I first came across libertarianism through the 2008 presidential campaign of Ron Paul. Prior to his campaign, I considered myself a left-wing, conspiratorial anarchist of sorts. Over the years I have tried to steep myself in a better understanding of what it means to be free. In 2009, I attended summer seminars put on by three different classical liberal think tanks: the Independent Institute (where I came across both Fred’s and Brian’s arguments), the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Institute for Humane Studies.
The past four years have also led me to distance myself from some of Dr. Paul’s policy prescriptions, including his views on border security, international trade agreements, and amending the constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship. None of these policies are persistent with the liberty movement’s arguments for individualism, internationalism, and private property.
Nevertheless, I think that Jon Fasman’s (somewhat) recent post on the Labor Day forum held by the American Principles Project and hosted by Senator Jim DeMint, Congressman Steve King, and conservative/libertarian pundit Robert A. George highlights why I still respect Ron Paul immensely and why I am a libertarian:
Mr George asked each candidate a very leading question about whether they would consider supporting legislation banning abortions [...] Three of the five candidates—Messrs Cain and Gingrich, and Ms Bachmann—said yes [...] Mr Romney [...] declined.
The other candidate who declined the entreaty was, of course, Mr Paul, whose sparring with Mr George about the nature and limits of the 14th amendment was one of the debate’s high points. Another came after he had said he wanted to bring all the troops home, and a baffled Mr King asked him how he would project power around the globe. Mr Paul crinkled his eyes, waved his hand dismissively and said, “Ach…power”, as if the premise of Mr King’s question annoyed him.
Indeed, while some (including our co-blogger Jacques Delacroix) continue to maintain that power is necessary and even desirable, I do not think I can fathom a better example of what it means to be a libertarian than Congressman Paul’s agitated dismissal of power. Furthermore, I would argue, with some trepidation, that liberty is anathema to power, and that those who advocate for a more robust state presence in any sphere of society are delivering no favors to the ideas of federated government, individualism, the Rule of Law, and internationalism.
Bombing, sanctioning, or invading other states in the name of helping some factions at the expense of others need not have a place at the table of liberty. Such policies have only led, it would seem, to more problems and more power for those that desire it. One only has to look at the recent actions of the Iraqi Prime Minister, who has issued arrest warrants for some of his Vice Ministers and detained hundreds of foreign contractors in the name of state sovereignty. One only has to look at the failure of policymakers to control Saddam Hussein in the early 1990′s. One only has to look at the alliance our clandestine operations made (and continues to make) with men like Osama bin Laden. One only has to look at the PATRIOT Act, SOPA, PIPA, the TSA, and the overt torture of foreign prisoners in Washington’s hands.
Yet the liberty movement suffers because of our aversion to foreign fiascos. What can we do to enhance our arguments? To convince others that peace and honest friendship is the best way to deal with foreign nations, even tyrannical ones?
The aversion to war, oddly, is the toughest hurdle for most people to get over when it comes to embracing liberty. I say oddly because commercial republics tend to be, on the whole, moderate and peaceful in their mores. The case could be made that the U.S. is no longer a commercial republic, of course, but again on the whole I think that it is.
My own findings suggest that pointing to results of military interventions do not work very well. People can fool themselves into believing just about anything (just ask your nearest religious whacko or neo-feminist). Non-intervention needs to gain its moral credibility back, and this is going to be hard to do because of the memes and myths associated with World War 2 and the Cold War. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep fighting. And for God’s sake, let’s keep our focus on internationalism, private property, and Hayek’s fatal conceit.