Libertarians Against Ron Paul
Right-libertarian lawprof Ilya Somin believes that “Ron Paul deserves credit for his strong commitment to limited government on many issues, including taxes, regulation, federal spending, and federalism-based limits on federal government power.” Yet, he feels unable to support Paul, even as a protest candidate, because “There are also a number of major nonlibertarian elements to Paul’s issue positions, some of which are extremely disturbing.”
As the Club for Growth describes here, Ron Paul has opposed virtually all free trade agreements. Few ideas are more fundamental to libertarianism than free trade. As the Club has documented, Paul also has opposed school voucher programs.
Perhaps worst of all, Paul has bought into the conservative nativist line on immigration. He not only favors a massive crackdown on illegal immigration but even seems to endorse the view that immigration should be “reduced, not expanded” whether legal or not. To my mind, the freedom to choose where you live and the right to move to a freer and more prosperous society are among the most important of all libertarian principles. From a libertarian perspective, our relative openness to immigration is one of the most admirable aspects of America.
Lastly, like David Bernstein, I am troubled by Paul’s refusal to repudiate the Stormfront neo-Nazis, racists, 9/11 “Truthers,” and other assorted wackos who have endorsed him. Paul is not responsible for the views of these people, and I do not believe that he personally agrees with them. However, his apparent unwillingness to distance himself from them suggests that he is insensitive to the despicable nature of their views, and the significant damage that association with them could do not only to his campaign, but to libertarian causes more generally.
Now, we can certainly have a discussion about whether government’s proper role is to ban private discrimination, but I think we can all agree that, at minimum, government itself cannot be allowed to discriminate on the base of race. I think Equality Under the Law is supposed to be the ideal.
In any event, this statement of Mr. Paul’s is certainly true in part, e.g. that the government should not be picking winners and losers in the marketplace, nor should it be distributing pelf to favored groups. But the idea that the government played any significant part in the racial practices of early America is simply ludicrous. Indeed, before FDR, most Americans had a fairly tangential relationship to the Federal government. Indeed, it was the federal government’s generally hands-off attitudes towards racial matters that led slavery to fester, and after that Jim Crow.
Left-libertarian Ron Chusid is dismissive of the idea that Ron Paul is a libertarian at all: “Confusing Paul’s social conservativism with libertarianism reinforces the view that libertarians are just Republicans who have tried marijuana.”
Sometimes when diverse groups support a candidate it is a sign of broad appeal, however when both libertarians and neo-Nazis claim Paul as their preferred candidate at least one of these groups must be badly mistaken. The tactics used by many Paul supporters who habitually spam blogs which say anything negative about him further compounds the problem. The comments by Paul’s supporters far too often are characterized by total lack of respect for opposing viewpoints, racism, and belief in conspiracy theories. Any disagreement with Paul, and anything short of one hundred percent approval of his actions, is treated as a sign of either idiocy or evil motives by his supporters.
I’ve recently half-jokingly suggested that it might be in the best interests of libertarians if a publication such as Reason were to distance themselves from Paul. I’m finding an increasing number of libertarians who have expressed similar views, or least frustrations with aspects of Paul’s campaign. Liberty Papers has frequently noted such concerns and and summarizes them in a post today. Freedom Democrats expresses concern with Paul’s “association with the cultural right.”
Now, I find the guilt-by-association business troubling. It’s not surprising that white supremacists, who have been targeted by the federal government for half a century, would gravitate toward the candidate with the least intrusive vision of federal power. That he’s also a closed borders guy is an additional bonus.
Candidates shouldn’t be tarred with the views of those who profess support for them. Further, I’m not sure they have any obligation to denounce said groups. That’s probably especially true for candidates whose whole rationale for running is that people’s private lives are none of the government’s business.
I must agree with Somin — and my OTB colleague Alex Knapp — that the concept of a closed borders, trade protectionist libertarian is paradoxical. Free trade is a founding principle of libertarian thought, going back to Adam Smith, if not earlier.
That Somin, Chusid, and Franks — whose political views are wildly divergent on many issues — all consider themselves “libertarian,” though, says quite a bit about the movement. While most of us think of libertarianism as the only ideologically coherent political view with strong support in the American system, there’s obviously plenty of room for disagreement. Presumably, considering he was once the Libertarian Party nominee for president, there’s room for Ron Paul.
Image via Crash Martinez.