I do not believe the state — any state — is legitimate. All states, at a minimum, use aggressive means to maintain a territorial monopoly on legal violence and to finance themselves, most commonly through taxation. In practice, their aggression never stops there. Morally I cannot support such institutions, and as a strident believer in free markets and voluntary cooperation, I oppose the use of violent, institutionalized central planning for practical reasons too. The economic case against state socialism applies to the state’s law-and-order functions as well as it applies to the socialist provision of any other good or service. Empirically, government justice is a sham.
Why, then, am I asking fellow anarchists — those who also reject the state on ethical or practical grounds — to lend support to Ron Paul, a Republican politician running for president? How can an anarchist of any stripe get excited about a man who seeks the most powerful office in the most powerful state in world history?
Some anarchists oppose Ron Paul’s candidacy simply because he is not an anarchist and the presidency itself is an office that can never be defended, no matter who holds it. This is a respectable enough position, but it neglects the full significance of this campaign, both short and long term, to the cause of liberty.
If Ron Paul were to actually win, he would indeed fail to smash the state entirely. That is neither his intention nor his promise. However, he would clearly move American society far closer toward the anarchist ideal. He would put to rest the most tyrannical and hierarchical organization as it concerns international affairs — the US empire. He would close down the American bases on foreign soil, halt the murderous invasions and bombings, stop dictating terms to other nations, and end the horrifying US regime of torture and indefinite, unchecked detentions. He would end the war on terror, which the two parties intend to maintain for a lifetime. All this alone would make Paul a remarkably unique president. On the world scene, it would finally mean anarchy between nations: There would be no global policeman, the role currently executed by the US government.
We would also see an end to the Federal Reserve’s monopoly on currency — the very mainspring from which the entire US corporate state emerges. We would see the federal drug war finally ended. We would see the greatest retrenchment of American state power since the end of World War I, if not ever.
How could an anarchist not cheer all of this? Most anarchists will admit some preference among different forms of government, different rulers and different regimes. As much as we all agree that all states are evil and intolerable, it would be extreme myopia to pretend there is no difference between Hitler’s Germany and the modern Swiss government, for example. We would all prefer less oppression to more, and a Paulian system of government would mean much, much, much less. It would rate among the most radical revolutions in all the course of human experience.
The poet and pioneer in pharmacology, Dale Pendell, has formulated the concept of "horizon anarchism."* Our goal should be to move ever closer toward anarchy, toward freedom and voluntarism, even if we do not achieve the full ideal in our lifetimes. To eschew all radical reform proposals that do not go all the way toward our ideal would be folly. After all, we will likely never see all criminality and violence eradicated, even if we were to somehow achieve political anarchy; yet that is no reason not to move forward and celebrate all progress toward our goal of a peaceful, voluntary society. Similarly, we might never see the total absence of government — this is no reason not to welcome all steps in that direction.
Since all social conditions, including political structures, are a reflection of public ideology, the Ron Paul Revolution has grand implications for the anarchist struggle, even should he not win the presidency. It has already woken many people up to the principles of liberty. It has exposed many of the contradictions of the state. It has encouraged the idea that the government is far too large and powerful — a conceptual first step for nearly anyone who comes around to adopt anarchism altogether. Most of us anarchists were not always such, and we owe much of our own understanding to intellectual movements over hundreds of years, especially the classical liberal tradition, which had a relationship of mutual influence with individualist anarchism in the nineteenth century. And today, Paul himself welcomes this long-established relationship, even pointing out at speaking engagements that the Ron Paul Revolution has its share of anarchists. What other politician would explicitly boast his anarchist support? Ron Paul’s movement is one that puts liberty at the center, and can only be of great benefit to the anarchist cause in the future.
This brings me to a word for the left-anarchists. Many of you have, with some justification, pointed out that rightwing libertarians and conservatives sometimes misunderstand the true essence of state power and have political priorities that are not just flawed but counterproductive to the cause of liberty. Minarchists and conservatives who embrace the government’s police power, its law-and-order functions and military wing, and save most of their animosity for the welfare state, just don’t get it.
Although I consider the welfare state to be a truly stifling and reactionary organization — Noam Chomsky’s brand of anarchism notwithstanding — this left-anarchist critique of the right has some merit. Indeed, stealing money from taxpayers and giving it to welfare recipients is not as despicable or aggressive as stealing the same amount of money and using it to murder children abroad or lock up peaceful people at home.
Well, for what it’s worth, Ron Paul is not a typical conservative, or even like all too many libertarians, in this respect. He is running mostly to dismantle the empire and national-security state; his first priority is not to kick anyone onto the street, and he has stressed this many times. He further understands that just because the military is a Constitutional function of government does not mean it should get a pass whereas the food stamp programs should not. He really does want to dramatically slash the state’s most egregious instruments — those of mass murder, mass destruction and totalitarian control of foreign and domestic subjects. When the issue of social entitlements comes up, he makes clear that his top priority is eliminating the entitlements to the military industrial complex, which he considers the most immoral and unjustified subsidies of all. No liberal Democrat of any stature goes nearly as far as Ron Paul does in opposing the warfare state. While he also opposes the welfare state, he knows that he’ll have his hands full with ending the war and will be somewhat restrained by Congressional prerogative. He also knows the most pressing moral mandate is to stop the killing. When asked about what he considered the most urgent ethical crisis of our time, he says it is the American culture’s adoption of aggressive war as acceptable policy.
As for corporatism, taxation and economic issues, Ron Paul says what the phony limited-government Republicans never dare to utter: The most evil and destructive of taxes is the inflation tax, the printing of money that robs from the value of the poor man’s dollar and shovels profits into the coffers of Wall Street, the big energy and pharmaceutical firms, and especially the defense contractors.
Every time the subject of spending comes up, he focuses on cutting the military. Every time the subject of taxes comes up, he focuses on the most regressive one of all: inflation. All too many leftist radicals ignore this clandestine and cruel robbery of the working and middle classes, and those on fixed incomes, to fund lavish corporate welfare. Ron Paul, in contrast, has for decades considered it a fundamental issue. Taking the federal government’s legal tender monopoly away would truly be the most revolutionary economic reform in a century, and it is near the top of Paul’s agenda.
Anarchists should take notice that Paul is also nearly alone in opposing the state-corporate partnerships that emerge in American agricultural policy, phony international "free-trade" agreements, and the administration of health care subsidies to Big Pharma. When he champions free trade, he takes it seriously, condemning trade sanctions as tools of war and agitating to normalize relations with the Cuban people. He is opposed to the government having a monopoly on weapons, and so he rejects all federal gun control laws. He opposes censorship in all forms.
Even on those particular issues where anarchists might most disagree with Paul, his position is far less tyrannical and nationalist than the likes of Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, and still offers a better approach than we can expect to get from US politics. And while we disagree, his movement is still a blessing for the public’s overall consciousness regarding liberty. Finally, to reiterate, he is running not so much on the few issues where he accepts a somewhat active role for the state, but mostly on his strongest issue — the most important issue of our time — the long-overdue dismantling of the American empire, after more than a century of international mayhem, financial fraudulence and relentless assaults on our liberty at home.
It is from his priorities that we can tell Paul has no interest in power for its own sake. He does not promise to feed the masses from cradle to grave and protect them from every cave-dwelling extremist in the Middle East because he knows the limits of power and the superiority of liberty over false security. He knows the full danger of centralized power in particular, which is why he would not use the central state even to impose his agenda on local polities. This decentralist emphasis we see in his campaign — which parallels nicely with the spontaneous, voluntary, decentralized and anarchic nature of his grassroots support — is an important component in any meaningful program to actually reduce state power. The federal government, being the largest and most internationally belligerent in all the world, must be shrunk first, and as much as possible, for any of us to have a lasting chance at freedom.
When it comes to understanding the true meaning of liberty and having the right priorities, Ron Paul is actually better than many mainstream libertarians and even self-described anarchists. He has awoken Americans to the key issues of foreign policy, civil liberties, and inflationary finance in a way no politician ever has. He might not excite some anarchists, as he is not one. But we should care what form or powers our government takes or how many people it kills and tortures and imprisons. All anarchists who see US aggression abroad, the destruction of habeas corpus and privacy, the secret torture chambers, the economic fascism, the drug war gulags and the burgeoning domestic police state as crucial issues, constituting a colossal national emergency, Ron Paul’s movement is one to be cheered far and wide.
And if Ron Paul does win, ushering in the era of limited government, we anarchists can and should oppose what is left of the state. I look forward to a time when government is so small that the debate between anarchism and constitutional libertarianism is the most relevant one before us. In the meantime, I can only support and root for the one man most likely to bring us far closer to that glorious day.
*Thanks to my great friend Tony Burke for explaining to me the connection between Ron Paul and horizon anarchism, and also for helping me convert to anarchism years ago.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.