Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be libertarians

Some reasons have been advanced by other residents of the gated community for the attack on US senator Rand Paul by his neighbor Rene Boucher. Though both Boucher’s lawyer and Paul’s spokespersons have said that the cause was not political but a ‘trivial’ dispute , it may have had an underlying political cause arising from Paul’s adherence to libertarian philosophy, especially when it comes to property rights.

Libertarians tend to view the ownership of property as giving them strong rights over what they can do with it. That is all well and good up to a point. The problem is that Paul also chose to live in a gated community and such places tend to have homeowner’s associations (HOA) that have restrictions on what one can do. Apparently Paul was growing pumpkins, setting up a compost pile, and doing other landscaping in his yard that may have ignored HOA regulations. In a nutshell, he was not the kind of perfect neighbor that gated communities seek.

If these reports are correct, the problem seems to be that Paul seems to want the privilege of living in a gated community without accepting the restrictions.

This kind of conflict is ever-present in any community because there are always restrictions on freedom of behavior but most people realize that they have options other than ignoring the rules. A colleague of mine, an engineering faculty member, was a short-wave radio enthusiast. He wanted to put up a really high antenna in his back yard to pursue his hobby but the suburb he lived in that is adjacent to mine, an inner ring suburb of Cleveland, had restrictions on antenna height. He chose to move far away from the city so that he could have the antenna he wanted.

My own suburb also has many restrictions, so many that I jokingly say that I live in a police state. But I am willing to live with them in return for the benefits the community provides me, even though I find some of the rules irksome. People have successfully challenged some of the restrictions. There used to be a rule that one could not put up ‘For Sale’ signs on one’s yard. This local law was apparently passed at the time when segregation by race was ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in the mid-20th century and one had the phenomenon of white flight, the mass migration by white families out of an area when black families started to move in. Many of the properties in my suburb had had restrictions that prevented black and Jewish people from purchasing them. When it became clear that such restrictions would be declared illegal, the city decided to open up before being forced to do so but imposed the yard sign rule to prevent white people seeing signs on their neighbors’ lawns and panicking and moving out. The city was successfully sued many decades later (after we moved in) and there has been no white flight despite the yard signs appearing.

So one has the option of fighting the fighting the rules or moving or choosing to not move into an area that has rules one does not like. What Paul seems to have decided, if the news reports are correct, is to simply ignore the rules he did not like. While I can see that this would annoy some of his neighbors and the HOA, a direct physical attack on him that broke six ribs and could have caused his death seems way out of proportion to the level of aggravation and is still somewhat mysterious, especially since the two had reportedly not spoken to each other for ‘many years’.

To make the issue even more confused, Paul himself seems to be casting doubt on the landscaping motive for the attack. Other neighbors are also challenging the notion that this was a lawn order inspired attack. Furthermore, Boucher pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge, when I fully expected him to agree to a plea deal to avoid jail time. Now the case will go to trial and those usually produce embarrassing disclosures unless a deal is made later.

Trevor Noah of The Daily Show is also confused and tries to make sense of the feud.


  1. says

    Your situation seems to be different from Rand Paul’s. In your case, it’s government, and from my point of view, government often makes all sorts of decisions that encroach on liberty without really much justification. On top of that, they are a monopoly, so one then doesn’t have a whole lot of choice to do something different. On top of that, courts will often, using the rational basis test, say that the government’s restrictions are almost always justifiable, because any old speculation counts as “evidence”.

    In Rand Paul’s case, his property really is a libertarian dream. Everybody just goes around making contracts (yes, I’m exaggerating!). He made a contract with the HOA, with the community. And now he’s reneging on that contract with (from what your piece says) a major deviation from libertarian principles.

  2. blf says

    [Government is] a monopoly, so one then doesn’t have a whole lot of choice to do something different.

    Translation: The ban on killing people is an unwarranted intrusion; one should be able to blow up people in public spaces.

    Feck off libturdian arsehole.

  3. says

    blf seems to have a reading for comprehension problem.

    Do note that I was talking about government using the rational basis test to justify just about anything they do. (Side note: killing people would fall under strict scrutiny, and would certainly fail even that.) Legal knowledge is an asset -- you should gain some sometime.

    Related (to my point): The 7 Circuit Court of Appeals just upheld a ban on women exposing their breasts in public (during a First Amendment march advocating for it, even). There is no evidence that this hurts anything more than the sensibilities of some regressive prudes. Yet this passed even intermediate scrutiny. More government telling people that freedom needs to be restricted without a whole lot of justification.

  4. Mano Singham says

    ahcuah @#1,

    I don’t see the situations as all that different. Just as I chose to live in this community, Paul did the same with his gated community. The difference is that HOAs are written contracts that he must have explicitly signed while consent to city zoning laws is implicit. Both Paul and I could try and change the rules if they displease us (I am not sure which is harder, getting changes past a city zoning commission or an HOA) or move if we don’t like the restrictions. Simply ignoring them (as some allege Paul did) seems like the worst option.

    Of course, moving out of a small city to a neighboring one is easier than moving out of a state. And moving out of a country entirely is not really feasible. So your argument about government monopoly gets stronger the larger the jurisdiction involved.

    blf @#2,

    ahcuah was making a reasonable point, and stating it politely. I am not sure why you felt it necessary to use abusive language against him.

  5. says

    Mano, let me try to come up with some examples.

    Suppose you decide to put a vegetable garden in your front yard. It’s perfectly neat. It looks fine. You keep it well-maintained. It doesn’t hurt anybody. But it is a bit “different”. So city council writes an ordinance prohibiting anything but grass in front yards. Did you really “implicitly” agree to that when you built your house 30 years ago (a hypothetical “you”)? (And I just read a story about something similar.)

    Or, suppose you run a small business from your home. There is no extra traffic, aside from you occasionally driving to the Post Office to pick up and send packages. The City Council then passes an ordinance against your kind of business (and you later find out that it was prompted by the City Council President’s brother who owns a similar business, but has a storefront). Are you OK with losing your business? Was this implicit in your moving into your home there? Are you OK with going through the costs of moving to some other town that doesn’t have such an ordinance (with no guarantee that after you get there, that place’s council won’t do the same)? It happens. And often these sorts of ordinances are upheld under the rational basis standard.

    Here’s a different example. Recently, the township I live in decided to go with a single garbage pickup company. Before they did so, there were something like 4 different companies serving the area, and there would be trucks all over the place on random days. (This was one reason the township justified giving a contract to a single collection company.) I have no problem at all with their doing so. It doesn’t really affect me, or anybody else, in any material fashion. (In fact, they were able to negotiate lower rates.) But the libertarians around here (and there are many), went nuts--how dare they restrict the libertarians’ freedom? My point with this example is just to point out that many ordinances do make good sense and can be “implicit”. But there are others that escape meaningful judicial review because of the extreme deference of the rational basis test.

    (Note that things are a bit different when you move into an area that already has a certain kind of ordinance, like, let’s say, historical preservation ordinances and your house really is “historical”, not a neighborhood of 2005 builds. There should be some look at reasonableness, but that is not part of the rational basis test.)

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    ahcuah #1: Your situation seems to be different from Rand Paul’s. In your case, it’s government, …
    In Rand Paul’s case, his property really is a libertarian dream. Everybody just goes around making contracts (yes, I’m exaggerating!). He made a contract with the HOA, with the community…

    Your idea that a home owner’s association is not “government” is interesting, but I don’t think that I buy it.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    I read an article numerous years ago by a woman who lived in Irvine, California, in a place with a strong home owner’s association. She painted her front door red, which was not an approved color. She ended up moving out of town due to the ensuing dispute.

  8. Sunday Afternoon says

    @#7 (Reginald Selkirk):

    HOAs can suck mightily as I discovered in our previous abode. Funnily enough, there was a lot of arguing about the new color schemes when our small complex was re-painted with an unscrupulous person reneging on commitments and setting arbitrary conditions on the colors that could be chosen. We ended up choosing a strong red color for our door which met these arbitrary requirements, but was distinctly not what this person wanted to impose on us. We’re not there any more.

    Curiously, it turned out (later, I think) later that the unscrupulous person in question was a founder of the local “tea party”. We weren’t surprised.

  9. siwuloki says

    ahcuah @#5, I believe if Mano were to have a vegetable garden in his front yard prior to the law’s passage, he’d be grandfathered. As long as he maintained it as a vegetable garden he could keep it. I moved into a home in a subdivision without an HOA, but five years later a real estate agent proposed a property owners’ association (mine was one of two homes in a 58-lot subdivision). His intent was to form an improvement district (ID) and bring in roads and utitilties. I voted no, but lost. Unfortunately, the majority that voted yes balked once the actual cost estimate for the ID work was presented to them. Thus we were saddled with an unnecessary POA. I have a large number of “improvements” that are not permitted under the current CC&Rs because they were grandfathered. In fact, I couldn’t build the home I live in now -- it’s smaller than the minimum square footage permitted.

  10. says

    siwuloki: depends on how the law is written. But if they do grandfather you in, it’s only due to the graciousness of their hearts. There is nothing that says they have to.

    others: The difference between an HOA and a city/town ordinance is that an HOA is a contract that you signed. What did you sign to agree to when it comes to a government?

  11. Maya says

    ahcuah@10: You become a party to the contract with the government without signing an explicit contract through the action of accepting the deed, which is a formal intention to assume the legal responsibilities of title-holder. What do you think it means to be the title-holder in a fee-simple property system?

  12. flex says

    What did you sign to agree to when it comes to a government?

    Ah, the old ‘I didn’t ask to be born in this house’ argument. An oldie, but still trotted out regularly. It probably didn’t work on your parents either.

    The reason it’s an insipid argument is because by the time you are old enough understand and use this argument, you should have had enough time to learn what the rules of your house, or society at large, are. I assume you are old enough to vote, so you have had plenty of time to learn that there are laws and that not obeying these laws can have penalties. In addition, you should have learned that there are laws you may be unfamiliar with, which you may break without knowing them, and that ignorance of those laws is no excuse. You should also know, that unlike in your parent’s house, there are processes available for you to attempt to change those laws. Finally, by now you should realize that just because you don’t think a law is a good law, it will be changed. Laws are created for reasons, usually good but sometime poor (or even bigoted and evil), and they are ultimately part of the shared contract all people in a society are expected to follow. Ideally, over time, good laws prevail and bad laws are eliminated, but this takes effort by citizens like you and I to make changes.

    Your options, just like at your parent’s house, is to obey the laws or suffer the penalties. There is one additional option that you have as an adult that you probably didn’t have at your parent’s house, and that is to move to another country. However, you won’t find a country which doesn’t have government or laws. Laws which you won’t be asked to agree to or sign off on (you aren’t that special), but you will still be expected to abide by. If you move to England would you expect them to have you sign an agreement to drive on the left side of the road? And if you didn’t sign it, would you expect that you could drive on the right side with impunity? I doubt it.

    So forget the idea that you only have to abide by the rules for which you have a signed contract. Sometimes you have a contract, sometimes you don’t. Regardless of a contract or not there are rules to follow in a society. These rules are generally written to make a society safer to live in. Rules like, “hitting someone is wrong”, or “don’t drive in the bike lane’, or “buildings must be 10 feet from the property line’. These are all rules regarding safety. The last one may not seem like one, but it reduces the chance of a spread of a fire from a shed to a neighbor’s shed/house and it eliminates the possibility that the neighbor stabs you with a gardening fork because you built your shed 1/2 inch into their property.

    Some groups of people also have rules that go beyond safety. A group that exists to collect model trains might have a rule saying that people who collect model cars cannot be part of the group. While it is probably rare that a person who collects model cars would thrust themselves into trying to become a member, if a person doing so does start making a pest of themselves, eventually the majesty of the state law enforcement can be called in. The group is allowed to use the power of the state to enforce the rules they agreed to.

    Now that was a silly example, but it’s the same with an HOA. If the HOA has clear rules, and someone regularly breaks them, they can invoke the police and court system to force compliance. Just like if you break a township ordinance.

    And speaking of municipal ordinances, these are all on record and can be reviewed before purchasing a home in an area. You cannot claim ignorance of them. Your purchase of a home in an area which might have restrictive ordinances is your agreement to abide by those ordinances because you had an opportunity to review them before you purchased.

    What about ordinances which are adopted subsequent to your purchasing your home? Again, you have no excuse to not know them. They are adopted at public meetings where you will be given the opportunity to speak for or against them. They are required to be printed/published someplace prior to adoption so that the public has an opportunity to review them before they are passed. It is required to take at least two meetings to adopt an ordinance, a first reading and a second reading, to allow public comment. Finally, if the ordinance is a onerous burden on the citizens, or violates civil rights, the courts can direct the ordinance to be changed or rescinded. The fact than an ordinance is adopted that you personally don’t like does not make it good or bad. If there is an ordinance which you don’t agree with, it doesn’t mean you can ignore it. You are one person among many in a society, and no more important than the next person.

    The same is true of an HOA. If enough members of a HOA agree that a restriction is silly, then they can convince the board, or elect members to the board who agree with them, and change the HOA requirements. I’m thinking of doing that shortly with the HOA I’m in. There is a restriction from putting solar panels written into the HOA. I’m planning on working to convince the board that this restriction may be sensible to apply to ground mounted solar panels, but should be removed for roof mounted solar panels. We’ll see where I get with this, but it’s exactly the same process which would be performed if I went to the township board with a similar request. How do I know this? I’m on the township board and I listen to these requests regularly.

    Finally, the decisions made by an HOA, or a municipal government may seem stupid to you, but there may be information you are lacking as to why a certain decision is made. This is the function of a representational democracy. You elect people who are going to learn the details of a possible change before making a decision, and then make the decision (hopefully) in the best interests of the people they represent. Take your garbage hauler example. You say that the township used to allow a number of garbage services access to your township but recently negotiated with one hauler for basically a monopoly right to the township. From a libertarian point of view this appears to be an encroachment, possibly even an overreach, of government power. Even if the cost to you personally went down.

    Now, let me bring in a few more facts you may not be aware of. First, your township is responsible for the maintenance of a lot of roads. Sure, there are county roads, and state roads, but most sub-division and minor roads are paid for by the township even if he county does the work. Second, the most damaging vehicles on a road are garbage trucks. Garbage trucks are the heaviest vehicle which regularly drives on your roads, and they start/stop multiple times which also puts stress on the concrete, asphalt, or dirt.

    Your township had a decision to make. Raise your taxes to pay for the repairs the for the damage the garbage trucks were doing to your roads. Or limit the number of garbage trucks on your roads and extend the life of those roads. Even if your roads are in poor condition today, limiting the number of garbage trucks on them will slow down additional degradation. And you personally benefited in two ways, the cost of your garbage service dropped, and your property taxes didn’t increase to pay for the damage the garbage trucks do to your roads.

    What you might see as government over-reach, your township government may (I don’t know the details of your situation) may have been seen by them as a necessary action to meet one of their primary responsibilities; maintaining passable roads. And they did so in a way which benefited the people they represent the most.

  13. Mano Singham says

    ahcuah @#5,

    I see your point but I think flex @#12 has covered my response quite thoroughly.. When I move into a city, I am not just accepting implicitly the existing rules and regulations, I am also accepting the means which those rules are formulated and that includes any new ones. If new ones are passed that I find offensive, then my options are to try and reverse them, live with them, or move. I agree that none of these may be palatable but ignoring the rules seems to be the worst choice.

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