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.