Ron Paul as Prophet

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Ah!
Dull witted mortal,
if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no longer Fortune.
~ Boethius

Those who fancy
themselves part of what Albert J. Nock called "the remnant,"
i.e., the die-hard advocates of natural rights and civilized values,
may sense, as this winter campaign stretches on and the spring of
victory seems to recede, a feeling that it has all been in vain.
Indeed, it would have been in vain if either we or our candidate
had embarked on a campaign for political plunder, rather than what
I prefer to call a "prophetic pantomime." The remnant
may remain firm in its anti-political creed…but it has been a long
season of acting out the part of men and women hungry for the spoils
of victory. Even so, we should remind ourselves that it was never
a game of win or loose, it was a game of speaking truth to power…which
is more of a prophetic than a political function. Now it's perfectly
understandable that many people (and by no means just the fans of
Senator Obama) would warm to the advent of a "great" president.
But Ron Paul supporters wouldn't want the good doctor to be quite
as "great" as a Teddy Roosevelt, or even a Franklin Pierce,
a William Henry Harrison, a Millard Fillmore or a Rutherford Hayes.
I'm not sure how Thomas Carlyle would have answered Tina Turner's
assertion that "we don't need another hero" but the Scottish
curmudgeon at least had the perspicacity to point out that heroism
comes in a variety of forms, some of them less dangerous to life
and limb than others. For example if one consults the Bible one
will find a distinction between the office of a seer and of a king,
the latter being what today we would call a "politician,"
with some not too subtle hints that the former is more reputable
than the latter. Note, in this regard, that Samuel usually comes
off in a better light than David.

And closer
to home, hasn't America had far greater non-presidents than presidents?
Perhaps the archetypal non-president was William Jennings Bryan,
the crusher of youthful Vachel Lindsay's political hopes, who whines,

Defeat of
the alfalfa and the Mariposa lily.
Defeat of the Pacific and the long Mississippi.
Defeat of the young by the old and the silly.
Defeat of tornadoes by the poison vats supreme.
Defeat of my boyhood, defeat of my dream.

Be that as
it may, reading between the lines of his work, it's curious that
Lindsay's self-pitying effusions don't carry conviction, for the
poem gives ample testimony to the enduring power of his hero, Bryan
the prophet who overshadows and outlives Bryan the president-manqué.

And Bryan
took the platform.
And he was introduced.
And he lifted his hand
And cast a new spell.
Progressive silence fell
In Springfield,
In Illinois,
Around the world.

For better
or worse (and I'm no Bryan fan) much of the "progressivism"
of Bryan's 1896 presidential campaign became prophetic of what America
would become in the 20th century. His "cross of
gold" speech was a classic example of speaking truth to power.
Today of course it is an endless torrent of paper and Matrix-like
information bytes which crucify mankind, but we can't be too hard
on old Bryan for not foreseeing that, for as I will explain, foresight
is not the primary characteristic of prophecy. And moreover, we
have our own political prophet, Dr. Ron Paul. Rather, we must come
to grips with the everlasting difficulty of understanding the prophetic
(as opposed to the political) modality of power, which is simply
a problem of patience, of being able to endure the interval between
the "speaking truth" and the "to power."

On the other
hand, why would anyone want to pin the label "prophet"
on a nice guy like Ron Paul, a sobriquet which, possibly second
to "politician" is the most despised job category (or
is that Job category) on earth? It all depends what one means by
a prophet, so let me offer, once and for all, a handy all-purpose
definition: A prophet is a person who sees some higher reality
which is invisible to others. This higher reality doesn't have
to be something complicated or metaphysical, it could be a moral
principle which is so basic that most people take it for granted,
and hence render it invisible. Ron Paul, when debating with his
so-called peers in the Republican primary debates seemed to dwell
in a world of entirely different premises. It wasn't just that Dr.
Paul and his antagonists were disagreeing on the issues, which of
course they were, but more fundamentally, Dr. Paul was using an
entirely different "tool kit" from the mental "tool
kit" (or absence thereof) used by his opponents. His antagonists
were accustomed to talking about facts on the ground, facts in a
constant state of flux, whereas Ron Paul consistently recurred to
first principles. Is there any wonder that there was no meeting
of minds? Even if the debates had been broadcast in a fair manner,
which they weren't, there could have been no communication between
minds habituated to operating along different dimensions.

Which brings
us to another uncomfortable fact: prophets are generally considered
to be mad by the vast majority of their contemporaries. Not that
even madness itself should be considered without redeeming value.
After all, one of the charms of American culture is that the national
landscape is periodically enlivened by the outburst of some joyous
madness, either sacred or profane. From the ecstasies of native
shamans to awakenings in Pentecostal tents, to hot jazz and hotter
rock n' roll…an occasional delirium has been known to soothe the
collective soul. No, it is not madness per se which deserves
censure, for there is a salutary ecstasy, as well as a calculating,
sober tenor of mind which leads to perdition. And for this latter
reason I am not willing to grant the title of "prophet"
to divines who spin future military history from the margins of
their Schofield Bibles, or to kabbalistic rabbis whose angels have
told them to exodus the Labor for the Likud. These people might
be prognosticators but they certainly aren't prophets in the true
sense.

The problem
with all prognosticators, whether they speak in the language of
religion or some warmed-over Marxian dialectic, is that they are
simply looking down the barrel of a gun called "the future."
If they are wrong they loseand we have been made fools of, and
if they are right we all loose, for it means that they have succeeded
in locking the rest of us into their own tunnel vision, a nightmare
in which the future is merely an exaggerated form of the present.
On the contrary, true prophecy should increase the indeterminacy
of events yet to come, stirring up the crucible of time using novel
insights into timeless principles. This is the sine qua non
of a true prophet.

Yet it
is proverbial that the lying prognosticator is less likely to be
accused of insanity than the true prophet, for the former appeals
to prejudice and probabilities, while words of the latter refer
to values which are not only intangible to the senses but often
difficult for the mind to grasp. This is classically true of metaphysical
prophecy, as in the numerousand inexplicable "wheels"
and "eyes" and "feet" of Ezekiel's visions.
It also manifests itself in the world of art, for example in the
incomprehensible visions of surrealism, which provoked Salvador
Dali's famous quip that "the only difference between a madman
and me is that I'm not mad!" But oddest of all is that this
disjunction between ordinary and prophetic perception should even
hold true in the seemingly mundane realms of public ethics and political
economy. Yet it apparently does, as recent events have shown. It
is clear that a Ron Paul, and the remnant that are able to follow
his mind, are capable of "seeing" freedom and justice
in a manner which is at radical variance from that of the other
candidates and the general electorate.

Now given
the assumption that the prophet in question is indeed a true prophet,
we must proceed by turning conventional wisdom on its head. From
this vantage point only the prophet is sane! Conversely, insanity
can be seen as normative, with the exception of the remnant who
can follow prophet's logic. Hence, to the mad majority the words
and the behavior of the prophet seem more than a little "off."
The primary reason for this is that the prophet is using an entirely
different mental "tool kit" (which philosophers, with
their penchant for Greek jargon, term an organon). While
the multitude is hypnotized by the flow of palpable events, the
prophet lifts his or her face up to "heaven"…a vertical
dimension of intangible values and principles. This transcendentalism
elicits a common response from the flatlanders, a response which
all members of the remnant will instantly recognize: the characteristic
rolling of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulders, and a studious avoidance
of any serious communication.

But it
gets worse, for there is a corollary factor which confirms the majority
in its opinion of the prophet's madness. One must keep in mind that
the prophet, as the emissary of a higher truth, is not free to desist
from communicating the message. Seeing that mere words fail to move
the majority, increasingly dramatic modalities of expression must
be resorted to. For example Jeremiah, that patron saint of all sandwich-men
and placard bearers, roamed the streets of Jerusalem with a yoke
around his neck, warning of a Babylonian captivity. Our own captivity
to an increasingly out-of-control world order, an order based on
militarism, administrative edict, and fiscal legerdemain has evolved
so insidiously "within the form" of traditional institutions,
that it is as invisible to us as the impending captivity of Israel
was to Jeremiah's contemporaries. Ron Paul's response to this emergency
has been, like that of Jeremiah, one of prophetic pantomime. The
good doctor has put himself forward as candidate for emperor! In
doing so he has lost the sympathy of a few self-righteous anarchists,
caused a goodly number of his followers to mistake him for a "messiah,"
and confirmed the majority in their opinion of his eccentricity.
Of course all of these mistaken, though perfectly predictable, reactions
have been elicited through the old prophetic trick of stirring up
the pot of public opinion with the unexpected. Indeed, nobody expected
Ron Paul to get as far, in as short a time, as he has managed to
do. It has created more than anxiety in establishment circles…it
has created indeterminacy.

One may
bewail the fact that Congressman Paul is unlikely to ascend to the
imperial purple. But would any action less dramatic have brought
the remnant together, given it a voice, and started it off on the
road, not to the future, but to a possible time when people are
ready and sickened of our present future?

March
3, 2008

Mark
Sunwall [send him email]
studied Austrian economics at George Mason University and now teaches
Rhetoric and Social Science at the University of Hyogo. He is an
Adjunct Scholar of the Ludwig von
Mises Institute
.

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