A Question for Critics of Ron Paul’s Critics

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Most of my libertarian comrades seem to think that Ron Paul is either a) the Second Coming, or b) the Apocalypse. (The former viewpoint dominates at LewRockwell.com, while the latter dominates, with some exceptions, at LeftLibertarian.org. See also, of course, the L & P exchange – 86 posts and counting – here.) I’m somewhere in between: I have a lot of serious problems with his candidacy, but I admit I’m also gratified every time I see his poll numbers rising.

But there’s one argument that the (a) group offers the (b) group that I find very puzzling. This is an argument directed primarily to those members of group B who oppose Paul’s candidacy because of his stands on some particular issues (e.g., immigration, abortion, gay rights, constitutionalism), as opposed to those who oppose his candidacy on the basis of a rejection of electoral politics in general – i.e., it’s directed toward those who would be open in principle to supporting a political candidate and just have problems with this one.

Paris Hilton wants you dead The argument goes like this: “Even if you think Paul is wrong on some particular issues, he’s still far, far more libertarian than any of the other candidates, so why not support him?”

The reason I find this argument puzzling is that those who make it would not, I suspect, find it plausible in most other contexts.

Imagine, for example, that instead of Ron Paul it’s Randy Barnett who’s running for President. Paul and Barnett have a lot in common; they’re both fairly thoroughgoing libertarians, they’re both enthusiasts for the Constitution, and they both take some positions that many libertarians regard as deviations.

I suspect that a Barnett candidacy would be far less popular among Group A folks than a Paul candidacy. Barnett’s two major deviations, from their point of view (and mine too, for that matter), would be his support for the war and his insufficiently decentralist approach to federalism. Yet the argument that they have offered on behalf of Paul would seem to apply equally well to Barnett: “Even if you think Barnett is wrong on some particular issues, he’s still far, far more libertarian than any of the other candidates, so why not support him?”

Now maybe that would be a good argument and maybe it would be a bad argument, but whichever it is, it seems like an exactly analogous argument. So if, as I bet, most members of Group A would resist the pro-Barnett argument (I base my guess on Group A’s furious reaction to Barnett’s Wall Street Journal article), why should they expect Group B folks to accept the analogous pro-Paul argument?

Perhaps the reply will be that Paul’s deviations, if such they be, are still consistent with libertarianism, while Barnett’s are not. But if “consistent with libertarianism” means “consistent with libertarian principle properly understood,” then to call something a deviation is precisely to say that it is not consistent with libertarianism. On the other hand, if “consistent with libertarianism” means “consistent with the proponent’s still counting as a libertarian,” then it seems to me that both Paul’s and Barnett’s deviations are consistent with libertarianism in that sense. (If Ludwig von Mises – advocate of conscription and the Cold War, and admirer of Abraham Lincoln – counts as a libertarian, how could Barnett fail to do so?)

Or perhaps the reply will be that Barnett’s deviations are important and fundamental, while Paul’s, if any, are minor and peripheral. But of course Group B folks are not likely to agree that Paul’s deviations are minor and peripheral. Consider the case of immigration (since that’s an area where Paul explicitly favours federal enforcement rather than merely turning things back to the states). Now libertarians disagree over immigration; some see a difference between keeping people inside one’s borders and keeping them out, while for others there’s no difference. I think the second position is the right one (if the party doing the enforcing doesn’t own the land on either side of the border, then it doesn’t make much moral difference whether the enforcing party itself is located on the territory being migrated to or the territory being migrated from); but whether it’s the right one or whether it isn’t, it at least seems clear that it’s no surprise that those who do find the two policies precisely analogous are going to find Paul’s immigration policy non-trivially objectionable, since they’ll see it as on a par with supporting the Berlin Wall. Now maybe there’s still a good case for supporting generally libertarian candidates whose stands on some particular issues you find horrifically anti-liberty; I can see arguments pro and con on that. But those in group A who would not support a Barnett candidacy owe Group B an explanation of why the two cases differ. (Of course any member of Group A who would support a Barnett candidacy is exempt from the charge of inconsistency.)

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42 Responses to A Question for Critics of Ron Paul’s Critics

  1. David Miller December 4, 2007 at 6:03 pm #


    As usual, I find your comments on your blog eminently sensible.

    If you managed to read through the whole long exchange of Steve’s and my sniping at each other, you’ll notice that I kept saying that I did not want Steve to become an RP supporter. For some reason, Steve seems to think this must be some sort of a sarcastic ad hominem attack, instead of realizing that I meant it literally. I’m not trying to change his mind (or yours or Wendy’s or…).

    I do think Steve grotesquely misrepresented the history of the libertarian movement by trying to paint it as predominantly “progressive” in the sense that this word is now generally used and, in particular, as that word is generally used by people such as himself and Ginny Postrel.

    As you and Wendy McElroy have so ably demonstrated in your writings, there was a culturally “left” segment of the libertarian movement during the nineteenth century. But to suggest, as Steve tried to, that that tendency has been the primary libertarian heritage from the inception of the libertarian movement is, I think, false to history.

    On the question of rejecting Ron Paul because of his position on the issues, I have to admit that I do find libertarians who reject Ron on minutiae connected to, say, NAFTA to be, at best, eccentric (though I don’t deny that they are libertarians). We all agree that free trade is in principle correct; we disagree as to whether NAFTA does advance the goal of true free trade. Given the complexities of NAFTA (and the same is true of immigration and abortion), it does seem to me rather silly to use this as a litmus test, especially given that Steve is willing to accept clear advocates of mass murder such as Ginny Postrel as political comrades (I know it offends some people to call aggressive war “mass murder,” but I am unrepentant).

    I really don’t think I am being eccentric in thinking that someone who sincerely cares more about the details of NAFTA than about mass murder has a humanly unbalanced perspective.

    Incidentally, my own cultural views are probably closer to yours than to Ron Paul’s: as fond as I am of capitalism, I particularly find the hierarchical, supercilious attitude of so many contemporary American business managers to be repulsive. My father, who was in management his whole working life, has a similar perspective: he feels that, as the American managerial class has become less competent, it has become more arrogant. I think a lot of governmental policies (there has for example been a real spill-over into industry of the militarization of American society) have enabled and encouraged this despicable behavior pattern.

    Part of what annoys me about Steve is that his attitude does remind me a great deal of most of the managers I have known in the business world: from his perch as a white-collar academic, he looks down his nose at the ordinary working-stiff Americans who try heroically to adhere to traditional values and who actually admire Ron Paul because Ron is a “square.”

    Anyway, I will continue to cheer on your own “left-libertarian” efforts while expressing my contempt for the “progressive libertarianism” of Ginny Postrel and her pals like Steve.

    For what it’s worth, I think this splintering of libertarianism is an extremely good thing. When everyone views the entire political spectrum as consisting of Objectivists on the far right to Longians on the far left, with Paulistas in the center right, the world will be a better place. (And, if you think I’m annoyed with Stevie, you should see some of the stuff I’ve said about the ARI Objectivists!)

    All the best,


    (cross-posted from hnn since you cross-posted your initial comments there)

  2. Bob Kaercher December 4, 2007 at 6:05 pm #

    Whoa, whoa, whooooaaaaa….

    Mises was an advocate of the Cold War and conscription and was a Lincoln admirer? This I did not know.

    Man, I think I just felt another layer of my brain peel off…

  3. Administrator December 4, 2007 at 6:40 pm #

    Mises grew more conservative as he grew older. As many libertarians have, alas. (Lysander Spooner is a nice exception — he went the other direction.)

  4. Max Raskin December 4, 2007 at 6:59 pm #

    I don’t think that any radical libertarian supporters of Paul would claim that his deviations are consistent with libertarianism. They would more make the argument (as Walter Block has) that there are certain deviations that automatically disqualify you from calling yourself a libertarian/or soliciting votes qua a libertarian.

    I think Block is too lenient and allows too many into the “Big Tent,” but I would agree that if you support the war, you should be automatically kicked out.

    So now it becomes a question of why is the war a more important issue that immigration. I don’t think there is an a priori case for why immigration is less important than war…because I can imagine in peace time libertarians supporting Randy Barnett over someone like Dennis Kucinich.

    But I do think that at this moment, Paul has said (last night on CSPAN II at least) that immigrants are scapegoats and it is not a top priority for him. It’s not a perfect position, but left-libertarians would agree that if Paul was allowed to enact his various economic policies (that they agree with) the immigration issue would be much less important.

    Then there’s the argument that there is still debate within the libertarian community about immigration making it a “deviationable” issue, whereas no real libertarian believes that war is good. I think this is a “No True Libertarian” fallacy.

    But I think the point I’m trying to get at is that I think it is self-evidently true (or someone should write an article) that immigration is less important now that the other issues. Even if we don’t consider Paul a libertarian, we should still consider voting for/supporting him if we think that the war is the most important issue. Murray Rothbard has made this case when he supported LBJ over Goldwater, and I think it is a strong one. Immigration, free trade, abortion, and cosmopolitanism don’t really mean anything if any of the other candidates get elected and throw us into World War Five.

  5. Jeremy December 4, 2007 at 7:08 pm #

    Roderick, I think you’re 100% right on this one, and I support Ron Paul as an anarchist. The current political situation is extremely messy, and I don’t think anybody has any right to call out others for doing what they think is right or in their best interests – least of all for participating in a shallow ceremony that happens every four years. For those who wish not to support Paul, and wish to offer arguments criticizing his candidacy, I’d like to say that I admire them for following their convictions. Likewise to Paul supporters.

    The only real issue I have – and I plan on addressing this – is when people opposing Paul attack his supporters as unlibertarian or statist. I share the critic’s disdain for any unthinking adulation of politicians (although I think he and other critics a little unfair when he implicitly characterizes all of us on those terms). But as I stated above, I simply see no basis for questioning anybody’s motives or calling anybody out as unlibertarian or even un-anarchist based on their outward participation in what we all agree is a meaningless ceremony, anyway.

    We all do the best we can, support the movements that seem right to us, and try to make sense out of this late hour of empire. This drive towards ideological purity – as if *any* of us have the overthrow of the State figured out – will be the end of us.

  6. Rich Paul December 4, 2007 at 7:57 pm #

    I find Ron Paul an excellent candidate.

    On immigration, I have always said that I want open borders eventually, but that they would be disaster in the presence of the welfare state. The influx of people would be constant, increasing the supply of unskilled labor and thereby decreasing it’s price. This normally would be good, but in the presence of the welfare state, the economy could not grow fast enough to keep up, and the result would be an increase in the number of visibly poor people, and increased calls for Socialism. This is a problem. Once the welfare state is gone, I have no problem with open borders, because the economy will be capable of absorbing as much unskilled labor as it can get.

    On the “states rights” issues, I am a member of the Free State Project, which pins many of it’s hopes on Federalism. If I have to tolerate Kansas outlawing abortion in order for Kansas to tolerate New Hampshire legalizing drugs, then I think it a good trade. People are still free to move from state to state, and I’d like to see more of them moving to New Hampshire. On the other hand, I would take a much harsher view of someone who supported the “states rights” argument on abortion, and big federal government on everything else.

    As for Barnett, were he running for President and Paul not, and I felt he was more likely to be elected than the Libertarian offering, I would support him enthusiastically. My criteria are something like:

    1) Significantly more libertarian than the status quo
    2) Opposed to more gun control
    3) Opposed to further centralization of power in the hands of the Federal government
    4) If possible, likely to be elected. A non-zero probability of actually getting elected overcomes much in my book — but it never overrides #1

  7. Otto Kerner December 4, 2007 at 10:32 pm #

    1) To me, personally, it seems clear that federalism and opposing the war are much more important libertarian issues than immigration and abortion. Naturally, I would not expect anyone who disagrees with me on this point to accept an argument on this basis.

    2) Ron Paul is admired not only because of his platform but because of his personal character. He has demonstrated that he capable of operating in a position of responsibility in Washington over a long period of time while maintaining at least some degree of integrity. Most people can’t. Randy Barnett hasn’t proven that he can.

    3) Besides the principled reasons, opposing the war is phenomenally good politics right now. The timing couldn’t be worse for a libertarian who for some reason supports it. Opposing immigration is also excellent politics right now. If someone were (God forbid) designing a libertarian candidate with one un-libertarian position to enhance his chances of being elected, immigration would one of more obvious choices.

  8. David Miller December 5, 2007 at 12:16 am #

    Jeremy wrote:

    >But as I stated above, I simply see no basis for questioning anybody’s motives or calling anybody out as unlibertarian or even un-anarchist based on their outward participation in what we all agree is a meaningless ceremony, anyway.

    You know, Jeremy, I’d hope that no one’s self-esteem depends on whether or not someone else considers him to be “unlibertarian” or “unanarchist”!

    If I understand Wendy McElroy’s perspective correctly (and I may not), I think she thinks that all of us who support Ron Paul are certainly “unanarchist.” But this is an honest intellectual opinion on her part, and I’m pretty certain she does not hate or despise any of us who are supporting Ron. She merely disagrees with us, which is surely her right.

    Similarly, all of us who think it wise even for anarchists to support Ron have a right to criticize Rod or Wendy or anyone who disagrees with us and to question their judgment and even to cast aspersions on their character if we think that appropriate. There is an “ad hominem fallacy” fallacy that claims that one should never criticize an individual but only an individual’s ideas. However, when what one is talking about is not simply ideas about factual issues (let’s say superstring theory or business-cycle theory) but real actions, or proposals for action, judgments about the person as a person become relevant.

    For example, one reason I never would vote for Bill Clinton is that the guy is a pathological liar. That is an “ad hominem” statement. But it makes sense, because voting for a person is an “ad hominem” act: you’re voting for that particular person, with all of his personality traits, character faults, etc.; you are not voting merely for his ideas. but, “ad hominem,” for the person.

    When Steve Horwitz lashed out at Ron Paul and his supporters for not being “cosmopolitan” or “progressive,” he was engaged in an “ad hominem” attack, but that, in itself, does not make him wrong. In my opinion, the details of his attack made him look silly, and, of course, it upset him when I pointed this out in some detail. My pointing this out was also “ad hominem” and was also appropriate: politics and human action in general are intrinsically “ad hominem.”

    I also disagree with you when you wrote:
    >This drive towards ideological purity – as if *any* of us have the overthrow of the State figured out – will be the end of us.

    Nah, it won’t be the end of us. Steve Horwitz or Wendy McElroy accuses us of not being ideologically pure because they have, or think they have, reasons for thinking this. If their reasons are right, we need to listen to them. If they’re wrong, we should ignore them.

    Personally, I think Wendy’s arguments are basically correct, but I disagree with her specific application of them: I think the Ron Paul campaign is a useful vehicle for spreading general distrust of and disillusion towards the state.

    Personally, I think Steve Horwitz’s arguments are absurd, so absurd that I have trouble believing they are his real motive: I honestly suspect (and his comments give credence to this) that he just looks down his nose at people like Ron Paul who live normal, “bourgeois” lives.

    But just as Steve is wrong to suggest that I should not question his motives, it is wrong for any of us to claim that Wendy, Steve, or whoever should refrain from ideological purity tests.

    Just as politics and ethics are and ought to be intrinsically ad hominem, they are also intrinsically judgmental and intrinsically involve drawing comparisons and invidious distinctions. This is all about people and judging people. The proper study of mankind is indeed man (yeah,. “humankind” and “man and woman,” but that’s not how Pope put it), and, if taken seriously, this is going to be “ad hominem,” contentious, and sometimes disagreeable.

    So, let’s not impose our own purity test of insisting on no purity test. In the end, each person must decide for himself or herself whether a particular purity test makes sense or not. Each individual is, in the end, responsible for that decision.

    All the best,


  9. jmklein December 5, 2007 at 12:58 am #

    Because he’s the incarnation of White Jesus ffs…

  10. Stephen Gordon December 5, 2007 at 1:43 am #

    I’m sure other libertarians will disagree, but…

    As I see it, the key reason Paul obtains the support but Barnett wouldn’t is because the Iraq War is the key driving motivator of Paul’s base. I know plenty of open borders and pro-choice Paul supporters; they are simply ignoring these issues because they find the war (and often erosions of civil liberties such as torture, wiretapping, Patriot Act) such a priority.

  11. Bob December 5, 2007 at 1:46 am #

    Ron Paul supporters like Otto baffle me when they shunt abortion, immigration, and gay rights into the category of less important issues as if they were on par with or even below privatizing garbage collection. Allowing even a few states to ban or restrict abortions condemns thousands of woman to slavery and even death for a few. Allowing even a few states to further infringe on the rights of non-heterosexuals through sodomy laws and similar measures would violate the rights of thousands of people. The federal gov. stringently enforcing international apartheid could violently displace over 12 million people from their homes. These are all things we can expect from a “libertarian” Ron Paul administration. Even when combined they may not be as bad as continuing the genocide America is perpetrating in Iraq and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan. But they would be awful. So I’d ask Ron Paul supporters when trying to convince critics and fence-sitters like myself to recognize and not belittle the importance of these issues and to make the case that Paul’s winning is worth the cost.


  12. William H. Stoddard December 5, 2007 at 10:08 am #

    I judge candidates first on what I consider the most important libertarian issue in current American politics: the right to abortion and specifically the preservation of Roe v. Wade. I will not vote for or support a candidate who opposes it or wants to weaken it. In other words, I’m a deliberate one-issue voter. Ron Paul falls hopelessly short on that one issue, and therefore I don’t find him acceptable as a libertarian.

    More generally, historically, libertarianism, like its sibling movement Marxism, is an outgrowth of the Enlightenment project of breaking the political power of religion—ideally, of destroying religion; pragmatically, of making it a purely private matter. The current struggle over abortion is an aspect of that; the overwhelming majority of people who want abortion restricted are religiously motivated, and want to have law and politics subordinated to religion. Given the historical record of religion in power, and the current behavior of Muslim countries where it still is, I consider that approach to politics an unmitigated evil. It’s clear to me that Paul supports it, and that his view of abortion grows out of that support. To my mind, that puts him into the radically antilibertarian camp, despite his taking some positions on specific issues that overlap with libertarianism.

    I might vote for a “don’t touch my money” Republican, if there were still any of those around. Paul doesn’t look like one of those to me.

  13. Dain December 5, 2007 at 4:40 pm #

    “More generally, historically, libertarianism, like its sibling movement Marxism, is an outgrowth of the Enlightenment project of breaking the political power of religion—ideally, of destroying religion; pragmatically, of making it a purely private matter. The current struggle over abortion is an aspect of that; the overwhelming majority of people who want abortion restricted are religiously motivated, and want to have law and politics subordinated to religion. Given the historical record of religion in power, and the current behavior of Muslim countries where it still is, I consider that approach to politics an unmitigated evil. It’s clear to me that Paul supports it, and that his view of abortion grows out of that support. To my mind, that puts him into the radically antilibertarian camp, despite his taking some positions on specific issues that overlap with libertarianism.”

    Libertarianism and Marxism are sisters? Wow. Are you positively associating libertarianism with Marxism? If so, your critique of religion in power becomes somewhat deflated, as Marxism and the virulently coercive anti-religious materialist “humanism” it represents has been responsible for far more deaths than Muslim society in the twentieth century (and with which brutal secularist centralizers in the mid east have been at odds). Like the imposition of French “humanism” in Algeria, the murderous neo-con spread of “democracy” and human rights ideology on an intransigent and defiant society can hardly be justified. This amounts to simply an all new religion of course.

    Marxism of course went far beyond making religion purely a “private” matter, unless by that you mean forcing people to meet in drab, cold modernist apartment buildings to read the bible with a very low voice.

    The history of libertarianism is more contested than you say. Property has been the central issue of libertarianism, not breaking free of cultural constraints. Mass muder (of physically seperable human beings) is mass violation of private property in ones body, and Ron Paul’s position on that is rightly a priority.

    Then again you’re an admitted single issue voter. Though even here I’d think that the inability of anti-choice activists to impose their vision at the federal level would be something to desire. And whether someone can be for federally imposed abortion rights while hoping that the assortment of other issues of leviathan can be disaggregated is another matter. Then again, you’ve admitted you’re a single issue voter…

  14. Stephen W. Carson December 5, 2007 at 4:44 pm #

    The war! The war! The war!

    As Rothbard usually (always?) did, I’ll support whoever will stop the killing. I’d support an otherwise Establishment candidate if all they had going for them was a believable stance against the war. But someone who really would stop the war… And do everything he could to abolish the IRS, shut down the Empire, end corporate welfare, free trade, etc.!?!? Sign me the fuck up!

    To those who support Paul but voice their criticisms of his positions on immigration, abortion, whatever… Hurrah! To those who don’t support Paul, for whatever reason, I have only one question: “What is your plan for stopping the killing?”

  15. Eric Crampton December 5, 2007 at 5:44 pm #

    Rich Paul is right.

    I can imagine a world in which Ron Paul and Randy Barnett were the prime candidates for the GOP nomination and that either one would then have a good shot at the Presidency. I would be deliriously happy in such a world. If we were in that world, I’d be thinking about packing my bags to move back to the States. I’d definitely take either Barnett or Paul over any of the other contenders. And I’m seriously confused about libertarians who’d sincerely prefer to live under a Giuliani or Clinton regime than under either Paul or Barnett. Sure, we can all IMAGINE an ideal candidate who’d we’d prefer to either. That can even be sufficient reason not to vote. But actually to prefer Giuliani to Barnett or Paul? Wow.

    Don’t like Paul’s abortion stand? There’s a dead simple solution: don’t live in Utah or South Dakota (or Kansas or Alabama or Georgia or Arkansas). How hard is that? Tiebout works, dammit.

    Sit back and think “Am I living in a place that’s likely to make abortion illegal if it had half a chance?” Look around your town. If the warehouse-sized evangelical churches outnumber the McDonalds, you should move. Why do you still live there? What’s wrong with you? If your state legislature has already done other Bible-crazy things like banning sex toys (I’m looking at you, Alabama) or adding intelligent design to the school curriculum, regardless of whether Roe v Wade is overturned, you should be moving. Moving isn’t hard. Just do it! There’s zero chance that you’re going to succeed in convincing the religious nutters where you live that they should leave you alone, so leave. Re-read Atlas Shrugged, and leave. JUST LEAVE. Economists have the axiom of revealed preference. If you can choose to move somewhere that you’d be more free, and you choose not to because you can make a little more money where you’re living, or just ’cause moving’s a hassle, it has to be the case that you don’t really like freedom all that much. Yeah, you can tell yourself stories that you’re helping to keep where you are more free. But stop self-deceiving.

    So saith the guy who moved to New Zealand four years ago. Where Californication and Deadwood air unedited on broadcast television. Where the 2006 census showed 35% of the population to be atheists (up 5 percentage points on the 2001 census!), outnumbering ANY of the Christian denominations: 1.3 million atheists for 580K Anglicans. It ain’t Galt’s Gulch, but it ain’t bad. Incomes are lower than in the States and the taxes are higher, but freedom’s worth something too and it’s about more than just tax rates.

  16. Bob Kaercher December 5, 2007 at 5:54 pm #

    I’m an anarchist libertarian who won’t support Congressman Ron Paul’s candidacy for president, but I found a couple of Steve Horwitz’s criticisms of Paul either silly or unfair. I don’t know that a “lack of cosmopolitanism” necessarily disqualifies a candidate (to me, just being a candidate for government office disqualifies a candidate), and as for the alleged KKK connection inferred by Horwitz (a really cheap shot, IMO), Paul obviously can’t exert control over who donates to his campaign. If the US Communist Party was known to make donations to the Paul campaign, would this make Paul a closet communist?

    Setting aside my more specific disagreements with Paul on his treatment of abortion (his legal positivist approach – proposing to legislate when human life begins – even anti-abortion people should beware of the potential long term dangers this law could present), and that horrible border fence, and his view of the constitution being “divinely inspired,” the fundamental reason why I won’t support him is because I think doing so is a miscalculation of tactics and strategy, as it’s a huge misallocation of scarce libertarian resources.

    Whenever I read about the millions of dollars Paul’s campaign has impressively raised on line, I ask myself how much could have been accomplished had all that money instead been invested in “gray market” enterprises that circumvent the state, or if it was spent on educating people on the evils of the state and the potential alternatives to it, rather than to a campaign to elect a man to the most powerful office in the Federal government? What could be accomplished if that money had instead been poured into the coffers of the Mises or Molinari Institutes, or to one’s favorite libertarian web site? I imagine many would object that most “mainstream” people who would donate to a presidential campaign probably would not be as easily persuaded to donate or invest it in the ways I just described, but the fact that they are donating money to the only libertarian candidate in the electoral field does obviously indicate a great frustration with the status quo, so who knows?

    To Stephen: What is your plan to stop the killing if Paul loses?

  17. Micha Ghertner December 5, 2007 at 7:21 pm #

    If you can choose to move somewhere that you’d be more free, and you choose not to because you can make a little more money where you’re living, or just ’cause moving’s a hassle, it has to be the case that you don’t really like freedom all that much

    Isn’t this an argument that if, you, Eric Crampton, are really serious about political liberty then you should move to Somalia or become a hermit in the isolated wilderness? Or maybe, just maybe, while freedom is important to you, it’s not the only thing that matters – the “positive freedom” of living in a particular society, whether these benefits are economic, cultural, whatever – outweigh the loss of liberty associated with pervasive “negative rights” violations. Coming to such a conclusion doesn’t at all indicate a dislike of freedom; only that political freedom is one of many values. If given the choice, we would have both, but that option isn’t on the table yet.

  18. Eric Crampton December 5, 2007 at 8:02 pm #

    Of course it’s all a question of tradeoffs. Moving to the bush is very costly; moving to New Zealand is moderately costly; moving across state lines is trivially costly. I’d choose Singapore-style restrictions with Singapore-style income over the hermit life in the bush every time. But, I’m not the one complaining that Ron Paul just isn’t libertarian enough. On the kinds of restrictions that only show up in states largely populated by religious nutters — they can be avoided at such trivial cost that if folks don’t take the very small step of moving away from them, I’ve gotta wonder.

    Imagine a person who rails all his life about how much he hates egg salad sandwiches. You see him eating an egg salad sandwich while sitting beside a vending machine that has other food. You ask him why he didn’t instead pay $2 for the ham sandwich; he replies that he got the egg salad for free. Pretty tough to take seriously the objections about the egg salad if it wasn’t worth $2 to avoid.

  19. William H. Stoddard December 5, 2007 at 8:48 pm #

    Libertarianism and Marxism are sisters? Wow. Are you positively associating libertarianism with Marxism?

    Of course libertarianism and Marxism are siblings. Read your Rothbard. Socialism, per Rothbard, is a movement that seeks libertarian ends (broadly, freedom, prosperity, and individual happiness) by conservative means (broadly, state control). The agreement on ends is important.

    In particular, a libertarian society would have freedom of conscience and freedom to choose one’s own beliefs. This is diametrically opposed to religion as the Near Eastern prophetic tradition has known it. Note the etymology of “heresy”: it comes from the Greek hairesis, a choosing. The heretic is the person who chooses for themself what to believe, rather than believing what they are told to believe by an authority; and for centuries, the Christian response was to shut them out of the world by fire, and consign their souls to Hell—it was agreed that religion could not exist without forced submission to authority. Libertarianism would destroy that form of religion.

    Now, of course, Marx himself was one of the most striking recent exemplars of the Near Eastern prophetic tradition in recent history; he effectively tried to achieve freedom of thought by religious means, with deplorable results. But the same is true of Ayn Rand, who was quite clearly libertarian. Indeed, Rand and Marx are a lot alike, in their admiration for the ancient Greeks, their choice of Prometheus as their central mythic figure, their admiration for industry, and, on the negative side, their suppression of dissent among their own followers and their taste for abusive rhetoric.

    I won’t draw out the parallels further. But I think there clearly are parallels.

  20. Dain December 5, 2007 at 9:26 pm #

    Well as much as I admire Rothbard, I know that he wrote of the seeming similarity between Marxism and Libertarianism during his overture to the Left. I think he overreached. Sure they’re the same in that they both want, in the “end”, a free society. And they were similar in that they didn’t suggest an eternal division betwen some in group and out group – after the revolution society is classless, etc. Just like libertarians who posit the division between the class of political means and the class of economic means, the overcoming of this conflict will usher in an age of harmony. But Marx was so laden with baggage that libertarians didn’t carry (historical materialism, necessary opposition to religion, etc.), and his means WERE so terribly different, that I hardly see them as sister ideologies. In fact his statism is so blatant that I can’t see him as an advocate of freedom of conscience and freedom of belief, unless of course you mean his ENDS valued these things. But that’s not saying much.

    Our difference probably lies in Ayn Rand, whom I scarcely give much thought to. She didn’t consider herself libertarian, though obviously Objectivism is a “sister” to libertarianism (lol). Her love of industry per se certainly binds her to Marx in at least one dimension.

  21. Mike Linksvayer December 6, 2007 at 2:54 am #

    I’m for abortion and against apartheid and am not even a Paul supporter (mostly for social and personal reasons — I don’t want to associate with kooks nor do I want to get worked up about electoral politics), but I don’t find abortion or immigration remotely equal to war in the current context.

    Simply put, a radical change in abortion or immigration policies, in either direction, is not remotely on the table, regardless of outrageous rhetoric, particularly from the side that disagrees with me. 🙂 Getting out of Iraq is on the table, as is, in the other direction, an expansion of the terror war.

    If you’re going to have a litmus test it ought to be one that is a linchpin, and not only abstract one.

    That said, I’d welcome Paul or Barnett as temporary dictator, given the other applicants for the job. But it ain’t going to happen.

  22. William H. Stoddard December 6, 2007 at 10:17 am #

    Don’t like Paul’s abortion stand? There’s a dead simple solution: don’t live in Utah or South Dakota (or Kansas or Alabama or Georgia or Arkansas). How hard is that? Tiebout works, dammit.

    I live in southern California already, thank you.

    But that argument sounds to me rather like saying, “Don’t like legally enforced racial segregation? Don’t live in Alabama.” I don’t think it should have been a matter of indifference to libertarians in 1960 that many states legally mandated separation of black and white; it was both a denial of the basic ethic of equal liberty and an interference in private business operations in the name of “community values.” I think that it was an improvement in the freedom of the United States overall when such laws were struck down (and later when miscengenation laws were struck down) and when the National Guard was sent in to compel compliance. And I think the support of some libertarians and many conservatives back then for “states’ rights” was a discredit to the whole movement. Arguing for going back to letting state governments decide whether to enforce segregation as a matter of local policy would have represented exalting the state over the individual, provided the state was Alabama or North Carolina and not the United States. Abortion is a parallel case, and advocates of turning policy on abortion back to the states are antilibertarian.

  23. Keith Preston December 6, 2007 at 12:58 pm #

    The value of Ron Paul’s campaign is educational and nothing more. He is not going to be President of the United States. He is not going to be the GOP nominee. At best, Ron Paul will be another in a long line of maverick candidates like Buchanan, Perot, Nader, Eugene McCarthy, and George Wallace. Remember how excited everyone was about Perot? And he even had the greenbacks to back it up. How far did that go?

    Ron Paul’s efforts to educate Americans about the follies of imperialism, the dangers of present day fiscal and monetary polices, and the police state that has grown out of the wars on drugs, crime and terrorism are valiant and deserve support. Ron Paul is obviously not a plumb line anarchist, and there are valid reasons to be skeptical of politician-messiahs as the antidote to statism.

    But whatever his impurities, he is not going to be in a position to actually set policy on immigration, abortion, racism or other matters some may disagree with him on. For one thing, I doubt that the present regime would ever accept a Ron Paul as head of state. If by some miracle he were to be elected, the system would attempt to nullify the electoral results by fraudulent means, and if that proved unsuccessful, simply stage a Pinochet-like coup. The Ron Paul Revolutionaries may be an enthusiastic and admirable lot, but I doubt most of them are prepared to engage in Maoist/Hezbollah guerrillaism on behalf of Dr. Paul.

    That said, let’s give the guy a hand for making a sincere and honest effort, maybe even waking up a few of the zombies in the process.

  24. Steve Horwitz December 6, 2007 at 1:19 pm #

    I don’t want to rekindle all of the flames, but I do have to respond to one point.

    I don’t think it’s an ad hominem to ask the *question* about why Ron Paul is getting support from the KKK and Stormfront (the national KKK website has a Paul ad/link on the front page). I explicitly said that I do not think RP is a racist (nor an anti-Semite nor any of those things). What I *did* say, clumsily, is that it’s worth asking the question why these groups find Paul so supportable when so much of what they believe seems, to this long-time libertarian anyway, so at at odds with what I understand the policies and values of libertarianism to be. That was my point in invoking “cosmopolitanism” – if libertarianism really is committed to treating people equally under the law and respecting the rights of all individuals, shouldn’t it trouble us when we attract organizations that don’t seem to share those beliefs and the values that underlie them?

    If I’m an outlier in being troubled by this connection, then so be it. But the libertarianism that I know is one that would find the support of those groups to be something I’d want to run from as fast as I could, for both strategic and principled reasons.


  1. Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-12-05 – Let’s ask the experts - December 6, 2007

    […] Roderick has a good post up called A Question for Critics of Ron Paul’s Critics, which does an excellent job of deflating one of the common rejoinders that Ron Paul boosters make to Ron Paul’s libertarian critics—specifically to those, like me, who consider Paul’s anti-libertarian position on abortion or immigration to be a poison pill. It’s well worth reading the whole thing. […]

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