February 26, 2015
Words From the Right: On Buckley and From Paul and Breitbart
Posted on May 27, 2011
By Allen Barra
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.
Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement
By Richard Brookhiser
Basic Books, 272 pages
Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom
By Ron Paul
Grand Central Publishing, 352 pages
Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World!
By Andrew Breitbart
Grand Central Publishing, 272 pages
“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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