Ron Paul’s Power Problem

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.

22 thoughts on “Ron Paul’s Power Problem

  1. Hmnn…the Libertarian analysis of government seems correct; the Libertarian proposals for substitutes seem somewhat blind to human nature. And Dr. Paul seems to me the only adult pursuing the Presidency.

    Non-intervention or with the appropriate sneer, isolationism (a misnomer) hasn’t been respectable since its candidate lost to Dewey in a Republican convention. Dewey lost the election. Imperial America has been surging ever since, encouraged by all the nce political contributions from Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex and the jingoism passing for history taught in the schools, as I see it.

    And finally, isn’t the cost of our run-the-world complex one of the two prime causes of our current economic collapse?

    And unfortunately, both the GOP and the Dems share it…they need the money!

    Now if we could find candidates having discussions like this post…

  2. Thanks for checking out my blog, Brandon. You’re the kind of open-minded thinker that the world needs more of. To be curious enough to investigate a “radical conservative” such as Dr. Paul, and to embrace most of the Lbertarian ideals after thoughtful reflection, is heartening in this age of listening only to those who agree with you. LIbertarianism isn’t perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than liberalism, conservatism, socialism, fascism, communism, and all the other isms–whatever they all mean.

  3. Sorry; my treacherous memory lied: It wasn’t Dewey, but rather Wendell Willkie in the 1940 Republican convebton..the apostle of non-intervention whose failure to be nominated closed out that view in respectable U.S. politics was Senator Robert Taft. Maybe 72 years is long enough to rehab his ideas…

    • Memories are terrible things! Mine always seems to fail me when girls call out my name and ask me how I’m doing.

      Luckily, writing is just thinking, and if we get stuff wrong, we can always acknowledge it and make the correction as best we can. Your grasp of politics during the New Deal and post-war era is far better than my own!

      Can you tell me: what is the connection between Barry Goldwater and Robert Taft that I hear of every so often?

  4. Hey you might call me a “religious wacko” because I’m Christian (like Ron Paul) and Christian principles demand most emphatically that we do not force our views on our neighbors. Biblical principles demand respect for your neighbor’s property, the Good Samaritan helps his neighbor in the way with HIS OWN money, he doesn’t steal it from another neighbor, and instead of shooting at Muslims he shows them the love of Christ.

    The Son of Hamas was won by the words “Love thy enemies”. If my son is into drugs or harming himself with homosexuality, I don’t want him in jail, I want to be free show him Christ’s love to win him. Warmongers have it twisted, they are following wolves in sheep’s clothing (see Ezekiel 8). I want to love the unbeliever into the kingdom.

    And Christ drove the money changers out of the temple, condemning them as thieves. There is no bigger thief in our nation than the Fed, printing a “false balance is an abomination” every day and robbing the poor. Jesus Christ is getting angry at this Grand Theft Trillions.

    • trutherater,

      Good points and I’m glad you’re doing your thing. Jesus was a radical, non-conformist Jewish Palestinian who ended up nailed to a Roman cross. Sounds like my kind of guy!

      A quick clarification: I did not say that all religious people are whackos. I know too many good people who adhere to one faith or another to lump you all together.

      To put my point into perspective, though, I must ask: how many of your fellow church-goers are libertarians? And how many of them justify the use of force with their religious convictions?

  5. I’m curious about why you left your previous political position to embrace libertarianism. There are plenty of conspiratorial right-wing libertarians. Also, there are anarchist libertarians and there are left-wing libertarians, some even argue that libertarianism began on the left with the 19th century European workers movement.

    There is one general difference I see between the left and the right which also would refer to the general difference between left-libertarians and right-libertarians. Those on the left tend to see human rights as prior to property rights. And those on the right tend to see property rights as prior to human rights. It is a difference of emphasis, but a very big difference in terms of practical application. As a left-winger with libertarian tendencies, I see no evidence that defending property rights inevitably leads to defending human rights.

    I have nothing against Ron Paul in that I support him in many ways, even as I disagree with him in many other ways. It is true that he is the most obvious example of libertariasm in the US, but there are plenty of left-libertarians as well in the US and around the world. Why do you choose not to identify as a left-libertarian?

    • Benjamin,

      Thanks for dropping by! I don’t identify as either a “right” or a “left” libertarian. I am just a libertarian, and I have plenty of issues with Ron Paul too. In fact, I was just hurtfully accused of not writing enough criticisms of Ron Paul, so maybe I should do that soon!

      I don’t really see human rights and property rights as separable rights, though your observation on practical application is precisely why I don’t explicitly identify as a left-libertarian. I would like to show why I think this way, but I need a clear example as to why you think human rights and property rights are separable, and why you think left-libertarianism is more practical than right-libertarianism.

    • Many right libertarians don’t really see human rights as separable rights, but many left libertarians do. The reason for this is that right libertarians typically see property rights as the basis of all rights and left libertarians don’t. A left libertarian may accept property rights in the way right libertarians think of it or they may not accept property rights at all. What the left libertarian doesn’t accept is that all rights begin with property rights, that human rights can be identified with or defined by property rights.

      I wasn’t, however, necessarily arguing the two types of rights are separate. Such rights aren’t objective things and so depend on our perception of them and our perception of other people. What I was arguing is that thinking about such ideas is complex and open to confusion and conflation. Even if the two types of rights aren’t separate, it doesn’t inevitably follow that they are the same.

      Why could they be considered separable? Why could anything be considered separable? Why could people be considered separable?

      The right libertarian view of property rights is based on the idea of everything being separable and thus isolatable where something can be entirely mine or entirely yours (self vs others). It’s because the two type of rights are seen as inseparable and identitical (human rights just being a special case of property rights) that all rights are seen as based on the ownership view of separation (of owning oneself and identifying one’s rights with what one owns; possession as a way of being, self-possession, and hence as a way of relating).

      It is the left libertarian position that emphasizes relationship first and foremost, instead of separation. To the left position, there is nothing that any individual can do that is ever without impact on other people, whether present or future generations. So, all rights are based on the tangible relationships of actual humans instead of abstract ideas of property (relationships are an extension of self and self is defined by relationships). Rights can’t be objectively measured, but in certain ways our relationships can be (through our tangible impact on others).

      It’s not that all left libertarians deny property rights. It’s just that for left libertarians property rights can only have relevance to the degree that they are based on a human perspective, rather than a merely legalistic framework/mentality. A person is a human before they are a property owner, and a person continues to be a human whether or not they own property or even have the legal right to own property in any given society. So, it is the human identity and experience that forms the beginning point.

      The emphasis of the two views tend to be polar opposite, but that is just an emphasis.

      This difference is related to negative and positive freedom, although the other way around. Those on the right tend to separate them and those on the left tend to see them as inseparable. Left libertarians tend to see human rights as something to consider on its own because the impact on humans began prior to our modern ideas/ideals of property rights (for an example, see Paine’s ‘Agrarian Justice’).

      I could make an argument for the practical justification of my view. As I wrote above, “I see no evidence that defending property rights inevitably leads to defending human rights.” For me, the actual results of a viewpoint is practical. If I saw such evidence, then I could see more practical relevance for beginning with property rights or as seeing property rights as equal to human rights. But I don’t see such evidence and so I have to go with the evidence I see. Still, I’m always open to new evidence that migth change my understanding.

      For the issue of practicality, I would point out the connection between property rights and capitalism. Capital is a particular category of ownership. What I find interesting is that not all of those on the far left, including among socialists and Marxists, are against free markets. What those on the left are against is the belief that capitalism will lead to free markets. The following video is a very interesting discussion about some of these issues (in particular, check out the section beginning about 30 minutes in):

      Capital is just one aspect of an economy. There is also land and labor. The modern economy centered on capitalism and capitalists has led to the privatization of land and the disempowerment of labor. For most of history, most land was considered communal and so formed the tangible expression of relationships and community. For most of history, a person could sustain themselves by their own labor for land was open to everyone, rather than owned and consolidated mostly by a capitalist elite. Our society is based on a property mindset and yet capitalism often comes into conflict with human rights of the average person, especially as capitalists have disproportionate influence over the political system.

      These are just thoughts and observations. I don’t have a fully articulated political philosophy. My views are mixed. In the way that you don’t identify as either left or right, I don’t identify as either libertarian or anti-libertarian. I see valid points made from many perspectives, but I have yet to find any single political philosophy that is complete. I generally just think of myself as being liberal-minded which doesn’t perfectly fit what ‘liberalism’ means in mainstream American politcs.

    • Benjamin,

      Great stuff. Let’s try to stay with the practicality issue, for brevity’s sake. I still need an example to work with, though. Could you give me (and anybody who is reading this probably beneficial exchange) something relevant to current events, for example?

    • Part of the reason I shared the video is because Sheldon Richman explains a particular practical issue dealing with ownership of land. In the video, listen to the section following the 24:00 mark and following the 55:00 mark. The basic point is that our present distribution of land ownership is based on centuries of violence and oppression that continues to this day.

      Richman doesn’t go into detail about how this played out in the US, but he does cover certain aspects. He discusses how the Homesteading Act was the exception to the rule. Most of the land the government distributed was done through giving it away or selling below market value to the friends and associates of politicians. Some of the founding fathers got land cheap from the government and then got rich through land speculation. Another example are the railroads, but there are many other examples as most land presently owned was distribued in this corrupt way either by the federal or state governments. Even now, the government regularly sells natural resources on public lands for below market prices which is a hidden way of subsidizing favored companies.

      What Richman didn’t discuss is the issue with the land already being owned by Native Americans. Derrick Jensen offers a useful example in his book The Culture of Make Believe (pp. 113-17) where he explains the history of the Tolowa tribe in Yontocket, CA. The massacres happened in the 1850s. This may seem like a long time ago, but grandchildren of the men who massacred the Tolowa could still be alive and certainly some of the great granchildren are still around. In fact, many of the descendants of the white settlers still live on and own the land that they stole from the Tolowa. In fact, many of the Tolowa still live there, some of them renting from or working on the land of the descendants of the settlers who killed their own grandparents, great grandparents, and great great grandparents. The legal system continues to protect the ownership rights of the murderers by an implied right of conquest.

      If you were a Native American treated as a stranger on your own ancestral land, treated as a stranger by the very descendants of the people who stole the land from your people, you’d feel this was a very practical issue. Land is wealth and having your land stolen from you is poverty. Native American communities to this day are some of the most impoverished in the country, and this is unsurprising as they were forced to live on land with few resources such as good farmland.

      That is one issue Richman does explain well. Most people won’t work for others unless all other good choices have been forcefully taken away. For most of history, most people were content to make their own living working the land. It wasn’t until the land was stolen from the Lockean owners of the land and enclosed into the private ownership of the wealthy that the average person in desperation was willing to work in factories. Our entire modern industrial society is built on this enforced limitation of choice created by centuries of oppression, violence and land theft. Our entire modern industrial society is maintained through this system being enforced through a legal system, through police, through the FBI, and through the military.

      There is a reason that most of the land in the world is owned by only a few individuals and families while the remaining small percentage of land is split among the billions where most humans are disenfranchised of land entirely. As Richman explains, large land ownership would never exist in a functioning free market.

    • My point in this example is questioning our present legal system of ownership rights.

      I could possibly see some validity in Lockean land rights, although that is complicated because Lockean philosophy was often used as a justification for stealing land by arguing that someone else wasn’t using it even if they were living directly off of the land itself. Right of conquest was an unclear justification. What Lockean land rights offered was justification for the conquest itself and justification for the owners who took control. Don’t forget that Locke helped write the constitution for the Deep South colony where one of the cruelest systems of slavery existed in the world at that time.

      The problem we have is our present legal system is morally corrupt at its core and Lockean land rights have a very dark history of application in the real world. It’s hard to imagine that all people living in a given country or region will willingly agree on a single system of land rights. The eternal failing of land rights is that they can only ever be enforced by violence and oppression, or rather that is how the losing side will always perceive it and there will always be a losing side, the side with a different view of land rights. The moral dilemma is that everyone feels morally justified when they use violence or the threat of violence to enforce their own beliefs about land rights.

      I don’t know the answer, but there are obvious problems to the theory of ownership rights.

    • Benjamin,

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. In general, I don’t take solicitations to watch a lecture or read a book. I have enough reading lists and lecture notes as it is!

      Your argument, I think, can be condensed as thus (again, for the sake of brevity):

      “My point in this example is questioning our present legal system of ownership rights […] I don’t know the answer, but there are obvious problems to the theory of ownership rights.”

      Fair enough, but what does this have to do with the issue of practicality?

      To put it another way: you list a number of pertinent grievances, but I still fail to grasp how they relate to the practical issues of our day. Sovereignty and reparations are both options I am completely in favor of in regards to the massive theft of land that has happened in the past (the same with slavery), but I still do not have an example of left-libertarian practicality to work with. And if you and I don’t have a practical example to work with, how are we to figure out a better way for the future?

    • I point out the corruption at the heart of the problem and describe the practical consequences of that corruption, and yet you can’t see anything of practical relevance in it. I’m afraid that if you don’t see the practicality of the issue then you are disconnected from reality. Those personally impacted by such issues understand the practicality of the left-wing criticisms and doubts about the primacy of modern notions of property rights.

      Also, if you are unwilling to spend a few minutes to listen to the presentation of an argument then there is no point in my spending my time trying to explain it to you. These are complex issues that people have written whole books about. Part of the problem is that there are no clear practical steps forward in any simple sense. Rather there are practical steps one can take in disengaging from the corrupt system, even if it is simply stepping outside of the given cultural reality tunnel in order to gain perspective.

      You seem to take this discussion as some kind of game, but I don’t feel like playing any games with you. Either listen to the argument or don’t. I don’t care.

    • Benjamin,

      There is no need to get testy. I am just trying to get you to think more clearly about the critiques of my writings that you put forth. If Sheldon Richman wishes to read my writings and critique them, I would be pleased beyond delight! But he has not read them, and he has not critiqued them. You have, and I am grateful for it. One of the best ways of learning is through arguing with others.

      Now, can we continue? You said:

      I point out the corruption at the heart of the problem and describe the practical consequences of that corruption, and yet you can’t see anything of practical relevance in it. I’m afraid that if you don’t see the practicality of the issue then you are disconnected from reality. Those personally impacted by such issues understand the practicality of the left-wing criticisms and doubts about the primacy of modern notions of property rights.

      I have already said I support a program of reparations to Native Americans and the descendants of slaves. I also think that an offer of full-fledged sovereignty, or full-fledged membership into the republic, is one that should be made to the remnants of these nations. I don’t know why you keep bringing it up.

      In general, I think you are trying too hard. If the U.S. government seized property from Native Americans, then property rights were violated. When property rights became violated, then other human rights violations followed. This concept is the same wherever you go.

      Maybe you are better at understanding your own words than mine:

      It wasn’t until the land was stolen from the Lockean owners of the land [emphasis mine – bc] and enclosed into the private ownership of the wealthy that the average person in desperation was willing to work in factories.

      If we take your argument that property rights are different from human rights, and compare them for their practicality, then it would appear, given your examples, that property rights are antecedent to that of other human rights.

      As I said earlier, I don’t see property rights and human rights as separable units, though. Now, hopefully, you understand why. P.S. when I requested a practical example, I was thinking of something we see or hear about in our everyday affairs…

  6. I appear to be someone who is cast in the role of the dissident voice. I just happen to be the user of a small piece of land, which I thought I had bought. However it can be taken away from me by a force of thugs in the employ of a particular type of person, whom may belong to a group calling themselves by any one of the names referred to above, Libertarian amongst them. I first came across Libertarianism a number of years ago when it was adopted by Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson as a means of justifying the making of a fortune without feeling guilty. Both of these characters appear to have been in the employ of the CIA..All of the isms’ apparently originate from the same source, as I am sure you are aware, so why should Libertarianism be any different? That being so, it puts Ron Paul into the category of a device to pull in those whom feel abandoned by the others. For myself, I reject the idea of being beholden to any particular philosophy of life other than my own. Personally I would prefer to outlaw all Political Parties and rely on committed Independents with a limited term of office. As for slavery, we are all little better than slaves and the slave masters as in the past, pay us with worthless toys to play with as they exploit us. We need to free ourselves before we can begin to free others, we cannot offer to them what we have not won for ourselves. PS You have an excellent site.

    • Leary played a major role in the dispersion of LSD to the American Youth as part of the experimentation with mind control. He was also involved in that other CIA operation the Feminist Movement. Robert Anton Wilson was a close friend of Leary and together they spent a lot of time in the Playboy Mansion with Wilson’s boss Hugh Hefner. Wilson and Robert Shea, introduced the Illuminati to a wide public with the Illuminatus Trilogy, which had a slightly ambiguous approach to their role in world events. Having read the trilogy, in my youth, I could never quite decide if the Illuminati was part of the problem or the solution. What I find amusing is the idea of Hitler’s involvement with the occult and Black Magic back then, in reality it amounted to little more than reading tea leaves and playing with pendulums.

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