[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Because Ron Paul sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning, some critics have inferred (not unreasonably) that he supports bans on flag-burning. In fact he doesn’t; he was simply trying to make the point that such bans would presently be unconstitutional, and so that those who do favour making flag-burning illegal are obligated to amend the Constitution.
It was for similar reasons that Paul introduced a declaration of war against Iraq – not because he supports such a war (nobody who’s followed his campaign even slightly could suppose that), but because he wanted to make the point that a war is unconstitutional unless Congress declares it – so that if his colleagues take the Constitution seriously they should show it by, um, doing their wrong deeds the right way.
Okay, I get it; but I don’t much care for the strategy.
What’s my objection? Well, I’m not making the criticism that his introducing these proposals is risky because Congress might actually vote for them; if the mood of the Congress were such that they had a chance of passing, someone else would already have introduced them, so I don’t think it was especially risky (though it is disconcerting to see a loaded gun being tossed around to make a political point, even if the safety is on).
No, my complaint is that this strategy focuses unduly on the unconstitutionality of Congress’s misdeeds rather than their wrongness. Paul clearly doesn’t think that aggressive wars and flag-burning bans would be unobjectionable if only they were constitutional; but his strategy could encourage that belief.
Of course as an anarchist I don’t regard the Constitution as having any authority; but I don’t think my criticism depends on that point. Assume the truth of minarchism; or assume the correctness of Barnett’s case for the anarcho-compatibility of the Constitution; or even just assume (and this much is definitely true) that a federal government that kept itself within constitutional bounds would be enormously, staggeringly preferable to the one we have now – and I still think my criticism holds. However objectionable a law’s unconstitutionality is (and I do think, as things stand, that a law’s being unconstitutional is a serious ceteris paribus objection to it), such a law’s being inherently unjust is surely a more serious objection to it. As a political strategy, introducing resolutions encouraging Congress to pass unjust constitutional amendments in order to render other unjust actions constitutional (thus making the Constitution more unjust – as though whatever legitimacy the Constitution possesses could be independent of its content!) can only foster the misleading impression that unconstitutionality is a more serious problem than injustice. I’m not saying that Paul believes that; I don’t think he does. But I do think he has been trying to serve two masters – constitutionality and natural justice – and this particular strategy I fear serves the lesser master at the expense of the greater.
Incidentally, on a tangentially related subject, can anyone tell me precisely what Ron Paul’s views on abortion are? Because I know he recently supported legislation declaring human life protected from the point of conception; but I seem to remember that back in the 90s he was supporting RU 486 (the “morning-after pill”) as a desirable alternative to abortion, which would imply that he thinks protected status begins at some point later than conception. (Didn’t he have an article in Liberty in this subject? Unfortunately my back issues are packed away.) So has he changed his mind, or is there some nuance I’m missing? Does anyone out there know more?
I agree with you on a lot of this. Ron Paul often seems to be making an arguement from authority when he refers to the Constitution. Now, I think this is politicially savvy as there are a great many voters who think or feel that the Constitution is due a great deal of respect for essentially no other reason that it’s the Constitution. At the same time, appeals to the Constitution do skirt the fundamental issue. That being said, I’m not sure Ron Paul’s political positions need yet more nuance that will require even further explanation. I mean, he already has to try to explain the case for the gold standard in less than a couple of minutes.
I’m not sure Ron Paul’s political positions need yet more nuance that will require even further explanation
Well, that seems like a reason for him not to propose amendments he doesn’t want people to think he’s in favour of!
Most Americans will tend to come to respect natural law because of concepts like inalienable rights which are mentioned in documents like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, which are themselves less important than the general principle of natural law. The respect people have for these documents are what tend to ultimately lead people to reject them. Karl Hess refused to pay income taxes because of the Declaration of Independence. I’m sure if you asked about it he would have said that the principles in the Declaration were more important than the document itself. Speaking personally, this is sort of thing is exactly what led me to reject the religious tradition I grew up in.
I think that is why Paul’s strategy in these cases in a good one. I do wish he would also emphasise how wrong these things are themselves, but the strategy can give these ideas consideration by people who would otherwise not consider them at all.
Oops, I meant to say “is a good one”
Paul has said that the more difficult the problem, the more local the solution should be, and the abortion question certainly is a difficult problem. I think he wants to throw it back to the states.
He draws attention to the fact that he is liable for the fetus when he is delivering the baby, and that they can save babies that weigh less than 2 pounds now.
“As an anarchist,” Mr. Long, wouldn’t you be forced to recognize that Constitutionality IS the highest, most important aspect of a law in RP’s eyes, and NOT justice? That is to say, the man is a United States Representative in the Congress, he not only believes in the myth of government but chooses to participate in it.
If he were truly concerned with justice, wouldn’t he vote against everything, Constitutional or not, that did not strictly accord with notions of natural law and natural justice? Furthermore, if he were so concerned, would he be a member of the Congress, deriving a paycheck from tax-collected funds (regardless of his refusal to accept a Congressional pension)?
RP is against welfare and sees the end of welfare as a way of ending “illegal immigration” in America, but doesn’t he also support enforcing existing immigration statutes, which are distinct violations of individual rights and the peaceful interactions of peaceable people?
I think he wants to throw it back to the states
Yes, but he has a view about what the states should do, no? Not what they should be forced to do by the fed. gov., but what they should anyway do. And my question is whether he thinks they should ban abortion from the moment of conception or only somewhat later. His recent support for legislation defending personhood from conception suggests one answer, his earlier support for RU 486 suggests another.
“As an anarchist,” Mr. Long, wouldn’t you be forced to recognize that Constitutionality IS the highest, most important aspect of a law in RP’s eyes, and NOT justice?
No; the question of whether he regards justice as primary and the question of whether has the correct view about what justice requires are two different things. He’s not an anarchist; he thinks (as in fact most libertarians, regrettably, think) that libertarian justice can be reconciled with a minimal state (and immigration restrictions, etc.). I disagree with him about that. But that by itself doesn’t mean that he is ipso facto putting constitutionality ahead of justice.
Personally, I see no way that we could possibly sell abolishment of government to the population, so unless there is an economic collapse which destroys it, the best we can do is to shrink government and mitigate the damage.
Of course, if it becomes possible to leave the planet and form an anarchist community (assuming they won’t violate their “anarchy” by preventing me by force from trading freely and owning property, including productive property), I’ll happily get on the starship. But with government having a near monopoly on space exploration, I’m not holding my breath.
Point of information.
As far as I know, Ron Paul has only said that he supports unrestricted access to emergency contraception, not to Mifepristone (RU-486).
Mifepristone is not what’s usually referred to as “the morning-after pill.” “Morning-after pills” are emergency contraceptives such as Plan B or Preven, which use high doses of hormonal contraceptives to prevent ovulation or implantation if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. (You can get about the same effect by taking several doses of a regular oral contraceptive at once.) EC pills only prevent pregnancies from beginning; they cannot abort one once it has begun.
Mifepristone, on the other hand, is a chemical abortifacient that can be used to terminate a pregnancy during the first two months.
As an Ob/Gyn, Ron Paul would be acquainted with the differences, so I expect that he considers EC drugs to be morally no different from traditional oral contraceptives, which work the same way. (Some of the antis believe that hormonal contraceptives and EC are equivalent to abortifacients, at least for purposes of faith and morals, but lots don’t. I expect Paul is one of the latter.)
As for his current views, his website currently offers the following.
I take it that the presence on his campaign website indicates that this still reflects his beliefs.
One such action, which his issues page doesn’t mention, was to vote in favor of the recent federal procedure ban on so-called “partial-birth abortion.” An unfortunate lapse from his putatively federalist position.
Fun fact: my grandfather actually knew Ron Paul decades ago through the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, and through politicking within the Texas Medical Association. Granddad had Paul over to his house for several conversations about libertarian ideas, and introduced him to the notion that the government medical licensing should be abolished, which Paul found to be quite shocking at first. He also tried to convince Paul that abortion should be decriminalized. Fortunately, in time, he managed to win Paul over to the former idea. Unfortunately, he failed to win him over to the latter.
Exhortation of the constitution may be more than mere “strategy” for Dr. Paul. He has openly stated that he believes the document to be “divinely inspired”:
(You will also find what I think are fairly definitive views on abortion.)
Rich Paul wrote:
“Personally, I see no way that we could possibly sell abolishment of government to the population, so unless there is an economic collapse which destroys it, the best we can do is to shrink government and mitigate the damage.
“Of course, if it becomes possible to leave the planet and form an anarchist community (assuming they won’t violate their “anarchy” by preventing me by force from trading freely and owning property, including productive property), I’ll happily get on the starship. But with government having a near monopoly on space exploration, I’m not holding my breath.”
There is an alternative, my friend:
No need to leave the planet.
Counter-economics is a dead end. If a black market ever became a real threat to the state, the state would have no compunction about bringing to bear massive force to shut it down. Oddly enough, the state enjoys a lot of black markets: it gives the state a free pass to arrest anyone at any time if they’re being a pain, it allows state actors to get things that are officially forbidden, and it serves as a ready source of bribes, graft, and other easy money for especially corrupt state officials. Black markets aren’t going to overthrow the state.
To have political freedom, there has to be a political consensus that political freedom is okay, or you have to be so hard to reach and defeat that it’s not worth the trouble to get you. In America, the second way is rarely feasible. So, it’s the first.
Ron Paul’s candidacy is important to the first way. He won’t win the nomination, let alone the Presidency, but he doesn’t have to do so in order to change the consensus. Once the consensus changes, there are many ways to escape the power of the state, because there won’t be the political will to enforce the state’s power. But if there is, no way is likely to work.
“Counter-economics is a dead end. If a black market ever became a real threat to the state, the state would have no compunction about bringing to bear massive force to shut it down.”
I agree that the state will likely change the rules of the game whenever it sees a danger of too many people successfully opting out of the system and creating alternatives. But the state’s reach often exceeds its grasp. When such libertarian praxis is promoted and reproduced horizontally, in lots of very small-scale experiments loosely networked together, the transaction costs of enforcing the law will likely exceed the costs of evading it by several orders of magnitude. This is the central idea behind asymmetric resistance, and history attests to its effectiveness.
By the time such a movement appears on the state’s radar screen as a major and serious threat to the status quo, it’s likely to have metastatized beyond control. Ideally, we can evade such detection until the point that open defense becomes an option, and the weakened state is forced to pull back from areas it can’t afford to control, creating what counter-terrorism expert John Robb calls a “hollow state” (like Iraq outside the Green Zone, or Afghanistan outside Kabul).
“Oddly enough, the state enjoys a lot of black markets: it gives the state a free pass to arrest anyone at any time if they’re being a pain, it allows state actors to get things that are officially forbidden, and it serves as a ready source of bribes, graft, and other easy money for especially corrupt state officials.”
Defensive bribes are a good thing, and probably a necessary component of evasive defense. If we can get corrupt state actors to participate in something that ultimately serves to undermine the state itself, and their power within it, then there’s nothing counter-revolutionary about that.
With regards to black markets giving the state a free pass, the state will “always” invent some excuse to do those things. We shouldn’t just accept that as a given and avoid doing things solely because they might provide them with an excuse they’d just invent otherwise.
That said, I do have my reservations about expansive black marketeering which I haven’t seen addressed anywhere. They pretty much break down into this
1. How do we insure that the incipient security agencies will take the form of peaceful competitive firms, and not the protection rackets associated with black markets and organized crime? If that’s possible, why hasn’t it happened spontaneously in at least some cases?
2. What about situations in which states directly participate in the underground economy? Is it not possible that they might use their coercive methods to “rig” the black market just like they rig the white one?
“To have political freedom, there has to be a political consensus that political freedom is okay,”
There’s no reason why education can’t happen in tandem with counter-economics. People are more likely to support free-trade if the experience it improving there lives here and now, than they are if it’s just some distant “political” ideal. The best way to love liberty is to live it.
The idea of “counter-economics” is something a bit broader than just “work off the books” and “participate in black markets.”
Part of the point of the counter-economic strategy is to shift the cultural consensus towards conscious opposition to State efforts to crush black markets. In Konkin’s theory, the proposed means are a combination of education and persuasion, organization, and direct practice, with different aspects phased in at different times.
You seem to be suggesting here that the only “political consensus” worth trying to sway is the consensus of incumbent politicians and political office-seekers. But that’s not at all true. And it’s a good thing that it’s not true, because there is absolutely no reason to expect that people who are already professional usurpers, or aspiring to become professional usurpers, are going to be very much interested in your arguments in favor of liberty.
In Konkin’s theory, the proposed means are a combination of education and persuasion, organization, and direct practice, with different aspects phased in at different times.
Let me be clear, then: if the education doesn’t work, the practice is going to get crushed.
You seem to be suggesting here that the only “political consensus” worth trying to sway is the consensus of incumbent politicians and political office-seekers.
I suggested nothing of the sort.
“Let me be clear, then: if the education doesn’t work, the practice is going to get crushed.”
If your education doesn’t work, the right candidates aren’t going to get elected. The only difference is that counter-economics has an immediate, individualistic appeal to everyone involved, because it allows them to keep more of their money.
“Counter-economics is a dead end.”
If you have something better to offer, let’s read it.
“If a black market ever became a real threat to the state, the state would have no compunction about bringing to bear massive force to shut it down.”
Soviet Onion addressed this pretty thoroughly, I think.
“To have political freedom, there has to be a political consensus that political freedom is okay…”
To complement RadGeek’s response on this–a precondition of what he stated–I require no collective “consensus” to grant me permission to be free, and neither should you. If you want to worship liberty as some distant place in la-la land, you’re perfectly free to choose that. Personally, I’d rather live it in the here and now.
“Ron Paul’s candidacy is important to the first way. He won’t win…the Presidency, but he doesn’t have to do so in order to change the consensus. Once the consensus changes, there are many ways to escape the power of the state, because there won’t be the political will to enforce the state’s power. But if there is, no way is likely to work.”
What exactly is this collective “consensus” you speak of? The freedom to forcibly exclude the funny-talkin’ brown-skinned people from crossing the southern U.S. border? To Federally legislate when human life begins? If that’s your “consenus”, count me out.
If you’re talking about changing the consensus to be more amenable to individual liberty, that implies direct action. Electoral politics is not direct action. It’s a misallocation of your energy from direct action. Counter-economics is the only theory I’ve seen that calls for a form of direct action that is wholly consistent with its ends. Like I said, if you have something better to offer, let’s see it.
“Personally, I see no way that we could possibly sell abolishment of government to the population, so unless there is an economic collapse which destroys it, the best we can do is to shrink government and mitigate the damage.”
And how’s that working? Government shrinking much? The fact is, there’s no way to sell shrunken government either.
Don’t tell people they have to shrink or abolish *their* government; convince them to let you have your own:
“If you have something better to offer, let’s read it.”
That’s a very, very bad argument.
Imagine we are in ancient Greece and both decide it would be nice to travel to the moon. I say, “I know, let’s run off that cliff while flapping our arms!”
You say, “That will never work!”
My response: “Do you have something better to offer?”
No? So what? A bad idea is a bad idea even if no one has a better one. (I’m not even saying counter-economics IS a bad idea. I just hate to see this response put forward as if it made sense.)
Holmes: Let me be clear, then: if the education doesn’t work, the practice is going to get crushed.
Any oppositional effort, including electoral politics, is going to “get crushed” if education and persuasion fail. But the relationship between practice and education depends on how you’re practicing, and whom you’re trying to educate and persuade. Unlike electoral politics, successful counter-economics doesn’t necessarily require a shift in the consensus among either politicians or mass political parties or 50%+1 of the tens of millions of voters. The opportunities for success on the margin in counter-economics are much greater, the number of people you have to convince to keep yourself and your friends safe is much lower, and the people that you’re aiming to educate and persuade are much less likely to have a pre-existing bias against individual freedom.
Me: You seem to be suggesting here that the only “political consensus” worth trying to sway is the consensus of incumbent politicians and political office-seekers.
Holmes: I suggested nothing of the sort.
As you like, but if you didn’t mean to so limit the “consensus” that you’re interested in shifting, then you’ve offered no argument in favor of adopting electoral strategies over counter-economics.
There are lots of ways to shift consensus outside of the coterie of incumbents and office-seekers, and I think there’s very little empirical evidence that electoral politics has much effect on that. Successful maverick politicians generally attract a groundswell of enthusiastic support, then their ideas are promptly quarantined and marginalized by appeals to electability, etc. After they (more or less inevitably) lose the general election, the enthusiasm dissipates, the ideas are more or less forgotten, and the organization bleeds down to a small hard core that already supported the ideas anyway. The enthusiasts who hopped on the bandwagon will find another maverick in the next election, often one with more or less contradictory ideas to the previous one. Cf. Ed Clark, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, Howard Dean, etc. etc. etc.
Counter-economics, on the other hand, doesn’t depend on mass outreach, doesn’t depend on converting some significant chunk of a national constituency numbering in the tens or hundreds of millions, doesn’t operate on 2 or 4 year cycles, doesn’t suddenly splutter out after a single loss, doesn’t cost millions of dollars (indeed, is often profitable), and offers lots of opportunities for individual success on the margin.
As for overthrowing the State, that’s a secondary goal, and strategically a ways off. But that’s true for all theories that don’t involve a big helping of magical thinking. The primary goal is not to overthrow the State, but to widen the scope of your own individual freedom. That goal can be acted on immediately, through intelligent direct action, and to persuade your friends and neighbors to do likewise, or at least not to turn you in. Which I suspect is much easier to do than trying to influence either a sizeable chunk of the mass electorate, or the establishment politicians, towards libertarian policy or libertarian candidates. Especially when your vehicle for trying to do so is the Republican primary campaign of an anti-immigration Constitution crank.
It wasn’t meant as an argument. I was genuinely, sincerely asking Mr. Holmes if he knew of something else that might work. My mind is open, and I am seriously curious. Counter-economics is the best strategy I’ve seen yet, to my mind, but if he knows of another strategy that may go further toward establishing the ends sought, then I encourage him to put it out there. Maybe he does know of a better strategy. None of us will know, however, unless he shares it. If he doesn’t have an alternative, then I still maintain that of all the choices available to us, counter-economics is the best one.
And don’t you think the context of your analogy is totally different from the context of this discussion? Flying and political economy?
Unless you’re a complete and total idiot, you would understand that you are guaranteed to plunge to your death before you’d fly once you jumped off the cliff. My failure to come up with an alternative method of flying doesn’t mean I should go ahead and try your proposed method of flying, unless I’m the dumbest man on Earth. The consequences of trying counter-economics vs. some other method are not so immediately apparent.
Not that counter-economics doesn’t carry its own particular risks, but the risks of jumping off a cliff and flapping my arms are a lot more obvious than employing counter-economics as a strategy for establishing a free society.
That last comment of mine was directed at Mr. Callahan, by the way.
As far as I know, Ron Paul has only said that he supports unrestricted access to emergency contraception, not to Mifepristone (RU-486).
I seem to recall his article in Liberty specifically mentioning RU 486. But that was last century, my memory is shaky, and my back issues are packed away.
Granddad had Paul over to his house for several conversations about libertarian ideas, and introduced him to the notion that the government medical licensing should be abolished, which Paul found to be quite shocking at first.
This is the grandfather who was involved with Robert Lefevre’s outfit, right? Pretty cool — in addition to his writings for Lefevre’s journal, he made a contribution to the libertarian right by converting Ron Paul, and a contribution to the libertarian left by grandsiring (if that’s a word) you. There should be a statue to this guy!
I don’t have a better option. But I’m telling you that changing the political consensus – or if you like, the political sensibilities of the average adult – is the only way you’re going to be able to escape the state unless you can actually make it impractical to reach you. Once the political consensus says, “It’s okay to ignore the state,” or perhaps, “People should obey the state, but the state shouldn’t go after them if they don’t,” then there are plenty of options to decrease the power of the state. But if that isn’t the consensus, any option that genuinely threatens the state’s power will end up with you dead. Or worse. Put another way, we may fail to change the consensus, but anything else we try is likely to fail much more disastrously (q.v. Deed, Politics of the).
Oddly enough, Rad Geek continues to think I’m fixated on winning elections. He’s wrong, and I’ve said nothing of the sort. What matters is changing the consensus, and Paul’s candidacy will do more for that than the entire history of the libertarian movement put together. If the consensus shifts, politicians either shift with it, lose their seats, or lose their heads. It doesn’t matter if libertarian politicians are ever elected; the Socialist Party got every plank of it platform implemented by winning all of two congressional seats. The people lead, the leaders follow, etc.
I don’t think you’re fixated on winning elections, and I can’t find anywhere that I made that claim. What I think you are fixated on trying to influence people through electoral means. But as I’ve already tried to explain at some length, electoral politics is structurally ill-suited to the kind of influence that you want to exercise. The message you’re trying to spread is fundamentally antagonistic to the very process you’re trying to use, and the dynamics of electoral campaigns are such that they tend to drum up a lot of noise and very little concrete progress.
As for the success of the Socialist Party’s domestic platform, I’m familiar with the story. But I think that its success depended much less on electoral pressure politics than it depended on shifts in the surrounding culture outside of the electoral arena. It is also had the advantage of a domestic platform which would enhance the power of the American political class rather than antagonizing and undermining that power. Any consistent form of libertarianism lacks the latter “advantage,” and so has a correspondingly much worse chance at any kind of uptake in political circles.