Can a Libertarian Oppose Ron Paul?

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Is Wendy McElroy Still a Libertarian? No; She Opposes the Ron Paul Candidacy

by Walter Block

Recently by Walter Block: Response to a Jewish Opponent of RonPaul

At first glance this is really a stupid question. Not only is she a libertarian, she is one of the most talented and creative and hard-working leaders of our movement. She has done yeoman work, over the years, on a whole host of issues, ranging from the promotion of free enterprise, to her opposition to imperialist war, covering dozens of other libertarian issues, all superlatively.

If I were to single out one of her essays, my favorite of all of them, it would be this one, see here or here. This is her paean to Murray Rothbard, Mr. libertarian himself. Here, Wendy weaves into a beautiful tapestry all of Murray's accomplishments in Austrian economics, anti militarism, revisionist history, political activism and more. And, she does so with such great love I find myself almost next to tears as I read this, over and over sometimes, in appreciation of her absolute and magnificent brilliance. I go so far as to say that this is certainly one of the greatest appreciations of my friend and mentor Murray ever written.

No one who says things like that can be all bad. Heck, no one who says anything a half a quarter or a tenth as good as that should be accused of not being a libertarian. This is really good material. I am greatly envious that she said that. I wish I had written anything half as good. But, I am grateful that she did so for, frankly, I don't have her ability to say things like that, much as I loved Murray. I go further; read this essay of hers, I implore you. You'll thank me for insisting that you do. It is a lot better than the one I'm now about to criticize.

How, then, can I call into question her libertarian credentials? I do so on the ground that she is a bitter opponent of the Ron Paul presidential campaign, and this is the last best hope for liberty, as I see matters. I write in criticism of Wendy more in sorrow than in anger. But, there is a lot of sorrow involved, almost, but not quite, verging on anger.

Before I get to the specifics, let me make a distinction. I distinguish between being a libertarian, and agreeing with (virtually all) libertarian principles. The former implies that you act so as to promote liberty. The latter means that you agree with these principles, and, may, perhaps, as in her case at present, act against them. I have no doubt that Wendy is a libertarian in the second sense. Her whole adult life gives amply testimony to that fact. She believes in the libertarian message, fervently. She defends it, brilliantly. She extends it, creatively. But, as far as acting so as to promote liberty, her trashing of Dr. Ron Paul's candidacy gives the lie to that. Belief is necessary, but not sufficient, for being a libertarian. Wendy passes the first test, but not the second.

What are the specifics of her case against the Paul campaign?

I now repeat her August 17, 2007 article, "Ron Paul or antiwar.com?" (in italics) along with my commentary interspersed.

Like other libertarians, I am stirred by Ron Paul’s anti-war rhetoric even though I know it will not be translated into action because Paul will cease to be of significance after he is eliminated (as he will be) in the Republican primary. At that point, the millions of dollars as well as the incalculable time and energy that libertarians have donated to elect this right-wing religious conservative will disappear down the drain.

In my view, if the Ron Paul campaign stopped tomorrow (I am writing on 12/10/11), there will be nothing much disappearing "down the drain." Au contraire, Ron has already put libertarianism on the map in a way that no one in the history of civilization has ever done. (Ayn Rand deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Dr. Paul in terms of popularizing libertarianism, but she specifically rejected us, dismissing us as "hippies of the right." She also confused libertarianism with atheism in the minds of her libertarian converts.)

What is it with this "right-wing religious conservative" name-calling? Yes, Ron is religious, but since when has religion been rendered incompatible with the non aggression principle of libertarianism? "Right-wing?" "Conservative?" Is it right-wing or conservative to favor peace? To oppose the drug war? To call for a radical diminution of the government? Alright, I get it; Wendy opposes Congressman Paul. But why this inflated rhetoric? Nor will he "cease to be of significance" if and when he is eliminated from the Republican primary. Who knows? In that unlikely event, he may run as an independent. If New York City Mayor Bloomberg and Donald Trump also launch independent campaigns, Dr. Paul has a reasonably good chance of winning the election in a five man race. His supporters will not desert him. Even if not, my understanding is that his organization will long continue to promote liberty, independent of politics. Maybe then and only then will Dr. Paul appear in McElroy's good graces.

If you are supporting Ron Paul because of his anti-war stance, may I make a suggestion? Support the truly libertarian antiwar.com instead; this remarkable site is always desperate for donations. For years, the site has been an acknowledged and courageous leader in the broader antiwar movement, making people of other ideologies more receptive to libertarian principles and politics because they respect the commitment and damned hard work performed by the site. Unlike with Paul, your contribution will not disappear. Antiwar.com’s archives and features only grow with time; its value as a resource increases with each passing day. If you care about ending the war in Iraq, please do not divert money to Ron Paul when it could be used so well by genuine libertarians who have a proven record of making a difference.

I am a warm supporter of Antiwar.com. I have contributed funds to this wonderful organization. I was even honored that they once chose to reprint one of my columns on their web (http://antiwar.com/, 7/23/07). But, to mention this organization in the same breath as the Paul campaign, in terms of "making people of other ideologies more receptive to libertarian principles" is just plain silly. It is like comparing a mouse and an elephant, and by saying this I mean no disrespect to Antiwar.com. I am just remarking on the very different rate of success of the two libertarian institutions in carrying the word to people. I very much doubt that anyone associated with antiwar.com would be so rash as to claim that their success rate in promoting libertarianism is even in the same ballpark as Ron Paul's.

Remember: Ron Paul supported war in Iraq (and Kosovo, for that matter) as long as there was an official declaration; he argued this position in Congress. At that same time he asked for an official war, antiwar.com cried out against any war. I don’t know if Paul is currently sincere in his antiwar rhetoric or merely an astute politician who knows there is hunger out there for peace…but I do know and trust antiwar.com.

Yes, yes, Ron is a waffler. He keeps changing his mind. He is on all sides of every issue. He doesn't have a principled bone in his body. You can't trust him any further than you can throw him. Paul, Gingrich and Romney are all brothers under the skin as far as continually contradicting themselves are concerned. All three of them are forever changing their tune to fit the views of their present audience.

This is about the most outrageous calumny heaped upon Congressman Paul's shoulders, and to think it could come from a libertarian! Well, a person who supports libertarianism. I wonder why this author does not supply a link to Dr. Paul's supposed support for wars in Iraq and Kosovo. Could it be because this is a gigantic porky, as they say in England? Yes, Ron has often said that the only legitimate way for the U.S. to go to war would be for congress to declare it (there is that little matter of a Constitution that he is always going on and on about) but this is quite different from saying that were this put to a vote, he would have supported any such wars. The burden of proof is on this author to back up her false, malicious and, yes, libelous charge. She has not done so.

From the preceding, readers might assume that I argue against PaulBearing because support for Ron Paul diverts money/time from causes and activities that have a lasting impact rather than one that evaporates after the faux-euphoria of political campaigning. While I do make this objection, I have several other reasons.

To argue that the Paul 2012 campaign will not have a "lasting impact" is highly problematic. He has already introduced libertarians to billions of people all over the world, he has inspired millions of people to seriously consider this philosophy, and, with his constant mention of Austrian economics, Murray N. Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises he has tuned in hundreds of thousands of people to sound economics. No "lasting impact?"

To be fair to Wendy McElroy, she wrote this essay on August 17, 2007, and the Ron Paul campaign of 2012 is vastly outstripping that of 2008 in terms of impact. However, that scurrilous piece of hers of 2007 is still on the web. Anyone can access it, even now. Has she apologized for this essay? Not to the best of my knowledge. Has she revised it in response to the far greater success of the Ron Paul campaign this time around? Not to the best of my knowledge. She ends her evil screed on this note: More on this as I find time to blog… Has she done so? Again, Not to the best of my knowledge. For shame, say I.

1) the libertarian support for Paul – a candidate who cannot win because the Republicans will not nominate him – effectively guarantees that a real libertarian candidate who actually voices libertarianism will not be heard. Yes, but an LP candidate has no chance of winning, you say? Well neither does Paul. I do not support the LP because I think electoral politics is part of society’s problems not part of the solution, nevertheless, I do not dismiss the possibility that a principled LP candidate may be able to educate or raise awareness. That’s always been the LP’s strongest argument. But, now, instead of a libertarian candidate who cannot win, libertarians are choosing to back a right wing conservative who cannot win. Libertarians are not even saying “put MY guy in office”; they are crying out “put THEIR guy in office because he says some of the right things”. The stance doesn’t make sense even to a pro-voting libertarian.

As of this writing, December 12, 2011, her statement "Paul – a candidate who cannot win because the Republicans will not nominate him" sounds somewhat premature. Ron is now in the "top tier," consisting of him and his two flip-flopping soul brothers, Mitt and Newt. It looks as if he can take second place in Iowa, and very likely be in the top three in New Hampshire. The debate, scheduled for tonight at Drake University will feature only six candidates: Ron and his two fellow flip-floppers, along with Bachmann, Perry and Santorum. The Cain train has derailed, and Huntsman has been dropped due to poor polling numbers. Thus, it will become more and more difficult for the mainstream media to squelch his viewpoints.

Who is this mysterious "real libertarian candidate who actually voices libertarianism" that we are ignoring, because Dr. Paul is hogging up the libertarian spotlight? Bob Barr? Gary Johnson? Wayne Allen Root? None of these people can hold a candle to Ron Paul in terms of adherence to libertarian principles. Enquiring minds want to know! On the other hand, there are indeed very good libertarians out there (any of the senior faculty or administration of the Mises Institute, for example), but none of these people are politicians; none of them have any chance at all of becoming president in 2013.

She says: "I do not dismiss the possibility that a principled LP candidate may be able to educate or raise awareness. That’s always been the LP’s strongest argument." C'mon, c'mon, Barr and Root were the LP's standard bearers in 2008. Neither is one one-hundredth the libertarian that Ron Paul is. Dr. Paul did indeed run for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988, and received the usual 2% or so of the vote, without making much of a publicity splash. Now, he is absolutely amazing in terms of the bang for the buck we libertarians are getting out of him.

And what's with the repetition of the "right wing conservative" charge. Does she think that if you keep repeating something, people will believe it? Well, if right wing conservatives favor bringing home the troops, stopping imperialism, squelching crony capitalism (hear that, Occupiers?), getting rid of the Fed, embracing free enterprise money, radically cutting down the size of government, repealing the drug war, cutting a swath through our regulatory bureaucracy, well, then, maybe, right wing conservatism isn't so bad after all.

2) by so wildly embracing a politician as their “savior,” hardline libertarians are abandoning the skepticism with which freedom-loving people must always view those who wish to assume power over the lives of others. What do they say to “power corrupts”? Maybe so, but not OUR guy? Where is the critical analysis of the terrible policies advocated by Paul, such as the use of eminent domain to facilitate the construction of wall across the US-Mexico border? For that matter, where is the libertarian objection to that construction of Fortress America? It has been lost in the applause being rendered to this evangelical religious conservative who seeks power.

I do not agree with each and every opinion of Ron Paul. McElroy is a splendid libertarian theoretician. Certainly, she is right, and Ron Paul wrong, on the issue of eminent domain. There is nothing wrong with "critical analysis" of his positions. I have done a few of those myself, see here and here. Speaking as a "hardline libertarian" I have not at all "abandoned the skepticism with which freedom-loving people must always view those who wish to assume power over the lives of others." In a previous column of mine, I awarded Ron Paul only a 95% on the libertarian scale (probably, I was too niggardly then; I now think he deserves a 97% grade). Hey, we libertarian supporters of Ron Paul are not true believers. When he errs, we are not silent about it. There is nothing wrong with criticizing everyone, me included. We can all use improvement.

But McElroy is doing more than this. Far more. She is demonizing him. She is engaged in false malicious slander and libel against him. At a time when he is building up the libertarian movement at a pace greater than anyone else in the entire history of the world, she is busily trying to tear him down. That is not critical thinking. That is not being open-minded. That is being an objective enemy of liberty.

As for "Fortress America," this is just another way of saying that Dr. Paul favors a defensive military posture, not an offensive one. If I understand him correctly, the Coast Guard will become greatly enlarged under a Paul administration, far more able to safeguard Americans in our cities and towns, instead of focusing on drug running and smugglers (there will be no more of these, when drugs are legalized, and we embrace full free trade). President Paul will stop poking sticks in hornet's nests all over the world, and wondering why some of these creatures come over here and bite us; this is blowback, baby. (It is not because of our freedoms or our mini-skirts or our rock music; according to calculations of economic freedom in the world, we are no longer even in the top ten in this regard; there are other countries that mind their own businesses, have mini-skirts and rock music and have not been subjected to terrorist attacks.) President Paul will make peace with the nations of the world. He will engage in free trade, cultural exchange, etc., with all of them. If this is "Fortress America," or, "isolationism," it is not all that bad.

3) in the frenzy that is political campaigning, libertarians are abandoning resources that have been valuable in spreading the ideas of liberty. The most recent example is the decision of LewRockwell.com to relinquish its tax-exempt status in order to advocate for Ron Paul. I differ with LRC on several important issues but I value highly the site’s past contributions; especially with the economic downturn, I do not believe LRC will be able to sustain itself. I’d hate to see it die or wither…for one thing, it is one of the last living expressions of Murray Rothbard within the movement.

I will let Lew Rockwell discuss that decision of his. All I can say is that every dollar, no, every penny that has been donated to the Paul 2012 campaign has been a magnificent investment in liberty. Ron does not spend this money at Tiffany's. He does not spend this money on pay-offs for girlfriends. He does not spend this money on fancy cars. He doesn't own a Rolex. He does not buy $5,000 suits. He spends every penny on promoting liberty, a concept that seems not to be in McElroy's ken.

I could go on…but the foregoing objections do not touch upon my main argument against PaulBearing. That argument: along with some fine statements about war and the free market, Paul advocates policies that are as dangerous to personal freedom as I’ve ever heard.

Oh yeah, as we say in Brooklyn. Name a few, lady (well, ones on which I have not already mentioned in criticism of my friend Ron Paul). Oh, wait, yes, I just realized, McElory is right! I've just hear that Ron has changed his mind on the Patriot Act, and now supports Obama's murder of U.S. citizens abroad, and his use of drones in Pakistan, Iran and God knows where else. (For those of you who are not paying attention, this claim of mind about Ron's change of mind is tongue in cheek. I have to clarify things like this; assure people that I am only joking. Lew makes me. Otherwise, I'll get complaints from people denying this.) I can't help getting giddy. When McElroy says that Paul is "dangerous to personal freedom," all one can do is laugh.

More on this as I find time to blog… http://www.zetetics.com/mac/news.php?extend.946

I await, with bated breath, McElroy's return to this topic. I'm all ears, Wendy.

Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable and Labor Economics From A Free Market Perspective. His latest book is The Privatization of Roads and Highways.

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