Ron Paul and the Dictatorship of the Libertariat
I find dealing with many of Ron Paul's supporters deeply frustrating. Granted, I agree that government has grown too large, too intrusive, and expensive over the course of the last century. But it is consistently the case that the majority of Paul's supporters -- as well as Congressman Paul himself -- have no realistic plan to implement any of their high ideals. It is one thing to stand on a rooftop shouting about your principles, but when elections end, someone actually has to sit down and run the government. If, and this appears to be the case as far as I can tell, the only way that Ron Paul-style libertarianism could ever be implemented is through the establishment of some sort of dictatorship of the libertariat as a transitional stage between socialism and capitalism.
Last week I wrote a column on the subject of Paul's campaign for the presidency. That column elicited a furious response, including a personal denunciation from Antiwar.com's Justin Raimondo. Raimondo, for his part, dredged up an out-of-context and cut-down excerpt from a column I wrote the better part of a decade ago, when I was twenty, and then thoughtfully wrote that I am "off [my] meds -- or maybe there aren't meds powerful enough to counteract that kind of psychosis."
Obviously, some of what was written in response to my column -- personal insults and shouted slogans -- was not particularly helpful. Some of it, such as many of the comments here, was clearly written by intelligent and thoughtful people who nevertheless appear to have fallen under the spell of a candidate who I believe to clearly be a charlatan. In the spirit of continuing the dialogue of recent days, I would like to ask three questions to the supporters of Congressman Paul's campaign for the presidency.
1) By what means do you suppose that a President Paul would get his economic program -- a return to the gold standard, the abolition of the Federal Reserve, the overnight abolition of a large portion of the federal government -- enacted into law?
2) What do you suppose the near-term economic results of such a transition would be, and furthermore, is there any reason to expect that such a return to 19th century-style economic arrangements would not generate the sort of drastic ups and downs in the economic cycle that they did in that era?
3) How would Paulite policies, if implemented, be sustained in the face of popular discontent when adverse economic events did occur?
I have never heard any of these fundamental questions addressed by Paul or his backers. Instead, their plan seems to have three stages:
1) Elect Ron Paul.
Think, for a moment, of the final moments of (spoiler alert!) Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. For those not familiar with the work, it's basically the story of a world where all of the people of talent go on "strike" and allow the parasitic and socialistic state that sought to exploit them to collapse. At the end of the book, the leader of the strike, a singularly talented man named "John Galt," steps out and, surveying the ruined landscape, draws the sign of the dollar in the air and declares that he and his compatriots are ending their strike and going back into the world. I do not suppose that Galt is planning on holding a vote as to who is going to be in charge of his new world.
This dictatorial character is perhaps the most off-putting feature of the Ron Paul movement. If we cycle back to the questions I asked at the opening of this piece, we can draw only two conclusions from any plausible answers. Either this campaign is a pointless exercise in intellectual frivolity when we can ill-afford such distractions or its adherents are in bitter earnest, in which case we face a problem of an entirely different character.
The great wisdom of the Founders was that they created a government for man as he exists. The Constitution of the United States was created by people well-acquainted with the many flaws of man and who therefore deliberately arranged a limited and representative government. Indeed, the government of the United States was designed to be, pace Lincoln, "of the people, by the people, and for the people." For all of their seductive talk of liberty, the Paul camp seems to be fundamentally opposed to this. If you listen closely to their ideas, they seem to have developed some strange form of vanguard libertarianism whereby they will seize the central levers of the government and bestow freedom from above in the hope that it will result in the creation of some sort of New Libertarian Man.
Without some such innovation, how could the sort of government envisioned by Ron Paul and his supporters ever exist? They cannot really be so naive as to imagine that a majority of the American people would sit by as the economy and the broader world fell into the vortex of chaos that the enactment of their policies would create.
Of course, if you step back farther and consider the full scope of Ron Paul's career, there is another conclusion to be drawn. Ron Paul's primary concerns throughout his career have always been somewhat removed from the central strains of libertarianism. In truth, when you consider the issues that seem to impel Paul, such as the advocacy of an isolationist foreign policy and a 19th-century monetary policy, it strikes me that the man is less a modern libertarian and more the last representative of the old, old right. Over the course of two presidential campaigns I have rarely heard the congressman deviate from these issues. Instead of providing an important libertarian voice against the creeping expansion of the regulatory state and the criminalization of most facets of everyday life and business -- issues where libertarians could quickly create genuine change -- Paul has diverted millions of dollars and countless hours of labor to an impossible crusade for absurd policies.
Perhaps this isn't really about advancing libertarianism. Perhaps Ron Paul's campaign is about Ron Paul. After all, to be an honest supporter of the congressman at this particular point in time, you have to believe that he spent a decade making money selling plainly racist newsletters, published under his own name, whose content he didn't write or believe in. If you believe the most charitable account of his actions in that matter, you have to believe that he was willing to go along with spreading racism and all sorts of other paranoid nonsense in order to advance his own core views. Is there any real reason to believe that, in seeking the support of libertarians for his campaign today, he is behaving any differently?
The tragedy of the Paul campaign is how it has diverted a voice -- that of the libertarian -- that we very much need in public life throughout the Western world. We need men and women to speak out against, to stop, and then to reverse the advance of the nanny state at all levels. We need to reduce the regulatory and tax burdens that weigh down not only business, but also, indeed, the human spirit itself. These are all areas where libertarians have valuable contributions to make.
The cause of liberty would be much better served if, instead of howling about the Federal Reserve and advocating economic plans that could be implemented only by a dictator, the money and energy presently being wasted on Ron Paul were instead diverted to finding good libertarians and getting them elected to city councils and state legislatures all across the nation. That's how you transform America.