Ron Paul and the Role of Ideas in Class Conflict

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The Ron Paul
presidential campaign has the potential to become the best thing
that has happened to the cause of liberty since the fall of the
Berlin Wall. The campaign may well develop into a mass education
program spreading the ideas of liberty throughout the nation, exposing
the only true class conflict in society, thereby giving rise to
a populist grassroots movement sowing the seeds of revolution.

Obfuscation

The state depends
for its continued existence on the enthusiastic support of only
a few. It requires the acquiescence of many more. The few that are
enthusiastic about the state are the ones that profit from it, such
as politicians, bankers, bureaucrats, contractors, big corporations,
mainstream media (MSM), intellectuals, lobbyists and unions. The
profit comes at the expense of the many. This as the classical liberals
explained is the only meaningful class conflict in society. The
trick to keeping the many complacent is to deceive them into thinking
they are actually not being plundered. This is achieved in at least
three ways:

1. Intellectuals
will come up with theories justifying state institutions before
or after they are created; for example, they say that the Federal
Reserve is needed to manage the economy; that only the welfare state
and redistribution of income keep people from dying in the streets
and being exploited by evil capitalists; and that foreign wars must
be fought to keep us safe at home. These theories are then spread
by state education, the majority of intellectuals and the mainstream
media and they are passively absorbed by ordinary people who then
think they have a stake in the continuing existence of the state.

2. Mainstream
media and intellectuals will drastically narrow the terms
of acceptable debate by taking statism as a given. So instead of
debating whether there should be an income tax at all, the question
is merely whether it should be 35 or 32 percent. Rather than arguing
for or against the existence of a Central Bank at all, pundits and
experts will only discuss by how much the Fed should lower or raise
its interest rate. Instead of discussing the very idea whether the
US government’s military branch should busy itself with waging war
and killing innocent people all around the world, pundits discuss
how the latest surge is working out, whether 5,000 or 20,000 new
soldiers are needed. Instead of talking about the coming bankruptcy
of the welfare state and the devastating consequences this will
have for so many people, they talk about with what programs we should
expand it.

Moreover, serious
intellectual debate is replaced by what we could call ‘gossip for
the intellectuals’. Just as others will read and talk about the
latest scandals involving Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan, or about
salary conflicts in baseball teams, upcoming football matches, intellectuals
will talk endlessly about things like conflicts between the president
and one of his appointees, the possible sacking of one or the other
administrator, non-verbal communication during presidential debates,
the sexual escapades of politicians or the latest report about the
situation in Iraq. All this talk about trivialities numbs the mind
and makes it unsuitable for rigorous thinking: we are no longer
able to see the forest for the trees.

3. In the ultimate
act of deviousness politicians manage to obfuscate their exploitation
of the people by using a divide et impera
technique: the state creates conflicts between racial groups by
giving some preferential treatment at the expense of others, between
young and old over social security, between producers and consumers
by saying that the former would exploit the latter if it weren't
for the government, between Iraqi’s and Americans. The state creates
these conflicts and then goes on to profit from the resulting divisiveness
and the MSM echo and get worked up over these conflicts continuously,
only rarely investigating whether the conflicts are not artificially
created by the state.

It is astonishing
to see how successful this approach has been: without too much fanfare
or discussion the United States has slowly but surely turned into
a near fascist war-mongering police state only awaiting a person
who will officially assume the throne as dictator. Debate about
these developments has been relegated to the back pages of newspapers,
short news clips, and blogs on the internet. The general population
has been like the Polish man who was in a coma for 15 years only
to wake up to a free and non-communist Poland. We have been held
in a near-coma only to start waking up to the realities of the fascist
police state. And we have the politicians and MSM to thank for it.

Truth and
Class Conflict

Enter Ron Paul,
the silver-haired knight in the battle of ideas.

In direct debates,
Q&A sessions, speeches, get-togethers and interviews, Ron Paul
immediately gets to the core and truth of the issues.

The Federal
Reserve required to manage the economy? Nonsense! The Fed impoverishes
us all through inflation, it causes economic instability and booms
and busts and only helps and bails out the big banks and enables
politicians to finance their wars!

The war in
Iraq is fought to keep us safe at home? Ridiculous and dangerous!
Our foreign policy over the past decades is the main cause of terrorists
wanting to get at us. It's called blow-back! We need to stop military
and political meddling in other nation's affairs and instead engage
in free trade with people of all nations.

To Mike Huckabee's
remark that we have a responsibility to stay in Iraq because
we broke it, Ron Paul directly made clear why this is the
wrong way of looking at the situation: “The American people didn’t
go in. A few people advising this administration, a small number
of people called the neoconservatives hijacked our foreign policy.
They’re responsible, not the American people.”

And rather
than arguing about how to implement the latest police state techniques
such as a national ID card or more gun control, Ron Paul condemns
the entire project and invokes the Founders when he warns of the
government turning on the citizens.

What Ron Paul
is consistently doing is bringing real ideas into political
debate and forcing his opponents and the MSM to pay attention and
justify themselves. Paul uses libertarian theory and Austrian Economics
to show that what the state is doing is morally wrong and that it
is wrecking our economy and so many people's lives. He shows why
the pseudo-theories justifying pre-emptive war, the Federal Reserve,
the police state and the welfare state are morally and practically
wrong and he exposes the true interests that these institutions
serve. By doing so he makes clear what the only true class conflict
in society is: that of the taxpayers vs. the tax-consumers. And
the former are the large majority.

By exposing
this class conflict Ron Paul stirs up strong emotions among people
and thereby awakens the many out of their complacency. A sign of
this is the huge and ever-growing grassroots movement that has sprung
up and that is spreading the message of liberty all around the country.
What is different from other populist movements is that the strong
emotions motivating it arose after intellectual reflection,
not before it. Only when people, thanks to the ideas espoused by
Ron Paul and others, start to understand what is really happening,
what the state is really doing, do their emotions flare up. So there
is a lot of both intellectual and emotional ammo to do something
about the situation.

The grassroots
approach itself shows the wonders of liberty: there is no or very
little central planning of Ron Paul's campaign; instead out of the
uncoordinated efforts of thousands and thousands of people, each
doing as they see fit, there arises a formidable spontaneous order
swarming over the country and the media outlets. The Ron Paul campaign
is a true populist movement and only such a movement will
have the power and energy to achieve lasting change.

Mainstream
and Alternative Media

This is wonderful
news for libertarians everywhere: libertarian ideas are entering
the mainstream and to the extent that they are not they are
at least causing a shift in the balance of power between the MSM
and the new media such as blogs and other websites.

Ron Paul takes
part in the Republican presidential candidates debates and thus
gets exposure on national TV. Because he was attacked on his ideas
on foreign policy during these debates first by Rudy Giuliani and
later by Mike Huckabee his ideas got even more exposure and were
discussed (no matter how ignorantly or viciously sometimes) in all
sorts of TV programs. Furthermore, Paul was a guest on the popular
Daily Show, the Colbert Report and Bill Maher's show and was well
received by both the hosts and their young audiences who at times
cheered his every word.

Mainstream
media have reported on the large numbers of crowds Paul draws when
he speaks out, and the video of his visit to Google headquarters
was by far the most popular video of all Google visits by presidential
candidates.

The beauty
is that although the majority of people have still never heard about
Ron Paul, he does appear on their radar screen more and more and
once they hear him talk about his ideas, many get enthusiastic.
This is no wonder because people tend to have an excellent antenna
for detecting sincerity, which in the realm of politics is nothing
less than a breath of fresh air.

Of course,
much of the MSM so far have also been doing their best to ignore,
dismiss or ridicule Ron Paul and his rapidly growing popularity.
And so the Ron Paul campaign forces people to look to alternative
sources of information and it makes them see that the MSM are not
impartial journalists covering the news but instead are often in
bed with the state one way or the other. Through this people will
start to realize that the official versions of events are often
quite biased, to say the least. They will start to question what
they hear and what they thought they knew more and more. If anything,
the MSM and the politicians will go down together.

The switch
to alternative media creates opportunities for libertarian bloggers,
professors, columnists, economists and TV personalities. They will
get more visitors to their own sites and more invitations to speak
elsewhere, more air time to get their message heard, thereby in
turn exciting more people still. So libertarian theorists will get
greater exposure and more job opportunities because of it which
helps the whole movement.

Bottom-up
and Top-down

Some libertarians
oppose Ron Paul's campaign because they hold that it is immoral
or impractical to achieve liberty through top-down political means.
Whether or not these views are correct (I
think they are not
) actually does not matter much because all
libertarians can profit from what Ron Paul is doing, by his
getting libertarian ideas to the masses and building up a bottom-up
grassroots and populist movement.

Ron Paul's
campaign introduces a great number of people to the ideas of liberty,
to a viable alternative to the suffocating statism. Because of this
people will go look for more information about these ideas and may
come into contact with anarcho-capitalism and may be swayed by it
while others will, at least initially, not go farther than minarchism.
Some will start to work in political action, while others will devote
their time and energy and creativity to non-political action such
as education, popularizing, convincing others, protests and joining
organizations.

The increased
publicity and sympathy for said ideas and especially this remarkable
grassroots movement will also inspire activist groups such as secessionists
and may help those to become more serious and powerful. Should public
opinion change enough then people will be more likely to object
to a crackdown on a serious secessionist movement. And in case Ron
Paul actually becomes president he will have some power to block
military intervention or other crackdowns on such a secessionist
movement, especially
when the people interested in armed revolt team up with the secessionists
and help in the defence of the territory should there be a crackdown
and possible guerrilla warfare. Once a territory has seceded it
can lead by example and other territories will surely follow, especially
since the first territory got away with it, thereby imploding the
US of A.

So the Ron
Paul campaign will likely benefit both theoretical and practical
libertarians, both minarchists and anarcho-capitalists, and both
libertarians who are using the political process to achieve
change and those who are working in bottom-up, non-political movements.
All these individuals can go on to campaign for liberty in whatever
way they choose and continue to hack away at the state in ever larger
numbers and in ever different ways. Likely it is only a combination
of bottom-up and top-down action that can successfully bring down
the state once and for all. All that libertarians have to do is
tolerate the (non-aggressive) strategies of other libertarians instead
of devoting their time and energy to bickering with each other.

While we are
of course a long way from achieving liberty in our lifetime, the
Ron Paul campaign may prove itself to be the biggest educational
lesson in liberty since the fall of the Berlin wall. And libertarians
of all stripes can seize the opportunity. When ideas start to matter,
libertarians will win.

September
20, 2007

Koen Swinkels
[send him mail] writes
from the Netherlands. He is working on a PhD in philosophy and hosts
the LiberatingMinds
discussion forum.

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