Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Ron Paul Revolution – A Postmortem (& Prescription)

Now that the Ron Paul revolution is effectively over, the time has come for a levelheaded assessment of the pluses and minuses of the single largest movement that modern libertarianism has ever engaged in.

Any rational approach to life must seek objective answers to puzzling questions – we must steadfastly refuse to make up answers, but rather humbly look for them in the evidence.

Now that the Ron Paul revolution has failed in its stated objective – to increase political liberty by getting Ron Paul elected president – our great temptation will be to either make up answers as to why, or rewrite history by substituting another objective.

However, we owe it to the principles of liberty – if not truth – to reject easy or pat answers, but rather examine the root causes of such an enormous failure, so that we can do better next time.

The Premises

To begin, we must examine the central premises held by Ron Paul supporters.

In general, the basic beliefs were these:

1. Ron Paul is the most credible candidate that libertarianism has to offer.

2. The general electorate will respond to Ron Paul’s message of liberty.

3. Ron Paul can be elected.

4. If Ron Paul is elected, political liberty will increase substantially.

All of the above beliefs support the core approach, which is that political activism can achieve liberty – and also, for many Ron Paul supporters, only political activism can ever achieve liberty.

In this essay, we will have a look at the first two points, since the last two are immaterial.

1. Ron Paul is the most credible candidate that libertarianism has to offer.

In many ways, I believe that this is entirely true. Ron Paul is a doctor, a multi-term congressman with military experience, and a member of the Republican Party. It is inconceivable that a candidate even remotely as credible can arise over the next generation or so. Even if some magic genius exists somewhere in the party at the moment, it will take him decades to accumulate the same level of experience and credibility as Ron Paul.

This is a central reason why the emotions surrounding the Ron Paul candidacy were so volatile. In our hearts, we all knew that if it wasn’t going to be Ron Paul, it just wasn’t going to happen. This is why so many libertarians and minarchists threw themselves heart and soul into his campaign, donating millions of dollars and countless hours to spreading the word about the Ron Paul revolution. Furthermore, since as credible a candidate is unlikely to arise within the next generation, if Ron Paul did not succeed, most of his supporters would not live to see any of the real freedoms that they believed could be achieved through political success. Finally, it seems highly unlikely that the existing political and financial system can possibly last for another generation – thus it truly was “Ron Paul or bust!”

In addition to his political and medical credibility, Ron Paul is a Christian – a prerequisite for participation in American politics – as well as being hostile towards illegal immigrants, which is also required. He is not a pacifist, but rather is pro-military – again, a required position.

The tens of millions of dollars raised by Ron Paul is also highly unlikely to be replicated any time soon. The fervor which accompanied his campaign will be almost impossible to replicate in the future – particularly since a far less credible candidate will doubtless be at the helm.

2. The general electorate will respond to Ron Paul’s message of liberty.

This turned out to be entirely false. Ron Paul never polled more than a few percentage points at any time – and these poll numbers were entirely mirrored by the actual votes that he received in the primaries. The famed “Internet polls” that indicated far greater support turned out to be falsified after all.

This is essential information for us to process. The communication of libertarian values has always been one of the greatest challenges of the movement. It is essential to remember not only that Ron Paul had unprecedented access to the mainstream media, but also that the medium of the Internet was available in full force for the first time in history. Given the degree that Ron Paul supporters used this medium to spread the message, the fact that the message failed to get through is highly significant.

This indicates that the barriers to the general acceptance of libertarian values are far greater than is generally supposed. If we look back at the methods of communication available to von Mises or Rothbard – limited print books, small classrooms and specialized magazines – and compare those to the instantaneous and universal Internet email/broadcast options available today, I think that it is safe to say that additional methods of communication will not solve the problem.

Of course, the additional mediums available to Ron Paul supporters are also available to every other candidate’s supporters, and thus cannot be considered any kind of key differentiator.

The great danger of post-Ron Paul libertarianism is that we will simply make up answers as to why the message failed to resonate rather than examine the facts. We can blame the mainstream media, the apathy of the general electorate or traitorous intellectuals all we like, but that will not move us one step closer to actually achieving our goals of political liberty.

Revolution?

In my view, it is not accurate to view Ron Paul’s candidacy as a revolution, but rather as a mystical devolution. The desire to return to the Constitution is really the desire to return to American political institutions as they stood in the early 19th century. (Sans slavery, of course – and with rights for women and children, but without unrestricted immigration – okay, it’s a bit of a mishmash, but that’s the general idea.)

In other words, the goal was to return to the past, and restrict the US government to the size and role mandated in the original Constitution. This is not so much a step forward as it is a step backward – an attempt to “rewind the movie” in the hopes of somehow getting a different ending.

In most horror films, some hapless optimist always tells the others: “You go for help, I’ll follow the bloody footprints!” Attempting to return to the original Constitution – especially one that never actually existed – is like starting the movie over so that this time the optimist will not get an ax in the head.

The Backup Story: The Educational Outreach Program?

The failure of the Ron Paul revolution to achieve anything close to electoral success will undoubtedly give rise to a “backup story” which will attempt to reframe the candidacy as some sort of “educational outreach program.” (“Look at the number of people who have been exposed to libertarian ideas through Ron Paul! A presidential campaign provides unparalleled access to the general media, and the interest in the candidates exposes many new people to the message of freedom!”)

Unfortunately, this position has remained utterly untested, and so remains firmly in the land of vain assertion rather than empirical knowledge. It is certainly true that some people have been exposed to certain kinds of libertarian ideals through the Ron Paul campaign – but it is equally true that many people have been turned off libertarianism through exactly the same campaign. Secular thinkers scorn Ron Paul’s fundamentalist Christianity and rejection of evolution. Advocates of multiculturalism and visible minorities thoroughly dislike his attacks on illegal immigrants. Many women fear his approach to abortion; poverty advocates fear his approach to the welfare state – the list goes on and on.

The central question then remains – what is it about Ron Paul message that has drawn some people towards his brand of libertarianism? Is it his rational and consistent arguments from first principles? Of course not – he has made no such arguments whatsoever. Thus people must be drawn to his positions for emotional reasons – they are not swayed by the rational truth of his propositions, but rather because those propositions mesh with particular biases they hold already, such as a dislike of the federal government, a fear of illegal immigration, a frustration with taxation or the invasion of Iraq and so on.

This is not the spread of philosophical knowledge, but rather the exploitation and exacerbation of already-existing biases.

It is fundamentally impossible to call this progress.

To the untutored, an obvious inconsistency in one area of a thinker’s philosophy implies inconsistencies in other, less familiar areas. As a strong atheist, if I knew nothing about Dr. Paul’s positions on economics, I would look at his views on evolution and note that they were utterly untutored and incorrect.

If a thinker is incorrect in topics that I know something about, I am not likely to grant him credibility in topics that I know little to nothing about.

Thus while it is certainly true that some people have been emotionally drawn to Dr. Paul’s brand of libertarianism, it is equally true that many others have been driven away, never to return to libertarianism of any kind. There is no way to know for sure which way the pendulum has swung overall, but we can be certain that the more critical thinkers have kept their distance, while the more superstitious, emotional and credulous have not.

Thus reframing Dr. Paul’s candidacy as an “educational outreach program” does not transform his failure into a success. First of all, people primarily donated to his campaign because they wanted him to be elected president, not because they wanted him to educate other people about libertarianism. Secondly, the number of compromises required to sustain a political campaign dilute principled libertarianism into a kind of xenophobic nostalgia-for-a-country-that-never-was. If you can only access a widespread audience by saying things that are not true, you are doing far more harm than good.

Information Versus Propaganda

Particularly in economics, libertarianism has always had the best arguments. Over 300 years ago, Adam Smith clinched the case for free trade in “The Wealth of Nations” – today, we have less free trade than his contemporaries.

If a superior argument has failed to win for several hundred years, simply repeating that argument and hoping for a different outcome is an act of rank foolishness and self-willed blindness.

The greatest tragedy of libertarianism is that we continue to pursue the course of intellectual arguments, despite the clear and empirical fact that intellectual arguments do not carry the day.

Libertarian economics and political theories may be right, but the simple truth is that they are not effective. Coffee table conversations about free trade, property rights and the gold standard have done nothing to reverse the accelerating growth of state power – yet still, that is the approach taken by almost all libertarians. Debating, arguing, reasoning, citing facts – these are all empty intellectual exercises, which do nothing to advance the cause of liberty.

Libertarianism as we know it was born over 300 years ago – slightly after the scientific and medical revolutions. When we compare the progress of libertarianism to science and medicine, it is clear just how dismal our advance has been. Other rational disciplines have made staggering leaps forward, transforming the world in unimagined ways – while we continue to repeat the same stale and ineffective arguments that do not work and think that we are somehow changing the world.

Thus libertarianism has for hundreds of years sought to advance its agenda through education and political action. Indeed, such is the paucity of imagination within our movement that if we were somehow barred from pursuing either education or political action, we would literally have no idea what to do.

(In my podcast series at Freedomain Radio, I talk about the “third way” of advancing the cause of personal and political liberty. To be clear, I view this “third way” as the only way.)

Ron Paul and Closure

I have had my disagreements with Ron Paul supporters – and the Ron Paul candidacy in general – going back over a year, but I think that the time has now come to praise these starry-eyed political activists.

Throwing all of your energies behind a cause is incredibly liberating – because, if that cause does not work, you can at least get closure.

If you are in a bad marriage, where you fight constantly, then it is usually a good idea to do everything that you can to try and save that marriage. You should read books on how to communicate better, go to marriage counseling, strain every muscle and fiber to improve the relationship.

If, after months or years of working as hard as possible to improve your marriage, your marriage is still fractious and unhappy, you can at least walk away from it without regret, knowing that there is nothing more you could have done to change that outcome.

There is a kind of peace that comes from giving it your all, which libertarianism as a movement has gained from the highly committed focus of all of the Ron Paul supporters.

If the Ron Paul candidacy had received only a few hundred thousand dollars in donations, then the “answer” to the question of why his candidacy failed would be: “Because we didn’t have enough money.” If only a few volunteers had shown up to lick envelopes, make phone calls and pound lawn signs, then the candidacy would have failed because, “We didn’t have enough manpower.” If Ron Paul had been shut out of all of the major debates, his failures would have been blamed on a lack of media exposure.

However, none of those conditions arose – Ron Paul had access to tens of millions of dollars, tens of thousands of volunteers, many hours of mainstream media coverage – and unprecedented access to potential voters through blogs, podcasts, e-mails, videos and so.

Thus the intense and unwavering efforts of his supporters have removed all of the obvious reasons as to why his candidacy failed. No one can now seriously argue that if Ron Paul had only had another few million dollars, or another few hundred volunteers, he would have made it to the White House.

Thus, since the single greatest chance that libertarianism ever had – and will ever have – to achieve freedom through political activism and education – has utterly failed, we can now turn our attention towards how we can actually succeed.

What Went Wrong

The central problem with the Ron Paul candidacy can be summed up by a two sentence exchange that the congressman had with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show”.

Ron Paul said that the government did everything badly, and that everything should be privatized. Jon Stewart asked if that included the military. “Oh no!” exclaimed Dr. Paul.

There you have it, in a nutshell.

Propaganda is by its nature highly inconsistent – if it were consistent, it would be science, philosophy or just truth.

Citizens have been conditioned by statist propaganda for many, many years by the time they become politically active. They are able to hold opposing Orwellian “doublethink” principles without even noticing the inconsistencies. “The government that steals half my property at gunpoint is designed to protect my property” and so on.

Propaganda feels consistent to people, because it is consistent with the propaganda that everyone else believes. The only way to oppose propaganda is through complete consistency. The moment that inconsistent principles arise in any philosophy that opposes the general mythology of society, that opposing philosophy will inevitably fail. (We have seen the same phenomenon with Objectivism, the philosophy that utterly opposed the initiation of the use of force, but then supported the existence of a government.)

Thus when a libertarian candidate shows rank inconsistency within the first few seconds of a debate, the average audience member rolls his eyes and discounts the libertarian position. He says to himself: “Well, clearly libertarianism has nothing to do with intellectual consistency, and so it is in no way fundamentally different from the mainstream positions. Now, I can see that enormous difficulties will arise in my life if I accept the libertarian position, since I will become baffling and annoying to almost everyone I know. Thus, since the mainstream positions and the libertarian position both involve inconsistency, I might as well choose the inconsistency that is more comfortable.”

If you want to sell a product on the intellectual marketplace, it either needs to be highly beneficial or highly consistent. (Unfortunately, it cannot be both in our world as it stands.)

Highly beneficial beliefs are those that ease social interactions with those around you, or help advance your intellectual career. Highly consistent beliefs do quite the opposite – they irritate others, and tend to stall intellectual careers.

When the choice is between a highly advantageous inconsistent position (Republican/Democrat), and a highly disadvantageous inconsistent position (Libertarian), how many people will choose the latter?

Well, as we have seen from the numbers, all too few.

Consistency and Integrity

Libertarianism – even the economic aspects – is fundamentally based upon moral principles such as property rights and the universal validity of the nonaggression principle.

The only way that we can bring freedom to this world is to live by valid moral principles. Since taxation is the initiation of the use of force, then those who advocate taxation are either ignorant of its evil, or evil themselves.

Thus our first goal must be to educate people on the immorality of the system that we live in. However, libertarianism has for 300 years gotten stuck in a “broken record” repetition of its first five minutes. After communicating to people the basic reality that taxation is evil, libertarians then just repeat that argument – and a thousand others – without ever acting on that belief.

If you truly believe that taxation is evil, then those who advocate taxation – the initiation of force against you – are evil. If taxation is evil, but those who advocate it are not, then belief and action become completely disconnected, and ethics cease to exist.

A child is not a Nazi if he cheers Hitler while knowing nothing of Hitler’s policies and actions. A man becomes a Nazi when he cheers Hitler while knowing what Hitler thinks and does. In the same way, a person is not evil if he advocates taxation without understanding the moral evil of taxation – however, the moment that he understands this evil, he becomes responsible for his advocacy.

What do libertarians do when they tell someone that taxation is evil, and that person continues to advocate taxation?

Why, in general, they either repeat the argument, or switch to the evils of welfare, the war on drugs, the Patriot Act, the war on terror, fiat currency, public education and so on.

The most basic inconsistency in libertarianism is that morality is considered both essential and immaterial. It is essential, because it underpins the entire philosophy – it is immaterial, however, in that libertarians continue to associate with people that they define as evil.

If you define a man as evil, and you continue to associate with him – whether he is your brother, father, friend or whatever – then all your words and speeches and ethical theories amount to less than nothing.

This is why I say that education and political activism will never advance the cause of libertarianism one single inch.

Freedom will advance only when we act with integrity in our personal relationships – when we reject those we define as evil.

As libertarians, we expect people to accept wrenching changes in their lives as a result of our philosophy. We expect public sector employees to switch over to the private sector. We expect drug enforcement agents to lose their entire careers. We expect corporate participants in the military-industrial complex to accept catastrophic downsizing. We expect people trapped in the quicksand of the welfare state to claw their way out. We expect a decommissioned soldier to make the transition to a civilian life, even if he wants to spend the rest of his career in the military. We expect those who exploit the existing system – the financiers, politicians and state-protected unions – to give up their inflated profits.

We expect so much from everyone else – and so little from ourselves.

“You should give up your lucrative and comfortable public sector position,” we say, “though I will not give up spending time with my cousin who supports the war in Iraq.”

“You should give up your war profiteering,” we say to mercantilist corporations, “though I will continue to party with my friends who fully support the state pointing its guns at my head.”

Is it any wonder that the Ron Paul revolution could never have succeeded?

Is it any wonder that for the past few hundred years, libertarianism has made virtually no progress whatsoever?

The answer is very, very simple.

If we want to free the world, we have to stop lecturing others about our ethics, and start living them ourselves.

If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine of course – but if you don’t want to live your ethics, can you do the rest of us a favour please?

Please – just stop talking about “ethics,” and thus discrediting those of us who are actually trying to make a difference.

26 comments:

Charles Anthony said...

"The answer is very, very simple.

If we want to free the world, we have to stop lecturing others about our ethics, and start living them ourselves.
"

I do not believe the answer is simple at all.

Should a libertarian hot dog vendor sell hot dogs to statesmen or civil servants?
or should he refuse customers who feed the state?

Anonymous said...

I think you're seriously misapprehending what happened out in the "Ron Paul community" over the last year. I, and many other supporters, never thought that Ron Paul would be elected president. We thought that the campaign would be a good way to get people reved-up about running libertarians for office in the GOP and having some measure of success.

That has happened. A libertarian receiving 10% in the Iowa caucuses? I wouldn't have believed it before this year. Now we can go forward with these new volunteers and elect libertarian-Republicans to state and local offices where the war issue won't be as huge in the general GOP electorate's mind. Sure, maybe a few people have been turned-off to libertarianism, but a lot more have learned about it and now are at least soft-libertarians.
I'm seriously a little confused by your assertion that this hasn't happened. I don't know if this is akin to the Goldwater campaign being the spark that lead to the Reagan Revolution, but it could be. Don't count it out yet.

Sancho said...

I think the reasoning for why the "revolution" didn't do so well is wrong here. Inconsistency may have something to do with it, although Ron was actually quite consistent, he just isn't a good communicator on the spot. He was a paradigm shift and unfortunately wasn't the best spokesman for it.

The major reason we didn't do as well is due to the lack of political intelligence by our supporters. Most RP supporters were first timers, with little to no knowledge about what needs to be done to win an election. That is the crux of the biscuit! Hell, people on the internets are still talking about what it takes to become a delegate which is a process that ended some time ago.

If all of us in the "revolution" would have had maybe one election cycle's worth of experience you can bet your ass this thing would have taken off a long time ago. We should have had our people involved at every level of local politics across the country, and I know that just did not happen!!!

This whole machine was driven from the very inception by Ron Paul's supporters, it is the only reason he joined the race, and so that is also where the "fault" lies if one is looking to see what went wrong.

CruiseMissile said...

The whole column is hogwash. The Paul campaign BEGAN as an educational tool, and morphed into the hope of real success. When it faltered, it was because Paul differs with the GOP on a single huge policy issue. The "global war on terror" can't be questioned by the majority of the GOP, period.

Paul couldn't get past that litmus test with many people, so the campaign was always limited to the 10% of the GOP which doesn't accept the necessity of that war.

The essay above wants to make a big deal out of Paul's reluctance to adopt the anarchist position of full bore total libertarianism, as opposed to the states' rights libertarianism of the Constitution. Paul never suggested that he would adopt that position or ever held it.

Moreover, I personally saw a number of pro-choice socialists come to the Paul camp over the war, and wound up seeing the value of federalism (after first learning the concept itself), and even though they are pro-choice, they now understand that Roe v Wade was a bad call that should be overturned. This happened again and again.

I can see this piece being written after Goldwater lost. The biggest difference between Goldwater and Paul is that I don't see a Reagan to pick up the pieces and get going forward by taking the best of these people and ideas and running into national politics to win.

And that's the big problem here. Paul is 72, and it is a bit old. (And yes, I know that McCain is also there, and he's going to probably lose too.) Paul has the baggage of the past libertarian run. The movement needs a new leader that can communicate just a bit better, with a bit better sound bites, and closer to the 50s instead of 72. I don't see who fits that right now, but there is no doubt that the other national leaders HAVE noticed the fervor of liberty-loving people, and they have also noticed that Paul's sliver of the party is the only place of growth in the party.

Give it time to percolate.

Richard Myers said...

There's a simple reason that libertarianism failed to persuade me, and probably many others. In at least one regard, Ron Paul and many other libertarians seem to voluntarily don blinders. I refer to the argument that the employer/employee relationship is, or could be in a libertarian society, a relationship of equals. This is an absurd notion. The employer has significant power over the employee, and this translates into leverage over wage rate, working conditions, and even hours of work. This disparity in the power relationship derives from the ownership of capital, and to influence on the political system. The employer has the ability to take away constitutional rights from the employee both inside and outside the place of business, including rights that libertarians ought to cherish, such as the right to speak freely. Libertarians (including Ron Paul in his book) argue that employers and employees bring equal power to the hiring desk. In this one sense, libertarians live in a fantasy world, and you'll never convince working people who simply know it ain't so in the real world.

richard myers

Anonymous said...

1. The author was doing well until he started making both his Objectivist and anarcho-capitalist views known. The author is right that we'll probably never get a libertarian society peacefully through non-violent means, and while I agree with some of the commentators that Ron Paul getting 10% in IA, 14% in NV, 15% in MN, not to mention getting into the twenties in states like ND and MT is huge progress, we're not going to get a libertarian society this election, probably next election, and maybe EVER. The author made some good points as to WHY, namely that loads of 'people' (I won't call them human beings) do well by coercing others. Surveys have shown that possibly a maximum of 14% of our society is libertarian. In my own races for Congress in two very different districts, I probably only got up to that maximum and exceeded it slightly by cross-over voting by Dems sick of the war who would never have voted for me in a non-war year.
2. The author's essay notably deteriorated when he falsely started accusing Ron Paul of believing in evolution. During one of the first debates, I believe even before the former Virginia Governor dropped out (Gilmore), only three of the GOP guys (Brownback, Tancredo, and Huckabee) raised their hands that they didn't believe in evolution. Here it became obvious that he didn't watch the debates AND that he was imposing his own Objectivist bias, since loads of Christians believe in Deistic Evolution.
3. The author REALLY went downhill when he then acted as if the 'real' issue was Ron Paul's inconsistency somehow since he's not an anarcho-capitalist. PLEASE. Most of us who actually WENT TO COLLEGE have heard of the public goods argument advanced by Paul Samuelson, and thus understand that the military, while IT doesn't always do a very good job EITHER and indeed partly based on its being funded by taxes instead of by profit motive, is nevertheless destined largely to be funded by taxes rather than private fees. To use the author's own phrase, IN A NUTSHELL, with the emphasis on NUT, Ron Paul would have been seen AS a NUT if he'd tried to be a consistent anarcho-capitalist.
4. Indeed, in general, the author while at times seeming to sanely say that folks out there just aren't buying it and never will because they themselves do very well being part of the racket, at other times the author seems to be saying that if we only had a hard-core atheist anarcho-capitalist, then at least people MIGHT have had a better chance of voting for him because he'd be CONSISTENT. PLEASE!!! ROTFLMAO. Look, it IS important for real libertarians NOT to be part of the government racket themselves, but believe me, if every person in this nation who ever pulled the Libertarian level were a hard-core never-been-on-the-take type, their "good example" wouldn't "somehow" convert the bloodsuckers in the union-lawyer-academe Democrat racket or the military industrial complex socialism-for-the-rich GOP. Rather oddly, the "good example" argument sounds more like what I've read in Paul's epistles.
5. The CLOSEST we're going to come to a free society is to establish our own nation somewhere and take it over. Even if we do the Free State Project thing - and NH giving 8% shows what a failed attempt it is there, NH was NEVER going to become libertarian, the best thing you can say is at least they were consistent conservatives - it wouldn't end the imperialist fascist war machine which is the biggest single waste of our tax dollars. By the way, I think NV, MD, MT, or even MN would be a better place for us to take over. My choice is Nevada - better weather and looser women >:-)

Garet Garrett said...

Brilliant analysis of the flaws of Ron Paul's campaign and the Libertarian Party's strategy (and integrity).
"Over 300 years ago, Adam Smith clinched the case for free trade in “The Wealth of Nations..."
This is erroneous, as Rothbard points out Smith was a degression from previous French and British economic writers and in fact introduced many dangerously fallacious notions - such as the labour theory of value. A number of these were contradicted by his own lectures and other works. As an economic thinker, I would say Smith rates only marginally better than 'Chicago-School' economists because his methodology was superior. Otherwise, he's a Statist with liberal tendencies.
The Adam Smith Myth
http://www.mises.org/story/2012

"The greatest tragedy of libertarianism is that we continue to pursue the course of intellectual arguments, despite the clear and empirical fact that intellectual arguments do not carry the day."
True, but not necessarily inherently true. To quote Rothbard, "For the masses of men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently; they follow passively the ideas adopted and disseminated by the body of intellectuals."
The problem is the State's control of the intellectual class, which means those inclined to rational debate are educated, indoctrinated and paid for the production and dissimination of nonsense. Most people are inherently inclined and intelligent enough to accept most Libertarian arguments, simply not their consistent application; but so long as Statist-Socialist doctrines are predominantly preached to them they will continue to accept them because the arguments and simple comprehension of ideological consistency is neither common, encouraged nor necessary for most people to live and do alright.

Again, the articles I've read here are penetrating and intelligent and I'm glad to see another person who doesn't think Politics can set us free.

Charles Anthony said...

Richard,
Ron Paul is NOT a libertarian but rather an advocate of a specifically limited government. You would do well to understand the difference between true libertarianism and The Libertarian Party.
I would suggest the following reading: Vulgar Libertarianism

Anonymous said...

I think you're entirely mistaken on what went wrong. I believe the
real problem is essentially religious. Freedom scares the willies out
of 90% of people. To avoid the fear, conservatives abandon the
responsibility for their life's course to an imaginary, powerful
friend in the sky. Liberals construct what they believe to be a
powerful friend in the form of government, then abandon the
responsibility for their life to it. Neither can emotionally handle
hearing that their powerful ally doesn't exist, or doesn't have their
best interests at heart. Accepting the truth of those observations
would turn life for them into one long panic attack, which we would
call a 'crisis of faith'. There is a reason a recent book was
titled Democracy, the God That Failed.

Darian W said...

Great post, but I have two major disagreements.

Sure, government has grown over the past 300 years, but I wouldn't say that libertarianism has failed to progress. Technologies that have greatly increased the quality of life have also provided government with much more to feed on. I think the official abolition of chattel slavery and greater equality in daily life (in the West at least) alone speak volumes, and libertarian values certainly played a role in this increase in liberty.

I don't think that disassociation with average statists is really going to help. I see it doing nothing but making us look more misanthropic than we already appear to many. It's one thing to shun the worst of them (politicians and torturers for example), but what about people who may agree with the statist system that feeds them but still fill roles that would be valued in a free society (teachers, firefighters, etc)? I think the difference between shunable and unshunable would have to be decided personally.

And Richard, I definitely suggest reading in the direction Charles said.

josh m said...

I’ve followed both sides of the pro-Paul/anti-Paul debate. Most of the time it seems an awful lot like arguing whether the proverbial glass is half empty or half full—for every criticism there’s an equally compelling positive and vice versa.

I have just one question for the anti-Paulians: Would we honestly be better off if Paul had not run and the campaign had never taken place?

(Before you dive headfirst into answering in the affirmitave, note that if the campaign had never happened the anti-Paulians would have been deprived of the opportunity to expound at such lengths as to the failure of electoral politics as a strategy for achieving liberty, and to cite the Paul campaign as a foil).

For all the flaws enumerated here and elsewhere, Paul is demonstrably right about most of the things he stands for. If nothing else, at least for posterity’s sake there will have been one somewhat prominent voice in electoral politics on record as having warned about the consequences of the path big government’s been taking us down.

Who knows, maybe such a vindication could lead to real credibility about the things about which Paul is right.

Aaron Krowne said...

This is a provocative essay, but I think it would not be correct to say that Ron Paul had "enough" media exposure, so it was tried and didn't work.

He got some coverage, yes. But it was always done in a way to keep him marginalized (maybe not intentionally). I don't know how many times he was absent from coverage that included Giuliani, even though he was trouncing the 9/11 candidate.

What I find material here is that Ron Paul was always considered a longshot by the establishment--even when he was doing things like earning $6 million in a day. Coverage of the campaign and events like this were grudging at best.

In addition you do seem to be discounting serious progress. Ron Paul came close to taking some entire states in the primaries, and arguably did take some. With Romney out, Paul is the only clear leader in many states.

This contest isn't over. "Activist" things are still happening. And the activist base isn't going away.

The most important aspect of what has happened is that a large, durable body of people have become organized against the political establishment and the media.

It's going to be interesting, to say the least.

Ineffabelle said...

Richard, you said:
"The employer has significant power over the employee, and this translates into leverage over wage rate, working conditions, and even hours of work."
Well, right now, that's certainly true, but we live in a world very far from a free society.
"This disparity in the power relationship derives from the ownership of capital, and to influence on the political system."
Well, you're almost right there.
Someone has to own capital. The problem is in the current way that capital is allocated (which relates to influence on the political system).

We anarchists don't want a political system to exist, so influence over such a thing would also cease to exist. Without a state-mandated banking system, capital would no longer be concentrated in the hands of a few.

In a libertarian society, labor would actually end up commanding MORE economic power than capital, since demand is unlimited and capital would constantly be diluted.

Kevin S. Van Horn said...

I agree with you that electoral politics and education won't get us anywhere, but I'm not sure I'm understanding correctly what you propose we do. How is merely refusing to associate with anyone who is not a libertarian going to accomplish anything? To do that, I'd have to be a hermit.

When you speak of "living them [our ethics] ourselves", what else do you have in mind?

Anonymous said...

Ron Paul CERTAINLY did not get fair media exposure. You are ignorant if you think so. 90% of reporters are hostile to him and he's the only pro-peace republican. Also vote fraud is obviously apparent.

You are wrong stef.

As trotsky said "this revolution is permanent." Ron Paul speaks the truth about politics, (while you avoid it) and succeded in capturing the minds of millions of americans. This is the start of a new political movement that is not going away.

Michael said...

Stefan, is it evil not to resist evil? Do you pay taxes?

Anonymous said...

You make some great points, but I don't think you give the establishment enough credit for the failure.

Ron Paul did well in many states with live caucuses, and did poorly in states with electronic voting machines.

Media IGNORED him. Especially in the weeks before super duper Tuesday. He had a few very notable solo television appearances, but these were countered by the constant bombardment of all the other candidates. Americans love winners, and I think if the media would have gotten behind him instead of the other corrupt socialists, he could have made a MUCH bigger impact. The system is obviously SO RIGGED. Too bad there weren't any libertarian computer programmers out there willing to futz with the Deibold firmware ;-).

You also discount the fact that this is not over. No republican presidential candidate has enough delegates to sew up the nomination yet. McCain's success has a lot of people IN ARIZONA scratching their heads, and conservatives across the country swearing to stay home rather than vote for any of the 3 candidates who appear to be destined for the presidential ballots today. McCain could somehow completely implode his own campaign and cause many of his delegates to question their loyalties. The banking system can implode before then. Heck, Bush could declare martial law around election time. Stranger things have happened.

The fat lady has not sung yet.

Anonymous said...

Bottom Line:Americans are stupid,ignorant,greedy,self serving individuals.
I guess our saviors are the honest people like John McCain,and the other first rate candidates that have Americas best interest at heart.
I mean! John McCain has killed Americans himself.He didn`t have to ask someone else to do it for him.Now that`s a brave man that truly loves America and it`s people.
We even have the honorable Ted Kennedy endorsing Obama.
How about the Peter Paul setting in a jail house in South America,just for Hillary Clinton,now that`s dedication no end.
Huckebee is a whole other story indeed.What a truthful man he is.When he isn`t telling a lie.
Bottom line,Americans are very stupid,indeed.Not to mention;scared of their own shadow.

GARKO said...

"If you define a man as evil, and you continue to associate with him – whether he is your brother, father, friend or whatever – then all your words and speeches and ethical theories amount to less than nothing."
which is exactly why i wont be visiting your stupid ass blog again.
how dare you give last rites to a patient that is still alive and well and not even sick?
fuck you and your negativite defeatism too!
viva la revolution!

Multimediamonitor said...

That “Oh no!” exclaimed by Dr. Paul is indeed telling. More telling would be if Dr. Paul has the courage to admit the truth if he made an error.

Is there is evidence that a voluntary militia may be better at defending their homes and lands against professional warriors hired to capture it [for a 'statesman?].

Chances are Ron Paul, particularly given his record on Iraq & terrorists, could name more modern and ancient examples than me, but like most of us he's swallowed more propaganda than he knows.

If he has the courage to admit such a public error, will Jon Stewart's bosses let him do so on air while he's still a GOP candidate? That answer would be at least as telling.

Anonymous said...

I think you're trying to bury Ron Paul and the Revolution a bit too prematurely. I don't see anything as "failed" yet.
Looks to me as if you're trying to write your own version of "history" in the middle of it's development. If you're a proponent of "liberty" why would you write such a discouraging piece for those who aren't aware that the political election process is not as msm reports it? Or are you among them? If that's the case I recommend you check for facts. The election nor the Revolution is over.

enjoycapitalism said...

interesting analysis. but a bit of an anti-cliamx on the what to do now front .... left me feeling a bit jilted. Imperfect, inconsistent Ron Paul actually did something .... which is more than i can say for myself ..... still searching after all these years.

TGGP said...

It is ridiculous to think that Ron Paul failed because of inconsistency. How many people who were NOT already libertarians accused him of being inconsistent? If anything, he was accused of "letting the perfect be the enemy of the good" and being TOO consistent. There are plenty of anarcho-capitalists (or just plain anarchists) on the net who advocate consistent beliefs (not that I believe Ron Paul actually is inconsistent because he's a minarchist) but have they succeeded? Hell no! They are dismissed by the general public (who don't give a damn for inconsistency, and can even be said to prefer it) much quicker than minarchists.

Your idea to cut off "evil" people is ridiculous. What percentage of the population are anarcho-capitalists? Almost none? People who follow your advice would have to avoid interacting with pretty much everyone. There was a libertarian who basically did that and followed "Vonu" or something like that, as described in Brian Doherty's "Radicals for Capitalism". As one of his former associated put it "Yeah, I'll be free from everyone else when I lock myself in a dungeon!"

rickdog said...

google ron paul white supremacy

Vanity Assasin said...

Good Article Stef.

The Ron Paul revolution was of some good to me in that it got me interested in libertarianism and then eventually anarcho-capitalism as I worked to make my self more consistent and self honest.

But I really enjoyed this article because it seem to me that you are trying to make use of the energy that the "revolution" produced.

Also I found his book helpful and enlightening "foreign policy of peace..." but simply because it just showed how inconsistent government actually is.

once again thank you for the article

Sandro Magi said...

Freedom will advance only when we act with integrity in our personal relationships – when we reject those we define as evil.

You know, this sort of militantism that people often criticize Objectivists for is truly counter-productive. If you disagree with someone's principles, and you refuse to speak with them further as a result, you have forever surrendered any chance to change their minds in the future. This attitude inevitably results in intellectually incestuous social circles. No wonder libertarianism is stagnant.

The fact is, politics is a social activity, and being anti-social makes libertarianism stagnate. And just so we're clear, I don't mean the good, "disrupting established social order" meaning of anti-social, I mean the bad, "disrespectful of others" meaning of anti-social.

This is such a simple concept, it astonishes me that such an intelligent group of people could fail to grasp it. Demonizing people as evil will not advance your cause, because not everyone is driven by the same principles you are, nor should they be, regardless of whether they're being consistent.

A person's worth is not measured by the extent to which they agree with you. Alienating people who don't think like you will inevitably leave you alone on one side of a line, and the rest of the world on the other.

Terry Pratchett said it best, "Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyrants. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."

An important truth was conveyed in this article however, though it was buried in piles of anti-social rhetoric, "Now, I can see that enormous difficulties will arise in my life if I accept the libertarian position, since I will become baffling and annoying to almost everyone I know. Thus, since the mainstream positions and the libertarian position both involve inconsistency, I might as well choose the inconsistency that is more comfortable."

If you truly want to spread libertarian principles, make them more socially acceptable. I don't mean water down the principles, I mean tone down the militantism. The more libertarian-influenced people in a person's peer group, the more socially acceptable those ideas become. The fact is, most people make decisions for social reasons, not purely for rational reasons. That is a fact. Ignore it at your peril.