In Defense of Ron Paul, Part One: A Reply to Noam Chomsky

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Google the words “Ron Paul” in any combination with buzzwords like racist, sexist, fascist, nazi, homophobe, xenophobe, nationalist, isolationist, anti-Semite and other such bromides and one will be directed to a wide assortment of left-leaning websites, blogs and discussion forums where these canards are loosely and thoughtlessly tossed at Dr. Paul. Much of this simply reflects juvenile and anti-intellectual sensibilities that need not be taken seriously. However, there are others on the Left, including genuinely thoughtful and intelligent people, who have also raised a variety of objections to Ron Paul’s candidacy. Some of this does indeed merit a response.

Foremost among those on the Left who have attacked Ron Paul’s positions is Professor Noam Chomsky of MIT, a world-renowned linguist and political dissident, and arguably the most prominent and influential leftist intellectual in the United States, if not the world. In many ways, I count myself as a “Chomskyite," as I am heavily influenced by the same classical anarchist tradition as the distinguished professor, and his writings on US foreign policy and the demonstrated malevolence of the US ruling class were pivotal in my early intellectual development. Dr. Chomsky recently voiced some criticisms of Ron Paul that are fairly typical of what an intelligent leftist would offer, so there is likely no better response to such critics than to confront Chomsky’s objections one by one. Here goes:

Chomsky: “Suppose someone facing starvation accepts a contract with General Electric that requires him to work 12 hours a day locked into a factory with no health-safety regulations, no security, no benefits, etc. And the person accepts it because the alternative is that his children will starve. Fortunately, that form of savagery was overcome by democratic politics long ago. Should all of those victories for poor and working people be dismantled, as we enter into a period of private tyranny (with contracts defended by law enforcement)? Not my cup of tea.”

Chomsky: “Dismantling of big government" sounds like a nice phrase. What does it mean? Does it mean that corporations go out of existence, because there will no longer be any guarantee of limited liability? Does it mean that all health, safety, workers rights, etc., go out the window because they were instituted by public pressures implemented through government, the only component of the governing system that is at least to some extent accountable to the public (corporations are unaccountable, apart from generally weak regulatory apparatus)? Does it mean that the economy should collapse, because basic R&D is typically publicly funded — like what we're now using, computers and the internet? Should we eliminate roads, schools, public transportation, environmental regulation,….? Does it mean that we should be ruled by private tyrannies with no accountability to the general public, while all democratic forms are tossed out the window? Quite a few questions arise.”

While I certainly disagree with the view of Professor Chomsky, who once remarked “I’d like to see the power of the federal government increased," that a massive, centralized public sector of the kind he endorses is compatible with any kind of libertarianism worthy of the name, I do share his concerns about abuses of private power and economic collapse. And I also think far too many libertarians fail to spend sufficient energy attacking the corporate state and corporate welfare with the same energy they attack social welfare. After all, feudalism wasn’t Marxism, but it wasn’t libertarianism either. But from where does the most serious danger of economic failure of the kind Chomsky rightfully dreads originate? The imminent danger to the US economy at present comes not from cutbacks in social welfare programs or deregulation of the ostensibly private sector but from an extraordinarily reckless set of economic policies that combine currency devaluation, trade deficits, fiscal extravagance, lopsided mercantilist trade agreements, massive importation of cheap immigrant labor and military adventurism. It is these things that will result in the reduction of the status of American workers to that of Third World laborers if such policies continued to reign unchecked. It is Ron Paul who stands against such policies with more zeal and expertise than all of his Democratic and Republican rivals put together.

One who is familiar with the works of James Bovard might be inclined to dispute Chomsky’s description of federal regulatory bureaucracies as “weak," yet it does not necessarily follow that one should want to go without schools, roads, clean air, or job safety. But where in the US Constitution or in any branch of libertarian or anarchist theory itself is there any support for the idea that such things should be provided for by the US federal government? And is it not true that such concerns as environmentalism and social welfare are essentially luxuries that only a certain level of economic development can support (which is one reason they are fairly non-existent in “underdeveloped” countries), and will be rendered superfluous in the event of the kind of economic failure Chomsky rightfully fears? Is it not more fitting with both American political traditions and the broad array of anarchist and libertarian traditions for such things to be provided by states, localities, regions, and communities or by voluntary associations, mutual aid societies, labor unions, guilds, professional organizations, churches, benevolence societies, philanthropies, cooperatives, collectives, communes, kibbutzes, clubs, neighborhoods, families and other institutions organized independently of the state? Whatever kind of economic arrangements one favors, who says these have to be run or supported by the state? Would not public lands, parks, wildlife preserves and the like be better cared for in the hands of authentic conservation organizations rather than the US government?

Chomksy: “There are huge differences between workers and owners. Owners can fire and intimidate workers, not conversely. Just for starters. Putting them on a par is effectively supporting the rule of owners over workers, with the support of state power — itself largely under owner control, given concentration of resources.”

But, Dr. Chomksy, you’ve written over and over again that the American corporate system rests on state interventionism (state-capitalism) rather than the separation of economy and state favored by libertarians like Ron Paul. As many have observed, the unbalanced nature of the employer-employee relationship rests on state privilege for business elites, not on any sort of free enterprise worthy of the label. Why maintain this contradictory and seemingly irrational attachment to statism in the name of economic justice?

Chomsky: “There's a lot more. Take Social Security. If he means what he says literally, then widows, orphans, the disabled who didn't themselves pay into Social Security should not benefit (or of course those awful illegal aliens). His claims about SS being "broken" are just false. He also wants to dismantle it, by undermining the social bonds on which it is based — the real meaning of offering younger workers other options, instead of having them pay for those who are retired, on the basis of a communal decision based on the principle that we should have concern for others in need.”

Ron Paul has actually recognized the debt of the federal government to expectant pensioners. Here’s what he has actually said:

(Interviewer) Dr. Paul, what about Social Security?

(RP) Well the constitution does not authorize the federal government to run a pension program but it has made promises and it has taken money for those promises so the federal government owes a debt although the federal program still must end. (Interviewer) Dr. Paul, how would you pay the debt?

(RP) Well first I would pass social security back to the states as well as the bond debt in exchange for turning most all federal assets over to the states including newly issued fees on the federal reserve system.

(Interviewer) Dr. Paul, I though you wanted to do away with the Federal Reserve?

(RP) Well, I would disconnect it from the federal government except to back the existing federal reserve notes with the amount of gold at Fort Knox and charge a small federal banking fee on every corporate transaction. At present there is around 1 quadtrillion dollars in transactions per year, the vast majority of them banking, foreign currency trading, interest rate swaps and other derivatives, plus institutional stock, bond and corporate real estate deals, so a fee of around one tenth of one percent on corporate transactions should be enough to cover the bond and social security debt plus the states can fill in any short falls.

(Interviewer) Dr. Paul, FX transaction cost is much lower than 0.1% on the vast majority of trades so won’t the fee reduce most of that trading?

(RP) I suppose so, so corporate transactions are reduced by as much as 90% (which is not likely) down to 100 trillion a year then you could increase the fee to 1% which is still pretty low or you might take a note from the supply siders by keeping the fee lower than 1% to boost transactions and bring in more revenue to cover the federal debt.

Chomsky: “He wants people to be able to run around freely with assault rifles, on the basis of a distorted reading of the Second Amendment (and while we're at it, why not abolish the whole raft of constitutional provisions and amendments, since they were all enacted in ways he opposes?).”

This is simply slanderous. No American political figure has been more outspoken and consistent in the defense of the constitutional separation of powers and the Bill of Rights, including, yes, the Second Amendment, than Dr. Paul. Why on earth would a self-proclaimed “anarchist” endorse firearms prohibition, of all things? Come on, Noam, what about your often stated admiration for the anarchist militias who lead the early resistance to the Francistas during the Spanish Civil War? You do know that those anarchists had guns, don’t you? And as an ethnic Jew and radical leftist, perhaps you should pay more attention to the research gathered by the Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership demonstrating how the Weimar Republic’s civilian disarmament laws left the German public defenseless against the persecution policies of the subsequent Nazi regime.

Chomksy: “He is proposing a form of ultra-nationalism, in which we are concerned solely with our preserving our own wealth and extraordinary advantages, getting out of the UN, rejecting any international prosecution of US criminals (for aggressive war, for example), etc. Apart from being next to meaningless, the idea is morally unacceptable, in my view.”

Oh, goodness, no, not “nationalism”! Perhaps we should forget about nations altogether and simply formalize the UN as a world state once and for all, where the Middle Eastern sheikdoms and mullahocracies, the Chinese Communist Party, and African kleptocracies can all have an equal voice in how we in the West do things. Wouldn’t that be a boon for “democracy and human rights”? Does Dr. Chomsky not realize that the UN is a mere front for major power imperialism and has been ever since it was established? Of what value has the UN been in reining in those two nations Chomsky criticizes most, the United States and Israel? Does he think there is even a remote chance those responsible for the Iraq war will ever end up in the dock in The Hague? Perhaps the US should simply mind its own business, as Ron Paul suggests, playing the role of neither world policemen nor world dictator nor world sugar daddy. And since when is anarchism synonymous with internationalism? Proudhon was a French patriot. Bakunin was a pan-Slavic nationalist. Kropotkin was a Russian patriot who (unfortunately) backed the czarist regime against Kaiser Wilhelm. Gustav Landauer was a German anarcho-nationalist who considered himself first a German, then a Bavarian, then a Jew. Voltairine De Cleyre wrote of the compatibility between anarchism and American traditions, as did Benjamin R. Tucker. How is internationalism and, by extension, world government, compatible with the radical political and economic decentralization favored by traditional anarchists?

Chomsky (in response to the question of what role “private property” and “ownership” will play in his version of “libertarianism”): “That would have to be worked out by free communities, and of course it is impossible to respond to what I would prefer in abstraction from circumstances, which make a great deal of difference, obviously.”

Some of my readers will disagree, but I would concur with Professor Chomsky that different kinds of economic institutions and perhaps even different kinds of property systems could exist within the framework of “free communities." But how are these “free communities” ever going to come into being in the first place if the feds impose a “one size fits all” approach on everyone everywhere, perhaps even the entire world by means of the UN, as Chomsky implies they should? Chomsky even goes so far as to say he would reject Ron Paul’s candidacy even if he ran for the Presidency against Madame Hillary. Say it ain’t so, Noam! Ron Paul, a man of peace, integrity and liberty is somehow no more acceptable than a cutthroat careerist who kow-tows to the foreign policy elite, the Israel lobby, and the warmongering neoconservative freaks, who voted to authorize the Iraq war, and who supports the police and surveillance state? What’s up, Noam? Is limited and decentralized government, respect for private property, the Second Amendment, and “isolationism” really THAT bad?

Professor Chomsky has been among the most outspoken critics of US imperialism and its devastating consequences for many parts of the world, particularly the underdeveloped regions. It is Ron Paul who aims to shut down the US empire and end the kinds of interventions that produced the atrocities in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central America and elsewhere that Chomsky rightfully denounces. Chomsky is arguably the very best the Left has to offer. But if this is the best…Ugh! Perhaps the Left is in need of new intellectual and political leadership. Perhaps a good place to start looking would be the campaign of Dr. Ron Paul.

December 28, 2007