The Ron Paul Problem

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December 17, 2007

There should be no doubt that Ron Paul and his presidential campaign have become a phenomenon, both among Republicans and independents and among libertarians. Also, there is no doubt Ron Paul running for president and bravely and clearly arguing a libertarian case in many issues attracts a lot of people from the "mainstream" to the libertarian movement. The libertarian movement should be growing rapidly thanks to Ron Paul.

This is, however, not solely a good thing. As is always the case with rapid growth, it comes with a number of problems, as the rapidity doesn't allow for consolidation or afterthought. It has been noted elsewhere that the Ron Paul campaign may very well make people "Ron Paulians" rather than libertarians, thereby creating a similar and competing movement. The exact opposite could also be true: People may learn about the libertarian idea as Ron Paul teaches it--and in fact get the wrong idea about libertarianism in some issues (like abortion and border fences).

These are obvious problems, but I do not personally worry too much about them. I see another problem with Ron Paul's candidacy, with respect to the libertarian movement, that I find much more troublesome. It has to do with Ron Paul being a statist libertarian, a so-called minarchist (or mini-archist)--he is pro-Constitution rather than anti-government.

Of course, if Ron Paul can educate a chunk of the American population to adopt a minarchist view of life and government, he might help freedom projects such as Jim Davies' TOLFA a great deal. After all, people should be more susceptible to arguments against the state when they are already mistrusting parts of it than if they are middle-of-the-line, government-loving Democrats. Ron Paul's ideological effect on the general population, even if most people do get a somewhat unorthodox (i.e. wrong) idea of what libertarianism is, is probably a good one and should be to our benefit.

The major problem lies in the effect Ron Paul has on the people already identifying with or being part of the libertarian movement. Many libertarians seem to have set their libertarian projects aside in order to work for Ron Paul. They not only work for his presidential campaign, but seem to adopt his views--even anti-libertarian views such as Paul's stand on abortion and increased border control. Arguing Ron Paul's case to the general public as well as to the members of the GOP, they take a few steps toward statism (while the opposite would be both better and more honest, considering their libertarian values)--and come to believe in it.

The Ron Paul effect is thus not only advertising a libertarian view, it also seems to claim it is possible to make libertarianism a part of the two-party system--and that it should be. And it preaches that the powers of the state can be tamed and even used as a tool to reintroduce liberty in America, and that the Constitution once again can serve as a leash on government's powers.

Of course, some of us still know this will never ever work. Government cannot be tamed and power and brute force cannot be used to do good, even if a libertarian is running the show. Becoming part of the system to change it isn't only a na've and ignorant strategy--it is dangerous as well. You cannot change the system, but the system will change you.

Ron Paul's supporters might claim the system hasn't changed Ron Paul, and that might be true (even though Ron Paul is not fully anti-government). But even if Paul hasn't been changed by the system, it is still true that in order to change things, you need to become part of it, and that will change you and your views forever. The system is not merely biased towards "mainstream" and a "middle way"--it is the only way accepted by it. The only way to gain influence to actually do something is to adopt the system's logic, but that will at best make you a marginal force in it. Even if you are president.

The alternative is to keep your values and ideals and work to challenge the system--and be marginalized by it.

That said, I do believe a Ron Paul presidency would be a lot better for me and my personal liberty than any of the other candidates. But that doesn't mean much considering who the other candidates are and what they are about. With Ron Paul as president, the libertarian movement will, even if it doesn't endorse Ron Paul's presidency, become part of the establishment. It will mean the end to radicalism, libertarian values and the call for radical change. As is obvious with the Libertarian Party, it is not only power that corrupts--the aim for power corrupts as much.

The libertarian idea is all about individual freedom and anti-government; a libertarian in the Oval Office is a contradiction so obvious the blind could see it clearly. The only question if this happens is: Will it be the end of statism caused by libertarianism--or the end of libertarianism caused by statism? I am afraid it might be the latter.

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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

Has a passion for justice.