It’s not so difficult to distinguish between libertarians and statists. Let us say that there are some things which one must believe in to be libertarian: private property, competition, the free market, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to secede, and so on.
It’s not common to meet a libertarian on the street, much less in congress. Despite this fact, Ron Paul is one of us. He was a Libertarian candidate for president in 1988, and later a Republican congressman. He has written several books, including The Case for Gold, and has served as an advisor to the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Ron Paul is more than a mere politician.
Dr. Paul, you were a US presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party during the 1988 campaign. You are currently a Republican congressman. Why did you choose to run under the banner of the GOP?
I have always maintained the same basic view of the proper role of government, and I have patterned that view along the lines of the views of the framers of our U.S. Constitution. This to me is a much more critical thing than the political party in which one enrolls for the purpose of furthering one’s views.
Do you think the deaths of 75 persons in the burning compound in Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993 were a direct consequence of the federal siege?
I’m not sure that I would say the deaths were a consequence of the siege, because that implies they were somehow separate from the siege. In fact, the deaths were part and parcel of the siege and indeed the only logical outcome that could have been expected.
Why did Clinton order the siege and, before it, the BATF raid?
I am not sure why the raid was ordered. It has been suggested that the ATF felt they needed a public relations victory and that may be true. At any rate, the evidence has clearly suggested that Koresh could have very easily been brought in for questioning by local police, instead of the carnage that was brought about by federal involvement.
Some time ago you spoke about religious liberty. In your opinion, did the Feds infringe the First Amendment?
I’m not sure that the purpose behind the siege was the somewhat strange religious beliefs of the group, although certain official pronouncements have led many to believe that it was. I do not share the beliefs of the Davidians, but I certainly believe they have a right to peacefully hold their beliefs.
Attorney General Janet Reno has had a wonderful career after the Waco massacre. Why was she never punished?
I’m not sure "who knew what and when" about the Waco siege. In The Rules of Engagement it seemed that the indicted Clinton political hack, Webster Hubbell, had much more influence than did Reno. I would think that in light of this massacre, Reno would have had the good sense to resign; but alas there seems to be no sense of shame at all within this current crew.
What do you think about Clinton’s claim on the day after: "I hope very much that others who will be tempted to join cults and to become involved with people like David Koresh will be deterred by the horrible scenes they have seen over the last seven weeks"?
I am not specifically familiar with the quotation you cite, but if it is accurate it is certainly reprehensible.
Is it possible to avoid another, future Waco?
The best, perhaps only, way to avoid more Wacos in the future is to consider the kind of republic that was left to us by the American founders and to get back to that form of government. Specifically, we need to return the vast majority of the law enforcement function to state and local police agencies.
Dr. Paul, you were one of the few congressmen opposing US interventionist policies in Kosovo and elsewhere. I think I’m not wrong in referring to you as openly an isolationist. Why do you think that isolationism is the best policy in foreign affairs for the US?
I am not an isolationist, because I believe in things like free international trade and normal diplomatic relations. The title "non-interventionist" is much more appropriate to describe my foreign policy beliefs. I believe the U.S. should not intervene in the internal affairs of other countries nor in regional disputes across the globe. We should maintain friendly relations with other nations and a military which is capable of defending our nation from acts of aggression.
Do you think isolationism (sorry, non-interventionism) is a libertarian policy? If yes, why – when many wars are now fought to defend so-called "human rights"? Do you think, as Isabelle Patterson said, that all these "humanitarians" are "humanitarians with guillotines"?
The problem with interventionism on behalf of human rights is that we never seem too concerned with what human rights get violated in order to undertake the intervention. These interventions require, for instance, that we tax our citizens in order to provide the government with the resources needed to undertake the intervention. Levying taxes for such a purpose violates the human right our own citizen has in his or her ownership of property. Moreover, these interventions tend to take on a military aspect which may require conscription here and the killing of innocent people abroad – thus further violations of human rights attend these interventions.
Interventionism on behalf of human rights is internally inconsistent.
Looking at the past, do you think the Cold War was a good foreign policy for the US?
I believe the Cold War was not really in the US’s interests, and I’m not convinced it was ever fought.
The military-industrial complex has certainly grown as a result of our decision to give the Soviet Union half of Europe, but was there really a cold war? I mean, we in the West propped up communism with government-backed loans through the IMF and other institutions, and we gave the Soviets and their client states all sorts of aid through the U.N. and similar agencies. Now we have come to accept a huge military and large defense contracts that require American men and bases to be stationed all over the world. Is that a good foreign policy? Absolutely not!
Who are the libertarians who have most influenced your views?
I have been influenced by a number of thinkers, as I said our American founders and others have shaped my political beliefs.
Certainly mentioning one or two men by name, I would say economists Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard. Mises’ Human Action is a seminal work when it comes to the philosophy of freedom. Also, Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State as well as his analysis of the Great Depression – these are works of significant importance in my understanding and for our contemporary situation as well.
Have a look at today’s US politics: for the GOP nomination, two men are contesting: George W. Bush and John McCain. Two others have tried, but have lost: Steven Forbes and Alan Keyes. Who is the man you’re politically closer to?
I have not taken part in endorsing a candidate for President. All the men you have mentioned, except for Senator McCain, have endorsed me in prior electoral endeavors I have undertaken.
How do you value the "equilibrium" in the Republican Party between different factions, and especially what do you think about the presence of the Religious Right?
I am unsure how to answer the question regarding intra-party factions in the Republican Party. Certainly such factions exist, and I have always tried to unite them to the banner of limited government in my campaigns. I have been successful in doing this and in working with all sorts of different people within the party. I work well with the Religious Right, and with conservatives in general, on many issues. It is a testament to the power of ideas that I can work with people in different factions, some of my legislation in the Congress even draws considerable support from Democrats too.
Many libertarians don’t agree with your tactic of holding office in order to advance liberty. How would you reply to the critics who say that a libertarian politician can’t exist?
I think people who are anti-politics have to come to the realization that politics always has, and always will, exist. If you want to limit the things government can do, you must take political action – because failing to make your own political decisions means that you are allowing somebody else to make those choices for you.
How do you view the economic policy of the Federal Reserve, led by Alan Greenspan?
I have had many confrontations with Chairman Greenspan. Simply speaking, regardless of what Mr. Greenspan has to say, he has followed a policy of credit creation. This policy amounts to central planning, and central planning has been a total disaster. It may work for short periods of time, but it always sets in motion events that have disasterous economic consequences.
On a general level, if the ruling class (those in the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve, and other places) remain the people nominated by Ronald Reagan, how do evaluate their work? More generally, do you think that the years of Reaganomics have diminished or increased the power of the state?
In general, I would say that President Reagan’s nominees were probably better than average but certainly not as revolutionary as I would have hoped them to be in turning around the growth of government.
Similarly, Reaganomics was a mixed bag. There were some attempts at deregulation, and some reductions in marginal tax rates, and those actions are to be commended.
However, the lack of spending reduction together with a refusal to address "entitlements" and a heavy reliance upon military spending have all negatively impacted our economy.
What do you think about gun control?
I agree with the ideas put forward by our founding fathers and codified in the Second Amendment to our constitution. Namely, the government has absolutely no authority to infringe upon the individual’s right to keep and bear arms.
The United Nations has advised every government not to casually give people the right to keep and bear arms. Why?
The United Nations has designs on becoming a worldwide state, and as the American founders knew, a centralized state cannot abide the right of citizens to keep and bear arms because such a state eventuates in tyranny. The only way to maintain tyranny is to have a people which cannot defend themselves.
Could an armed society be less violent and more peaceful than a gun-controlled one?
There is a professor here in the United States who has done a study titled "more guns equal less crime"; the data he has produced does tend to suggest that "armed societies are polite societies."
Rep. Paul, when, in your opinion, does a community have the right to secede? (I believe the American "Declaration of Independence" presents a clear view of the reasons by which a political unit may choose to secede from the tyranny imposed upon them by some larger unit: simply, the right of self-determination ought not be abridged.) Finally, is there a way of escaping the "New World Order"?
Again, I think the questions to be asked have to deal with choice, and as I just said, with sovereignty. People have choices and we need to make a choice to stand up against the idea of international rule-making and extraterritorial jurisdiction. If people fail to understand this choice or fail to make the right decisions, we will face further and further centralization of power together with the terrible consequences that have always resulted from too much power being in too few hands. We can escape this outcome only by learning the right path and choosing it.
Originally published in The Laissez Faire City Times, Vol 4, No 11, March 13, 2000.
Dr. Ron Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.