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Res ipsa loquitur

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 17 years ago, in 2007, on the World Wide Web.

For those who may be curious, here’s my attitude towards the Ron Paul primary campaign. I would not vote for Ron Paul, even though I don’t have any in-principle objection to voting defensively in government elections. The short explanation is that I don’t vote for anti-abortion candidates, and I don’t vote for candidates who are significantly worse than the status quo on immigration. Unfortunately, whatever it’s other merits, Ron Paul’s campaign features both of these poison pills. On the other hand, currently he is running in a primary, and so to some extent I wish, without much hope, that he might somehow manage to defeat his current opponents, i.e., the other Republicans, i.e., that bunch of howling bare-fanged war-fascists.

But that’s about all the enthusiasm I’ve got. Many anti-war types and many libertarians are getting positively gleeful about the campaign, claiming that even if Ron Paul has little real hope for electoral victories, the campaign will at least provide a platform for outreach and education about libertarian and non-interventionist ideas, both through media notoriety and also through attracting an obviously enthusiastic and organizationally clever following of base supporters. For my part, I certainly hope that the Paulians learn something in the process, but the first problem is that Ron Paul’s positions, however preferable a select set of them may be to the positions espoused by the rest of the pack, are not libertarian; they’re Constitutionalist, which is something different. He can’t even always be counted on to mount principled, non-legalistic arguments against the war, and that issue’s the centerpiece of his campaign.

The second problem, even setting aside the ideological differences, is that the usual dynamics of electoral horse-racing, and the sometimes ridiculous tone of uncritical personal adulation toward Ron Paul’s personal virtues and the shining radiance of Ron Paul Thought, give me a lot of reason to fear that whatever lessons are drawn may very well be the wrong lessons, and that in any case the enthusiasm and activity around his campaign is likely to collapse into frustrated torpor more or less immediately after their sole vehicle for activism, the Ron Paul political machine, closes down for the season, and stays shuttered for the rest of a multiyear election cycle. Unless something changes, but soon, I see no reason to believe that the flurry of activity, as exciting as it may seem, is going to survive the end of this one maverick candidate’s personal electoral prospects.

Micha Ghertner recently posted a good article at The Distributed Republic, which touches on some similar themes and makes a number of other good points besides, focusing on the way in which the choice of electoral politics as a vehicle seriously hobbles the prospects for accomplishing much in the way of successful education about freedom or anti-imperialism through the Ron Paul machine. Thus:

But it is unreasonable to expect most of the target audience, having been successfully persuaded that Ron Paul is the candidate to support, to then go through the trouble of seperating the wheat from the chaff and come to the self-realization that implicit in Paul’s message of liberty is the notion that our focus should not be on selecting a candidate with admirable qualities such as honesty, integrity, and devotion to constitutional limits on government, but instead our focus should be on the inherent threat to liberty of the system itself, regardless of who happens to be temporarily at its helm. Bundling these two things together involves a self-contradiction between the medium and its message. Expecting people to ignore that contradiction, expecting people to hear the message we actually intend to send while rejecting the message of the medium itself, is expecting too much.

— Micha Ghertner, The Distributed Republic (2007-11-28): The Medium Is The Message: Why I Cannot In Good Conscience Support Ron Paul

Meanwhile, in the comments section, in order to prove that Ron Paul’s supporters really are approaching this from the standpoint of fair-minded principle, really are making the necessary careful distinctions, and really are putting principled concern for liberty over electoral politicking and partisan cheerleading, an anonymous paleo comes along in the comments to reply that You beltway libertarians are morons and that Micha’s remarks sound like the uninformed commentary of Hillary Clinton pollster.

Well, I guess it’s a fair cop. What could be more inside-the-Beltway than considered opposition to making an incumbent Congressman’s candidacy for the Presidency of the United States the main vehicle for your social and political vision, or encouraging means of activism, education, and resistance that bypass the machinery of the federal government?

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  1. Bunty

    The main point I can see in his favour is that if the improbable happened and he got elected, then it could result in a lot less dead (innocent) Iranians. Which would be a very very good thing indeed.

    But, apart from that it seems in many ways his campaign is just as much based on the cult of celebrity as the others. His politics may differ from the, but the nature of his followers en-masse (and I don’t mean all of them here, they are a varied bunch) doesn’t very much. Different words, same ideological partisan fervour. Same election of the spectacle – bread and circuses as a distraction from real change.

    And when you come down to it, idolising a leader, joining the massed army of his supporters, preaching his creed on the soapbox of every blog comment section in the cyberland, relying on him to bring Great Change by his honest magnificence … somehow just doesn’t seem very libertarian ;)

  2. Black Bloke

    So what has been your response to the Hans Hoppe arguments against the traditional libertarian position of free immigration?

  3. Rad Geek

    Well, I think that Hoppe’s arguments are bogus, and that they very often resemble some rather desperate rationalizations cooked up to fit a predetermined conclusion more than they look like principled arguments from a putative rights-absolutist.

    The precise response depends on the details of how the argument is spelled out. I don’t think I’ve dealt with Hoppean arguments at any length on this blog, but there are a couple of (very long) immigration threads over at No Treason where I deal with some variations on Hoppean arguments, mostly as filtered through Stephan Kinsella. Cf. 1 and 2. The latter is where I go into the most detail on one specific incarnation (viz. the claim that illegal immigrants are somehow trespassing on public property, especially roads).

  4. Deion

    Although I get a kick out of following RP on the interwebz, and although I’ll probably cast a vote for him, I fully agree on your larger point.

    I’m putting my time and money into the local Wobblies and Food without Bombs. I think that’s a better (morally and effectiveness-wise) use of it.

  5. Zeph

    Well, the Constitution may have its flaws but, as a wise man once said, “it’s a lot better than what we have right now.”

    Tempest in a teapot, of course. Ron Paul hasn’t a prayer against Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

  6. vapatriot2

    Ron Paul’s position on immigration is not as black and white as you seem to think, he has stated that if it were not for socialism in this country the (illegal)immigrants would not be a problem. I don’t believe he is anti-immigration per se, he sees the desperate economic problems that we are facing, the bankrupt welfare and entitlement state and quite properly understands that the additional burden is unbearable. Ron Paul has repeatedly stated that he wants federal interference in abortion related matters ended, since he is running for a federal office why do you care what his personal views are?

  7. Rad Geek


    I’ve already discussed some aspects of Ron Paul’s position on immigration, with quotations from his own platform and his own public statements. Cf. GT 2007-11-15: Quotations from Chairman Ron, GT 2006-04-09: Freedom Movement Celebrity Deathmatch, and GT 2006-04-05: Resistance is futile. His platform states, in plain language, that immigration should be subject to government chokepoints, government rules and waiting periods, and that any true reform to immigration law should be constructed in such a way that it doesn’t admit substantially more legal immigrants than are currently admitted. Thus (boldface mine; italics his):

    Pass true immigration reform. The current system is incoherent and unfair. But current reform proposals would allow up to 60 million more immigrants into our country, according to the Heritage Foundation. This is insanity. Legal immigrants from all countries should face the same rules and waiting periods.

    Given his explicit statements on the matter, it is disingenuous to claim that he is not anti-immigration. If you want a system where the government chokes off immigration in order to deliberately keep the numbers of immigrants down to numbers about equal to, or even less than, the current quotas, then you are anti-immigration in every sense that matters.

    I’m familiar with Ron Paul’s argument about the problems caused by the combination of immigration and the welfare state. (I take it that’s what you mean by socialism; but those who are new to this site should be advised that I have a different understanding of the term.)

    While I gladly support efforts to abolish the welfare state, as an argument against repealing or liberalizing immigration laws, this is fundamentally bogus. What the argument says is that when you combine something basically moral (peaceful migration) with something completely immoral (government charity funded by robbing innocent people), you get bad consequences. Maybe so. But then the obvious conclusion is to go after the immoral part of that combination, not the moral part. And if the reply is that ideally you’d like to do the former, but immigrants are more politically vulnerable than the welfare system, so you’re going to go after the immigrants instead, then that’s morally and politically despicable.

    As for abortion, I think that it’s disingenuous of Ron Paul to claim that he only wants federal interference in abortion related matters ended., when he votes for federal abortion procedure bans in Congress and elaborates his anti-abortion credentials in some detail on his platform for the federal office of President of the United States. But even if he were consistently opposed to federal involvement on abortion, I still would not support him. Reason being that I think that Roe v. Wade is a legitimate ruling and state governments have no right to impose abortion laws on women who do not consent to them. Cf. GT 2004-05-30: Why We Marched and GT 2004-06-24: Pro-Choice on Everything, Part I.

    Hope this helps.

  8. vapatriot2

    Rad Geek, Thank you for the detailed reply, and all of the links. Socialism, to me, is the use of force to take from one to give to another, it is a totally state operated mechanism,and is, IMHO,evil, in the private sector it is voluntary, called charity, and brings out the best in man. Your position on abortion issue is less clear to me, when does human life deserve protection?

  9. MKGhandi

    Read the Protocols of Zion, and remind yourself how those who want to rule the world are on all sides at once. And then remind yourself of the adage about how everyone has his ‘price’ for selling out. Put two and two together, and just because Ron Paul sounds good to a majority of Americans means one of two things. If he has integrity, Ron Paul will likely be the biggest threat to those who want to rule the world. They won’t hesitate to remove him from the scene. If he has no integrity, he is likely to ‘deliver the masses’ to them. He wants to shrink the government. At the same time the globalists want one world government. So, if he shrinks our government they will impose a new, fascist government on us, and possibly the rest of the world. The government virtually destroys itself under GW Bush, and Ron Paul will tell it ‘good riddance’ while for most of us, government is necessary to protect us from the excesses of business. That is what regulation is all about. Government power over business for the greatest good for the greatest number. That may be the stated goal, but it will never be achieved as long as the government itself is corrupt. The answer isn’t the smallest government. The answer is one that is appropriately sized to do the job, and to purge out the CORRUPTION. The corruption is not invisible. You can see it when you observe that the government pursues a different agenda from what it’s stated goals are. This prevents it from reaching its stated goal, and justifies its further existence. Ad nauseam. Get rid of this corruption. Ron Paul will get rid of it. He’ll also leave us all to fend for ourselves against businesses with unlimited resources and sharks for lawyers.

    Unfortunately, all the alternatives to Ron Paul are not only less honest, they are without a doubt far loonier on the extremes especially of authoritarianism. This just puts Ron Paul as the least of all evils. It would be nice to know who his friends are. Not his supporters, but the people who he would put into cabinet positions and positions of power in his administration.

    We’re in for a rough ride ahead. I hope reason and sanity prevail. That means an end to the War on Terror–because that is complete insanity.


  10. Rad Geek

    Read the Protocols of Zion, and remind yourself how those who want to rule the world are on all sides at once. …

    I’m not sure I follow you here. The main thing that reading The Protocols of the Elders of Zion would remind you of is what kind of lies Czarist forgers thought they could get away with spreading about the Jews and the Freemasons.

    That is what regulation is all about. Government power over business for the greatest good for the greatest number. That may be the stated goal, but it will never be achieved as long as the government itself is corrupt. The answer isn’t the smallest government. The answer is one that is appropriately sized to do the job, and to purge out the CORRUPTION. The corruption is not invisible. You can see it when you observe that the government pursues a different agenda from what it’s stated goals are. This prevents it from reaching its stated goal, and justifies its further existence.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the State to reach its stated goal. Its unstated goals are often worse than its stated goals, but its stated goals — to tax and tyrannize innocent people, and to push innocent people around over how to use their own property whether or not those people ever wanted or agreed to anything of the kind — are bad enough as it stands.

    As for expecting Leviathan to protect you from the sharp dealings of Behemoth businesses — well, don’t. The truth is that they’re all in it together, which perhaps you already know; but, importantly, you could do a hell of a lot better on your own.

  11. Sheldon Richman

    A very thoughtful post, Rad. Thanks.

  12. Discussed at blog.6thdensity.net

    Social Memory Complex » Get over it!:

    […] hats off to the libertarians who stand by their convictions – all of them. We disagree on Paul’s campaign, but we agree that our […]

— 2008 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-01-07 – Paul Till You Puke:

    […] have argued before that the positions expressed by Ron Paul in his campaign are constitutionalist rather than libertarian. Whether I would call Ron Paul a libertarian or not depends on what is meant by the term. […]

  2. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-01-25 – Take the A-Train:

    […] I think that it was foolish for anarchists to sign on to the Dallas Accord. Partly because I’m a self-righteous ultra and I dislike that kind of calculated compromise in the name of political expediency. But also because of the very practical effect that it has had in constricting the range of subjects that market anarchists are willing to talk about or work on over the past three decades. Avoiding points of conflict between anarchists and minarchists means either studied silence or mumbling prevarication on issues that ought to be absolutely central for any anarchist worth her salt — among other things, the right of (state, local, neighborhood, individual) secession, the moral illegitimacy and practical futility of appeals to the Constitution, the arrogance and abusiveness of monopoly police forces, the illegitimacy of any and all forms of taxation, the fundamental problem with any form of government military or intelligence apparatus whatsoever, etc. Devoting your time and energy to a political organization whose messages are specifically adapted to be compatible with the minarchist program on these issues means frittering away a lot of energy fighting what goes on in the palace — while leaving untouched the pillars that hold the damned thing up. I would certainly agree that market anarchists should be willing to work together with coalition partners on particular issues of concern — the drug war, corporate welfare, the war on Iraq, etc. — whether those coalition partners are minarchists, or state Leftists, or whatever else. But who you’ll work with in issue-based coalitions is a different question from whose movement you’ll participate in, or what formations you’ll make the primary venue for your broader organizing and activism. I think it is long past time that we stop shelving our anarchism and indefinitely deferring our explicit anti-statism in order to fit in with limited statists in organizations like the Libertarian Party or Chairman Ron’s Great Libertarian Electoral Revolution. […]

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