It is only the first week of April, but the American Spring is in full bloom.
You could feel it in the energy of the 7000+ people who gathered at a stadium on the UCLA campus a few nights ago to see a candidate for president who offers a radical, yet timeless vision of a society based on peaceful, voluntary interaction, rather than coercion and force. At 76, Ron Paul has become a hero to a generation of college students, and at rallies like this one you can almost see his ideas rushing forward — like his vast crowd of supporters pouring in through the stadium doors — to a philosophical tipping point that might be closer than we realize.
Not that you would know it from the Republican/Democrat establishment or the dinosaurs of the old network and cable media. Lately, their voices have been united in a call for the primary race to wrap up so we can get down to making the crucial choice between Obamacare and Romneycare. Whose version of the individual mandate will win? Can anyone really tell the difference anyway?
While most of the old media stayed away from the UCLA rally, there was at least one exception. Wandering through the crowd, perhaps bewildered by scenes that didn’t fit his network’s narrative of the American political climate, an unassuming man carried an oversized camera with a Fox News logo towards a cluster of trees. Suddenly, it became clear that well over a thousand people remained outside the stadium, unable to enter the 5,800 seat venue that was filled to capacity. Dozens of them had climbed into the trees with hopes of catching a glimpse of their hero, barely discernible in the distance. Clearly, this contradicted the Fox News story from the same day that declared "the Ron Paul ‘revolution’ has suddenly gotten very quiet."
Far from becoming "very quiet," Ron Paul has spoken before larger and larger crowds in recent weeks. The night before his UCLA appearance, he drew over 6,000 people to Cal State Chico. In Los Angeles, volunteers pack the LA Liberty Headquarters on Abbot Kinney Boulevard every day, making hundreds of calls each to potential voters. Reports are trickling out of caucus states, where battles for delegates continue to rage long after CNN and Fox went home; large numbers of Ron Paul supporters are winning election to delegate slates, putting them in position to be a powerful force in Tampa if there is a brokered convention this August.
Hope is a powerful motivator, and the crowd at UCLA was filled with it, despite the bleak economic reality of the present. Students feel this bleak economic reality through tuition rates that soar year after year in an ugly example of inflation. Paul’s UCLA speech brought home the principle that more and more people are coming to realize — that rising prices are what happen when the Federal Reserve lowers the value of money by creating enormous amounts of it out of thin air. This idea, a cornerstone of the Austrian School of economic theory, was distilled by the thousands in attendance into the hope-inspiring chant common at Paul rallies: "End the Fed! End the Fed! End the Fed!"
But ending the Federal Reserve, the wars abroad, and the war on civil liberties at home, while important issues in their own right, are all expressions of an underlying philosophy of liberty. In his speech, Ron Paul noted the power of ideas, delivering the radical paraphrasing of Victor Hugo that "an idea whose time has come cannot be stopped by any army or any government."
When packed stadiums of thousands of people passionately cheer ideas that just five short years ago were relegated to a handful of libertarian writers and a think tank or two, it seems like liberty is finally an idea whose time has come. Goosebumps travel up and down my arms, caused not by the cool night air, but by the eruption of this enormous, uninhibited crowd. It escalates, the "End the Fed!" chant growing louder, followed by one of "President Paul! President Paul!" In this moment, the awesome power of the liberty movement becomes clear. The old guard of both major political parties, with their cruel bipartisan love of war, bailouts of rich bank executives, and disregard for life, liberty, and property in the name of "security," has been put on notice; a swiftly growing number of people are not sitting idly by, and are building a movement to take back their rights.
Soviet founder V.I. Lenin made what was perhaps the most honest statement about the nature of government when in 1920 he described it as "unlimited power based on force." In contrast, the rapid growth of the Ron Paul movement provides hope that a different type of society is possible; a society that eschews a powerful central government and its beneficiaries at the top of a hierarchy; a society based on voluntary interaction rather than force.
While there is a lot of reason for optimism that the ideas of liberty are winning the philosophical battle, we have not quite reached the tipping point yet. As we educate ourselves, there comes a point when, as Ludwig von Mises said, it is our responsibility to "thrust [ourselves] vigorously into the intellectual battle." There were a few anti-Paul protesters at the UCLA rally, and some in the crowd chose to engage them and introduce them to the axiom of non-aggression that underlies libertarian political theory and practice. When it comes to our opponents, if we engage them with the gentle meekness and deep respect that Ron Paul displays, but positively engage them nevertheless, we will make a difference.
At this moment, we can start to catch a glimpse of how old authoritarian assumptions can be washed away by the rising tide of new ideas, sometimes seemingly overnight. Taken-for-granted dogmas and institutions of power no longer have the answers to deeply entrenched problems, and suddenly a voice crying in the wilderness for decades reaches a new generation and inspires it with a vision of what a free society could look like. Here at the dawn of the American Spring, let’s continue to be inspired by the world we know is possible, inspire other people with our vision, and make that vision of peace, prosperity, and liberty the center of debate until the day it becomes a reality.