Constitutional Conservatives and the Sans-Culottes

If I’ve tried to do one thing consistently during my tenure at PA, it’s to explain the roots of Republican extremism in an ideology of “constitutional conservatism” that basically rejects the power of democratic majorities to promote policies that “violate” a wildly expansive number of individual rights, which conveniently coincide with the material and religious interests of conservative constituencies. Combine that with a Supreme Court majority, and you have a return to the Lochner Era in which the basic social safety net is declared an unconstititional abridgement of property rights. Combine it with Second Amendment absolutism, and you have the justification of violent revolution against a “socialist” state that does terrible things like enacting Obamacare.

But you don’t have to listen to me: Sen. Rand Paul put it pretty plainly in remarks to college students:

“Government was instituted among men to protect your rights, not to create rights,” Paul said.

“So you don’t have a right to a chair, you don’t have a right to shoes, you don’t have a right to pants, you don’t have a right to health care, you don’t have a right to water — you have a right to be free….”

“There are certain rights that are yours, that come to you from your creator, and no majority should take them away.”

So when your right to pants collides with the God-given right to do whatever you damn please with your God-given property, guess who wins? And if a democratic majority tries to intervene to strike a better balance between Daddy Warbucks and the sans-culottes, guess who wins?

“You know, it doesn’t matter whether a majority takes your rights away, or whether one single authoritarian takes… So if a majoritarian, somebody who gets 51% — does anybody think slavery is less bad if a majority votes for it?” Paul asked. “So what if a democracy says: ‘We’re gonna have democratic slavery?’”

No one, of course, is going to do that, but in a mental world where Obamacare is “slavery,” we may be sliding into a totalitarian nightmare, which is what Paul seems to think Bernie Sanders stands for:

Earlier in his speech, Paul explained his habit of linking Sanders to mass exterminations carried out by socialist regimes throughout history.

“People say: ‘Oh, you’re saying that Bernie Sanders is Pol Pot.’ No, I’m saying that he’s embracing the same philosophy of socialism that lead ultimately to the extermination of people,” Paul explained.

“Stalin killed tens of millions of people,” he continued. “They say, ‘Well, Bernie’s not gonna do that.’ Probably not.”

But Paul argued that Sanders’s “democratic socialism” was not meaningfully distinct from other forms of state control.

“Probably not.” Remember that characterization of Paul’s Senate colleague next time you hear conservatives shriek about liberal despotism and the terrible, terrible persecution of fine freedom-loving Americans like the Brothers Koch. These people are really close to defining genuine freedom right out of existence, along with democracy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.