Posts Tagged With: Ron Paul

Ron Paul and The “Virtue” of Compromise

Our newest blogger, Radagast, begins his commentary at Beyond the GOP with a criticism of Ron Paul. He brings up an important point when he writes:

 [Ron Paul] is neither an ideologue nor a narcissist . . . but his uncompromising commitment to his principles is politically objectionable in my view. . . The “games” of American politics are utterly corrupt and broken, but the game is the game. It is not a concession to choose to play it when you know you can’t win everything. Compromise is not a dirty word – it is a necessary element of a just and enduring order.

First of all, one might reasonably ask: if the game really is “utterly corrupt and broken,” why continue to play it?

But the crux of Radagast’s argument comes later. He asserts that Ron Paul wrongly sticks to “moralism in an imperfect world.” Rather than doing that, Paul supposedly needs to learn from Machiavelli and Bill Clinton—he needs to learn to get his hands dirty to achieve what he wants. According to Radagast, a successful politician needs to adopt morally grayer means to achieve his (good) ends.

The issue of reconciling political means to ends is one that constantly reoccurs, especially in marginalized and relatively powerless groups like our own.

Yet, as in much else, I think the best discussion of the issue comes from Murray Rothbard, who argued that there really is no conflict between the two. Every end requires means to attain it, so the means can only be justified to the extent that the end can—and if an end can’t be justified, then no means can either. Conversely, if a particular means is bad, that can only mean that it is inconsistent with a more important end.

To bring this down to earth: I see nothing wrong with Ron Paul voting for a 1% tax cut, even though I would prefer a 50% or—best of all—100% decrease. My end is to roll back the government until it can drown in a teacup—the quicker we can accomplish that the better. Still, the 1% decrease might just be the best we can get at the moment, so it would be pointless to hold out for more if more were not forthcoming. Here there is no conflict between means and ends; the means are less than we might like, but they are still consistent with the ultimate goal.

On the other hand, Paul would be unjustified if, for instance, he threatened to murder the congressional Democrats unless they agreed to a bigger tax decrease. Murder is even worse than taxes, so by threatening it Paul would be acting inconsistently with another important end. He would also be unjustified if he promised his support for, say, ethanol subsidies in return for tax cuts—the classic “one step forward, two steps back.”

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But just because sometimes a half-way measure is the best we can realistically accomplish, that doesn’t mean that compromise is somehow a good in itself. As G.K. Chesterton memorably put it, “Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.”

It appears that many of Ron Paul’s critics take the “modern statesman’s” approach and value compromise for its own sake. But if they do, then they have little to worry about. Most everyone who doesn’t write for Mother Jones understands that the Republicans are nowhere near adopting laissez-faire purism. Those of us who can remember back to last month might recall how the Republicans ultimately capitulated to tax increases and then agreed to a truce over the debt ceiling. Those of us who follow politics a little more closely might also remember the Ron Paul-endorsed Kerry Bentivolio call himself “not really a Ron Paul person” after he was elected. Or the supposedly “libertarian” senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee’s attacks on Chuck Hagel’s non-aggressive foreign policy during the recent confirmation hearings. And of course, Rand Paul’s own deviations from his father are well-documented. If anything, the “uncompromising” politicians quickly start compromising once their careers begin. Despite what Radagast might fear, Machiavelli is alive and well in Washington.

By contrast, Ron Paul is so popular because he stands out from the crowd. He doesn’t compromise, while everyone else does. Does anyone really believe that he would have made more of an impact if he conducted his career like Lamar Alexander? Sure, he hasn’t had many political successes, but he did open up a whole generation to libertarian ideals. That’s a huge accomplishment. As for Lamar Alexander . . . well, you can look him up on Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, Radagast is correct that the Right needs to do more than just nay-saying. Ron Paul has done great things, but we need something more if we eventually want to win.

The problem is that most of the solutions offered essentially constitute a surrender of principle—they are inconsistent with ultimate goals. We hear incessantly, for instance, that Republicans need to make their peace with the welfare state or accept mass immigration. But if that’s what it takes to win, then what’s the point of winning? Just being able to say “We won” is small consolation for embracing and ratifying destructive political principles. To take a less dramatic example being willing to “vote trade”—swapping a vote for higher taxes in exchange for spending cuts—is almost as bad. If our ultimate goal is rolling back the government, it is hard to come up with a non-sophistical justification for how higher taxes will accomplish that.

So what then to do?

I’m not exactly sure. But I do see some promising options. For instance, I have written here before about “bleeding heart libertarianism” and about the states’ rights/Tenth Amendment movement. Though the two movements seem very different, they are both strategic, political means of advancing good ends without violating higher principles. They’re both about making libertarian or conservative ideas appeal to a wider array of normal, working people. As such, I think they offer much more promising avenues for change than some fuzzy “compromise.”

They are both incomplete and wouldn’t lead to any kind of victory overnight. But they are still helpful in the long-run by re-branding libertarian goals while staying true to libertarianism. I’m sure there are many other options too. Off the top of my head, opposition to war and support for breaking the state’s intellectual property grants are two other issues where pure libertarianism could be widely popular.

Above all, we just can’t lose sight of principle. I fear that Radagast’s proscriptions would do just that. They would turn the Republican Party into a party of Lamar Alexanders, not a party willing to fight for the principles we share.

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Ronny Reconsidered

The good Benjamin David first invited me to Beyond the GOP to provide a view less sympathetic to libertarianism, and particularly to Ron Paul, then is often represented on this site. Indeed, Ben himself has eloquently defended Paul in the past, and it is certainly a testament to his intellectual character to invite some friendly opposition. I have been meaning to join in here for some time anyway, and now is as good a time as any. Though I apologize in advance for being a little long winded and inadequately substantive at times. The medium of blogging is always prohibitive!

First and foremost, I concede that there is more to admire about Ron Paul than there is to dismiss. This is a man who does what he says and lives what he preaches. Such integrity commands my respect, as does his courage to resist the rapid departure in Washington and elsewhere from anything even resembling conservatism. Indeed, resistance is the very foundation of conservatism – as well as constitutionalism. Ron has also been a relentless defender of individual liberty, limited government, and advocates a monetary policy that actually acknowledges reality. Furthermore – and this is where I depart from many of his usual critics—I think he is ultimately right about most of his foreign policy. For some, he seems to be an isolationist and weak; as someone waving the white flag. Yet when one looks more carefully at his position, this is not the case. Ron recognizes—as the imperialistic and ideological neo-conservatives and many liberals do not—that America’s faux-imperialism is doing more harm to our economy than good and is increasingly devastating to civil liberties. This is particularly true with the increasing and terrifying use of drones—something which no person with a historical sense should support.

Still, I voted for Mitt Romney. Why? For self-defense and self-preservation. Romney is not very conservative, nor would he have been able to clean up the devastation wrought by the reckless and ideological Obama administration. But Obama’s government is, I would argue, the worst presidential administration in American history. Anything I could do to help resist his assault on liberty, limited government, and religious freedom was worth doing. I realize that a vote for someone like Ron Paul would be in principle the same thing, but in a practical sense and in a manner cognizant of efficacious political morality, I chose the lesser of two evils. In an imperfect world, that is often the best we can do.

This brings me to my first major objection to Ron Paul. He is neither an ideologue nor a narcissist like Obama is, but his uncompromising commitment to his principles is politically objectionable in my view. Yes, the current political landscape is littered by people who live in a dream world in which money grows on trees and democracy never fails, but you cannot simply ignore such things. The “games” of American politics are utterly corrupt and broken, but the game is the game. It is not a concession to choose to play it when you know you can’t win everything. Compromise is not a dirty word – it is a necessary element of a just and enduring order. The Constitution was a compromise on multiple levels, and this need has never changed.

Ron Paul does not strike me as someone willing to make this concession to the “game,” but he would do well to learn some lessons from Machiavelli and Aristotle. Machiavelli taught us essentially that when we stick to our principles, to moralism in an imperfect world, and ignore mankind’s fallen nature we lose both our principles and ourselves and accomplish nothing. But when we account for human nature as it is, for fortuna, necessity, and historical examples and circumstances, we can achieve greater virtù—a more efficacious political sensibility and morality. Of course, Machiavelli is famous for suggesting rather sinister and violent ways in which this may be realized in principalities and republics—so we need an Aristotle. Aristotle encouraged us to look for a golden mean between two extremes, and to always choose our actions and recognize virtue as doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and so on. Yet, unlike Machiavelli, there were certain lines one ought never cross irrespective of means and ends. Certain means and ends would always be evil no matter the circumstances, and I am suspicious of whether or not Machiavelli ever admitted that.

In other words, Ron Paul rightly sticks to honorable principles, but would ultimately find them undermined at every turn should he ever make it to the Oval Office. This is why Clinton was so brilliant. He understood better than most that political success was more about playing well than about principles. Of course, we do not “play” for the sake of playing—but for the sake of those very principles. The ends do justify the means in politics (though not always). Obama is learning this the hard way, stubbornly blaming everyone else, arrogantly refusing to compromise, and failing in every way to lead. His principles mean more than the game, and though he has had some rather unfortunate victories, it is the game that has kept even worse successes from becoming a reality. Ron Paul would have to work miracles in Washington to acquire the necessary political coalitions behind his efforts—coalitions unlikely to be realized at present.

My second objection to Ron Paul resides in my suspicion of capitalism. Now I do not object to capitalism as such, and though I have been tempted by distributism, I have not given in. I believe in economic freedom and have no objection to private property or free markets. Yet capitalism must be restrained by a healthy dose of suspicion: that it is the least worst option and must always be checked by other forces. Ron Paul, and especially his son Rand, seem to me (based on reading his book The Revolution, his campaign websites, and TV appearances) to subscribe to a free-market fundamentalism that I cannot embrace. Markets will not save us, and an economic arrangement elevated to the position of a moral absolute can become an end in itself, instead of a means. We see this constantly in the utilitarian justifications of morally reprehensible policies advanced on purely economic grounds. There is also a tendency in capitalism to treat people as less human, and more like mere wallets and consumers. Furthermore, big business can be just as hostile to liberty as big government.

A conservative economics then is a reluctant capitalism which resists the exploitation of local communities and rural resources for the benefit of distant and impersonal large corporations. It’s one which favors small businesses, a workforce that accommodates multiple levels of skills, less distance between the producer and consumer, opposes outsourcing, and favors the least amount of regulation possible. Ultimately if limited government is to become a reality, it must be replaced by something, by strong local communities, families, and churches. Government is not merely huge because of top-down power grabbing, but because the intermediary associations formerly disincentivizing big-government have broken down. Ron and Rand Paul’s enthusiasm for economic liberty, though welcome, would be better received if it made these qualifications.

In sum, Ron Paul is an exceptional man and politician worthy of our attention. But his political morality and excessive enthusiasm for capitalism bother me. So when you comment below in defense of him, I hope you will comment on these grounds. Is he more politically effective than I am letting on? Does he qualify his love for free-markets in a meaningful way that I have overlooked? I could have also mentioned the objectionable positions of libertarianism when it comes to drugs and the environment…but that is for another blog.

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Ted Cruz’s Neoconservative Boilerplate

When Ted Cruz ran for the Senate, he got the endorsements of Ron and Rand Paul and the Paul-inspired Young Americans for Liberty.

Compared to Ron Paul, Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel’s foreign policy is a pretty boring, if sensible enough, centrism.

But now, in a USA Today op-ed, Senator Cruz denounces Hagel’s foreign policy as “out of the mainstream” and states that “I expect to oppose his nomination for several reasons.”

What are these reasons?

For one, Hagel “views Israel not as our friend but as a nuisance.” The only evidence that Cruz offers to support this claim is that Hagel “refused to sign a letter urging the president to express solidarity with Israel and condemn the Palestinian campaign of violence.” The horror! In Cruz’s eyes, Hagel committed the cardinal sin of believing that Palestinians may have legitimate grievances and that an age-old cultural can’t be boiled down in terms of good and evil.

Just as bad, according to Cruz, Hagel opposes classifying a branch of the Iranian military as a terrorist organization and—you better sit down for this one—“has advocated direct, comprehensive negotiations with Iran’s government, along with Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria.”

Cruz then churns out some Bush-era boilerplate: “Iran is rapidly pursuing nuclear weapons capacity. The surest way to avoid military conflict is to have a strong and credible defense; weakness and appeasement only invite military aggression.”

Even if we assume (however improbably) that a poor backwater like Iran could ever pose a serious threat of “military aggression,” I’ve seen no reason to believe that Chuck Hagel would oppose a “strong and credible defense” against it.

“Defense” is defined as “resistance against attack; protection.” It does not mean sanctions, provocations, or threats of war against other countries, all of which better fit the definition of “aggression.” These kinds of acts, which Cruz apparently supports, are not resistance against some external force; they are the very aggressive, external force that he denounces.

Cruz aptly ends his op-ed by writing: “We can and should do better.” To which I can only add: listen up, Young Americans for Liberty! If Cruz opposes Hagel this much, what would he do if a real, Ron Paul-style anti-interventionist came forward? We don’t gain anything from having another war hawk in the Senate, even if he is good on economic policy.

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Post Election Analysis: Ok Guys. Pep Talk

What was it the Mayans said about 2012? Anyway, about last week: it could have gone better.

Let’s be honest here. The political future is bleak. A good portion of the populace would prefer the sham security of the state to liberty, with all the wondrous uncertainty that it entails. We can try to convince people, but it’s not that they don’t understand freedom; it’s that they don’t want it. It’s not that they don’t see the value of local control; it’s that they don’t want to take the responsibility themselves. As Ross Douthat explains: “Lesson of this election is always bail out, never touch entitlements.”

We took a beating, but that doesn’t end the world. From Deadwood (language alert):

I have no illusions about what Romney or the Republicans would have done if things had gone differently last week. If the Republicans had won we would have faced the same frustration that followed 2004, and 2000, and 1988, and 1984…etc. Things would have continued more or less in the same statist direction. Nevertheless, I do see the election as a clear ratification of statism in a way that a Romney victory was not. Even though Romney offered little in the way of an alternative, it was at least an opportunity for the electorate to say, “Well, to hell with this!” even though they would have to say the same thing in four years. That didn’t happen. If anything, the parties will both shift to the left (an illegitimate political term from the French Revolution, but you know what I mean). Certain encouraging trends that Kelse notes aside, it still means a repudiation of traditionalist and libertarian ideas. I’m happy we have those eight good YAL-endorsed candidates, but we have little else.

However, it is possible that the Republican Party will not shift to the left and become more statist, but more libertarian. It’s a dubious statement given the likely political fallout, but nonetheless it is probable that libertarians will have a larger microphone within the opposition party in the coming years. Neoconservative Bill Kristol affirmed the increasing presence of the Pauls and their type in the future of the Republican Party on Fox News. Apparently a hard pill for him to swallow.

I’m ambivalent as to whether this is a good thing. On the one hand, I like the Pauls for reasons Ben outlined before and I look forward to the increasing presence of Rand Paul on the national stage; on the other, many who claim to support them are fools. So when we say that followers of the Pauls will have an increasing role in the Republican Party, I don’t know that it will be a good thing for reasons that will become clear below.

Everyone, including the talking heads in the video posted above, have asserted that conservatives have lost on social issues. Maybe they’re right. In 1980, two thirds of people defined the family as father, mother, and children. Today, one third or less define it that way. All social conservative values essentially trend around the central place of the family. A decline in the traditional (as in the basic mom, pop, kids) understanding of the family tracks a decline in social conservative values. Many libertarians deny that the changing attitudes are a problem. Like the nineteenth century utilitarians they hate the intermediary institutions that circumscribe the individual, the family most of all. It alone is able to shape individuals from the cradle through all of their formative years. They see the collapse of the family as only one more step in the march of individual freedom. Unfortunately, in my experience, the Pauls pull a lot of support from this brand of libertarian.

The problem that should concern libertarians—and does concern traditionalists—is that the family is the unit that trains people to be self-sufficient and provides them with a financial (and emotional) safety net to keep them free from the need for government aid. Persons without that background will turn to the state to provide that security. If a kid wanted to go to college, the family would rally around and provide the means to get him there or at least co-sign on the loan. If he wanted to start a business, he would turn to his family for the starter loan. At least then, if the kid couldn’t make the payments he would have to work it off for mom and dad or dad’s brother Sam. But what if kids don’t have two parents? What if the only possible back up plan is to stick it to Uncle Sam (the proverbial Uncle Sam, not their actual Uncle Sam) when they don’t get a job or can’t make the payments?

No amount of ratiocination regarding the free market (and I like the free market) will convince them that their lives will be worse without guaranteed healthcare and guaranteed retirement funds and all the rest. The local community composed of family and friends used to provide for individuals financially when times were tough. Now we just turn to Ole’ Uncle Sam. The election is an indication that more and more people see things that way, either because they can’t imagine an alternative or because they aren’t willing to take the risk.

This is another way of saying that persons are more than homo economicus. Libertarians often make the same mistake as Marxists in thinking that people are only their economic interests: appeal to those and you win. The fact is, you don’t. Which is both reason for encouragement and discouragement. On the one hand, we have the trends on filial decline noted above: that’s the bad news. On the other hand, it means that we can still articulate a case for traditionalism and libertarianism and actually have a chance of prevailing.

This is all to say that the pre-political matters for politics. The political outcome of any election will only reflect the possibilities inherent in the pre-political elements already in place. The question then is: how can we influence those?

So let’s turn now to an oldie but goodie, Albert J. Nock’s 1936 essay in The Atlantic, “Isaiah’s Job.” Nock was notorious for his belief that speaking to the multitude was useless. He believed he was speaking to a Remnant who would endure through the contemporary civilizational crisis and rebuilt civilization once it became possible again. He uses the prophet Isaiah as the symbol for the man God calls to minister to the Remnant.  Isaiah, however, is confused as to his role. It doesn’t seem like any significant portion of the people will listen to him.

“Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

It’s a great article. The problem is that it works from the premise of despair. Whatever traditionalists and libertarians want to say about the Republican Party and its presidential candidate, the election was still a repudiation of our values and ideas. People by and large embrace what Obama offers. This isn’t reason to despair. Renewal is possible among many people, not just a purported Remnant that will rebuild when all has fallen. Historically, it’s happened under worse circumstances.

What are we to do? Remember the scene from Deadwood above:

The world ends when you’re dead. Until then you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back.

Edmund Burke reportedly said something similar, “Never despair, but if you do, work in despair.” Kelse could be right; renewal could be on the horizon. Either way, whether for the Remnant or for the masses, we’ll keep blogging and attempting to articulate those permanent values that become clearer to us as we study and discuss the traditions of order and liberty we inherited.

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No Compromise!: More Election Thoughts

In 2008, I was happy to see the Republicans lose. I hoped that a crushing defeat would force them to reevaluate the direction that the Party had taken during the Bush years, and to finally turn against war, the surveillance state, and economic interventionism.

Needless to say, that reevaluation never occurred. If anything, the Romney campaign represented a doubling-down on Bush’s foreign policy–a doubling-down that reached its most absurd when, in his RNC acceptance speech, Romney darkly denounced President Obama for simply “talking to,” rather than attacking, Iran.

Likewise, on the economic front, Tea Partiers are a definite improvement over the rank-and-file from the Bush years. But even still, they tend to only envision a rolling back of the regulatory state to the level it was at in, say, 1982, rather than engaging in a fundamental rethinking of the entire post-New Deal philosophy. They may dislike Obamacare, but they don’t like to question its predecessor, Medicare, too deeply. And their rush to embrace Mitt Romney, who enacted the same healthcare plan in Massachusetts that the Tea Party denounces on the national level, should give any consistent conservative or libertarian pause.

My old hope, then, that the Republicans would reevaluate themselves turned out to be totally misplaced. But if the Republicans refused to reevaluate themselves after 2008 (or 1992, 1996, or 2006), then what reason is there to think that they’ll do so after 2012?

Indeed, even if they did reevaluate and suddenly returned to being the laissez-faire, non-interventionist party of Robert Taft that I’ve been waiting to see, I am not at all convinced that that would bring them any more electoral success than they actually got. However difficult it may be for some of this blog’s intended audience to accept, the masses of people who opposed Mitt Romney did not do so because they thought he was just a watered down version of Barack Obama (as many of us did). Instead, it seems that they voted against him because they actually bought into the Democrats’ caricatures of Republicans slashing government programs, or waging a “war on women,” or something–however little these caricatures actual correspond to the reality of Romney’s political career.

Yes, it is tempting to believe that everything would go swimmingly as long as the Republicans adopted my own beliefs. But I don’t see any evidence to believe that, at this point in time, my own beliefs are nationally popular (despite smaller-scale, encouraging signs).

Many commentators take this electoral rejection of libertarian principles as evidence that the Republican Party needs to give up its appeals to the “anti-government” crowd and go back to being the “moderate” party of Eisenhower and Nixon. Apparently, according to such people, the two-party system already gives voters too many choices–what we really need are two parties that offer only oh-so-slightly different variations of the same liberal platform.

But the argument for moderation misses the hugely important fact that the choice between, for instance, increasing or decreasing taxes on the rich is not simply a question of whether the majority gets to implement its will. Indeed, what is at stake is not really a question of will at all; it is a question of economic law, which can no more be defied than can the laws of gravity.

If the majority believed that the way to achieve social prosperity was to jump out of tall buildings and flap your arms until you fly away, then people who understand physics are duty-bound to demonstrate that the majority program is doomed to failure, regardless of whether people want to listen or not. The same is true regarding economic issues, whether taxation, debt, inflation, or Obamacare. People who understand economics and fear for the fate of their neighbors should not give ground and adopt their enemies’ program. Rather, if they really care about their neighbors’ well-being, then they should continue to expose the fallacies of the majority even more vigorously than before. It was in this spirit that the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises identified as his life slogan, from Virgil’s Aeneid: “Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.” (“Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it!”)

As far as economics is concerned, whether the Tea Party decides to moderate its rhetoric or whether Barack Obama can claim a mandate for higher taxes is entirely beside the point. Actions have consequences that democratic majorities cannot abolish. Higher taxes will stifle savings and investment, and therefore economic progress, regardless of whether voters want them. As Mises proclaimed, a failure to understand the economic consequences of certain political actions “will not annul economics,” but will instead simply lead to general destruction and impoverishment. (Human Action: The Scholar’s Edition, p. 881.) (For more detailed arguments on why taxing the rich is economically destructive, see, e.g., herehere, and here.)

Of course, there is little hope that the Republican Party will become an effective vehicle for these ideas. If after eight years of Bush and four of Obama the best they could give us was Mitt Romney, then I take that as ample evidence that they are incapable of changing. That’s not to say that we should neglect the opportunity to elect a Rand Paul or Justin Amash if the chance arises, or even to search for and recruit other like-minded candidates who are yet unknown. But I do believe that placing our hopes for the future on reforming the Republican Party is an enormous waste of time.

Rather, the long-term interests of libertarians and conservatives can only be served by looking “beyond the GOP.” Ultimately, politics is only the manifestation of underlying cultural and ideological forces–what people on this blog call the pre-political. If you can change people’s hearts and minds, then they will cease supporting awful people like Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, and politicians will have to adapt in turn.

Thankfully, culture is the area where libertarian ideas are meeting with their greatest success. Ron Paul became popular among the youth not by channeling Richard Nixon, as the cheerleaders for moderation would recommend, but by presenting a refreshing and radical alternative to the status quo. This is the same phenomenon that catapulted The Road to Serfdom to #1 on the Amazon bestseller list, eighteen years after its author’s death, and that made the fledgling Ludwig von Mises Institute–a tiny think-tank in the Alabama hinterlands, with no source of federal funds–a vibrant and hugely popular educational source for libertarian students and scholars all over the world.

In a sense, it is disheartening to know that there is no viable political party that represents our ideas. But the times that we live in are doing much of our recruitment for us. The manifest failures of statism are becoming clearer and clearer. As people begin to realize that persistent problems of economic stagnation, higher prices, and falling living standards are not going away, they will start looking for non-mainstream political alternatives. We see this now in Europe, although, there, popular dissatisfaction has been translating into support for fascistic parties like the Golden Dawn in Greece and for real, flesh-and-bones socialists in France.

Nevertheless, “more statism” need not be the only alternative to Obama or Romney’s middling interventionism. Our job must be to promote a plausible and humane option that people can turn to as a credible means of improving their lot. Such educational promotion doesn’t have the luster of an election campaign, but, with the political world as it is, it is the only permanent cure for statism.

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I Love the ’90s, But I Live in the Present: Post-Election Analysis, Part 1

One of the great, failed movements of the twentieth century was the attempted “paleo” alliance between libertarians and conservatives. In the mid-1990s, such libertarian intellectuals as Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe, Justin Raimondo, and Lew Rockwell joined forces with conservatives like Russell Kirk, Paul Gottfried, Sam Francis, and Tom Fleming to fuse conservative arguments on the importance of traditional and localized culture with libertarian critiques of the state. As Hoppe wrote in his masterpiece Democracy: The God That Failed, statism is highly corrosive of traditional, bourgeois values, which are much more likely to thrive if people are left free to order their own lives in the way they see fit. Therefore, “conservatives must be antistatist libertarians and . . . libertarians must be conservatives.” (p. 189)

Though in a strong sense elitist (the movement centered around the John Randolph Club, whose namesake famously stated, “I am an aristocrat–I love liberty, I hate equality”), the paleos also had a broad populist strain. They based much of their power on appealing  to “Middle American Radicals” (MARs): middle-class, middle-aged, largely white voters in flyover country who felt dispossessed by the bureaucratic and politically-correct federal leviathan.

Ultimately, of course, the movement fell apart, in large part due to its leaders’ outsized personalities. Hoppe gave a speech in the ’90s denouncing then-presidential candidate Pat Buchanan’s economic policies and calling Sam Francis a “national socialist.” As late as 2010, emotions were still rancorous enough that Tom Fleming would write a response to Hoppe with gems like, “I know personal loyalty does not mean much to libertarians, but that is one more sign of their insanity,” and adding that, ever since the libertarians (“impoverished dead beats”) left the Randolph Club, the club could afford to host its events in nicer hotels.

In a sense, the death of the paleo movement is disappointing. But, though I personally wish it had flourished, the election results from Tuesday make me question whether a libertarian-conservative alliance can be politically beneficial at all and whether, even if it were not for personal squabbles, the movement could have realistically lasted much longer than actually it did. (Such an alliance may, however, be culturally beneficial. I’ll have a post up in a few days on the election’s cultural/ideological significance.)

Since election day, many commentators have noted that this country isn’t what it used to be. Mass immigration of Democratic voters, combined with a marked liberalizing of younger voters on issues like gay marriage and abortion have created a sizable voting bloc for socially-liberal candidates like Barack Obama–a bloc that seems impervious to the economic arguments against him. The MARs, by contrast, do not have the voting power they once had, even as recently as the 1990s, when they gave respectable showings to Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot.

In another sense too, libertarian successes in the past few years have materialized from throwing off past affiliations with the paleo-conservatives. Though Ben recently defended Ron Paul’s “conservatism” on this blog, the Paul campaign caught fire primarily through Paul’s libertarian positions on economics, the Fed, war, and civil liberties, and by downplaying his conservative opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and open immigration.

Moreover, the people fueling his campaign’s energy were emphatically not the Middle American Radicals that the ’90s paleo movement thought would lead to a rebirth of antistatism. In fact, from my personal experience, the people most hostile to Ron Paul are those very same white, middle-aged MARs, like the members of my local Tea Party. On the other hand, the people most sympathetic were socially-liberal–or at least socially-indifferent–cosmopolitan college-age kids. Even among Cornell law students (not a demographic receptive to right-wing ideas), people generally treat me with respect when they find out that I’m a Ron Paul supporter. (“Yeah, he’s a Republican, but at least he voted for Paul instead of Bachman or Santorum”). And when Ron Paul came to speak on Cornell’s campus during the primary campaign, he filled up our entire hockey stadium, with at least a thousand or so people left outside. The people who lined up to see him were not the culturally conservative MARs that Sam Francis envisioned.

Pile that on top of the disparity between libertarian election victories and mainstream Republican election victories that I pointed out yesterday and the cultural renaissance that Austrian economics and certain classic libertarian books have been undergoing since 2008. Libertarianism isn’t yet any kind of political steamroller. But nor is it the “political masturbation” that John David derides. It has achieved real progress in recent years, and it has done so with very little help from conservatives, whose star seems ever on the decline.

All of this is to say that, when looking at Tuesday’s election results, it is hard to see how an explicit libertarian-conservative alliance is an effective political path to smashing the state, as Rothbard and Hoppe hoped it would be. I wish this weren’t so. My personal values are much more in line with those of the John Randolph Club members than they are with the average college hipster. But politics should be the art of the possible (as long, of course, as achieving the possible doesn’t contradict your ultimate goal, as would be the case, say, with voting for the statist Mitt Romney). So if libertarians are to continue their political progress, then, demographic changes being what they are, a too-close affinity with conservatives seems more harmful than good.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

More Good Election News

Yesterday, I said that conservatives and libertarians should take heart in the progress we’ve made since 2008. Today, there’s more good news.

Eight out of the twelve candidates endorsed by the Ron Paul-affiliated Young Americans for Liberty won election or reelection. I don’t know much about a lot of these candidates, and suspect that I might doubt some of their libertarian bona fides. But what matters for electoral purposes is how they are branded, and for a group of people branded as libertarians to do so well speaks volumes.

For comparison, note that Cornell Law School’s own William Jacobson compiled a list of mainstream Republican “rising star” candidates to promote. Of these, only three out of eighteen actually won, with one more in a recount. (But note also that one losing candidate, Barry Hinckley, is included in both lists.)

Hopefully, this is a sign that, as the Republican Party founders, other authentic voices of the Right need not.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Write in Ron Paul- The Only Conservative Choice

There is a peculiar hypocrisy that has been going around conservative circles in recent weeks and months: scores of genuine conservatives have dutifully lined up to vote for Mitt Romney, all the while lamenting the state of the political culture generally and the Republican Party in particular. They are convinced of two things above all else: 1) that they have no option other than voting for Romney and 2) that someone else is to blame for this sad state. They blame the mainstream media, the ever-declining culture, big business, party elites, and each other; seemingly, however, none of them stop to consider that blame lies most directly on those who continue to lend their support to a system that has shown so many times that it cannot work. If conservatives continue to vote for the Republican Party, no matter who they put forth, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Despite what you may have heard, conservatives do have a choice next week: a choice to either be on the side of the Constitution and traditional conservative values and a choice to be against them. Actually, two choices to be against them: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are actually on the same side on this issue, like virtually every other issue of any long-range consequence. Mathematically speaking, the practical effect your vote will have is negligible- it is more symbolic than anything else.

In the long run, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference which one of the two major candidates wins. The U.S. will remain on the fast track to bankruptcy. Our foreign policy will still wreak havoc abroad and fuel imperial delusions at home. The economy will eventually improve from the current depression, but the Fed will continue to cause economic turmoil in the future. Millions of unborn lives will continue to be sacrificed every year to the pagan god of “individual choice.” More and more economic and political power will be sucked into the vacuums of Wall Street and Washington, DC. More and more Americans will become reliant on an entitlement system that will become more and more untenable. Worst of all, the Constitution will continue to hemorrhage political meaning as it is undermined by Republicans and Democrats alike. If John Roberts’ decisive vote to uphold the Individual Mandate tells us anything, it is that so-called “strict constructionism” is dead on the Supreme Court.

In short, the system will continue along its current unsustainable trajectory.

There is a way out of this mess, albeit one that would require us to turn our backs on the path that both major parties have become hell-bent on walking. In order to save America in this late hour, we can no longer afford to compromise. Our national debt cannot sustain another Reagan or Bush, to say nothing of an Obama or Johnson. After decades of unsuccessful attempts at changing Washington from the inside, maybe it’s time for conservatives to finally realize that the answer to our present political crisis will not come from Washington, but from another source. In our constitutional system, the next most likely candidate for political action has always been, and will continue to be, the several states.

The question then becomes: will either of the candidates bring us closer to a country that lets the states take the lead on matters of national governance? Will either candidate be the first President in over a century to restore respect for the Constitution? Has either candidate shown any sign that they recognize the precarious position that the current trajectory has placed us in? I think not.

If my vote is to be purely symbolic and nothing else, I want to be sure that my vote will not be misidentified. Jill Stein may have some positive decentralist qualities, but overall stands for more statism than either major party candidate. The Constitution Party, as a whole, seems to be on relatively firm footing, but in selecting a candidate as mainstream as Virgil Goode, they demonstrate that they are willing to compromise political integrity in order to gain a few (and I mean a VERY few) votes. Gary Johnson has always leaned more toward the libertine side of libertarianism.

The one candidate that I can vote for without my voice being misconstrued is Congressman Ron Paul. For the past five years, he has been the most dependable national proponent for the constitution, for federalism, and for tradition- all of the values that traditionalists hold dear. He considers himself “libertarian,” but emphasizes an attendant personal moral responsibility more than Johnson does. That, combined with a lifelong demonstration of personal character, more than outweigh any distaste I might otherwise have for the misappropriation of the term “Revolution.” When I sent in my absentee ballot,  I voted for Ron Paul.

Categories: 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Some Cultural Skepticism

Ben David kicked off this blog with a post on “cultural renewal.”  There’s a lot in that post—much with which I agree and much with which I don’t—and hopefully one of the themes of this blog will be to draw out some of the many implications for cultural conservatism discussed in that post.

For my part, however, I am skeptical of the entire project of “cultural conservatism” itself.

To start, it seems that in discussing “culture,” Ben is assigning an objective value to what is in fact a subjective phenomenon.  That is, it makes no more sense to me to say, “culture should follow such-and-such pattern,” than it does to say “you should like to eat lobster” or “you should enjoy Nicki Minaj’s music”—each is just a personal taste which cannot be rationally proven or disproven as right or wrong.

Continue reading

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