An Open Letter to Libertarians On Behalf of Ron Paul, Part II
by Walter Block
by Walter Block
The present article is part of the Open Letter Series in behalf of Ron Paul.
True confession time. This idea of mine for a series of Open Letters in support of Ron Paul came about as the result of the following conversation I had with Lew Rockwell a few weeks ago:
Walter: Wouldn't it be great if Murray were alive now, witnessing the Ron Paul phenomenon? Murray would be so pleased, he'd be jumping up and down with glee. We'd have to peel him off the ceiling
Lew: Yes, Murray would be writing articles on Ron for LRC, one per day.
Walter: Well, I'm no Murray. I've met Murray, and I can assure you I am no Murray. I am simply not capable of writing one article per day on LRC about Ron or anything else, certainly not while continuing with my other work, and not even otherwise, as Murray could do. However, I am perhaps capable of doing this once a week, or, if not, then once per month. Perhaps I can make up for this shortfall by inducing others to help me with this labor of love.
The present article is a follow up on David Gordon's brilliant Open Letter to Libertarians on Ron Paul.
In my view, the "Ron Paul question" constitutes a litmus test for libertarians. Simply put, the "Ron Paul question" consists of determining whether or not a person supports Dr. Paul. If so, as I see matters, he passes this test and can be constituted a libertarian; if not, his credentials are to that extent suspect.
So, who is failing this exam?
II. Some anarcho-capitalist libertarians
First of all, let us consider the anarcho libertarians who oppose voting on principle, and, worse, taking on elected political office.
David's response to their objection to Congressman Paul is brilliant:
"However good his program, though, isn't Ron Paul attempting to become head of the criminal gang that constitutes the State? To come to grips with this question, we need to ask, why is the State a criminal gang? As Franz Oppenheimer, Albert Jay Nock, and Murray Rothbard have explained, the State is not a productive organization. To the contrary, it seizes property from the productive members of society. Given this understanding, we can see that the objection against Ron Paul fails completely. His proposals are all efforts to curtail the exactions of the State, not to continue or extend them. The objectors count both political supporters and opponents of State power as ‘statists.' Apparently, by participating in the electoral process, regardless of the program one advocates, one incurs some sort of pollution."
In my view, this is definitive; David has rendered the proponents of this view figuratively lying on the ground on their backs. But, as I am a firm believer of kicking people in the crotch when they are down, let me add the following:
If it is wrong to be part of a criminal gang calling itself the state (Spooner), it is not also improper to cooperate with it in any way; to avail oneself of its benefits, lest one give one's imprimatur to this evil institution? If so, then it would be impermissible on libertarian grounds to become an employee of the government. Dr. Paul's actions are therefore incompatible with our libertarian principles not only for running for President, but also for being a (10-term) Congressman. I, too, am not without guilt in this regard. Previously, I taught at (was an employee of) a state university. At present, I am employed by a private university, but one that accepts money from the government. But more: all of us, me, Ron, every last one of the anarcho-capitalists who object to his candidacy on this ground, use the sidewalks for walking, the streets and roads for driving, U.S. currency for making purchases, post letters with the U.S. postal service, visit state libraries, museums, etc. It ill behooves so-called libertarian anarchists, who do not fully understand either of these two philosophies, to object to Ron Paul's actions, which are in this one way indistinguishable from their own.
The correct libertarian anarchist position, as I see matters, is that the state is of course evil. Therefore, anyone who decreases its power is on the side of the angels. Mr. Paul certainly fits this bill; his critics do not, no matter how tightly they wrap themselves in the black flag.
Let me try to make this point in another way. Suppose a slave master allows his slaves to choose between Overseer Goody, who has a very light and judicious touch with the whip, and Overseer Baddy, who never met a bloody back he didn't like. The slaves take up the master on his offer, and vote for Goody. Are they thereby demonstrating support for slavery, for goodness sakes? No; they are only registering a preference for Goody over Baddy. Even Spooner, who might be considered patron saint of this viewpoint, regarded voting, and, presumably, holding public office, as a defensive, not an invasive, act.
III. Then there are those libertarians who oppose Congressman Paul's stance on immigration and abortion.
(Full disclosure here: I agree with the critics, not with Ron, on these two matters. However, I do not at all conclude from this fact that Dr. Paul is unworthy of my support. Very much to the contrary, I yield to no man as far as enthusiasm for his candidacy is concerned.)
We libertarians are a fractious bunch. What else do you expect from a group of very bright, committed and opinionated people? We cannot and do not all agree with one another on all germane issues. Every dog should get at least one bite. Or, to mix metaphors, organizing libertarians is like herding cats. However, there are issues, and then there are issues. Now, if Ron Paul were to support drug prohibition, or the War on Iraq, or the Fed, or public education, even I would be disconcerted, and mightily so. Why? Because these are as near to settled issues amongst libertarians as any issues can be.
However, immigration and abortion are highly unsettled issues in our community. I regard Murray Rothbard, Hans Hermann Hoppe and Stephan Kinsella as three of the most gifted libertarian theoreticians that have ever graced our movement. All three disagree with me and Paul's critics on these two matters. As I stated here, when expert libertarian philosophers disagree with each other, it is a bit much to declare either side anti- or non-libertarian. It is therefore highly improper to castigate Dr. Paul for taking a position on immigration and abortion incompatible with libertarianism, no matter how much, nor how fervently, we disagree with Paul, Hoppe, Rothbard and Kinsella on these two issues, as I do.
Perhaps an analogy may be of use in this context. When physicists are not of one mind on a problem (is matter a wave or a particle) it is altogether too harsh to castigate an engineer from taking either side. When doctors cannot agree on a diagnosis, nurses cannot be expected to come to an unambiguous conclusion either. When economists cannot agree to an assessment of the business cycle, then bankers cannot be held responsible. I go further: when experts in any field are at hammer and tongs with each other, then laymen are free to take any position on the issue, without being called down for it as in violation of principles. Well, libertarian theoreticians are the experts on the niceties of free enterprise and capitalism. Libertarian politicians are but laymen; they are charged, merely, with implementing the policies implied by private property rights and the non-aggression axiom. Thus, it is exceedingly unfair to criticize Congressman Paul for taking an "unlibertarian" position on immigration and abortion: these are unsettled issues among the ranks of the experts.
IV. Roderick Long's Randy Barnett challenge
This philosopher states: "Imagine, for example, that instead of Ron Paul it's Randy Barnett who's running for President. Paul and Barnett have a lot in common; they're both fairly thoroughgoing libertarians, they're both enthusiasts for the Constitution, and they both take some positions that many libertarians regard as deviations.
"… Yet the argument that they have offered on behalf of Paul would seem to apply equally well to Barnett: ‘Even if you think Barnett is wrong on some particular issues, he's still far, far more libertarian than any of the other candidates, so why not support him?'"
But this attempt to cram Randy Barnett down the throats of those of us who support Ron Paul despite his deviations, fails.
There are several reasons here. First, as stated above, immigration and abortion are unsettled issues amongst libertarians. We have to be able to tolerate some degree of uncertainty, of ambiguity, in our perspective. I defy Roderick Long or anyone else for that matter to cite acknowledged leaders of our intellectual movement, such as Rothbard, Hoppe and Kinsella, who favor the U.S. role in the Iraq war.
Second, the issue of what is a threat, what is coercion, is very central to libertarianism, and relatively straightforward. According to that old joke, if you can't tell the difference between a living room and a bathroom, then "don't come to my house." If you can't tell the difference between aggression and defense, then don't get into political economy. Randy Barnett fails this test dismally, while Ron Paul passes with flying colors. Indeed, to place the two of them in the same sentence in this regard is highly problematic. What can we say about anyone who seriously maintains that the U.S. invasion is justified on grounds of defense against attack from Iraqis? At the very least, it cannot be seriously maintained that they are libertarians at all in any meaningful sense.
In sharp contrast, abortion and immigration are highly complex issues, as the voluminous scholarly literature on them eloquently attests. Nor are they at all at the very core of our libertarian philosophy; rather, they are implications of it.
Long is absolutely correct in claiming that those of us who support Ron Paul "owe" scholars such as he "an explanation of why the two cases differ." But I think we have herein supplied it.
V. Ron has no chance; he is not a serious candidate.
The mainstream media (MSM) which has somehow been put in charge of determining such matters, claims that Ron Paul has no chance of being elected. Therefore, support for him constitutes a "wasted vote." And we should believe this? The MSM has a reputation for fair dealing? They are unbiased? The editorial section of the New York Times is the fountainhead of wisdom, good sense, justice and economic sophistication?
Au contraire. The polls are replete with error. They focus on people with, of all things, land-based telephones. They seek the opinion of those who voted in previous republican primaries. They do not even try to measure the intensity with which voters regard candidates. Needless to say, all of these phenomena underestimate Congressman Paul's true chances of winning.
One problem with the polls is that the American electorate is still not fully familiar with Congressman Paul. When this changes, then watch out. For he is the only candidate on the Republican side to oppose the U.S. intervention in Iraq (the only Democrats who agree with Ron on this are Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel), a viewpoint held by a majority of the American people. And this is not a mere matter of who is "winning" over there. No, it goes much deeper than that. The voters are heartily sick of the U.S. as the policeman of the world, with its hundreds of foreign military bases.
Moreover, buying into this doctrine is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if we acquiesce in it to a sufficient degree, it will thereby be rendered true to that extent. It is a recipe for disaster, in other words. No, we must reject this counsel of defeatism. We must realize that Ron's chances depend upon us: our commitment, our monetary contributions, our willingness to publish in his behalf, to pound the pavements, to "be clean for Ron."
As well, the people making this prediction have no great past record for accuracy. Why should we believe them? They may be sure that Dr. Paul will not win, but they have not the foggiest notion of who will emerge victorious. The nomination for the Republican Party this time around is in a state of flux. There are at least six candidates who are front-runners: Giuliani, Romney, Huckabee, Thompson, McCain and Paul. Is it not suspicious that the pundits full well know that the latter cannot win, but cannot name the victor with any certainty at all?
Justin Raimondo quite properly rejects this argument. In his view, the conventional wisdom that rejects Ron Paul as a serious candidate has been wrong before; spectacularly so. Why should we give them credence now? They erred on weapons of mass destruction; with regard to the "welcome" we would receive as we invaded Iraq. None of them predicted the rise of Obama, the fall of Hillary, the rise of Huckabee, the fall of Fred Thompson. With experts like these…
So far, I have considered, and rejected, what I consider serious arguments against Dr. Paul's candidacy for president. I do not agree with them, but I acknowledge they are reasonable, coherent. I now move to a series of objections I do not at all regard in this way. Rather, they are silly, or vicious, or irresponsible or all of the above.
VI. Ron isn't cool
It pains me to even have to mention this "argument," but there are actually people out there who oppose Dr. Paul because of his dress, his behavior, his demeanor, his personal life style.
What are the specifics? According to one Brink Lindsay of the Cato Institute:
"Though Paul defines himself as a libertarian and attributes the dedication of his young supporters to libertarian positions — such as allowing people to opt out of Social Security and Medicare — many libertarian pundits say Paul isn't in sync with younger, more ‘modern' libertarians.
"‘He's sort of an old-style, old-right libertarian candidate,' explained Brink Lindsey, a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute. Paul departs from younger libertarians with his opposition to abortion rights and free trade agreements, for example, Lindsey said."
This sort of trash has been forcefully taken to task by several libertarians. Justin Raimondo, states:
"What Lindsay, who enthusiastically supported the Iraq war, doesn't say — or isn't quoted as saying — is that he hates Paul's old right and quintessentially libertarian opposition to our foreign policy of global interventionism. Senor Lindsay and his fellow ‘modern' libertarians have made their peace with the Empire. As long as they can take drugs, abort fetuses, … he and his Beltway buddies have no problem with the US rampaging over half the earth, regime-changing and taking out ‘rogue' states at will. As long as it's a ‘free market' empire, they're all in favor of it."
And Tom DiLorenzo also gives this nonsense the back of his hand:
"But the ‘Beltway liberventionists' tend to be totalitarian-minded and childishly intolerant of this live-and-let-live philosophy. They display a venomous hatred toward those of us who choose to largely ignore these issues but would never stand in the way of anyone who wanted to pursue them. They insist that all libertarians be champions of feminism, gay rights, and, apparently, even health club membership. They remind me of the campus leftists who keep informing me that I must not only tolerate all possible varieties of sexual diversity but ‘celebrate' it. (‘Celebrate Diversity' has been the multiculturalist credo of higher education for about 15 years now)."
VII. Fred Thompson is the real libertarian candidate
I had better buttress this with more than just a few citations. Otherwise no real libertarian would for a moment believe me when I say I am not making this up.
Here is Cato's Michael Tanner:
"With former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson creeping ever closer to a formal announcement that he will run for president, it is worth asking whether he is the genuine small-government conservative that has been missing from the top tier of the Republican field (with all due apologies to Ron Paul). A preliminary look at his record suggests that while he is not quite the second coming of Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan, he may be much better on most issues than the alternatives.
"During his eight years in the Senate, Thompson had a solid record as a fiscal conservative. The National Taxpayers Union gives him the third highest marks of any candidate (trailing only Paul and Rep. Tom Tancredo). While he sponsored or cosponsored legislation over the course of his career that would have resulted in a net increase in federal spending of $3.1 billion, that is the smallest increase among the contenders. (By comparison, John McCain would have increased spending by $36.9 billion). He generally shared McCain's opposition to pork barrel spending and earmarks, and voted against the 2002 farm bill. He voted for the Bush tax cuts and has generally been solid in support of tax reduction.
"He has been a consistent supporter of entitlement reform, voting to means-test Medicare and supporting personal accounts for Social Security.
"His record on free trade is solid. In the past he has been supportive of comprehensive immigration reform, but has been critical of the current bill, shifting toward a ‘control the borders first' position. Still, he has not been Tancredo-like in his anti-immigration statements.
"On federalism, there may be no better candidate. His Senate record is replete with examples of his being the lone opponent of legislation that he thought undercut federalist principles. He took this position even on legislation that was otherwise supported by conservatives. He opposes federal action to prohibit gay marriage on federalist grounds, although he supports state bans. One blight on this record is his vote in favor of No Child Left Behind."
Here is Michael Tanner again:
"The Republican debate in California last night showed that the field of candidates still lacks a Reagan-style small-government conservative among the top tier of candidates. The candidates invoked Reagan's name at least 19 times, but one had to go all the way down to Rep. Ron Paul's quixotic campaign before someone reflected Reagan's commitment to limited government. None of the major candidates made a serious call to limit the size, scope, and power of government. While they talked about cutting spending in the abstract, none of them could identify a single government program they would eliminate. On the other hand, from alternative fuels to a national ID card to government regulation of health care, they seemed all too happy to embrace bigger government.
"‘There's still a long way to go,' Tanner concludes, ‘before any of these candidates can lay claim to the Reagan legacy.'"
But Justin Raimondo is having none of this. He states:
"Never mind that the Reagan administration's commitment to limited government was purely rhetorical, and that it never did anything to actually roll back the state: after all, the Catoites live and work in Washington, D.C., where partisan myths are sonorously uttered and routinely believed. However, this business about "all the way down" clearly denotes the attitude that Rep. Paul is beneath notice, and certainly doesn't deserve to be taken seriously by the notoriously haughty Deep Thinkers over at Cato. (Say, aren't these the same folks who are now telling us that twenty-five years of libertarian activism and scholarship have led to the growth of government, and ‘this isn't as bad as it seems'?)"
Here is a horror from Chris Edwards, another Cato-ite, entitled "Frederalism":
"What about presidential candidate Ron Paul? Paul is certainly a strong believer in the 10th Amendment, but he has been mainly occupied by the war in Iraq and hasn't focused his campaign on cutting domestic spending.
"That's why I'm pleased that Fred Thompson has thrown his hat into the ring. Thompson has been talking and writing about his belief in federalism. In a recent speech, he argued that ‘centralized government is not the solution to all our problems...this was among the great insights of 1787, and it is just as vital in 2007.'"
But Tom DiLorenzo's rejection of this arrant nonsense is definitive. According to DiLorenzo, in his essay, Phony Federalism: "Thompson supports the war in Iraq and almost all of the gross civil liberties abuses championed by his fellow neocons. But he has included in his political rhetoric a few statements about cutting government spending, and that is apparently enough to generate great enthusiasm for him at Cato."
Nor is DiLorenzo finished with Edwards and Cato: "The Cato Institute, on the other hand, is known for championing the cause of giving even more power to the federal judiciary under the mistaken belief that our black-robed deities can somehow be transformed into libertarians (like Fred Thompson, for instance?! Or perhaps Iraq war/Bush regime apologist Randy Barnett?). Roger Pilon is the best-known Cato scholar who has made this argument, and the Institute has published several books by Clint Bolick that make the same case for giving more power to the central government's judiciary. This is how to return to federalism?"
December 27, 2007
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