexual behavior is banned or it is required that everybody respect homosexual behavior.
In the statist world of the “cosmopolitan libertarians,” only cosmopolitans get to satisfy their preferences and tastes (or as some others choose and should be free to choose to view them, vices) in the marketplace. Statists in their guts, the “cosmopolitan libertarians” view any differences in values as political threats. Suburban and rural preferences and tastes, whether vices (like racism and homophobia) or otherwise must therefore be shouted down and banned, and even the most ardent libertarian like Ron Paul for whom it is suggested might hold any such values they view as a political threat.
I'm not interested in a line-by-line fisking of this stuff, although I will ask where anyone has said it is "required" (i.e., presumably at the barrel of a gun) that everybody "respect homosexual behavior" or that vices should be "banned." All I've ever said is that we should name those things for what they are, shame those who use such rhetoric, and decide whether we as libertarians wish to continue to associate with them. I also said it was a decision that each of us had to make as individuals, though I still think we'd be better as a movement without it. It's funny that folks who shout so much about the "right of association" are so upset about others making calls to choose not to associate with them.
What I am interested in is the claim that those who stand in opposition to racism are being accused of being susceptible to using the state to somehow enforce that set of beliefs. First, as Roderick Long argued a few years ago in his "One Cheer for Political Correctness" essay, there's nothing inherently unlibertarian about recognizing the existence of structural racism/sexism etc. nor about standing up and loudly opposing it through non-coercive means. Will Wilkinson offers a different version of a similar theme in the context of the Paul newsletters. Second, throughout the long history of the West and the rest of the world, those who believe in the fundamental inequality of the races and/or believe that "like should stay with like" have been far more willing to use the state to enforce those views than those who have opposed them have.
As David Levy and Sandy Peart have argued, the case for laissez-faire and classical liberalism more broadly finds signfiicant roots in the British debates over race in the mid-19th century, with the classical liberals being in opposition to those who both thought the races were unequal and opposed capitalism/laissez-faire precisely because it was premised on equality and had the effect of improving the lot of the races they thought to be inferior. Those, like Mill, who opposed the Carlyle-Ruskin position of racial inequailty, did so precisely because they believed both that the races were equal in capability and in the idea that free markets would be a path toward increased material equality for non-whites. It was the racists who wished to use the state, as they have throughout history, to enforce their vision of inequality. It was the classical liberals, who would have been called "politically correct" if the epithet existed at the time, who wanted to restrict the state's intervention in the economy (not to mention ending slavery, which is the biggest state intervention of them all) in the name of racial equality. And let's not forget that "On Liberty" remains one of the best reponses to modern-day real statists who really would coercively limit free speech in the name of so-called "political correctness."
Yes, legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 involved some interference with private property and the right of association, but it also did away with a great deal of state-sponsored discrimination and was, in my view, a net gain for liberty. In the longer run, it seems quite clear that classical liberalism/libertarianism has sided with the opponents of racism and that those who viewed the races as unequal were much more likely to use the state to enforce that view than were those who saw the races as equal. To suggest that anti-racism libertarians are somehow secret statists because opposition to racism must necessarily lead to state imposition of those views is both a distortion of the actual arguments people like me have made and flies in the face of a long history of libertarians being both anti-racist and anti-state.
This is our heritage as classical liberals, and it long predates the Old Right of the early/mid 20th century, with its very mixed record on race/ethnicity issues, as a source of inspiration for not just the overall spirit of libertarianism, but its perspective on race in particular.