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Reversing the outcome of the Civil War…

I have more to say on Ron Paul later, but this thought came to me today:

Essentially what Ron Paul and Liberarians of similar ilk want to do is reverse the outcome of the Civil War. No, I don’t mean that they want to bring back slavery (though I think some do hold at least quasi-racist views), instead I mean that they want to reverse the primacy of Federal versus state law.

The southern position at the time of the Civil War was that state law should have primacy over Federal law. Now certainly there are reasonable arguments why this should be and  much of the early U.S. legislative history was spent arguing over this issue, however in regards to the Civil War the argument, like it is mostly now, it was self-serving. State’s rights supporters wanted, and do want, the primacy of state law because they know that state law will either reflect or is easier to manipulate to reflect, the viewpoints which they already hold. So in the case of the Civil War, slavery advocates knew that state primacy would preserve slavery, whereas Federal primacy would not.

As now, I think the issues came first and state primacy came second. That is, state primacy was glommed onto as a method to promote ideas that already existed rather than state primacy being the initial and/or primary concern. That’s not to say that people didn’t care or come to care (it’s amazing how caring for one thing can convince you to care about another), but I do not believe that then, nor now, states rights were really the egg that yielded the chicken.

Certainly this isn’t true of the average Republican today, many of which claim Libertarian or “Tea Party” roots – Gingrich happily went to Federal court to dispute Virgina’s primary laws just as Bush supporters happily had the Supreme Court intervene in Florida’s election in 2000. Few Republicans decry the Federal “Defense of Marriage” act, or when say Federal law stomps (or tries to stomp) California drug or emissions laws.

In short, for most, “states rights” is a canard – a useful tool to be discarded when it doesn’t suit.

That said, I’m not sure the same applies to Ron Paul or true libertarians. I do believe Ron might argue that California has the right to set its own drug laws etc. Still I’m not sure he would be as enthusiastic though if there were a wave of laws protecting abortion issued throughout the states.

Personally, as messy as it is, I think there’s a balance. It would be nice to say “state law” or “federal law” always rules supreme, but as with much of what makes America great, it’s an ugly process of finding what works best.

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