Monday, November 19, 2007

On Libertarianism and Ron Paul

One of the interesting developments of this election season is the candidacy of Ron Paul. The Texas congressman has run a successful, internet based, campaign that has kept him in the Republican race, despite being a "maverick" within the party. What I have found interesting is how many young people seem to gravitate towards Paul. His "libertarian" message, which emphasizes personal freedom and responsibility, a strict interpretation of the constitution, his opposition to the Patriot Act, and his anti-Iraq War voting record seem to connect with politically minded young people.

We live in strange times--and times which are obviously political disorienting. Although I am not one squelch youthful exuberance when it comes to politics, I find Paul's "libertarianism" to be hardly liberating. It seems that the biggest attraction to Paul is the spirit which exudes from his positions--he believes that there is something special in the United States political system, something that has been corrupted by current politics, and he has taken relatively principled stands against an unpopular war and controversial legislation (primarily the Patriot Act). These are positions in which I am in basic agreement. That he is taking such stands as a Republican, makes him even more intriguing.

I find many problems with his positions as well. Clearly, Paul is closely entangled with the religious right--which is curious for a constitutional libertarian. He supports the notion of prayer in schools believing that the federal government doesn't have the right to speak on the issue--something which I find puzzling as the prevention of government sanctioned school prayer in public schools is a significant curtailment of government power. He is also pro-life believing that that the federal government doesn't have the right to find abortion laws illegal--which is also curious--since Roe v. Wade is premised on the right to personal privacy--something I would think a libertarian would support.

It seems to me that Paul's libertarianism, even accepting his limited definition of the term at face value, is highly selective. Most of his positions are not about shrinking government, but seem to be about moving authority out of the hands of the federal government to the states (shrinking one form of government and enlarging another) or into the hands of the private and unaccountable bureaucracies we call corporations. He is a libertarian when it comes to cutting welfare and education, a proponent of big government (even if it is the state government) when it comes to preventing women's right to choose and promoting religion and a proponent of the private tyranny of the corporation.

What is very clear is that the word "libertarian" in the American political context does not mean the same thing it means in most other parts of the world. Historically and worldwide, libertarianism has been almost synonymous with various strains of anarchism--an anti-capitalist ideology which believes that all sources of social authority must be challenged--including the notion that the government has the right to use the legal code to create and protect private property. The libertarian left has a strong tradition in the United States--including the multitude of 19th century utopian communities that dotted the American countryside, the IWW, Emma Goldman, Rudolf Rocker, various New Left organizations and utopian experiments in the 1960s, Noam Chomsky, Anti-Racist Action, Food Not Bombs, housing collectives and worker collectives, various anarcho-punk and experimental squatter communities, and, most recently, Michael Albert's "Parecon." But even with all this, somehow, "libertarian" has come to mean supporting corporate capitalism and entangling the government with religion--only in America!

By the same token, Ron Paul is right--there is something special about the United States--but it isn't the thing that he sees--it is the long tradition of libertarian and anarcho-socialist thought and action that has always tried to enhance personal freedom, equality, and challenge both the private and public tyrannies of big government capitalism.

So all you big government capitalists, beware of anarchists who vote!

3 comments:

vote for hillary online said...

Ron Paul is a nice guy and all, but if you want a real candidate with real values, then you want Hillary Clinton. We need some change in America and we need it now.

I like to look at America as a suffering patient, where Hillary is an experienced doctor. What we need here is some good medicine.

goffchile said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
goffchile said...

Thanks for your comment.

Regarding Hillary--I am not a Clinton fan (neither Bill or Hillary). They represent the exact wrong direction for the Democratic Party--the DLC, pro-corporate Democrats have kept pushing the party to the right--I would like to see a genuine progressive populist that is serious about fixing the growing inequality in this nation. Right now, the best two choices are Kucinich and Edwards.