• Ron Paul as Prophet

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    Ah!
    Dull witted mortal,
    if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no longer Fortune.
    ~ Boethius

    Those who fancy
    themselves part of what Albert J. Nock called "the remnant,"
    i.e., the die-hard advocates of natural rights and civilized values,
    may sense, as this winter campaign stretches on and the spring of
    victory seems to recede, a feeling that it has all been in vain.
    Indeed, it would have been in vain if either we or our candidate
    had embarked on a campaign for political plunder, rather than what
    I prefer to call a "prophetic pantomime." The remnant
    may remain firm in its anti-political creed…but it has been a long
    season of acting out the part of men and women hungry for the spoils
    of victory. Even so, we should remind ourselves that it was never
    a game of win or loose, it was a game of speaking truth to power…which
    is more of a prophetic than a political function. Now it's perfectly
    understandable that many people (and by no means just the fans of
    Senator Obama) would warm to the advent of a "great" president.
    But Ron Paul supporters wouldn't want the good doctor to be quite
    as "great" as a Teddy Roosevelt, or even a Franklin Pierce,
    a William Henry Harrison, a Millard Fillmore or a Rutherford Hayes.
    I'm not sure how Thomas Carlyle would have answered Tina Turner's
    assertion that "we don't need another hero" but the Scottish
    curmudgeon at least had the perspicacity to point out that heroism
    comes in a variety of forms, some of them less dangerous to life
    and limb than others. For example if one consults the Bible one
    will find a distinction between the office of a seer and of a king,
    the latter being what today we would call a "politician,"
    with some not too subtle hints that the former is more reputable
    than the latter. Note, in this regard, that Samuel usually comes
    off in a better light than David.

    And closer
    to home, hasn't America had far greater non-presidents than presidents?
    Perhaps the archetypal non-president was William Jennings Bryan,
    the crusher of youthful Vachel Lindsay's political hopes, who whines,

    Defeat of
    the alfalfa and the Mariposa lily.
    Defeat of the Pacific and the long Mississippi.
    Defeat of the young by the old and the silly.
    Defeat of tornadoes by the poison vats supreme.
    Defeat of my boyhood, defeat of my dream.

    Be that as
    it may, reading between the lines of his work, it's curious that
    Lindsay's self-pitying effusions don't carry conviction, for the
    poem gives ample testimony to the enduring power of his hero, Bryan
    the prophet who overshadows and outlives Bryan the president-manqué.

    And Bryan
    took the platform.
    And he was introduced.
    And he lifted his hand
    And cast a new spell.
    Progressive silence fell
    In Springfield,
    In Illinois,
    Around the world.

    For better
    or worse (and I'm no Bryan fan) much of the "progressivism"
    of Bryan's 1896 presidential campaign became prophetic of what America
    would become in the 20th century. His "cross of
    gold" speech was a classic example of speaking truth to power.
    Today of course it is an endless torrent of paper and Matrix-like
    information bytes which crucify mankind, but we can't be too hard
    on old Bryan for not foreseeing that, for as I will explain, foresight
    is not the primary characteristic of prophecy. And moreover, we
    have our own political prophet, Dr. Ron Paul. Rather, we must come
    to grips with the everlasting difficulty of understanding the prophetic
    (as opposed to the political) modality of power, which is simply
    a problem of patience, of being able to endure the interval between
    the "speaking truth" and the "to power."

    On the other
    hand, why would anyone want to pin the label "prophet"
    on a nice guy like Ron Paul, a sobriquet which, possibly second
    to "politician" is the most despised job category (or
    is that Job category) on earth? It all depends what one means by
    a prophet, so let me offer, once and for all, a handy all-purpose
    definition: A prophet is a person who sees some higher reality
    which is invisible to others. This higher reality doesn't have
    to be something complicated or metaphysical, it could be a moral
    principle which is so basic that most people take it for granted,
    and hence render it invisible. Ron Paul, when debating with his
    so-called peers in the Republican primary debates seemed to dwell
    in a world of entirely different premises. It wasn't just that Dr.
    Paul and his antagonists were disagreeing on the issues, which of
    course they were, but more fundamentally, Dr. Paul was using an
    entirely different "tool kit" from the mental "tool
    kit" (or absence thereof) used by his opponents. His antagonists
    were accustomed to talking about facts on the ground, facts in a
    constant state of flux, whereas Ron Paul consistently recurred to
    first principles. Is there any wonder that there was no meeting
    of minds? Even if the debates had been broadcast in a fair manner,
    which they weren't, there could have been no communication between
    minds habituated to operating along different dimensions.

    Which brings
    us to another uncomfortable fact: prophets are generally considered
    to be mad by the vast majority of their contemporaries. Not that
    even madness itself should be considered without redeeming value.
    After all, one of the charms of American culture is that the national
    landscape is periodically enlivened by the outburst of some joyous
    madness, either sacred or profane. From the ecstasies of native
    shamans to awakenings in Pentecostal tents, to hot jazz and hotter
    rock n' roll…an occasional delirium has been known to soothe the
    collective soul. No, it is not madness per se which deserves
    censure, for there is a salutary ecstasy, as well as a calculating,
    sober tenor of mind which leads to perdition. And for this latter
    reason I am not willing to grant the title of "prophet"
    to divines who spin future military history from the margins of
    their Schofield Bibles, or to kabbalistic rabbis whose angels have
    told them to exodus the Labor for the Likud. These people might
    be prognosticators but they certainly aren't prophets in the true
    sense.

    The problem
    with all prognosticators, whether they speak in the language of
    religion or some warmed-over Marxian dialectic, is that they are
    simply looking down the barrel of a gun called "the future."
    If they are wrong they loseand we have been made fools of, and
    if they are right we all loose, for it means that they have succeeded
    in locking the rest of us into their own tunnel vision, a nightmare
    in which the future is merely an exaggerated form of the present.
    On the contrary, true prophecy should increase the indeterminacy
    of events yet to come, stirring up the crucible of time using novel
    insights into timeless principles. This is the sine qua non
    of a true prophet.

    Yet it
    is proverbial that the lying prognosticator is less likely to be
    accused of insanity than the true prophet, for the former appeals
    to prejudice and probabilities, while words of the latter refer
    to values which are not only intangible to the senses but often
    difficult for the mind to grasp. This is classically true of metaphysical
    prophecy, as in the numerousand inexplicable "wheels"
    and "eyes" and "feet" of Ezekiel's visions.
    It also manifests itself in the world of art, for example in the
    incomprehensible visions of surrealism, which provoked Salvador
    Dali's famous quip that "the only difference between a madman
    and me is that I'm not mad!" But oddest of all is that this
    disjunction between ordinary and prophetic perception should even
    hold true in the seemingly mundane realms of public ethics and political
    economy. Yet it apparently does, as recent events have shown. It
    is clear that a Ron Paul, and the remnant that are able to follow
    his mind, are capable of "seeing" freedom and justice
    in a manner which is at radical variance from that of the other
    candidates and the general electorate.

    Now given
    the assumption that the prophet in question is indeed a true prophet,
    we must proceed by turning conventional wisdom on its head. From
    this vantage point only the prophet is sane! Conversely, insanity
    can be seen as normative, with the exception of the remnant who
    can follow prophet's logic. Hence, to the mad majority the words
    and the behavior of the prophet seem more than a little "off."
    The primary reason for this is that the prophet is using an entirely
    different mental "tool kit" (which philosophers, with
    their penchant for Greek jargon, term an organon). While
    the multitude is hypnotized by the flow of palpable events, the
    prophet lifts his or her face up to "heaven"…a vertical
    dimension of intangible values and principles. This transcendentalism
    elicits a common response from the flatlanders, a response which
    all members of the remnant will instantly recognize: the characteristic
    rolling of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulders, and a studious avoidance
    of any serious communication.

    But it
    gets worse, for there is a corollary factor which confirms the majority
    in its opinion of the prophet's madness. One must keep in mind that
    the prophet, as the emissary of a higher truth, is not free to desist
    from communicating the message. Seeing that mere words fail to move
    the majority, increasingly dramatic modalities of expression must
    be resorted to. For example Jeremiah, that patron saint of all sandwich-men
    and placard bearers, roamed the streets of Jerusalem with a yoke
    around his neck, warning of a Babylonian captivity. Our own captivity
    to an increasingly out-of-control world order, an order based on
    militarism, administrative edict, and fiscal legerdemain has evolved
    so insidiously "within the form" of traditional institutions,
    that it is as invisible to us as the impending captivity of Israel
    was to Jeremiah's contemporaries. Ron Paul's response to this emergency
    has been, like that of Jeremiah, one of prophetic pantomime. The
    good doctor has put himself forward as candidate for emperor! In
    doing so he has lost the sympathy of a few self-righteous anarchists,
    caused a goodly number of his followers to mistake him for a "messiah,"
    and confirmed the majority in their opinion of his eccentricity.
    Of course all of these mistaken, though perfectly predictable, reactions
    have been elicited through the old prophetic trick of stirring up
    the pot of public opinion with the unexpected. Indeed, nobody expected
    Ron Paul to get as far, in as short a time, as he has managed to
    do. It has created more than anxiety in establishment circles…it
    has created indeterminacy.

    One may
    bewail the fact that Congressman Paul is unlikely to ascend to the
    imperial purple. But would any action less dramatic have brought
    the remnant together, given it a voice, and started it off on the
    road, not to the future, but to a possible time when people are
    ready and sickened of our present future?

    March
    3, 2008

    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
    .

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