On the “Ron Paul Problem”

My previous Strike the Root article on libertarianism and Ron Paul’s campaign for the republican nomination for the presidential election (here) has gained some attention. I expected to receive a large number of e-mails from “Ron Paulians” about how Ron Paul and the “rEVOLution” is about to save the world. To my surprise, most e-mails I received were from libertarians sharing my analysis.

This fact should mean, and I am generalizing of course, that the support for Ron Paul is real in the sense that it is not only a libertarian phenomenon. The thousands of people supporting Ron Paul’s campaign are not simply libertarians calling themselves republicans only to vote for “their” candidate. There are no doubt many such people too, but I suspect a large number of his supporters are actually republicans or “independents” in the party political sense. His support is real.

All comments I have received, however, are not positive. In a debate on Strike the Root following the publishing of my article, a number of points have been raised about the analysis in my article and arguments have been articulated to show how I am wrong. I dedicate this post to discuss two such points that I find particularly interesting – and that I think strengthens my view.

Initial remarks

Before beginning the discussion I would like to make one thing very clear in order to avoid confusion. I do not in any way support politics or political means, neither as a possible nor a moral means of change or liberty. In my view, I do not see politics as something that could ever bring about liberty – politics is a game of and for power, and as such it is utterly immoral and evil. This does not, however, mean I do not recognize differences between regimes; I would certainly be better off in one of the fifty united states under the constitution as it is written than in, e.g., Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union.

But I find those differences only different in degree, not in principle. The American constitutional republic is an oppressive state system of power just as Stalin’s USSR was, it is just that the systems grant their subjects different sets of rights and “freedoms.” Call it what you will, but both are state systems and as such I do not support them. One should not refrain from calling things what they are – and one should certainly not support something that is evil but “less evil” than other possible alternatives.

Some say it is a matter of semantics to not support but be “against but not as much against as other alternatives.” That statement is a mistake: support means action in favor of, whereas I have dislike for Stalin’s and Hitler’s state systems just as I dislike the constitutionalist union (federation). There are degrees to dislike without “less degree of dislike” necessarily transforming into support.

Having said this, I should admit that I would of course rather see Ron Paul as president than any other republican or democrat candidates. It is rather obvious to me that Paul might cause a lot less harm (perhaps even some good) to me than the others. But this doesn’t mean I support him as president – I don’t. Choosing between evils means you choose an evil, and I refuse to take on such responsibility. The fact that the political system is a system for creating a sense of legitimacy for power and rule should make it clear to all libertarians that the involvement in such a system (and thereby support of it) is not compatible with the non-aggression principle.

Now, to the points raised. The first one is about Ron Paul’s rhetoric and what he can possible do – and why he supports certain things simply because they are in the constitution. I call this argument “He is against the state – but follows the law.” The other argument is more practical and claims Ron Paul as president would make a hell of a change.

He is against the state – but follows the law

It may very well be true that Ron Paul is a man who is strictly opposed to the state. I personally doubt it, but I don’t know him and therefore I won’t say it isn’t true. However troubling the statist libertarian (read: minarchist) view is, I find the supporting argument much more annoying. “Ron Paul follows the law.”

Of course, this argument is usually not stated this way, but rather in terms such as “he has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution” or that “he uses the constitution as an argument against his fellow law-makers.” It is true that presidents and members of Congress alike take an oath to uphold the constitution. But it is equally true that very few throughout history have ever taken that oath seriously. So why would anyone who is against the state take that oath seriously, with the only effect being to restrain one’s possibilities to get rid of the state once and for all?

Since no one else on “the Hill” cares at all about the constitution and they frequently move to enact laws contradicting it only to further the state’s (their own) powers, then what good does the only person opposed to such behavior taking the oath seriously do? If this is really the case, if the libertarian on “the Hill” is really pro liberty, then the oath has only one real effect: it stops moves for liberty while having no effect whatsoever on those working against liberty. That should be reason enough to not care about the oath nor the constitution.

Another reason for working to uphold the constitution while not really believing in it might be that the person in office takes his or her word seriously. This is a ridiculous argument – if the person elected for congress is really for “more liberty” than allowed by the constitution, then being a member of congress itself is so evil and contradictory a position that breaking an oath to uphold something one does not believe in doesn’t change a thing. It only means tying one’s own hands – for what reason?

In either case, the libertarian on Capitol Hill has no reason to obey and uphold the constitution. It could be a strategic move with underlying good intentions, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. There are no arguments for working politically for the constitution unless one either 1) believes in it or 2) has as [sole] aim to “stop the others” – or both. If one believes in the constitution, which I believe is the case for Ron Paul, one cannot be anti state (and thus the argument above falls). And if one is only trying to stop the ongoing destruction in Washington, DC, then there is no reason to believe this person is at all libertarian – what are the ideals and ideas?

I believe that Ron Paul fits both – he both believes in the constitution (and is thus not anti state) and works mainly to stop the “madness” in the federal government.

Now to the second and final point:

He can and will make some real change

There should be no doubt this statement is only possible to make if one has a fundamental belief that change is, in fact, possible through the system. Without such a belief the statement simply wouldn’t make sense. At all.

It isn’t enough to claim the system has, indeed, been changing – I do admit to the factual statement that the system isn’t perfectly stagnant, it changes all the time. But I realize that the system continuously changes for the worse, not for the better. The system, no matter how “system” is defined, has never worked to strengthen liberty or roll back the powers of the state (these are really synonymous statements).

There are nevertheless events to the benefit of liberty, usually as a result of popular distress and risk of revolution or “losing control” or “chaos” (the latter two are usually used to describe such times when the masses no longer accept the authorities’ oppressive measures). But these events are only temporary setbacks for those with power – they realize they have tried to increase their powers a little too fast, and thus “take it back” only to do the same thing again at a later time when people aren’t watching (or have calmed down or are focused on something else).

The fact is that real change in society to the benefit of liberty only comes about as revolutionary leaps forward rather than gradual change. Such leaps may be the result of a tipping point having been reached, but the change is always great and happens almost all at once. Lady Liberty never approaches taking baby steps.

That said, what could Ron Paul do as president? With George W. Bush having made the U.S. presidency more powerful than admitted in the constitution, there should be some possibilities of change. Setting aside the fact that all such powers are unconstitutional (and thus president Ron Paul, taking the oath seriously, wouldn’t be able to use them – only to abolish them), Paul could make use of the presidential power as commander in chief and stop the slaughter and bring all troops home.

But what about spending? What about the welfare state? Those are matters for Congress and for president Paul to accept Congress’s decisions. Will Congress change because Ron Paul is president? He seems to think so, and maybe it will. But will it change radically? Hardly.

It seems to me what people in general hope for is that Ron Paul as sworn president means something much more than someone taking the oath seriously. It means the whole American society has changed, that the people has gotten sick and tired of government and wishes to abolish most (or all) welfare state programs. With such a change Congress will no doubt change radically as well – the reps and senators love their privileges too much to have ideals, and thus would throw out whatever agendas they have in order to stay in power and keep the people’s “confidence.”

But such a change really has nothing to do with Ron Paul and it has nothing to do with his presidential campaign. Rather, a Ron Paul presidency would then be an effect of a radical change that has already happened. So radical change by president Ron Paul is not an option – radical change would happen anyway, not depending on who is president. And if this is really the case, then why would Ron Paul have to adopt the view that he must restore the constitution (assuming the claim that he is in reality an enemy of the state)?

If there is no such radical change, which to me seems a lot more plausible, then Ron Paul as president would have to work with a lot of resistance – from both the people and Congress. Why anyone would believe such a presidency would mean real and concrete change I do not know. Politics, after all, is a means for oppression and destruction of liberty – not a means for liberation.