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Words From the Right: On Buckley and From Paul and Breitbart

Posted on May 27, 2011

By Allen Barra

(Page 2)

Back in the 1970s, Ron Paul was, as Brookhiser reminds us, “a doughty Reaganite.” After 40 years of politics, Paul desperately tries to sway Reagan’s remaining followers in the libertarian direction. But “Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom” contains a great deal of fuzzy thinking—Paul isn’t exactly Robert Nozick when it comes to defining libertarian theory—and is as uninspiring a writer as he is a speaker. Essentially, Paul cherry-picks quotes he likes from the Founding Fathers (like many libertarians, this mostly means Jefferson), Ayn Rand and economists from “The Austrian School” (particularly Ludwig von Mises). He doesn’t really attempt to define or articulate their philosophies; he simply ignores the contradictions and keeps what he likes. 

For instance, he champions “the work of private institutions such as the Ludwig von Mises Institute to show that the Austrian paradigm makes more sense of the way the world works than the bundle of fallacies that characterize the Keynesian system.” I don’t know about the way the world works, but Mises showed us how one side of the conservative mind worked, particularly in his letters. Here’s a passage from one he wrote to Ayn Rand, which Paul neglected to include: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: You are inferior, and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted, you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.” I’d say this was a tad elitist for those masses that Paul is trying to reach in televised Republican presidential debates. 


book cover


Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement


By Richard Brookhiser


Basic Books, 272 pages


Buy the book


book cover


Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom


By Ron Paul


Grand Central Publishing, 352 pages


Buy the book


book cover


Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World!


By Andrew Breitbart


Grand Central Publishing, 272 pages


Buy the book


“Liberty Defined” is a collection of short essays on topics ranging from abortion to Zionism, many of which I would think a libertarian who wanted to succeed in politics would be well advised to avoid. For example, on abortion we are “overstepping the bound of morality by picking and choosing who should live and who should die.” This is tricky from the outset: Whose morality are we talking about? A morality derived from libertarian ethics? And if so where are the analysis and debate? Or are we talking about Paul’s own personal morality? The latter, it would seem. And if that is indeed the case, why should his morality be more of a guidepost than anyone else’s—or any other libertarian’s? 

Then he digs himself in even deeper: “The only issue that should be debated is the moral one: whether or not a fetus has any right to life. Scientifically, there’s no debate over whether the fetus is alive or human. ...” Scientifically, there’s a huge debate over precisely what Paul treats as an assumption, and his failure to address that entirely undercuts the moral underpinnings of his argument. Later, though, we get to what seems to be the crux: “If we are ever to have fewer abortions, society must change again. The law will not accomplish that. However, that does not mean the states shouldn’t be allowed to write laws dealing with abortion.” The willingness of some libertarians to take power away from “The State” only to hand it over to “the states” makes me queasy; what difference does it make whether a large or small government takes a right or freedom away from you? 

Here are some other issues from “Liberty Defined,” as I came across them:

—Slavery. “We are not shy about saying it: slavery is immoral.” We are with him 150 percent on this one.

—Gun control: “History shows us that another tragedy of gun laws is genocide. Hitler, for example, knew well that in order to enact his ‘final solution,’ disarmament was a necessary precursor.” Does Paul really believe that millions of Jews were rounded up and sent to death camps because they gave up their handguns and deer rifles? 

—Global warming: “Crucial to this whole scheme has been the voice of radical environmentalism. Many of these people simply do not desire economic progress.” As in his abortion argument, Paul simply assumes that arguments to the contrary are false and the result of bad faith by their proponents. Isn’t it possible that some environmentalists do desire economic progress but don’t think they’ll find it when the water is up to their necks? (Why, I wonder, are so many conservatives determined to blur the fact that the root of the words conservative and conservation are one and the same?)

“There are many,” he says, “who have been influenced by the false science. Only good science can refute this.” But as with his elusive definition of morality, one is hard-pressed to determine how exactly one discerns false science from good science; apparently it is not by reference to scientists themselves, nearly 95 percent of whom believe global warming is real. Good scientists, Paul seems to think, are those who believe that the free market should decide the issue.

—Racism: “I really don’t know what is worse: the actual sponsorship of racism by the government itself in war time or the support of ‘affirmative action and quotas’ in the name of ending racism.” I do—it’s the first one.

—States’ rights: “It’s not just an academic discussion; it’s a serious practical debate on how we got ourselves into such a mess and whether or not the federal government is about to implode with an unbearable debt burden.” Yes, we are in a mess, and one of the reasons the federal government is burdened with such debt is that it takes money from the states such as the one I live in, New Jersey, and gives it to numerous states that spend considerably more money than they take in, including Kentucky, where his son Rand is a senator. One of the easiest ways to pay off the national debt would be to stop funding these welfare states and let them be sovereign by paying their own bills. But that’s not a solution that Paul even mentions.

—Taxes: “As long as people believe the nonsense that taxation is a blessing and any objection to it means opposition to civilized society ... we will see a continued decline of civilization.” Now wait a minute: Who in his or her right mind has ever maintained that taxation is a blessing? Isn’t this called setting up a straw man? 

—Evolution versus creationism: “One of the silliest questions posed to the Republican presidential candidates in 2008 dealt with evolution. Why should an individual running for the presidency of the United States be quizzed as to whether or not he or she believes in evolution? The question was designed in an attempt for the supporters of evolution to embarrass a candidate who supports creationism. ...” I agree that the question is ridiculous and that there’s no reason why someone running for president should be asked it. But Paul is being disingenuous to the point of dishonesty if he pretends he doesn’t know why that question was asked. It was asked because a mass of people who vote Republican consider creationism an important political issue. Why pretend otherwise? It wasn’t the Democrats who came up with politicized creationism. Sorry, but I regard creationism as pseudo-intellectual nonsense, and if anyone running for president is either silly enough to say he believes in it or hypocritical enough to say it in order to suck up to potential voters, I want to know.

—On economic recovery: “Unbelievably, I hear talk in Washington that the only way to get us out of deep recession or depression is to get us into a war as FDR did.” And so the right wing comes back around to the old “FDR maneuvered the Japanese into attacking us at Pearl Harbor” theory. (At least Paul seems to think that FDR did get us out of the Great Depression.)

And so on. You can flip to just about any page in “Liberty Defined” and find something that could be used to start a sour, unwinnable argument with someone who isn’t predisposed to Paul’s way of thinking.

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, June 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment

Care to give some examples of where the review goes to “goofyland” anyone? Its easy to say, takes more time to actually prove it. So Ozark Michael because “a Leftist” wrote it it is automatically of poor quality? No doubt you wouldn’t like it if some accused all Rightests of poor quality writing. You know that saying about glass houses an throwing stones, don’t you?

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By Thrashertm, May 31, 2011 at 9:11 pm Link to this comment

Allen, Why don’t you just save some time and write “I
hate Ron Paul and everything he stands for”? Your
review of Liberty Defined is hateful drivel, and I
expect better of Truthdig. Thankfully there are far
superior reviews on Amazon.

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, May 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment

“Conservative Right-Wing EXTREMIST Republicans ARE the
same as Hitleresque Right-Wing EXTREMISTS, both are
Right-Wing EXTREMISTS and we know from the World War II
Era of Holocaust where Right-Wing EXTREMISM leads;
Fascism.” —MarthaA, May 29 at 7:20 pm

OzarkMichael, Adolph Hitler was a Right-Winger.  Benito
Mussolini was a Right-Winger.  Hideki Tojo was a Right-Winger. 
The Right-Wing EXTREMISM of Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo is
where the Right-Wing EXTREMISM of Ronald Wilson Reagan,
George Herbert Walker Bush, “W”, and the Conservative
Right-Wing EXTREMIST Movement of the Republican Party is
leading in the United States, to EXTREME Right-Wing Fascist
governance equivalent to that of the World War II Nazi Era
Holocaust.  Is this what you want the United States to be?

For America to stand by silently and let it happen unopposed is the
same as saying ‘Yes, I want Right-Wing EXTREMIST Fascist
governance’———If Americans do not stand against
Right-Wing EXTREMIST Fascist governance
Right-Wing EXTREMIST Fascist governance will stand
against Americans; when no one is left in America to stand against
Right-Wing EXTREMIST Fascist governance.

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OzarkMichael's avatar

By OzarkMichael, May 30, 2011 at 2:25 pm Link to this comment

gerard says: “Reading a review like this is a journey through Goofy-land where nothing means anything much, and it all depends on who says it.

The reason that the review is a journey through Goofy-land is because a Leftist wrote it.

The reason that the review makes the conservatives look like ‘nothing means anything much’ is because thats what the Leftist who wrote it wants you to think. How can anyone not know that? This is what Truthdig does, thats its function. It feeds the cicada buzz machine.

gerard wrote a nice, well-written post, but I woupldm have to describe it as cicada buzz. Folks like gerard are too easily led and ought to think for him/herself more. But at least gerard is coherent, unlike Martha/Thomas.

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, May 29, 2011 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment

Conservative Right-Wing EXTREMIST Republicans ARE the
same as Hitleresque Right-Wing EXTREMISTS, both are
Right-Wing EXTREMISTS and we know from the World War II
Era of Holocaust where Right-Wing EXTREMISM leads;

Report this

By gerard, May 28, 2011 at 9:31 pm Link to this comment

The problem with Conservatives (and of course not all Conservatives, and not only Conservatives) is lack of empathy—lack of ability put themelves in the shoes of those less fortunate than themselves. Or an aversion to doing so.

If you consider how widespread this lack, or aversion, is and how it is increasing (as evidenced by rising tolerance for mass poverty, increasing wars and destruction) you begin to wonder when the word will change from “conservative” to “selfish” and “insensate.”

It is truly amazing that a country which prides itself on being Christian is at the same time so heartless: Highest imprisonment rate in the modern world, worst war-makers of all time, poorest health care system, most extreme rate of surveillance of citizens for political divergences, most fearful of “terrorism” and “enemies” and so on and on.  The most wasteful country in the world.  Such views and behavior are far from conservative; they are radical in the extreme.

It is strange that we do not take exception to such misused terms as “conservative” and “neo-liberal” which is anything but new and anything but liberal.

Persistence of such misuses and misunderstandings—purveying in public media of these misuses, and non-questioning acceptance of the misuse—is a huge part of modern political and social decay. Concepts no longer mean what they mean, nor do we say what we mean—in fact, if we try, we are likely to be suspect as breaking the bounds of political correctness.  In other words, it is correct to be incorrect.

Reading a review like this is a journey through Goofy-land where nothing means anyting much, and it all depends on who says it.  Thus we have grown to believe that it is “acceptable” to actually believe that poor people deserve to starve or go without medical aid, that governments have a right to steal from their citizens and corporations a right to buy the government. And that people who object and question this Goofy-land scenario “deserve” to be watched over by secret police and brought before courts which rule against them, all under the sacred rubric of “conservatism.”  What are they conserving?
Institutionalized Bedlam, which could not exist for one month under a regime that knew and felt the meaning of the word “empathy.”
  It is being said these days that, given the evidence of worldwide cruelty, a powerful number of human beings are (have become?) autistic—that is, cannot relate to others on a feeling level and are more deviant than that small minority born with childhood symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome.

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By nitty_gritty, May 28, 2011 at 7:08 pm Link to this comment

As someone who is not a fan of Ron Paul and have admiration for him, I am seeing some serious flaws in
this review. Yes, I have read “Liberty Defined”. First, how can a follower of a certain school of thought extol its contradictions? Should Marx write a book on “Contradictions in Marxism”? What an insane comment.

Next, why should Ron Paul be concerned about a letter Mises wrote to Ayn Rand? This is neither a biography
of Mises or Ayn Rand, and what does the correspondence between them, be of any relevance to this book? Should every book about either of them talk about this letter? I dont understand the logic or the flow of thought.

Abortion: Seriously flawed arguments from your side. I am pro-choice myself. When Ron Paul talks
about morality, you ask whose morality? Whose morality do we all talk about when we deplore any
tragic killing? Not even the most left leaning liberal says abortion is a good thing, it is a just
a tragic necessity (in most cases to save the mother’s life). So as someone who accepts abortion,
It is impossible to say that in anyone’s definition of morality, killing a foetus is a ‘good’ thing,
just a necessary evil to save a mother. Again, giving the power of dealing with abortion back to the states, though not ideal, is a constitutional argument (not a libertarian one). Ron Paul has mentioned several times, that this is not something he personally favours, but it should be treated the same way murder, law and order etc are treated (states should deal with it, not the federal govt). So you dont know his position and you are terribly confused. Finally, you committed a blunder that you accused Paul of. You NEVER said Paul is a obstretrician who has delivered thousands of babies. This seems to be a far serious blunder when you criticize an obstetrician’s position on abortion than some crazy Mises-Ayn Rand letter connection !!

Taxes: “Who in his or her right mind has ever maintained that taxation is a blessing?” Duh, every liberal who wants to raise taxes. (how do we fund our schools, police, hospitals). If you want a name
Eliot Spitzer said “I am proud to pay my taxes”. If your argument is that they never said it is a blessing, then you must assume that schools, police, hospitals are not. How can a liberal be proud of doing something which is not a blessing? Again, silly arguments.

On economic recovery: Unbelievably, I hear talk in Washington that the only way to get us out of deep recession or depression is to get us into a war as FDR did.” (At least Paul seems to think that FDR did get us out of the Great Depression.) No Paul doesnt think that. The words “FDR did” merely means getting us into war. Even if you think FDR “did” get us out of the depression, Paul merely states the liberal fallacy that goes “FDR got us out of the depression because of WWII”. On top of your problems, you cant understand english.

The most disingenuous part of your review is on Bipartisanship: Wait, what? I thought the parties are very much alike. Which is it?” Here is the full quote from Ron Paul: “Bipartisanship will not help ... mainly because there are so few things on which the two parties agree THAT WOULD BE GOOD FOR THE COUNTRY”. You deliberately ignored the good for the country part of that statement. And you have the temerity to say Paul “keeps what he likes”?

Civil War: You have your view and he his. If you want to say “it was ONLY about slavery”, then it is too simplistic. I can go into details of Lincoln’s own quote of Saving the Union as the main cause, and that he would have kept slavery intact in the existing slave states; or his offer to make slavery permanent in his inaugural address.; or his refusal to support a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. It is too simplistic to say that slavery alone was the cause of the war and no one should be forced to hold to that orthodoxy.

Your review has every flaw that you accuse Paul’s book as having (and more).

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By Marc Schlee, May 28, 2011 at 6:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ayn Rand was a drug addict who died on welfare.



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By jkr, May 27, 2011 at 9:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your take on Liberty defined is glib, but neatly
assumes as established entire missing arguments. 
Sort of how you accuse Ron Paul.  Ron Paul could have
written a book on each of his essay topics, to
address your points, but instead was outlining his
thinking on a variety of subjects so people could
challenge it with their own.

Having said that, I couldn’t pass this quote from you
without commenting: “One of the easiest ways to pay
off the national debt would be to stop funding these
welfare states and let them be sovereign by paying
their own bills. But that’s not a solution that Paul
even mentions.” No, he assumes it.  It IS his
philosophy.  However, as happens Kentucky takes most
if not all of that extra money because two of the top
listed in priority of all of the army bases in the
country are there, and staffing them and managing
them and feeding the people on them sends funds
there, as with any other business.  It is not an

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, May 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm Link to this comment

Ayn Rand was a cheerless demagog herself. She extolled the idea of hyperindividualism yet for her clique everyone had to conform to her whims and demands. The idea of having your own point-of-view was considered heresy. Whatever the queen bee said was law. Not a good way to start anything but a rigid police state—-just look at N. Korea and the dead Third Reich for examples of vanity countries. Not a bastion of freedom. But then Randroids are a peculiar lot anyway.

The mass and deep greed and selfishness promoted is all Ayn Rand, though larded with a heavy dose of Dominionist Christianity and its cheering for war, domination and spreading the gospel of god will only return after every person is under the boot heel of an American Christian soldier.

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