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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

We've Been Given The Right To Choose Between A Douche And A Turd

In a very interesting post on the Liberty & Power blog, Professor Steven Horwitz expressed his doubts about Ron Paul and his campaign. I recommend reading the whole post. Prof. Horwitz makes some excellent points.

The post got me thinking... Here's why: 1) I agree with 100% of Professor Horwitz's post. 2) I'm still enthusiastic about Ron Paul's campaign. Look, I know Ron Paul is not the perfect candidate. I'm not sure I've heard anyone claim that he is. However, Paul is the best serious candidate to run for president in my lifetime. It's unfortunate, sure. But in politics, it almost always boils down to choosing the least bad candidate. I believe Paul is the least bad in 2008.

Moving on, Horwitz begins by addressing three concerns about Paul's stances: abortion, immigration and free trade agreements.

Horwitz agrees with Paul that "Roe [v. Wade] was bad constitutional law", but he claims the Court "got to the right result for the wrong reasons." I agree, but what does he want from Paul here? As far as the authority of the president goes, don't Horwitz and Paul agree completely on policy? Perhaps Horwitz wishes Paul was not so outspoken about his personal opposition to abortion, but it is perfectly in line with Paul's principles that he would not move to ban abortion at the federal level (which is, of course, is the only level he would have authority over as president).

Issues #2 and #3 of Horwitz's post, however, do fall within the scope of the federal government. And I cannot defend Paul's positions here, except to mention once again that I believe that Paul qualifies as the "least bad" candidate overall, despite these somewhat "un-libertarian" views. No candidate seems to be campaigning on a platform of open borders or completely free trade. The Democratic candidates will likely be best on the immigration issue, whereas the Republicans are more likely to support free trade. But while the Democratic candidates may be willing to pass a few policy steps towards more open borders, they will not address the philosophical issue of, in Horwitz's words, "Why should employers be prevented from engaging in labor contracts with adults from anywhere in the world?". And while the Republican candidates may be more willing to support free trade agreements, they will not speak of free trade as the right of individuals to, well... Please refer to the quote in the previous sentence.

The next two paragraphs are worth quoting directly, even though they're quite long:
All of this leads to my general discomfort with Paul, which I think I would characterize as a lack of cosmopolitanism. For example, I don't think he's a racist but there are reasons why he's getting donations from KKK leaders. Even though many of his positions are solidly libertarian, the way they are framed, along with the three above, lend themselves to appealing to the nativist/Buchanan types in a way that I think goes against the historical progressive spirit of classical liberalism. I share David Bernstein's concerns about the way in which Paul addresses the racism issue, even if there's nothing in it that is "un-libertarian" in policy terms. This is an example of the sort of left-libertarianism view I advocated for above (and that I believe L&P co-blogger Roderick Long shares, though I don't know what he thinks of Paul). If the true spirit of libertarianism is a cosmopolitan one, we can and should do a lot better than a policy statement on racism that refers largely, if not only, to the way in which state-enforced racial categories (mostly of the left) have "divided" America. That may well be a problem, but its silence on the racism of the right and the real ways in which people of color continue to face discrimination (though much less than in the past) cuts against the grain of what should be libertarianism's progressivism. What is so difficult and so wrong about saying racism exists in other forms and that as people committed to equal and individual rights we should work to end it?

Libertarianism's progressive spirit is one of cosmopolitanism and openness to cultural change (perhaps best captured in our own time by Virginia Postrel's work). Paul's cultural conservatism and several of his positions push in the opposite direction and, in my view, might do long-term damage to libertarianism even if it reaps some short-term benefits in this campaign. I do not believe the future of libertarianism is in making alliances with the forces of nativism and the wrong sort of isolationism, nor with those who cannot see the ways in which the US is still not a society that treats women, gays/lesbians, and persons of color as equal individuals, both under the law and culturally. (To be clear, I'm not advocating for any state intervention to address these problems - in fact, the state is the source of some/many but not all of them). The future of libertarianism is to align with Postrel's forces of "dynamism" both left and right. Paul's campaign is attracting young people, but I suspect mostly because he does indeed tell it like it is and that straight talking appeals to cynical youth. And I do admire Paul greatly for his honesty and his intellect. But in the long run, the young will never sign on to a movement rooted in cultural conservatism. Paul's campaign is, in that sense, running a huge risk of long-term damage to libertarianism.

I'm not clear on what Horwitz is hoping for here. It seems as though he wishes Paul would speak out more against racism and his less-than-reputable financial supporters. But it seems like he is, to some extent, singling out Paul here. Does Horwitz believe that none of the other candidates have financial supporters who are less than reputable? Assuming that Horwitz recognizes that some shady characters donate to almost every campaign, doesn't he think they should all speak out against them?

In addition, even if Paul is lacking in "cosmopolitanism", I believe that the social issues about which Horwitz expresses concern are getting better without the endorsement of any specific politician, Paul or otherwise. I am definitely not claiming that blacks, Hispanics, gays or lesbians are treated equally as others, and I am not claiming that these specific social issues are unimportant. But America in general is making progress on these social issues without the help of government. (In fact, it's arguable that progress will be faster if government stays out.) Very few politicians have spoken out enthusiastically for gay rights, but can anyone say he or she would rather be openly gay 20 years ago than now? Can anyone say he or she would rather be openly atheist 20 years ago?

On the other hand, monetary policy and free trade do not seem to get increasing support over time without political support (at least not at this time). Although I cannot exactly explain the reasons, libertarian social issues seem to be progressing much faster than libertarian economic issues.

After this criticism, I feel it's necessary to say again: I agree with 100% of Professor Horwitz's post on the level of political philosophy. I only disagree with him on the level of practical politics. Yes, this does reflect very poorly on modern politics, but I don't know of any self-described libertarian who is satisfied with the current political climate.

Professor Horwitz is criticizing Paul's campaign, fairly, from a purely ideological standpoint. I guess my disagreement stems from my frustration with politics in general. In a perfect world (or even a semi-perfect world), we might have a candidate for president who fits the libertarian blueprint detailed in Horwitz's post. But the current political scene is not even close to perfect. So I can't help but be enthusiastic about Ron Paul's candidacy, simply because he's the best candidate in my lifetime who is actually making headlines. And now that a protectionist nanny-statist is leading the GOP polls in Iowa, Ron Paul's imperfect libertarianism is still very refreshing to me.

In case you don't already know, the post title is explained here.

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