Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Teflon Libertarian Moderate

There is a member of the Libertarian Party who advocates the following positions of many of us in the Reform Caucus.
  • He does not advocate anarchism and believes there are "proper constitutional functions of the federal government". He is "dedicated to limited, constitutional government" and believes there is a "proper role for government in a free society". He identifies "the real purpose of government in a society that professes to be free: protection of liberty".
  • He does not dispute the Art I Sec 8 taxation powers of Congress, and advocates funding the federal government through some combination of "tariffs, excise taxes, and property taxes" -- all of which are verboten under Rothbardian zero-force-initiation dogma.
  • He rejects the LP's absolutist position on abortion, and suggests that local jurisdictions should be free to draw the personhood line somewhere between conception and birth: "Would you be happy with a law that says abortion can be done no later than at six weeks' gestation? [...] I don't think anybody's going to win this. You [a pro-choice interviewer] are not even for abortion for anybody every time a minute before birth. You don't want to abort these normal babies. At the same time, I don't think we'll ever reach the stage where there will be no abortions. I want to sort this out the way the Constitution mandates, and that's at the local level."
  • He rejects the LP's traditional absolutist demand for unrestricted immigration.
  • He advocates what Rothbard called "an order to destatization", making immigration reform conditional on welfare reform: "The real problem is not immigration, but rather the welfare state magnet."
  • He demurs from immediate or even near-term abolition of the nanny state: "Q: Department of Agriculture. Commerce. Health and Human Services. Housing and Urban Development. You'd get rid of all of them? A: Yeah. Of course, that's not on the immediate agenda, but in theory they're unnecessary, and we should think about what kind of a country we'd have without these departments."
  • He cites social disruption as a reason to defer immediate destatization. "Q: Is [Medicare] something you'd get rid of? A: Yes, but that's not high on my agenda. As a matter of fact, we've taught a couple of generations of Americans to be very dependent on government. That's not my goal, because I think you have to have a transition period."
  • He denies that markets can provide national defense: "A: I happen to think that the market can deliver any service better than the government can. Q: Even -- would you use that for defense too, or no? A: No, no, we'd have defense, but this militarism isn't defense, it's the opposite of defense."
  • He believes in a "vital constitutional role in overseeing monetary policy", as opposed to the Rothbardian dogma that there should be no government-sanctioned currency.
  • He apparently supports the Sixth Amendment right of the accused to coerce innocent third-party witnesses to attend trial: "What other principles from our founding era should we discard for convenience? Should we give up the First amendment because times have changed and free speech causes too much offense in our modern society? Should we give up the Second amendment, and trust that today’s government is benign and not to be feared by its citizens? How about the rest of the Bill of Rights?"
  • He is a traditionalist about juries and presumably believes in the principle that jury duty is compulsory in the absence of compelling reasons against serving. Compulsory jury duty violates the anarcholibertarian Zero Aggression Principle.
  • He supported the use of the tax-financed military against those nations (e.g. Afghanistan) that aided or harbored the planners of the 9/11 attack, and does not endorse the idea that the existence of the tax-financed U.S. military is a crime against liberty.
  • He apparently believes in the federal government's constitutional authority to provide postal roads and manage interstate waterways, as a large percentage of the congressional earmarks he supports for his home district are for interstate highways and federal waterways.
Despite all these public heresies, this moderate member of the Libertarian Party is embraced and endorsed in some way by all of the following radical figures in the libertarian movement, each of whom is nevertheless a bitter critic of reform and moderation within the LP:
  • David Nolan
  • Mary Ruwart
  • Lew Rockwell
  • Burt Blumert
  • Jacob Hornberger
  • Walter Block
  • Roderick Long
  • Ernest Hancock
  • L. Neil Smith
  • Justin Raimondo
  • Eric Garris
  • Steve Kubby
  • Christine Smith
  • Wes Benedict
  • Anthony Gregory
  • Starchild
  • Less Antman
  • Lawrence Samuels
  • Mark Selzer
Who is this Teflon libertarian moderate? You know damn well who he is. He's Ron Paul. He's the Libertarian analog to the HypnoToad and the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. His name is like the Godelian self-referential paradoxes that Captain Kirk invoked to make smoke come from the ears of alien robots. Only a tiny handful of LP radicals -- like Tom Knapp, Susan Hogarth, and perhaps the oh-so-conflicted Angela Keaton -- are immune to his Svengali-like powers of moderation. Radical libertarians confronting the campaign of the movement's most beloved political figure have to choose between inconsistency and self-marginalization, and it turns out the only way out of this catch-22 is to be gay. Radicals among the Outright Libertarians have a valid (though parochial) excuse for not supporting Paul, and the moderator of their forum candidly put it this way: "Expecting us to have a broad view of Paul within our niche is futile."

Tom Knapp estimates a 90% chance of Ron Paul seeking the LP nomination (which he of course would win), but I think the odds are unfortunately far lower. Ron Paul's bio (admittedly on his GOP nomination campaign site) doesn't mention the LP or his 1988 LP presidential candidacy, but Paul was making the same elision on his congressional web site as early as 2004. Paul will very likely stay in the GOP race as long as he thinks he has a chance to draw major non-embarrassing attention on the national stage inside (or outside) the 2008 GOP convention. When those odds start to look too long, he's likely to just reclaim his current House seat and from it try to surf the wave he's created. He doesn't need the LP to do that, and he's probably aware that a rerun of his 1988 LP presidential bid would be anticlimactic after the way his pre-Iowa GOP nomination campaign has rewritten the campaign manuals. Changing this picture would surely require some kind of wild card -- a major deterioration in Iraq, a major terrorist attack on Americans, or a sudden major entrance or exit among the (vice-)presidential candidates. Unfortunately, the wave of the Ron Paul Revolution remains very likely to be broken up by the rocks of the GOP primary calendar, when actual electoral returns and delegate counts will eclipse Internet polls and money bombs. The radicals listed above will then use their well-practiced skills in historical revisionism to try to explain why the relative success his campaign of constitutionalist minarchism did not tend to confirm the claims of LP reformers. LP leaders and reformers, meanwhile, will be trying to figure out how to dress up the LP's Anarchist Asylum so that it appears to offer political asylum to refugees from the Ron Paul Revolution. Will the radicals above give amnesty to Ron Paul Revolution veterans who advocate that the LP Platform make room for the heresies listed above, and treat them as converts instead of "infiltrators" and heretics? Not bloody likely. You see, it turns out that the Zero Aggression Principle has an exemption for anyone whose name is spelled R-o-n P-a-u-l.


Anonymous said...


Your essay is amusing, but you do make some good points, which I will try to address.

You assume that Ron Paul is a Libertarian moderate. Based on the policy positions that you cite, that superficially seems like a reasonable assumption. Note, however, that Ron Paul doesn't typically disavow radical libertarian beliefs, and sometimes even voices them (e.g. "I happen to think that the market can deliver any service better than the government can.") My personal assessment of Ron Paul is that his beliefs are more radical libertarian than comments about things like how getting rid of Medicare isn't high on the agenda would lead one to believe. Not that I think he is lying about stuff like that, but I do not think he has any ideological or image-based resistance to taking policy as far toward freedom as he can in most areas, and that whatever moderation he expresses is simply based on a realistic assessment of what he thinks is politically possible.

Some Libertarian moderates also express beliefs that are personally radical, but not only do they not think that candidates should run on those beliefs, they also seem to be afraid of taking stances or actions that would give them a radical image. Ron Paul does not seem to have this fear. He strikes me as being radical on a personal level that goes beyond mere abstract philosophical beliefs, but plays a vital part of who he is on a day-to-day basis.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, his campaign has a very radical, decentralist, DIY feel to it. He seems less interested in telling his supporters what to do than just about any candidate I've seen at any level. He has not objected to the "Ron Paul r3VOLution" slogan, but actively embraced it. The author of one profile piece I read on him noted that he even seemed reluctant to give orders to his campaign staff even on small matters like rolling up the windows in a car he's being driven in! Would that we had more politicians so hesitant about telling others what to do!

Another thing that sets Ron Paul apart from your typical moderate LP "reformer" is that I haven't heard him urging moderation on other libertarians. He doesn't seem interested in telling radicals they ought to moderate their radicalism, or telling other candidates they need to adopt the positions he does in order to get elected (other than admonishing fellow Republicans on the need to be against war, empire and big government to stop losing elections). He doesn't seem interested in trying to give the Libertarian Party a moderate makeover, water down its platform, or get rid of its pledge.

To the extent Ron Paul touches on the Non-Aggression Principle (though he hasn't talked about it by name that I'm aware of), he appears to see it as a good thing that he supports. I'm sure if nailed down he would cite exceptions, but as I have said, 100% consistency in supporting the NAP is not what's important. Even I admit at least one exception. What's important is that we embrace Non-Aggression in general as the heart of the libertarian approach, and I feel like Ron Paul essentially does that, even though I do think he has significant and regrettable shortcomings on it in some areas, such as his failure to support open borders, marriage equality, etc.

But also, of course, Ron Paul is running as a Republican. I have lower ideological standards for supporting someone running as a Republican than I do for someone running as a Libertarian. That is because the two establishment parties are already hopeless in terms of what they stand for, so there is nothing institutional to preserve or defend, and it's just a matter of one candidate's message. When someone runs as a Libertarian, it matters how the positions they take reflect on the party, because the party itself is associated with libertarianism, and it is, or ought to be, our bastion of speaking-truth-to-power in U.S. politics. Most of the "reformers" I would prefer not to see elected to internal party office or representing the LP as high-profile candidates, I would be happy to see running on relatively pro-freedom, Paul-like platforms as Republicans or Democrats.

Another big assumption you appear to be making (or if you are not, have at least failed here to make a distinction on) is that LP radicals who support Ron Paul now would (a) support him for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination, or (b) support him as a Republican running against a more radical Libertarian in the general election. That's not necessarily the case. Simply supporting one candidate over others in the Republican primary does not radical hypocrisy make.

Now admittedly I'm not personally going to rule out supporting Ron Paul in the general election even if he's running against a Libertarian who is more radical on the issues, although I most likely would support the LP candidate. While I consider issue stances to be very important in choosing a candidate, I've never said they are the *only* thing that is important. Things like personal integrity and character are also very important.

Ron Paul has a proven track record of maintaining his principles, integrity, and continuing to articulate a philosophy which compared with virtually any other Republican or Democrat especially at his level of office is quite radical and libertarian, despite many terms in the U.S. Congress. If anyone in the libertarian movement can substantiate a claim to being relatively immune to the temptations of money and power, it's Ron Paul.

So if he were to get the GOP nomination and the LP nominated a candidate who was a bit more radical than Ron Paul, but had significant other flaws -- or, heaven forbid, if the party nominates someone equally or less radical than Ron Paul -- I might be tempted to go with Ron Paul. Not based on him having a greater chance to get elected -- one vote in a national election counts very little -- but based on keeping the momentum of the "Ron Paul r3VOLution" going, continuing to build ties with its supporters, and hopefully contributing to their further radicalization.

However I do not expect to support Ron Paul for the LP nomination unless it's a question of getting him versus someone arguably less radical or undesirable as a candidate in other ways, such as Wayne Allyn Root. Rather if Ron Paul wins the GOP nomination, I will likely encourage the LP not to run a presidential candidate, but rather to put its 2008 resources into state and local elections. If Ron Paul does not win the GOP nomination, I will encourage him to run as an independent, and seek to have the LP nominate a radical libertarian candidate like Steve Kubby whom I can support and vote for as clearly the best libertarian choice in the race.

Anonymous said...

P.S. - On the topic of Ron Paul's personal radicalism and how it goes beyond abstract beliefs, I meant to mention also the sign on his desk that reads "DON'T STEAL THE GOVERNMENT HATES COMPETITION." I find it extraordinary, and delightful, that a member of Congress would display such a sign so visibly in his office, and I think it speaks volumes about Ron Paul's commitment to radical libertarian values.

PlanetaryJim said...

Moderation in the Libertarian Party is a bad idea. It doesn't need to be reformed, it needs to be a stark contrast to the other parties.

Ron Paul is running as a Republican. He gets a pass on his many exceptions to the non-aggression principle, because he has a chance of winning.

Forget everything else. If he could do nothing else as president but issue pardons for all those convicted of victimless crimes, think of how many more of us would be on the streets?

Anonymous said...

Raimondo left radicalism behind when he left the LP. He's been a Republican ever since.

And when did Selzer turn radical?

Unknown said...

It is entirely possible that the Ron Paul Horde will, once Paul loses his GOP nomination bid, descend upon the Libertarian Party for use as a vehicle for further activities. The radicals will be numerically overwhelmed, and the Paullists will complete the de-radicalization of the party that has been happening in stages since 2002.

Then the radical libertarians who founded the party and gave it its intellectual rigor will be politically homeless once again. Meanwhile, the Paullists, without their object of adoration to hold them together, will splinter into a hundred factions and within six years, rip the party to shreds.


Brian Holtz said...

Sorry, Starchild, but your lengthy comments are simply hand-waving and wishful thinking. You say absolutely nothing on the substance of the 12 Paul heresies against radical libertarianism that I listed. Using/tolerating the word "revolution" in campaign rhetoric doesn't qualify Paul as an LP-style radical, or negate any of those 12 points. Ron Paul's appearance on Meet The Press resoundingly confirmed my claim that Paul is a serial heretic against radical libertarianism: .

Your claim that some of the 17 radicals on my list might not support Paul for the LP nomination against a more radical candidate is laughable. If you can get a single one of the other 16 radicals to say they would support some other LP candidate over Paul for the LP nomination, I'll donate $100 to that candidate. David Nolan even offered to be Paul's VP candidate!

I don't buy the flimsy excuse that radical enthusiasm for the heretic Paul is OK because Paul is not an LP candidate. These radicals are all promoting Paul as a great libertarian, and many of them don't even care about the LP brand. It's just hilarious that all these radicals can detect trace amounts of hypocrisy in others, but can't see it in the mirror when it's staring them in the face.

P.S. Saying the government steals doesn't make Paul a radical, either. I too say that a large part of what the government does is theft. Does that magically make me a radical?

Morey, Raimondo is still a radical anti-statist and anarchist, as far as I know. If you and Starchild are going to make the definition of radicalism dependent on party affiliation instead of on the substance of one's views, then it confirms the reformist charge that you radicals care more about badges of self-righteousness than about how one's views relate to, and might influence, the real world.

Scott, I'd love it if hordes of Paulists joined the LP, but I'm not optimistic that it will happen. The ones who try will find the LP too intolerant of non-anarchists whose initials aren't R.P.

morey said...

BH> Raimondo is still a radical anti-statist and anarchist, as far as I know. If you and Starchild are going to make the definition of radicalism dependent on party affiliation...

MS> My statement was not based on affiliation. I should have said "a conservative". It is based on published statements that are easily (re)searched.

Brian Holtz said...

If it's "easy" to research up a quote of Raimondo spurning his earlier anarchism and now defending the authority of the state, please do so. It's indisputable that Raimondo remains a bitter critic of reform and moderation within the LP and thus a hypocrite for supporting Ron Paul. If Raimondo is also an ex-anarchist, so much the better for my thesis that anarcholibertarianism is not a durable worldview.