Previously by Mark Sunwall: Arctic Evita
One of the standard Ron Paul stories picked up by the mainstream media and repeated ad nauseum is his reputed unpopularity with self-identified Christians, and Evangelical Protestants in particular. It is usually stated that fans of Paul (that is Paul of Texas, not Tarsus) usually chime in at about 15% of the Evangelical demographic. What the articles don't point out is that this is about the average for most other demographics as well, unless you're talking about young people and party independents or for that matter "mind independents" in which case the digits could easily be reversed, making for a slim majority.
Be that as it may, voting for Ron Paul is a no brainer for any Christian, and I don't mean just those who style themselves "Christian libertarians"…albeit these latter have a noble pedigree going all the way back to John Lock himself (and no, I don't mean the spooky character on Lost, but the authentic article who inspired the Founders). After all, it's not fair to box Christians into some sort of air-tight ideological compartment, since according to the gospel one is supposed to be accountable to the Spirit rather than the supposed consistency of worldly philosophies.
So if you'll just bear with me, I'd like to demonstrate how Dr. Paul is right about the "one big thing" that all Christians, not to mention right-minded people of any religious persuasion, should use as their criterion when they walk into an election booth. Everything else besides that "one big thing" is just small stuff, and since God is in ultimate control anyway, why not let him take care of that? In this context "small" doesn't mean trivial. In fact it pretty much includes all those gripping issues which animate the American culture wars. Take for example the pro-life/pro-choice question. Dr. Paul has expressed his pro-life convictions in no uncertain terms. But then since all the other Republican candidates have sported a pro-life stance this is no special reason to vote for the good doctor…unless experience and depth of conviction count for something. Furthermore, there isn't much a president could do about overturning Roe vs. Wade anyway. It is the kind of small stuff which will play out in history apart from the will, for good or ill, of any single elected magistrate.
What about the issue of war and peace? Consequential yes, but still small stuff. You may be a pious pacifist, while I may think that lobbing daisy cutters down on the turbaned heads of Ayatollahs is exactly what Jesus would do. But the future is an enigma…and a rather terrifying one at that. People who try to comfort themselves by deducing concrete policy from prophecy are surely reading their own prejudices into the future. For my own part, I find even the past hard to understand without faith. At least with the past we have eyes to see in the form of documents, testimony, and collective memory…although any or all of these may be a source of delusions. Conversely, when we gaze into the future all we see is a big blind spot. And it's not just you and me, poor creatures that we are, but the "big brass," the policy wonks, and the so-called intelligence community, who are blind as well. Of course they have a reputation to protect, so we are told otherwise. However there is only One who knows the future, and it is His small stuff to sweat.
By now, O right-thinking brethren and sisters, if I haven't aroused your indignation at what constitutes "the small stuff" let me throw down one last gauntlet. What about freedom and slavery? Consequential yes, but still small stuff. Certainly having libertarian leaning politicians running for office, either the intrepid Dr. Paul or someone else, is not sufficient cause to preserve or restore America's freedom. In fact, I hate to broach a rather unpleasant subject, but God makes sure that nations which deserve slavery will get their tyrant and nations which deserve freedom will get their liberators. It's not the pool of wannabe tyrants and/or liberators (yes, sometimes people are unsure of their career trajectories) which happens to be the controlling variable in human events. Honestly, the state of the culture, politically or otherwise, doesn't seem to auger well on this point, but it is still a hopeful barometer that Dr. Paul has come as far as he has. Our freedom or unfreedom is just another bit of small stuff which will be taken care of for us provided we cooperate by attaining some degree of clarity on an even more fundamental matter.
Now how can I dismiss politicians' statements on life, peace, and freedom as secondary issues with little bearing on our preference for a candidate? Is this some perverse form of fatalism? No, because there is an issue which is prior to any of this "small stuff" and which everyone must vote "yea" or "nay" upon. It's an issue which, aside from Christians, even commands the convictions of atheists and other people who reject any notion that God is taking care of the small stuff. Moreover, in comparison to the glorious small stuff this issue is so basic as to be anticlimactic.
It's the question of whether the candidate lies or not.
Until this issue is settled, and settled clearly, there is no point in finding out what the candidates are intending to do with your life, your freedom, world peace, or all that other small stuff. People of a scholarly ilk, such as Immanuel Kant, Ludwig von Mises and yours truly have a penchant for using Latin words like a priori or "the primacy of epistemology over ontology" but let's face it, Jesus put it in a nutshell when he declared "I am the truth…" followed by, "…the way and the life." He also left us some exceedingly helpful hints as to who the "father of lies" was, and I trust nobody wants to see that guy's children in high office. Or rather, on the more realistic assumption that they presently occupy high office, they ought to at least be voted out!
At this point I have to issue a disclaimer. Nothing is easier to do than to demonize someone. You don't even have to be a demon to do it, just an ogre-like human being with a big rusty axe to grind. Politicians are just sinners, the same you and me. True, I do fancy that the Pauls of Tarsus and Texas might be a rung or two above the rest of us in saintliness, but that's just idle speculation. Unfortunately Christians sometimes lack an ability to discern fact from fantasy, the Screwtape Letters from the screw-ups of mundane existence. Far be it for me to suggest that even the most corrupt politician wakes up in the morning to pray "Father of Lies, how may I do thy bidding?" Of course that's not how it works.
Rather, you may legitimately ask, if that is not how it works then how does it work? Furthermore, from a practical point of view, what is the mechanism of deceit which corrupts politics, not just in the ordinary sense of the corrupt use of power and money, but in the deeper, and nearly universal sense that politics creates an illusionary reality detrimental to honest social and economic relations. If we can obtain a clearer understanding of this mechanism, then we will have at least a crack at distinguishing the children of the lie from the men and women of candor. Candid, not perfect, is the watchword, for even a Christian is just a sinner who admits the truth. Neither is it a confessional issue, and it seems to me that Luther struck the right note when he said it would be better to have an honest Turk than a corrupt Christian as emperor. Of course it doesn't follow, as the politically correct of our day would suggest, that all "Turks" (Luther meant muslims, but they would cipher it as people belonging to officially sanctioned victim groups) are honest!
So on the plausible assumption that nobody "worships evil"…indeed, the theologians claim that evil, being a negative, doesn't even exist…we can infer that the corruption of politics, like the corruption of an individual, arises from a kind of perverted love. I suppose there is some consolation in the thought that the lies of a politician are not motivated by negativity but by an excess of what might be termed "political eros." Given that assumption, we can imagine politicians being engaged in a courtship ritual with their constituency, a ritual which is called a political campaign. Of course they would like to be the dominant partner in the relationship, to "sway the constituency" as it is put. But successful politicians in democratic countries soon find out what science discovered about nature during the Renaissance, that to rule over something one must obey it. Or in political terms, to capture a constituency one must first capitulate to the interests and prejudices of that constituency.
This is what we have seen in the Republican debates, not candidates but suitors. Whatever the constituency wants the candidates are eager to endorse…and here "the constituency" doesn't just mean the primary voters, but the contributors as well, including the PACs and the super PACs. During the course of the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary, Romney, Gingritch, and all the others (except Paul) have been accused of various inconsistencies, if not wholesale reinvention of their political persona. But since when is inconsistency a vice in lovers who try all avenues to gain access to the hearts and minds of the beloved? In principle, this political eros is no more complicated than "What do you want me to be?" albeit the mavens of advertizing, marketing, and crowd psychology claim to have made it into a science.
In comparison to these politically erotic men (and lest we forget, women too, even though Republican contenders of the fair sex are presently scorned) Dr. Paul is a decidedly cold fish. This is rather ironic in light of the Paulist slogan "r3VOLution" yet it may be that the spelling of the word backward provides a helpful cipher. After all, Christians have become suspicious, and quite rightly so, of the bandying about that the L-word (yes, even the old heterosexual L-word) gets in post-Christian society. C.S. Lewis, with his usual discernment, notes in his book The Four Loves that we must submit the claims of love to close scrutiny for "…just as Lucifer – a former arch-angel – perverted himself by pride and fell into depravity, so can love – commonly held to be the arch-emotion – become corrupted by presuming to be what it is not."
The question then becomes "Love of what?" Love of power is too crass an accusation. Rather we should talk of love of empowerment, which is simply the same thing prefixed. Here the difference, or rather lack of it, is rather similar to the distinction between "populism" which smells of the lynch mob, and noble "democracy"… which just goes to show that, apart from roses, giving something a different name does change its scent. Indeed, the empowerment of a constituency may be a beautiful thing to behold, but the Houdini-like contortions and moral metamorphoses that candidates undergo to obtain their favor is as ugly as sin, because that's precisely what it is.
It's amazing that at this state of American cultural devolution there is even one exception to this kind of politics, but Dr. Paul is on record as saying the following about the function of a libertarian politician.
Limited-government politicians have an image problem because they won't give out free handouts. To defeat this perception, voters need to understand basic economics so they will know that they are the ones who will pay for dubious government plans. Thus, limited government politicians have a tough task: their campaigns must be educational in nature. (Ron Paul, A Life of Ideas p. 70)
Libertarians are often accused of trying to abolish the political dimension of social life, but in fact what Paul's limited government politician ideally accomplishes is to restore a respect for truth and understanding to the political process. Paradoxically, it is the anti-free enterprise conservatives and liberals who treat constituencies as markets where the supposed iron law of consumer sovereignty prevails. Here "consumer sovereignty" is just a modern term of art which means the same as what the Bible calls "serving Mammon." Though people quip that it was "odd of God to choose the Jews" it is even odder that the libertarian should be the only candidate to choose political education over consumer sovereignty!
A great deal could be said about this, but at the very least Christians should note the congruence between the kind of leadership which is advocated above and the gospel's insistence on objective truth which is no respecter of fickle human opinion. And Americans in general should welcome a restoration of the kind of issue-driven debate which characterized the American republic in its classical phase. The best example of this is Abraham Lincoln himself, at least Lincoln when he was still his early libertarian self, untainted by executive power. He campaigned vigorously, not because he wanted to please the people of Illinois, but because wanted to make a point. He was in love with something as impersonal as a syllogism: All men are free by nature/ all races are human/ therefore all people should be free. Now that's a cold fish! Needless to say his constituencies paid him back by voting against him more often than not.
Abraham Lincoln, Ron Paul, yes, imperfect men to be sure. I'm not convinced, for example, that Lincoln's greenback currency was such a great idea, and there are one or two points where I find myself in disagreement with the representative from Lake Jackson too. But for those of us who know that God is sweating the small stuff, unity of mind on political doctrine is neither necessary nor desirable. What consecrates a man or woman to political mission is something far more important than any one partisan plank. It comes down to who is your lover, the mob or the truth? If the latter, you may keep your soul. If the former, well, you still may keep it provided only that the mob remains virtuous and consistent in its opinions.
If God is sweating the small stuff then we don't need candidates who are right about everything, even in religion, let alone politics. But we at least need candidates who are honestly struggling to discern truth from falsehood, and who love something higher than the idolatry of human opinion. Jesus chose Nathan while he was sitting under the tree because he was "without guile." In fact Nathan had all sorts of misconceptions and lacunae in his knowledge, points which Jesus would have to painstakingly educate him on. But Nathan had a naïve love of wisdom, as opposed the "wise guy's" love of that cunning understanding which allows one to get ahead in a corrupt world. In short, Nathan, for all his faults, was the kind of material that Jesus could at least work with.
That's what the r3VOLution is about, reversing people's disordered, perverted perspectives on love. In this case the problem is not sexual love, but rather the public loves of patriotism, democracy, and politics. Loves which easily become idolatrous if they aren't subordinated to criticism and limitation. Loves who's "guile" must be cleansed by exposure to a higher love for truth.
Can any American wish for more?
Can any Christian demand less?
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.