Ron Paul And The Future Of Libertarianism

I had a feeling that I’d be writing a post like this at some point, I just didn’t think it would be this soon or under these circumstances.

Now that we know the results in Iowa and, more importantly,  New Hampshire and now that the newsletter story has hit the mainstream media in a big way, the time has come to think about where libertarianism goes after Ron Paul, and whether the campaign itself has been a net plus or a net minus. I’ve got my own thoughts on the issue which I’ll probably post about next week, but for now I think its interesting to look at what others are saying.

First, Cato’s David Boaz has this up today:

Ron Paul isn’t running for president. He’s not going to be president, he’s not going to be the Republican nominee for president, and he never hoped to be. He got into the race to advance ideas—the ideas of peace, constitutional government, and freedom. Succeeding beyond his wildest dreams, he became the most visible so-called “libertarian” in America. And now he and his associates have slimed the noble cause of liberty and limited government.

Mutterings about the past mistakes of the New Republic or the ideological agenda of author James Kirchick are beside the point. Maybe Bob Woodward didn’t like Quakers; the corruption he uncovered in the Nixon administration was still a fact, and that’s all that mattered. Ron Paul’s most visible defenders have denounced Kirchick as a “pimply-faced youth”—so much for their previous enthusiasm about all the young people sleeping on floors for the Paul campaign—and a neoconservative. But they have not denied the facts he reported. Those words appeared in newsletters under his name. And, notably, they have not dared to defend or even quote the actual words that Kirchick reported. Even those who vociferously defend Ron Paul and viciously denounce Kirchick, perhaps even those who wrote the words originally, are apparently unwilling to quote and defend the actual words that appeared over Ron Paul’s signature.

Those words are not libertarian words. Maybe they reflect “paleoconservative” ideas, though they’re not the language of Burke or even Kirk. But libertarianism is a philosophy of individualism, tolerance, and liberty. As Ayn Rand wrote, “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.” Making sweeping, bigoted claims about all blacks, all homosexuals, or any other group is indeed a crudely primitive collectivism.

Libertarians should make it clear that the people who wrote those things are not our comrades, not part of our movement, not part of the tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and Robert Nozick. Shame on them.

Boaz does have a point here.

The author of those articles is by no means a libertarian, and if it does turn out that Lew Rockwell and his associates were the ones behind it, then I can’t say I’m surprised. I remember when Rockwell and Murray Rothbard first started advancing this thing called paleoconservatism — Rockwell wrote a long article on the subject in Liberty —  I was frankly stunned. It seemed like something that would come out of the mouth of a member of the John Birch Society, not the supposed intellectual heirs of Ludwig von Mises.

At least when it comes to issues like immigration and trade and the association with conspiracy theories — the North American Union theory for one, the 9/11 Truthers for another — one could make the argument that the Paul campaign was more paleoconservative than libertarian. Which is why it’s not surprising that Rockwell and his fellow bloggers are among Paul’s most vociferous supporters.

And, George Mason Law Professor Ilya Somin says this:

Ron Paul isn’t all bad. However, it is increasingly clear that association with his presidential candidacy does more harm than good to the cause of libertarianism, a point that I tried to make in my very first post about him. Not only is his candidacy turning out to be a flop politically, as I predicted. It also creates the risk of tarring libertarianism by associating it in the public mind with bigotry, conspiracy-mongering, and xenophobic hostility to free trade and immigration (though the latter, unfortunately, is actually quite popular even outside far-right circles).

And that’s why I kept harping on the issue of the less than savory supporters last year — libertarian ideas are foreign enough to most Americans, even the slightest suggestion that they are associated with racists and conspiracy theory kooks is going to make it that much harder to convince people that there is a solution to the problems our country faces, and that that solution is freedom.

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  • uhm

    I posted this elsewhere but I think it belongs here:

    The heart and souls of the modern libertarian movement’s intellectuals?

    “Catoites accuse Misesites of making common cause with the racist-homophobic-theocratic-populist right. Misesites accuse Catoites of selling out to the mass-murdering regulatory imperial Beltway establishment.”

  • Jason Robinson

    As the DNC said in ‘96 ‘It is the economy stupid’.

    Our Nation produces 13.1 trillion dollars of wealth each year, and of that the government takes 2.4 trillion dollars and spends 2.6 trillion dollars. Since the government spends more than it takes, it has developed a debt, which is currently 10 trillion dollars. We have promised to make future expenditures above and beyond what we are currently spending, to an amount of 58 trillion dollars between 2017 and 2040. This works out to an average of 2.5 trillion dollars a year. In addition to this, 4 trillion dollars of the debt will also need to be paid back without any additional sources of revenue, although existing taxation can be increased.

    To put this in perspective, imagine that you work for a company that earns $131,000 of annual revenue, they pay you $23,000 a year, and your budget is $26,000 for the year. At the same time you have $64,000 on the credit cards and $46,000 that you have borrowed from your 401k, and just signed a 30 year mortgage for your parent’s house for $580,000, but the property is condemned. And this is all okay because you have $6.59 in the bank. Your parents are going to give you $1,000 a year until 2017, and then they need you to start paying them back.

    We have established significant control over air travel, but our boarders are open, illegal immigration is not under control, our ports are not secure, and our visa system has not been updated. If the government thought that terrorism is a serious problem, they haven’t done anything to stop it, yet they have stripped our rights and liberties under the banner of terrorism since October of 2001. Although we haven’t plugged any of the holes in our system, there hasn’t been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil for over 6 years. The government spending and the economy will destroy this nation in less than 33 years.

    I believe that Ron Paul is the only candidate from either the Republican or Democratic parties that will even attempt to fix this.

    (Numbers have been obtained from the CIA Fact book.)

  • Elias

    Strange that Ron Paul’s presidential campaign is considered to be a flop and therefore bad for libertarianism. Did Harry Brown’s campaign do much better? Sure a lot of things that Ron Paul says I don’t agree with, but I do support him as a candidate. Similarly I didn’t agree with Harry Brown when he wrote in his book that you shouldn’t get married and if you were married that you should get divorced. Life goes on.

  • jb

    So many libertarians (so called) seem almost gleeful over the smearing of Ron Paul. It reminds me of a gaggle of preteen girls chittering about their geeky friend that lost the beauty pageant, when all the while they will never have the courage to enter.

  • Grizzle Griz

    I agree with David Boaz. I think Ilya Somin is not only wrong, but spineless. The Paul campaign is hardly a flop. If it could encourage me to invest mental energy not only back into politics, but into the libertarian/Goldwater Conservatism movement, then it must have done likewise for other. It has invigorated an entire generation of young Americans who previously thought they had to be Democrats to be right. From this movement, either original conservatives will take back the GOP or they will invest in the Libertarian Party.

    Ilya Somin is indicative of the overall problem in the libertarian movement. Libertarians are so terrified to back the wrong candidate that they stymie their own movement by never backing anyone with a puncher’s chance. Oh, and Somin predicted the Paul campaign would be a flop? Thanks, Nostradamus.

  • Kris

    I don’t recall the campaign asking Libertarians to jump on the bandwagon, he is a REPUBLICAN Congressman after all. That was a choice made by those individuals. So suffer the consequences of your choices, isn’t that one of the Libertarian ideals, assuming responsibility for oneself and ones actions?

  • zagalo

    I am an anarchist and to me a statist, even a minarchist, is much worse than a racist.

    A racist is a person associate and discriminate based on race. Every individual discriminates in life when dealing with other humans in society and some do this based on race.

    This may upset some other people, it is probably even to the disadvantage of the racist but it is just discrimination. There is no aggression against anybody.

    A statist, even a minarchist, on the other hand, actively supports agression against property by the hand of the government. He/she is morally supporting a criminal organization that takes property away by force and usually restrict many liberties based on property rights.

    Now, this is a political campaign that even atracts the support of welfare statist liberals and some so called libertarians are getting upset over atracting truthers, neo nazis and racism stuff.

    This is politics.

    The alternatives in this race, all of them represent the initiation of force by the state against individuals. Over 150,000 Iraqies have been mudered since the war started in 2003 and the issue is racist comments?

    And the only person that is opposed to this is getting this heat.

    People making a big deal out this and hope for the demise of Ron Paul are either deluded or arent sincerely libertarian.

    I pity Boaz and any other self described libertarian for taking sides with the thieves and murderers, aka the state.

  • Jason

    This is bastardizing the libertarian movement. Our movement is bigger than Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell or the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

    Questioning the sincerity of someone because they express disbelief because of what was published under Ron Paul’s name is absurd.

    No one is taking sides. We simply are expressing concern about the damage this could do to the libertarian movement.

  • UCrawford

    “I had a feeling that I’d be writing a post like this at some point,”

    Yes Doug, because that is the important thing in the whole Ron Paul candidacy, that you were right and everybody was wrong. How could everybody not have listened to you?

    Probably because you dedicated about half of your Ron Paul articles telling everybody that he was the best candidate in the race and dedicated the other half to running him down for every nit you could pick. Nobody respects an idealist who rides fences.

  • Doug Mataconis


    Because Ron Paul was the biggest thing to happen to libertarianism since Ed Clark’s campaign.

    And because its time that libertarians distanced themselves from the nutjobs and racists. I had hoped the campaign would do that, but they never did.

  • Brad

    Are you people so foolish that you must pigeon hole yourselves with labels and declare defeat so early.

    Country Before Party !!!

    I think you guys need to read a bit more about the trials and tribulations of George Washington.

    You do yourselves a disservice in you wimpish way.

    Divided We Fall !!!

    I have lost much faith in the intellectual ability of many who call themselves journalists/bloggers this election cycle. Many have shown that they lack any objectivity and are easily led by the bridle of emotion. Few discuss action or event. Most involve themselves with hasty generalizations that allow for ill conclusion of what Ron Paul stands for.

    Ron Paul has shown that he has Root Cause And Corrective Action Ability superior to his rivals. He is willing to talk with conviction about Reality and not shirk from substance on the tough issues. He does not change position in the political wind for convenience. His stands derive from the genuine want for the betterment of people world wide. He does not let Fear rule and does not succumb to Emotional Reflex.

    If “News” was more about Substance Over Symbolism and less filled with emotional detritus Ron Paul would be leading this race for the White House.

    Those who continue to ride the Racism Foolery have obviously not read the greater sum of Ron Paul’s essays, KNOWN to be of his own hand, or listened to the bulk of his speeches on the floor of congress. Petty circumstantial evidence should not out weigh greater example of views diametrically opposed to bigotry. Refuse to be simpletons.

    I vote for virtue; I vote for Ron Paul.

  • UCrawford


    “And because its time that libertarians distanced themselves from the nutjobs and racists.”

    I hate to be the one to break this to you, Doug, but even if we didn’t have racists or loons in the movement, most of America would still consider us loons, mainly because we talk about a lot of things that most Americans either would prefer not to talk about or we poke holes in assumptions that most people consider true beyond question.

    If you want to convince people that libertarianism is the way to go, the only way that you’re going to do that is by doing a better job of selling them on libertarian policy arguments. You’re not going to succeed by trying to weed out all the “undesirables” that scare the hell out of people or trying to convince them that all libertarians have no irrational biases (because we do, same as everybody else) because, when you get down to it, libertarian ideals themselves are undesirable for a lot of people. All your internal witch hunts are going to end up doing is convincing them that we’re even crazier than they already think we are.

    That’s the point I’ve been trying to get at with your whole Stormfront campaign donor/Ron Paul newsletter author obsession. It’s a counterproductive dead end.

  • Kevin Houston

    How can Ron Paul’s faults (whatever they are) hurt the Libertarian party????

    Ron Paul is running as a Republican. The LP did try to recruit Ron and he said no. Maybe the LP should be grateful. After all the time and trouble to disassociate the LP from a certain corrupt Democrat politician with the initials L.L. (I’d rather not put his name on the same webpage as the L.P. if you don’t mind.) I’d think most Libertarian Party stalwarts would be thanking their lucky stars that Ron Paul isn’t officially running as a Libertarian.

    It seems to me the “don’t associate with me, or you’ll ruin my chances.” talk could cut both ways.

    While I hear your point about the perception of this mess in the public’s mind being different than the facts of the case, I would like to stress that most of what I have read of TNR’s piece is not what TNR claims it is.

    The “Kind words” for David Duke are nothing more than an objective report of his election results. They aren’t kind or harsh words for anybody.

    The harsh words for Dr. King as rehashes of the FBI report and the MSM’s own stories.

    The comment about fleet footed bag snatchers is not racist if one sees it from the viewpoint of practice (if someone is a bag snatcher by trade, they are going to be fleet-footed, regardless of their race.)

    The comment about nearly all of the citizen’s in South Central are probably criminals since the police only arrested 70% is a weak attempt at humor about lazy police, not a classification of people based on skin color.

    etc. etc. etc.

    Maybe somewhere in the middle of the whole morass, I will find something truly outrageous

    I haven’t gone through the other excerpts yet, but I bet when I have, I will be able to show that 90% of what TNR claims is racist – isn’t.


  • Doug Mataconis


    I’m talking about the philosophy of libertarianism, not the political party that bears it’s name.

  • Max

    Wow Doug, people still care what you have to say? LOL Doug you would be better off writing for the Washington Times/Post, LA Times, NY etc because you are not part of the alternative media you toe the status quo and the establishment line you make me sick you are no patriot, you do not stand for liberty and you are a fraud

  • Mike

    Boaz no longer has any credibility with me. Your blog, Reason, and other libertarian-leaning sites have covered the Ron Paul phenomenon in full. Cato has largely ignored it. Until now.

    Boaz has spoken Ron Paul’s name more times in one paragraph since the man announced his candidacy early last year.

    So Boaz and Cato, the question is: Why are you starting to cover Ron Paul now?

  • uhm

    Doug, what is the philosophy of libertarianism? At a glance it looks like ethnocentric corporate libertarians are going after what they say are xenophobic libertarians.

  • Doug Mataconis

    That’s a good question, and frankly I would guess that there are many definitions of libertarianism as there are libertarians

  • UCrawford


    “…and frankly I would guess that there are many definitions of libertarianism as there are libertarians”

    This is what I’ve been trying to say to you. As for what makes us libertarian or not, my position is that it’s our policy arguments…what we think the government should or should not be able to do to or for us that makes us libertarians, not what we may personally think of each other. This is the point I was trying to make about the racists…as long as they’re restricting their policy arguments on racism and government to freedom of association (and as long as they don’t trumpet their racist leanings while working with us) there’s not a reason to drum them out simply because they harbor personal beliefs that they don’t intend to force on others through the rule of law.

    Frankly, I’ve found from personal experience that the way to overcome racism and prejudice is to engage the racists and convince them why they’re wrong. That’s tough to do when you’re spending your time trying to hunt them down, cast them out, and bar them from participating…which usually serves only to reinforce their victim mentalities and harden their resolve. Racism is not an incurable disease, it can be overcome…and I believe that libertarians are better equipped to convince people to abandon their prejudices than any other ideology, at least as long as we don’t allow ourselves to be consumed by our own self-righteousness.

  • Doug Mataconis

    Yes, but whatever definition of libertarianism one holds, there’s no room for racism and race-bating of the type those newsletters typify.

  • UCrawford


    As one of the other contributors pointed out, the Cato Institute is a non-profit organization and does not endorse political candidates…even libertarian ones. That’s why they don’t focus on Ron Paul.

  • Danny

    I am struck by the way Cato is now on the bandwagon to crucify PAUL. He has done more for freedom than all those people put together. I am amazed the media doesn’t cart someone out in front of the world to back up these aligations. There is none. I was once a Cato supporter. I am glad they have taken this position on Paul. I know now they are just a “tool of the man”.

  • UCrawford


    I agree…when somebody attempts to hijack libertarian policy arguments as a platform for their racism, then it’s acceptable and necessary to get rid of them. But not until then, because not every racist/bigot/xenophobe is interested in imposing their personal prejudices through public policy.

  • Grizzle Griz

    Everyone who wants to defend Ron Paul, think about what youw ant to say, go to, sign up for a writer’s account and say your piece.

    This is nonsense that every libertarian with an article page is such a wimp.

  • Well. . .

    “It seemed like something that would come out of the mouth of a member of the John Birch Society, not the supposed intellectual heirs of Ludwig von Mises.”

    Um, Mises himself wrote for the John Birch Society’s publication, American Opinion.

  • John Kosanke

    Wow! I honestly thought that David Boaz was a libertarian – until now. Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, and Ludwig von Mises represent libertarianism in its purest form – anarcho-capitalism. A free market disarms groupism. Groupism is the lifeblood of the state. Paul’s stellar legislative record puts him on a par with Mr. Smith.

    Rothbard knew that in order for libertarianism to become a viable movement, it would have to loosely ally with existing forces whose ideals had common ends. In this case, those ends include the diminishment of the federal government. All of these support groups oppose the growth of the federal government into a megastate, and would like to at least reduce it to its constitutional limitations. Dr. Paul knows this.

    And give the John Birch Society some credit. Without their paranoia, the Washington mob would still be trusted and respected – and your libertarian thinktank would be the laughingstock that JBS is now.

    It’s better to be right than president. Let’s hope it’s possible to be both.

  • Patrick Henry

    “”At least when it comes to issues like immigration and trade and the association with conspiracy theories — the North American Union theory for one,”

    How is that the head of state for Canada, Mexico, and America along with all sorts of agencies and businesses and thinktanks in all three nations agree that this is the plan but it’s a conspiracy theory to talk about it? I see webpages with maps and discussions of how to establish the NAU from government websites, I see Vicente Fox on American television talking about the Amero and more, I see books and papers coming from the CFR and other groups, etc, etc, etc. It seems about half of our government is talking about how to do this, and the other half (i.e. the guy in charge of the highway department) say it’s a conspiracy theory.

    What’s up with that?

  • Adam Selene

    Having just read, for the first time, David Boaz’ blog entry on the topic, I cannot for the life of me see what is in that entry that would be considered not to be libertarian. Except, of course, that he dared to not be on the side of Ron Paul. Apparently, collectivism is bad except when it comes to supporting Paul. In that case, you are supposed to go along with the group that supports him even when you have serious and deep reservations about him.

    Good to know.

  • Adam Selene

    Give me just one cite that is from an official government source “Patrick Henry”.

  • prezronpaul2008

    Open Letter To Lew Rockwell
    January 12, 2008

    Dear Lew,

    You have now had three opportunities – 1996, 2001, and 2008 – to prove that you are a friend of Ron Paul and freedom, and you have failed to do so each time.

    This week, for the third time, the puerile, racist, and completely un-Pauline comments that all informed people say you have caused to appear in Ron’s newsletters over the course of several years have become an issue in his campaign. This time the stakes are even higher than before. He is seeking nationwide office, the Republican nomination for President, and his campaign is attracting millions of supporters, not tens of thousands.

    Three times you have failed to come forward and admit responsibility for and complicity in the scandals. You have allowed Ron to twist slowly in the wind. Because of your silence, Ron has been forced to issue repeated statements of denial, to answer repeated questions in multiple interviews, and to be embarrassed on national television. Your callous disregard for both Ron and his millions of supporters is unconscionable.

    If you were Dr. Paul’s friend, or a friend of freedom, as you pretend to be, by now you would have stepped forward, assumed responsibility for those asinine and harmful comments, resigned from any connection to Ron or his campaign, and relieved Ron of the burden of having to repeatedly deny the charges of racism. But you have not done so, and so the scandal continues to detract from Ron’s message.

    You know as well as I do that Ron does not have a racist bone in his body, yet those racist remarks went out under his name, not yours. Pretty clever. But now it’s time to man up, Lew. Admit your role, and exonerate Ron. You should have done it years ago.

    John Robbins, Ph.D.
    Chief of Staff
    Dr. Ron Paul, 1981-1985

  • John Kosanke

    As Dr. Paul has said, if anyone with small-minded views thinks that he can distract him from his goal to restore the Constitution, he has wasted his money. Even the racists who support Paul know that he does not legislatively support one group over another. The 9-1-1 truthers support him – not because he is a conspiracy theorist (which he has said he is not), but because he will leave no stone unturned regarding the investigation. And average people support him, because they know he will fight to get the Federal government out of their wallets and bedrooms, as he has been doing for the last 30 years (but now with a bigger pulpit). So it’s not where the campaign money is coming from that is important, it’s where it goes. He has already put libertarianism on the map. The pillars of statism are crumbling. The debate is opening. Give Dr. Paul some credit.

  • Kay

    Apparently, collectivism is bad except when it comes to supporting Paul. In that case, you are supposed to go along with the group that supports him even when you have serious and deep reservations about him.

    Good to know.

    LOL! Thanks, Adam, for that! I’ve been reading TLP silently and steaming for the last many weeks – ‘cuz it seems to me it has turned over to the “fringe” element that some of us abhor. Glad to know that I’m not the only one who could see the hypocrisy spewing forth . . .

  • Adam Selene

    It is hypocrisy to accuse someone of being collectivist because they won’t go along with your group. Glad I could make you smile Kay.

  • John Kosanke

    Let me get this straight. You’re a collectivist if you have a polyglot of campaign supporters? Hmmm, interesting logic. I think even David Boaz knows what collectivism is. Don’t forget who’s leading this revolution (the supporters). The collectivist zombies are the ones who have been duped into believing that Paul is a racist. Do your homework. And read Article I Sections 8-10 to see Dr. Paul’s marching orders.

  • Andrew Taylor

    I’ve just stumbled across this. It appears that the heat is getting to Lew Rockwell, so he’s sending his surrogates out to defend him. And, not surprisingly, the man who won’t come clean about authoring the Ron Paul newsletters is (through his surrogates) demonstrating that he is ready to throw Paul under the bus:

    “The burden of the newsletter content is on Ron Paul, the man whose name graces the covers, and shame on you scoundrel ‘libertarians’ for automatically drawing the assumption that Lew Rockwell must have, had to be, surely was involved in writing those passages that have you all so horrified. Yet you claim that this man, who has worked so hard – on his own time and dollar – to open peoples’ minds to the more radical aspects of freedom and free markets, is ‘destroying your movement,’ as if this is some juvenile brotherhood of badges, pin pricks, sworn statements, and membership cards.”

    You can read the entire tiresome screed here:

    By the way, did anyone else not know that Rockwell was accused some time ago of having an affair with Cindy Sheehan? Google it if you want to read about it. I thought good paleos weren’t so morally lax, what with being “traditionalist Catholics” and all that.

  • grumpy realist

    Good god–no wonder libertarians never win anything.

    Look guys–you’re going to have to throw out the Neo-Nazi, White Power, Holocaust-denying trash that hangs around Paul if you want him to be considered a serious candidate. You may babble on about it being a “Libertarian ethos” to “not judge the mindset of other libertarians” but to the rest of the populace it looks like you’re all too willing to hang out with some pretty smelly individuals as long as they mouth “Constitutional Rights! Down with Taxes! Down with Government!” Which makes you either a bunch of jerks or a bunch of naive fools. Neither are the sort of the people that the US populace is going to grant any credence to.