Yesterday, I was listening to a Ron Paul interview on NPR’s “Talk Of The Nation”. The segment was part of a larger series this week profiling important members of Congress who are retiring this year. During Congressman Paul’s segment, the primary question the interviewers pressed upon was where the Congressman’s supporters would go now that he was retiring. Dr. Paul of course wisely rejected the interviewers premise. He said that the movement birthed from his campaign was spontaneous, and that it did not need any sort of central figure to rally around. More specifically he said, ” I think they’ll have plenty of places to go. I think they’ll act as individuals, and they’re going to create a whole new atmosphere, and they’re going to propel the revolution, I think, in a very healthy way.”
The very nature of Ron Paul’s message is about spontaneous order and voluntary action. Even still, those who call themselves part of the liberty movement are currently facing the reality that Ron Paul is not running for office again. The truth is that Ron Paul was truly one of a kind. His coalition of support amongst libertarians, small government conservatives, independents and others may very well soon be parting ways due to the retirement of their ideological rallying point. While the liberty movement will certainly continue in one form or another, It is almost certain that Ron Paul will not be the primary figure behind it. I think that it is fairly clear that several different factions may arise with differing opinions as how to advance the movement politically. I believe that we are seeing factions manifest themselves already, as the liberty movement looks forward to 2016. Fortunately, these factions have a default position of liberty. Certainly, with a mutual goal great advances can be made in the liberty movement even as Ron Paul’s career reaches its’ sunset.
The most immediate and obvious heir of Ron Paul’s political support was Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s candidate in last month’s election. Following the unofficial suspension of Ron Paul’s campaign, many supporters, (including myself) considered the only choice in November was to vote for Johnson, or not to vote at all. Curiously, Gov. Johnson’s campaign began to take on a life of its’ own completely independent of Ron Paul’s primary effort. It was widely remarked that Johnson was, by far, the most impressive candidate in the Libertarian Party’s history. As a former popular two term governor of a primarily Democratic state, Johnson had proven that a Libertarian in an executive government office could work. With nearly 750 vetoes during his tenure, Johnson halted the growth of New Mexico’s state government, and by the time that he left office in 2003, the state had a 1 billion dollar surplus in its’ treasury. His accomplishments were naturally brushed aside by his status as a third-party candidate. Even still, with Gov. Johnson’s strong qualifications, the main focus of his campaign was to “Be Libertarian,” and to “Be the five percent.” The campaign’s main message evolved into a strike against the two-party system itself. Hoping to surpass Ralph Nader’s 2000 return and capture 5 percent of the national electorate’s vote, therefore qualifying the Libertarian Party for federal funding in 2016, and most likely inclusion in Presidential debates with the Republican and Democratic parties. Unfortunately, the votes cast for Gary Johnson were well below the campaign’s intended goal, ultimately coming out to about 1 percent of the popular vote. Even still, Gov. Johnson has already stated his intent to run again in 2016, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he again captures a good number of former Ron Paul supporters in his next effort as well.
Another route many in the liberty movement may take in 2016 is to encourage Ron Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul to run for president. Almost immediately after the election, Sen. Paul expressed vocal interest in running. Many expect the younger Paul to be more successful as a national candidate than his father. The primary tune that we hear from Doug Wead and others is that Rand is more “self-aware” than his father, and that he has “learned from the mistakes” of Ron Paul’s career. Judging from his short tenure in the Senate, I am 99 percent sure that Rand Paul is definitely running in 2016. Since his election to the Senate two years ago, Rand Paul has been the most visible and outspoken member of the Republican caucus. Perhaps however, his attribution as a member of the GOP caucus should contain an asterisk. Unlike his dad, who took the (R) at the end of his name as only a means of getting elected, Rand came to Washington with an agenda of legislative priorities to cut government at every level, and has been quite successful at building a coalition of like-minded members of Congress in both houses. Since endorsing Mitt Romney last summer, it is pretty clear to me that Sen. Paul is making an effort to secure his status in the GOP as a serious future presidential candidate. I foresee Sen. Paul’s candidacy as being a polarizing point in the liberty movement, divided between those who might argue that it is necessary to share a Libertarian frame alongside a distinctly Republican pair of lenses in order to accomplish anything, and those who refuse to compromise any amount of principle for the sake of political maneuvering.
Even amongst those who might feel comfortable with a further association with the Republican Party, and those who do not, I foresee a third faction arising to vie for the inheritance of Ron Paul’s political legacy. This very week, Revolution PAC, launched plans to draft Judge Andrew Napolitano to run for president. Revolution PAC was an unofficial partner of Ron Paul’s campaign last year, and is the closest thing to an organizational continuation of Ron Paul’s campaign in 2012. (Campaign For Liberty and Young Americans For Liberty being largely birthed out of Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign.) For many supporters of the campaign this was a curious development and possibly a snub to Rand Paul’s candidacy. I do not view it as a snub to Rand Paul directly, but more as an illustration of the fear that the liberty movement may be co opted by Republican Party establishment, and amounting to nothing more than the supposedly small government “Republican Revolution” of 1994. Only time will tell whether or not this fear is justified, but I for one would love to see Judge Napolitano run. Napolitano is a fantastic spokesman for libertarian ideas, and I foresee him being a fantastic candidate.
However the liberty movement grows in 2016 and in the following years, I think that we can be definitely sure that it will in fact GROW, and that is, undoubtedly, a good thing.
Certainly, the outcome of this month’s presidential election does not suggest good things for American liberty in the coming years. Personally however, I did not share the frustration and disappointment of many of my Republican friends. From all evidence gathered by both of his campaigns for president and his record as Governor of Massachusetts, I am certain that Mitt Romney would be no more a Libertarian president than Obama has been. In fact, I think that an argument could be made that a Romney administration would perhaps have more potential to halt the intellectual momentum that Libertarians have enjoyed in recent years.
Even still, to watch the piercing disappointment of Republicans has been quite sad for me. In the past few weeks a narrative of explanations for the election’s outcome has arisen. Amongst Conservatives, it has been suggested that Romney lost due to the lack of “gifts” and entitlements that were offered to voters. On Fox News, we hear that the “Death of Traditional America” has been landmarked and bypassed, and that the election in fact signified a dramatic ideological shift among all American voters. (Just as it had in 2004 and 2010.) Other opinions have been offered elsewhere, with explanations ranging from their approach to courting Latino voters to the typical nonsensicle “the GOP’s extremist wing lost the election” narrative.
Having divorced myself from mainstream political narratives a long time ago, I am neither suprised by these explanations, nor was I suprised that Romney lost. Practically speaking, Romney was a terrible candidate. Since observing Romey’s campaign in 2008 and the years following, I have never observed another political figure with Romney’s ability to disconnect from voters and to even inspire contempt from them. Although he has improved through the years, an improved terrible candidate is still a terrible candidate.
None of the reasons listed above sufficently explain the GOP’s abysmal bid for the presidency in this campaign. As the self described “conservative” political party in America, the history and philosophy of politics pits itself against the GOP in every election. In his essay, “Egalitarianism As A Revolt Against Nature”, Murray Rothbard argues that those vowing to “stand athwart history” are always fated to long term failure. Rothbard writes, “For well over a century, the Left has generally been conceded to have morality, justice, and “idealism” on its side; the Conservative opposition to the Left has largely been confined to the “impracticality” of its ideals”, and that, “Conservatives failed to see is that while short-run gains can indeed be made by appealing to the impracticality of radical departures from the status quo, that by conceding the ethical and the “ideal” to the Left they were doomed to long-run defeat. For if one side is granted ethics and the “ideal” from the start, then that side will be able to effect gradual but sure changes in its own direction; and as these changes accumulate, the stigma of “impracticality” becomes less and less directly relevant.”
Conservatives who are familiar with America’s political history might take offense at the far from unique accusation that they merely “stand against” and never “stand for” anything. Years ago, I myself would have taken offense at this accusation, dismissing the Conservative’s positions as being completely positive when viewed from the right perspective. Unfortunately, all we need to do is look at the development of the Conservative movement in the 20th Century to prove this accusation true. The prominent political commentator and educator Robert LeFevre wrote in 1964 that, “Prior to the apppearance of F.D Roosevelt as president, the term (conservative) was not used with any frequency to designate a particular group of persons, rather, it was employed to signify an attitude, a point of reference which might relate to politics and equally relate to science, religion, business, home life, or a moral outlook.” LeFevre’s point is that prior to the organized political opposition of FDR’s New Deal, the term “Conservative” was not monopolized by any particular political party. Rather, the political system operated from a coalition based system in which the two seperate political parties had both conservative and liberal members who voted more often with their respective ideoligies than with their parties. Once Republicans and Democrats were widely classified as conservative and liberal, the Republicans became more often than not defined by their tendency to “stand against”.
As the political system currently stands, the United States has broadly reverted to the Classical European political conflict of the Conservative versus the revolutionary. One party which claims to be that of progress and humanity, and another which claims proudly to stand for the status quo and tradition. This pendelum effect mixes itself with the other great conflict of liberty versus power.
Conservatives have the historical distinction of defending the old order in particular societies, and therefore being the party to represent the established power structure. Additionally, the classical understanding of the term “liberalism” refers to one who is against centralized power and in favor of the rights of the individual. Unfortunately the current political dynamic is such that the influence of state power has determined that conservatives are those who represent the old order status quo, and liberals are representatives of the validity and growth of the centralized power of the state. The lone value that is lost in this equation is the natural rights of classical liberalism.
Murray Rothbard continues his case in the essay, “Left and Right: The Prospects For Liberty”. He contends that classical liberalism is the only philosophy which “brought to the Western world not only liberty, the prospect of peace, and the rising living standards of an industrial society, but above all, perhaps, it brought hope, a hope in ever-greater progress that lifted the mass of mankind out of its age-old sinkhole of stagnation and despair”.
For those disenfranchised by this months’ election, and by politics in general, I would invite them to answer Bastiat’s call for politics to “end where they should have begun,” in claiming the long term optimism and ending the brief uninspired vacation from history and reason, we should “reject all systems, and try liberty.”
In the next two months I will be one of many to participate in two seemingly unrelated events. Although both of these events arouse my interest, I am admittedly looking forward to one of these events much more than I am the other. In case you have not guessed from the title, I am referring to the presidential election this coming Tuesday, and the December 14th premiere of the first film in Peter Jackson’s trilogy adapting J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
Although I was only 13 when The Fellowship Of The Ring hit theaters in 2001, I remember the event as being the highlight of my year. (As were the respective releases of the two subsequent films, The Two Towers and The Return Of The King.) After the film series introduced me to Tolkien, I fell in love with Middle earth after my furious readings of both The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings. Tolkien struck a chord in my imagination with his magnificent creation. Being brave, honest, always tenderly just, and possessing extraordinary resolve; I would like to believe that the characters from the LOTR left a lasting impression with me.
This morning I was browsing the podcasts on mises.org, when I came across one of my favorites, Jeff Riggenbach’s “The Libertarian Tradition”. One broadcast in particular caught my eye entitled “J.R.R Tolkien as Libertarian“. I listened as Mr. Riggenbach went through several of Tolkien’s statements regarding the “inner meaning or message” of the LOTR. On some occasions in both forewords to the book and in letters to his publisher, Tolkien claims that LOTR “is not about anything but itself. Certainly, it has no allegorical intentions, general, particular, or topical, moral, religious, or political.” However, in a letter to his original publisher in 1947, Tolkien wrote, “You can make the ring into an allegory of our own time, if you like. An allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power, by power.” Additionally, in a 1956 letter to an American reader, Tolkien writes, “My story is not an allegory to atomic power, but of power exerted for domination.”
Somewhat using evidence of Tolkien’s stated intent, and certainly using the LOTR as context within itself, Riggenbach submits that LOTR is merely a dramatization of one of my longest held political convictions. Borrowing the famous quotation from the 19th century British writer John Dahlberg-Acton, that, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” and that, “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.”
In LOTR, we see the one ring of power as a symbol of absolute power. The ring holds power over, and corrupts all who bear it. From extreme examples such as Isildur and Gollum, to more moderate ones such as Bilbo and Frodo; the corruption varies on scale determined by the level of lust that the bearers possess for the ring. Additionally, we see that Tolkien’s only example of just leadership lies in the character of Aragorn, who certainly does not wish to be king at all.
In a 1943 letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien writes, “My political opinions lean more and more towards anarchy, philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs. The most improper job of any man, even of saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
I will freely admit that I am writing this at a time seemingly all too convenient. Nevertheless, I take the liberty to repeat Tolkien’s words from 1947; making the ring into, “an allegory of our own time.”; and of, “the inevitable fate that awaits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power.”
Looking towards the results of next weeks’ election, we should remind ourselves what sort of time our political system belongs to. Seemingly, we are in the age of unilateral control exerted over us by our presidents. We live in the age of absolute power in the state’s ability to use lethal force against other nations, to illegally detain its’ own citizens, and immeasurable other examples of imperial overreach.
Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings begs the question; should we put the ring on a finger at all?
Note: More often than not, my libertarian philosophy ensures that I am reluctant in broadcasting my views concerning foreign governments. This is because most discussion of foreign policy in the United States is spurred from the intellectually dominant premise that the U.S has a right to unlimited intervention in the affairs of foreign governments. My observations concerning the political activities of other countries are completely passive. Although as a student of political philosophy I obviously disapprove of the practices of many foreign governments, I do not suggest that the United States should “do something about it.”
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia is the poster child of 21st century authoritarianism. Considering his intention to seek a third nonconsecutive term as President of Russia in 2012, there is no doubt that PM Putin intends to rule Russia for the rest of his life. Putin has completed the playbook on 21st century democratic authoritarianism. Since the beginning of his first term as President in 2000, Putin has had great success in making authoritarianism “cool” again.
Putin, from all impressions that I can gather, seems extremely popular, both in Russia and around the world. Surprisingly, the projected image of the authoritarian iron fisted ‘He-Man’ has propelled Putin into a state of international celebrity that few other world leaders have managed to achieve.
In the view of a civil rights loving westerner such as myself, Putin is not defined as much by his supposed strong and capable leadership as he is by his personal responsibility for the re transformation of Russia into an anti-democratic nightmare state. Since Putin’s ascension to power in 2000 via a practical military coup;
Putin has waged social warfare on benefactors of Russia’s 1990’s era free market, ironically terming leaders such as Boris Berezovsky as “oligarchs”. Berezovsky gained prominence actually as the prime mover in Putin’s ascension to power in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Berezovsky was by no means a social liberal, but he did have political influence independent from Putin’s, therefore he had to be eliminated.
Putin ‘s regime also quenched significant political opposition in 2007, this time in the form of the United Civil Front lead by former chess master Garry Kasparov. The United Civil Front’s humble goal was to establish a “free political floor” on which free elections could be held. Once again, at the cusp of Kasparov’s influence, Putin eliminated his political influence in Russia.
Furthermore than his antagonizing of all alternate political expression; Putin has increased military spending an average of 20 percent annually since 2000. Although this growth is perceived by most as an effort to consolidate Russia’s image as a powerfully independent nation in the international arena, it undoubtedly adds to Putin’s already near dictator like power.
Upon Putin’s expected return to the presidency next year, awareness should be spread of the notion that in the coming years Vladimir Putin will undoubtedly be the world’s most powerful man.
Tags: Foreign Policy, Liberty, Ron Paul
I endorsed Ron Paul for President in the 2012 Republican Primary back in May, however, I just wanted to share a video which perfectly illustrates exactly why I do support Ron Paul. Please take time to watch, and feel free to comment.