I like Ron Paul; I really do. If I had the chance I’d take him to dinner. He did a lot of good for me in the formation of my own thinking during his campaign in 2007 and 2008. Please keep all of this in mind as I indulge in what some might consider to be counter-productive quibbling.
Dr. Paul has, of course, become the de-facto leader of the libertarian right and even an admired figure amongst many anarch0-capitalists. His efforts have brought the Federal Reserve and its counterfeit money under the microscope of mainstream society. He predicted the economic collapse which occurred in late 2008, though as yet Rudy Giuliani has not apologized for laughing at him like an immature jock during the presidential debates.
There is some chatter about Paul running for president again in 2012, and anyone who’s even remotely connected to libertarian circles has doubtless received umpteen invitations to join this or that Ron Paul group on Facebook. This weekend he gave a speech at CPAC, and he even won the straw poll, which elicited boos from the advocates of the warfare State. I took some time last night to listen to Paul’s speech, and while it contained lots of ear candy for the Old Right, I have to say that talk of constitutionalism, limited government, etc., just doesn’t do it for me anymore.
There is a certain naivete, in my opinion, on the part of libertarians. Limited government sounds good; in fact, if we had a limited government, there would be no “market,” as it were, for the ideas of anarchism. But limited government seems to be an historical and practical impossibility. The same could be said for constitutionalism. There is no good reason, therefore, to expect the situation in the territory commonly referred to as the United States to be any different, especially when one also considers the fact that the government is responsible for interpreting the very constitution which is supposed to limit its powers.
In addition, how can one expect political stability from a piece of positive legislation? This is essentially what the constitution is. It is not a statement of natural rights or of political philosophy; it is a document drawn up in part in response to Shay’s Rebellion, which caused the elites of this country to converge to create a stronger central government. (So can we put all this nonsense about the founders being for small government to bed?) It is ironic that the constitution gives the government the explicit right to tax; King George III, on the other hand, never enjoyed such a luxury, a fact which almost certainly contributed to the American revolution. Are we really supposed to believe in light of things like this—and eminent domain, and…..well, let’s not be too pedantic—that the constitution is a founding document of a government that gives two shakes about individual liberties?
Contrast the constitution with the way monarchies were set up: “Divine Right” was not, at first, the right of a King to make up a law on his own whim; rather, it meant that all his laws had to be in accord with Divine, or “natural,” law. It was a means of circumscription. It, too, was eventually violated, but it took much longer than the constitution, which was “nothing more than a g*ddamned piece of paper” within a few decades, at the very most.
But I digress, a bit. The point is that this system would seem to be broken, and that there’s no point in trying to work within it in order to rehabilitate order in our society, since its brokenness is related to intrinsic flaws rather than simple mismanagement. Therefore I believe that Ron Paul could do much more good by being a thinker and speaker than by being a politician who asks neoconservatives at CPAC to consider his cause. Do you really think he influenced so many people because he came in fourth place in some presidential primary? Hardly. It was the ideas he brought with him that did it, and ideas—not politics—are what move society from a lesser condition to a better one.
Congressman Paul seems to believe that working within the Republican Party is the way to promote his ideas. He is probably in a better position than I am to make this determination. I’m left wondering, though, if this doesn’t invite a certain kind of adulteration to take place. Look at what has happened to the Tea Party Movement. They went from End the Fed to Sarah Palin in only about a year. Would Ron Paul be better off making himself out to be more on the fringe? (I know that must sound ridiculous to some people, but from the anarchist perspective it makes sense.) A sharper line in the sand just might help to prevent the kind of co-opting that political parties thrive on. Think of the way the conservative movement was watered down and popularized in the late years of the 20th century.
Finally, is it a contradiction to use the political process as a means to promote liberty? Politics, as Dr. Paul himself has noted, is the art of the majority voting to take away the rights of the minority. This is anything but liberty and anything but private property rights, which are the foundation of individualism.
All that said, in a world in which Dr. Paul were president, we would be much better off. Likely the American troops would be out of at least some of the 140 countries in which they are now stationed. Taxes would be lower. The first amendment might mean something again, depending upon who the attorney general would be. This raises a question for the convinced anarchist, whether to side with gradualism or radicalism. Both have their strong points. For me, it would seem that radicalism is the answer. If taxation under Bush at x percent is theft, and taxation under Obama at y percent is theft, then taxation at z percent under Paul—even if it were only hidden taxes such as tariffs showing up as part of the price of a good—would also be theft. (But don’t think for a minute that Paul would actually be successful at eliminating the income tax.)
I guess it all boils down to the fact that, for me, government as such is the problem, and that it does no good for a good man to become a part of the problem. Like I said, I like the man. I’d take him to dinner. I’d ask him questions about economics and political philosophy. But not even a man as good as Ron Paul could get me into the political vortex again.