THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 455, February 10, 2008
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
It looks like Ron Paul is not heading to electoral success. If Paul will not go on the ballot in November then his libertarian supporters ought to think about what comes next. Those with no interest in Paul should still think of what impact his campaign has had on the future of the libertarian movement and what to do about it.
The first thing that should be done is to end the accusations of treason directed at those who have not supported Paul or who have brought up issues the campaign would rather not discuss. Despite the ridiculous statements being made on some blogs and sites, Ron Paul's mistakes have hurt his campaign and the libertarian movement more than some cosmopolitan conspiracy ever could. From the beginning, his interventionist stances on immigration and abortion have given the impression of supporting liberty for some, but not for all. I would argue that his devotion to the Constitution ignores the reality that the Constitution has failed to restrain government, but I doubt he lost many votes for that.
Ron Paul's supporters need to acknowledge that publishing the infamous newsletters and later attempting to sweep everything under the rug has put a stain of prejudice on the libertarian movement. Those who want to know why he did it and explain this to the world instead of shouting "smear" at every mention of the issue are not the problem. If nothing else, they show the world that the movement is not against questioning those declared its own. The problem is that too many people who should know better are willing to excuse the newsletters and those responsible. Libertarians will likely have to spend more time than ever distancing ourselves from things that have nothing to do with our philosophy (unless a juvenile fascination with being un-PC is really more important).
If you don't believe Paul knew about the newsletters, I'll sell you a bridge after he privatizes the roads. Or can we move forward with the libertarian revolution once the Ron Paul Revolution runs out of steam?
Some would have you think that my position against whitewashing the newsletter affair (and even making a joke about Ron Paul and road privatization) means I'm the kind of "so-called libertarian" whose ideological focus is being cool at D.C. parties and who doesn't care how many people the state murders as long as it allows me to do drugs and have abortions. Just for the record, my cosmo cred isn't so good. I've never been to a party in D.C., I'm not into abortion or drugs, and my public explanations of libertarianism (which I frequently made at a gasp left-leaning university in the northeast) began with the zero-aggression principle. I'm also not nearly as enamored of Nick Gillespie's leather jacket as Justin Raimondo seems to be. In fact, I don't know what the guy looks like.
My internet experiences have shown me that when a person speaks of libertarians as belonging to one of two factions he usually wants to purge the faction opposite his own for their alleged lack of inclusiveness, or blame them for any failures liberty has had. It is fine to insist that the word "libertarian" have a definition and point out that people who regularly act contrary to that definition are not libertarians. It is absurd to think that liberty will be doomed if we do not all align ourselves with one way of doing things.
It's also pretty silly to think that being pro-Paul or not depends on one's position in a regional or cultural pissing contest. In fact, it's almost as silly as thinking that pandering to racism could move America in a libertarian direction.
There is no need for total unity in the libertarian movement. I think it would actually be harmful to liberty if there was a more homogeneous movement since liberty rests on individualism. I'm not trying to suggest that all of our efforts (whose efforts?) should go into a certain strategy or mini-cause and that anyone who wants to do something else is holding back progress. It is simply useful to examine ways to advance liberty and their potential for success in the current situation.
Even without polling data, I think it is safe to say that Ron Paul has brought a large amount of attention to the libertarian movement. The frequent labeling of Paul as a libertarian when "libertarian-leaning conservative" is more accurate may confuse things. Any negative attention he has brought will of course need to be countered. However, the introduction to libertarianism and the opposition to the warfare state that Paul represented to many may turn out to be helpful if played right.
It is also important to think about how to transfer the energy of the Paul campaign into the libertarian movement. First we must ask, "What libertarian movement?" True, there is no united front or revolutionary vanguard, but do we need one? A plurality of organizations and individual efforts seems better suited to the task of spreading liberty. So, if we assume that we should tap pro-Paul energy, leaders of libertarian organizations as well as libertarians in the Paul campaign should figure out how to steer people toward radical libertarianism. There remains the question of whether this is something that should be done or if too many new Paul supporters coming into the movement would skew it in a statist direction. My view is that since few people begin life with an understanding of libertarianism, we can take the risk and hope that the noobs will quickly see the state for the violent scam it is (if they don't already) and consistently apply the zero-aggression principle to politics. I'm sure there are readers much more familiar with the constituency of the Paul campaign than I am who could share some valuable insights on this point.
There is also the question of who Ron Paul would endorse if he drops out of the race. Though I think Paul carries a lot of baggage with him, Libertarian candidates who have already spoken favorably of Paul may want an endorsement in return.
Non-electoral avenues could also probably use a boost from former Paul volunteers. Empowering juries against the state is an important job to do. And if running a candidate hasn't worked, why not try Agorism? Wouldn't it be neat if all those homemade Ron Paul signs along the roadways contained radical libertarian slogans? I think so. If the bulk of Ron Paul supporters are not ready for such ventures, then who will make them ready? If the Paul campaign was supposed to save us from imperial excess, wouldn't it be a good idea to try other ways of doing that when the Paul campaign ends? Let's not forget about all the pro-liberty organizations and publications that could use monetary support.
As for myself, I'm trying to advance my career as a writer, a profession every movement needs. But I'm open to doing other things if they seem worth my time. At the moment, spreading the message while living as free as possible looks like the main thing to do. How can we expect a true libertarian revolution when most people have never heard of the zero-aggression principle or the concept of self-ownership, and think that the word "government" can excuse anything? Though I'm not planning to bring up Ron Paul in any conversation, it would certainly help to have a working knowledge what his campaign has left us.
I will leave it to others to analyze whether Ron Paul's low polling in the Republican primary results mainly from the media, the unreadiness of voters to embrace limited government, vote counting shenanigans, or some fault of Paul's campaign. Maybe his campaign can be used as a vehicle to point out the fraudulent nature of the electoral system.
As I am writing this I am not aware of Paul showing any intention to leave the presidential race, but it's always good to plan for likely events. As libertarians look to the future we should figure out how the Ron Paul campaign has impacted whatever avenue for political change we look down. Like it or not, the guy is a big deal.