Jack Hunter, the Rand Paul aide once known as the “Southern Avenger” has resigned from the senator’s staff in order to avoid being a “distraction.” Hunter has a history of pro-Confederate and borderline racist statements, though he has repudiated them in more recent years. In addition to creating a political problem for Rand Paul, the controversy over Hunter has also led to extensive discussion of libertarian attitudes towards the Civil War, including VC posts by Randy Barnett, David Bernstein, Jonathan Adler, and myself (here and here). I discussed the three major types of libertarian views on the War in this post last year.
Although only a relatively small minority of libertarians either sympathize with the Confederacy or believe that the world would have been better off with a Confederate victory in the war, it is important to properly address this dirty laundry within the movement, for reasons well expressed by Jacob Levy. A person who sympathizes with the Confederacy despite knowing its true record cannot be a libertarian in any meaningful sense, or a minimally decent human being. Libertarians and others who support it out of ignorance should take the time to study the relevant history, at least if they intend to make public statements on the subject.
It’s worth noting, however, that Hunter describes his neo-Confederate views as arising from conservatism rather than libertarianism, and says that he has become more racially and ethnically tolerant as he became “far more libertarian” in recent years:
“I’ve long been a conservative, and years ago, a much more politically incorrect (and campy) one,” Hunter said in an email. “But there’s a significant difference between being politically incorrect and racist. I’ve also become far more libertarian over the years, a philosophy that encourages a more tolerant worldview, through the lens of which I now look back on some of my older comments with embarrassment.”
Readers may, if they wish, believe that Hunter is lying about the change in his views. But, given that he describes himself as a conservative even today, it’s not clear why Hunter would lie about the conservative origins of his more disreputable opinions. For those interested, Conor Friedersdorf (a libertarian writer very critical of neo-Confederates) has a detailed discussion of the development of Hunter’s views here, which suggests that he may well have begun to change several years ago. Even if Hunter really has changed, I stand by my view that Rand Paul cannot afford to have aides with such a record. A genuinely reformed neo-Confederate should not be shunned from polite society. But he probably can’t be an effective spokesman for a libertarian-leaning politician trying to broaden his appeal.