Capital Free Press
Archived content from 2012
The Capital Free Press was a pro libertarian website. They ranked themselves #67 out of 114 among the top ranked libertarian websites based on unique visitors in a month. For several years this was an informative site with many insightful blogs by Patrick McEwen. At some point the domain's registration expired and the site disappeared from the WWW. In the intervening years this site has had several owners creating content that had nothing to do with the original site's intent. In 2019 new owners of the domain decided to repost some of the archived content from 2012 which they feel is still pertinent and informative. Enjoy.
The real confusion is with the terms "liberal" and "conservative." Libertarians are in fact "liberal' in the classical sense. "Liberal" has at its root the Latin "liberales" or "worthy of a free man." Traditionally, Liberals were tolerant, advocated limited government (as only a limited government could respect liberty,) and employed reason over tradition. "Conservative" means, of or respecting the established traditions. As such, "conservative" has no fixed meaning, as, if the traditions are liberal, one can be both conservative and liberal at the same time.
So How are Libertarians Doing During the Trump Presidency?
Rand Paul Wants Whistleblower Outed.
Libertarians Want the Old Rand Paul Back
President Donald Trump "has great courage" and "faces down the fake media every day," said Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) on Monday. At a Trump 2020 rally in Lexington, Kentucky, Paul called upon media to out the whistleblower who first raised objections about Trump's July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Paul also asked colleagues in Congress to make both the whistleblower and Joe Biden's son Hunter testify.
"We also now know the name of the whistleblower," said Paul. "I say tonight to the media, 'Do your job and print his name!' And I say this to my fellow colleagues in Congress, to every Republican in Washington, 'Step up and subpoena Hunter Biden and subpoena the whistleblower!'"
Paul's enthusiastic and near perpetual support for Trump actions continues to bum out many libertarians—who had hoped Rand would turn out more like his father, former Rep. Ron Paul—and limited-government conservatives, for whom the Kentucky senator was a bright spot back when the Tea Party movement showed promise and principles. In the #MAGA era, Paul has become one of the biggest cheerleaders of Trump-style Republicanism and a tireless defender of the president's perspective.
"Glad Rand Paul could find a purpose in Washington once it became clear that the right doesn't care about the size of government," quipped HotAir blogger and anti-Trump conservative Allahpundit yesterday. "Nothing says 'libertarian' like [checks notes] intimidating people who allege abuses of government power."
"I am seriously struggling to find consistency between the purported libertarian philosophy of Rand Paul and his desire to place a lawful whistleblower in harm's way," tweeted national security lawyer and legal pundit Bradley Moss.
Even Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.)—one-third of the once libertarian-leaning Republican trio that included Rand Paul and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie—had what seemed to be a criticism of Paul's Trump rally comments. On Monday night, Amash tweeted:
Libertarians, constitutional conservatives, and classical liberals believe in protecting whistleblowers to expose government corruption. Trump Republicans believe in exposing whistleblowers to protect government corruption.
Paul himself was once a more robust defender of whistleblowers and advocated expanding protections for them. Back in 2014, Paul told a Campaign for Liberty conference audience that he was considering ways to "expand the whistleblower statute to government contractors," not just employees. "We've got so many millions of government contractors that when they see something wrong, they should be able to report it without repercussions," he said.
On Monday night, Republican 2020 presidential candidate Joe Walsh called on Paul "to have the courage to immediately find the other Rand Paul," the one Walsh "used to admire." He also accused Paul of being "emasculated by Donald Trump."
"I know this is gonna piss a whole bunch of people off but Nope. I'm done with Rand," tweeted libertarian podcaster Jen Monroe. "He's no different than any other garden variety Republican."
Paul still advocates against endless and unauthorized military intervention and is willing to vote against popular but flawed legislation (he was one of only two senators, for instance, to vote against the prostitution-ad criminalizing bill FOSTA last year). But Paul is also—seemingly increasingly—willing to look the other way when Trump acts contrary to constitutional principles and trashes free markets.
An aside: My business partner states that he is a libertarian, but voted for Trump. I can't understand how he can square his support for a President that has ballooned of national dept to the highest it has ever been. I have the same disbelief regarding Rand Paul as well. Even before Trump was elected many libertarian activists vociferously objected to Paul’s foreign policy moves. His endorsement of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS), his signing Senator Tom Cotton’s letter aimed at derailing negotiations with Iran and his endorsement of a $190 billion increase in Pentagon spending (with cuts in other spending to pay for it) reinforced his libertarian opposition. I didn't believe the excuses back in 2015 that said Paul is “inching” the GOP in his direction nor do I believe it today particularly with Rand Paul's disconnect between his ideology and what he does personally. Remember he went to the Shouldice Hernia Centre, the world famous hernia repair institution located just outside of Toronto, Ontario to get his hernia surgery? Explaining why he chose Shouldice — a hospital in a country where single payer covers everyone and gives them free choice of physician and hospital, averaging half the price per person of the U.S. system (that still leaves over 27 million people without any insurance, and millions more underinsured) — Paul replied that Shouldice is a private hospital that “accepts Americans who pay cash.” Yet in 2008 he virulently opposed any type government health insurance programs, including Medicare and Obamacare. Likewise, as a U.S Senator, Rand Paul stood with the “tort deformers,” those lobbyists and lawmakers who push for legislation to restrict wrongfully injured people from adequate awards, their full day in court with trial by jury. Senator Paul specifically favored a $250,000 lifetime cap on pain and suffering no matter how serious were the injuries to the victims of medical malpractice. Yet when he was assaulted by his neighbor, Rand Paul sought justice in Kentucky’s state court and received justice for his painful wounds, to the tune of $200,000 for pain and suffering, $375,000 in punitive damages and $7,834 for medical expenses.
I was appalled at Trumps latest rally where Republican Senator Rand Paul was apparently eager to sell out everything he’s claimed to believe in, in exchange for some applause and a metaphorical Kiss From Daddy. I saw these headlines the next day: Rand Paul Is the Latest Republican to Abandon All His Values for Some Applause at a Trump Rally. Until now, Rand Paul had pretty much built his whole political career on the idea that the government should stay out of people’s lives. I was so upset I jumped up from the breakfast table to show my husband the latest news and my glasses went flying off my face. As I pivoted to pick them up, I instead stepped on the frames, breaking them and one lens. Great start to a day I thought. Now I need another pair of reading glasses. And it's such a hassle to get to an eyeglass frame store since we live way out in the country. Grrr.
Fortunately my partner calmly and quickly did a search online for eyeglasses frames for women and found a website where you can pick out frames on the site, select your lens preference and send in your prescription. They will make a new pair of glasses and mail them to you. Luckily I found the same type of frames that I crushed. I scanned my most recent prescription and sent in my order. I also called a spoke to a customer service person who was knowledgable to make sure everything was correct. When the glasses finally arrived I was so pleased. I wish I could say the same thing about what is happening with our government, but as long as Trump is trammpling all my long held beliefs, its tough. Where is Ron Paul when we really need someone to speak out. Well he is out there. This past spring he spoke at Duke University. He argued that liberty is grounded in nonviolence and nonaggression, and that U.S. foreign policy should be based on the “golden rule” of not doing to other countries what the United States would not want done to itself. Paul also underscored the importance of being well educated about issues, staying curious for new and expanded knowledge and constantly sharing new ideas. He said that he is confident that individuals can and should play a role in creating the change they wish to see as long as they are a participant in sharing and spreading ideas. Paul also explained that libertarians must be tolerant of other people, allowing them to do anything they want as long as they do not hurt others. I wonder what he thinks of Trump, as a person and his Presidential governing style.
Liberty Republicans Fell Flat on Tuesday
By PATRICK MCEWEN | Published: NOVEMBER 10, 2012
A popular spin on the election results coming from libertarians of nearly all kinds is that the downfall of the Republicans was due to their social conservatism, failure to embrace Ron Paul supporters or just general lack of libertarianism. Proponents of such a theory point to Romney’s failure to capitalize on Obama’s economic failures, the comments about rape that resulted in losses in Senate races that should have been safe Republican seats Missouri and Indiana and the victories by Congressional candidates like Thomas Massie in Kentucky, Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio in Michigan.
Some have even gone so far as to make the rather bold claim that if Ron Paul was the nominee, Obama would have lost.
As much as I would love for such a sentiment to be true, the data simply does not bear it out. Though the sample size is small and as I cannot yet find a breakdown the presidential election results by Congressional district, the analysis is not yet possible for all of the races, the evidence is fairly clear that the election was a disaster for libertarian-leaning Republicans and those Republicans endorsed by the Ron Paul machine.
I’m going to first start by establishing a baseline for measuring success. As in any presidential election, the most obvious and useful one is the vote total of the presidential candidate from the same party. In this particular year, for Republicans that baseline is especially low. Nearly every election indicator that didn’t involve Mitt Romney pointed to an Obama loss. From the economy to the President’s approval rating, this was a good year to be the challenger and Romney didn’t managed to hold Obama under 50%.
Thus, if a more libertarian strategy would have prevailed, we should expect to see that the more libertarian leaning Republican candidates who did run performed better than Romney. Obama won more than 50% of the vote, so a successful candidate running against him would have either had to win the votes of about a million and a half people who voted for him, find 3 million people who didn’t vote or some combination of the two. Especially if the differences in electoral performance between a more libertarian candidate and Romney were so great, we should expect to see more libertarian House and Senate candidates being more successful than Romney.
One important caveat on this is that there are many people who don’t vote in down ballot races. They are only there to vote for President and leave the rest of their ballot blank. The result is that there are usually more votes for President, or whatever other race is on the top of the ballot, than for the down ballot races. This leaves open the possibility that a down ballot candidate could get a higher percentage of the vote than their party’s presidential candidate, not by drawing cross-over voters, but simply by getting a higher percentage of the people who voted for their presidential candidate to vote for them rather than not voting in the down ballot race. Therefore, my analysis will consider results that do not conclusively prove evidence of a Republican candidate picking up non-Romney voters or at least coming very close as not significant.
The final thing I want to establish before I state the analysis of specific races is having a Congressional candidate outperform the presidential candidate of the same party is very possible. The most obvious example to this point is Paul Ryan. Despite actually being on the ticket alongside Romney, he managed to win votes that went to Obama. Believe it or not, there were thousands of voters who cast ballots for both Obama and Paul Ryan. For example, in the two most populous counties in Ryan’s district of Racine and Kenosha in the Southeast corner of Wisconsin, Ryan undoubtedly pulled votes from Obama. In Kenosha, Obama won 44,838 votes to Romney’s 34,942 while Ryan managed to only lose the county to Democratic challenger Rob Zerban 41,101 to 36,092. In Racine, Obama prevailed 52,887 to 49,137 while Ryan running without Romney’s name in front managed to win the county 50,106 to 47,618.
There are other examples, such as Minnesota Democrat Jim Graves who came within 5000 votes of defeating Michele Bachmann despite the fact that her district had been made even more conservative by redistricting.
I could use even more examples to prove my point, but the fact that Paul Ryan was about to distinguish himself from a presidential ticket that he was on should be all the evidence needed to prove that it can happen. Furthermore, any impact from Libertarian candidates worked against Ryan. Johnson got just 0.7% in Wisconsin while the LP candidate in Ryan’s district got a bit better than 1.6% of the vote.
Turning our attention to the US Senate races, there were 3 candidates endorsed by the Ron Paul-affiliated Young Americans for Liberty PAC in Minnesota’s Kurt Bills, Rhode Island’s Barry Hinckley and Texas’ Ted Cruz, and one additional candidate who does not generally receive great reviews from the Ron Paul crowd, but is well liked by Cato Institute-types in Arizona’s Jeff Flake. All 4 candidates underperformed Romney.
Starting with the best performing, let’s look at Ted Cruz in Texas. The best thing that can be said about Cruz is essentially that he performed exactly how one would expect a generic Republican candidate to perform relative to how well Mitt Romney did in Texas. Romney received 4,556,000 votes while Cruze received 4,457,000 votes. By comparison, Obama received 3,294,000 votes and Democratic Senate nominee Paul Sadler received 3,183,000 votes. Cruz lost slightly fewer voters compared to his party’s presidential nominee than Sadler and had a Libertarian Senate candidate who received 73,000 votes more than Gary Johnson did running for president, but it can hardly be said that Cruz did any better than Romney. Their performances were basically indistinguishable.
The next best election result came in Rhode Island from Barry Hinckley. In that state with a single precinct still not counted, Obama beat Romney 264,000 to 149,000 while Hinckley lost 255,000 to 138,000. The reason that I rate Hinckley’s performance as worse than Cruz’ is that while Cruz had a Libertarian Party candidate who theoretically could have pulled some Romney voters away from him, Hinckley had no such problem. The Libertarian Party didn’t field a candidate for US Senate and Gary Johnson got 4,000 votes for President. Thus, Hinckley not only lost more presidential voters from his party than his opponent, Sheldon Whitehouse, he stood to benefit rather than lose from the presence of Libertarian Party candidates.
Continuing down the line is Arizona’s Jeff Flake. The Arizona results not only have Flake underperforming Romney, but provide positive proof that he lost more Romney voters to his opponent, Richard Carmona, than he gained from cross-over Obama voters. Romney won Arizona 932,000 to 742,000 while Flake only managed to win 836,000 to 755,000. Perhaps the results would be understandable if Flake had just lost the roughly 52,000 votes that the Libertarian Party Senate candidate received over Gary Johnson’s total, but the fact that Carmona got more votes that Obama tells us Flake was net losing Romney voters to Carmona even if we assume that all 5,000 of Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s votes went to Carmona.
The results for Kurt Bills in Minnesota can only be described as a disaster. In a state where Obama won only 25 of the 87 counties, Kurt Bills managed a plurality in just 2 and broke 50% in exactly zero. In a state that Obama won just 1,542,000 to 1,321,000, Bills got demolished by incumbent Amy Klobuchar 1,851,000 to 869,000. He lost by about 4 times as many votes as Mitt Romney did. Klobuchar outperformed Obama by over 300,000 votes, most of which must have come from Romney voters.
One final race I would like to mention is in Montana. Ron and Rand Paul’s last minute endorsements of Denny Rehberg were slightly confusing to me last week when I read about them. In the aftermath of the victory there by Democratic incumbent Jon Tester, the behind the scene politics have become apparent. Independent groups backing Tester had apparently realized that Tester probably couldn’t get 50% and decided spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a campaign to convince libertarian minded voters to back Libertarian Party candidate Dan Cox. The Republican establishment must have sensed a loss and called in the libertarian calvary for a last minute charge. The strategy worked and Tester received 34,000 votes more than Obama while Rehberg lost about 59,000 Romney voters to Tester and Cox, who received about 17,000 more votes than Johnson and got 6.5% of the vote. Thus, Tester was able to win the election with a plurality of only 48.7%.
Turning our attention to the YAL PAC endorsed House candidates, the news gets a bit better. At least 2 of the 9 were able to do noticeably better than Romney in their districts. Though I won’t have any final numbers until someone goes through and adds up the presidential election totals for each Congressional district, I can say that in many of counties in Rep. Walter Jones’ North Carolina district, he slightly exceeded the totals of Romney. I believe that when the final numbers are in, Jones will have received about the same number of votes as Romney and held his opponent well below Obama’s vote total.
In Florida, Ted Yoho seems to have done slightly better in his overwhelmingly Republican district. Yoho appears to have done better than Romney in every county percentage wise and received more total votes in most. Solid proof that there were thousands of Obama/Yoho voters at the polls on Tuesday.
The news is slightly less positive for Michigan’s Justin Amash, Idaho’s Raul Labrador and Kentucky’s Thomas Massie. All 3 managed to turn in performances that were similar to Cruz and Hinckley with both the candidates and their opponents receiving slightly fewer votes than the presidential candidate from their respective parties.
Oregon’s Art Robinson seems to have underperformed Romney significantly He never managed to even equal Romney’s percentage and allowed his opponent Peter DeFazio to win more votes than Obama in every county entirely within their district.
The remaining 3 candidates, Michigan’s Kerry Bentivolio and Don Volaric along with Arizona’s David Schweikert, all have districts that contain only parts of one or two counties and thus analyzing their results on a county by county basis doesn’t work. We’ll have to wait for the presidential results from their districts for comparison. We do know that Schweikert and Bentivolio won in Republican leaning districts and Volaric lost in a Democratic leaning one, so there were no big surprises either way.
There are of course many possible reasons for any given candidate’s electoral performance. From fundraising to volunteers to the campaign manager, consultants and ad agency they hire, many of them don’t even have much to do with the policies they support. However, all of those factors are reasons why any libertarian-leaning Republican would underperform, including Ron Paul. Further, in light of the recent details about the internal failures of Romney’s campaign, such as the Orca Project, it’s hard to argue that the baseline set by the Romney campaign was anything even above average.
The sample size in this election is very small and thus I want to be cautious about drawing any major conclusions from it. However, if Ron Paul’s policy positions represented a winning strategy for Republicans, the odds of the Tuesday’s results for the candidates being what they were would be very small. The only two candidates to do better than Romney in their districts did so in districts that were 2 to 1 Republican and likely did so well in part because they didn’t face serious opponents in the general election. Yoho’s opponent J.R. Gaillot didn’t raise even the $5,000 required to file with the FEC and Jones outspent his opponent Erik Anderson $665,000 to $27,000. Every single liberty Republican in a competitive race failed to win more votes than Romney.
David Frum made an excellent point that a huge problem of the Republican Party was that they were lied to by the conservative media and their party leadership. It is of utmost importance that the same thing not happen to libertarians. In light of the election results, I think there is compelling evidence that the strategy being pursued by organizations like the Campaign for Liberty and others who are pushing for working through the Republican Party is a losing one.
I got an email from Jeff Frazee this morning trying to tell me that the failure of the Republican Party was because they failed to nominate a candidate more like Rand Paul. Given that the candidates they deemed to be most worthy of an endorsement only did better than Mitt Romney when they faced an opponent who failed to run a serious campaign, I have my doubts.
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that every single candidate mentioned in this post will have a better voting record than the alternative if they had not run and someone else had been elected. However, given the results, I am starting to believe that a strategy that uses libertarian efforts to get these kind of candidates elected is a failing one.
Libertarian Morality and Its Consequences for Political Strategy
By PATRICK MCEWEN | Published: NOVEMBER 12, 2012
My blog post on Saturday about the relative failures of libertarian leaning Republicans in last week’s election prompted quite a discussion in one libertarian Facebook group to which I belong about the optimal political strategy for libertarians. Even heading into the election, I was already starting to question the Republican Party focused strategy being promoted by Ron Paul, the Campaign for Liberty, Young Americans for Liberty, FreedomWorks, etc. and instead of being concerned about the various Republicans endorsed by those people and organizations as the election night returns came in found myself rooting for positive results for the Libertarian Party.
As the media returns to their never ending quest to report on some kind of horse race narrative for an upcoming election by looking ahead to 2014 and 2016, I think libertarians everywhere would be wise to instead look back on the election of 2012 and examine our strategies and their successes and failures. If we are going to revamp our strategy going forward, this time immediately following an election seems to be the optimal time to do so.
One particular topic that I first encountered around 2 years ago, was the research into libertarian morality being conducted by a group researches behind the data collection website YourMorals.org. For whatever reason, I stumbled onto their work again a few weeks ago and not only read their paper, but, in an attempt to more fully understand the results and their implications for the best way for libertarians to communicate our ideas to liberals and conservatives, have been taking the quizzes about morality myself and where I can looking up the scoring systems for each to understand which kinds of questions translate to different categories of morality.
The final paper was published this past August and is available here. For the purposes of this blog post, I am going to use the figures from a draft copy of their paper that was written 2 years ago because I like them better for my purposes, but will quote text from the published version.
The first part of the study I want to talk about is the Moral Foundations Questionnaire It’s a series of questions that rates how a person feels about 5 different moral foundations, harm/care, fairness, ingroup, authority, and purity. People are asked to rate a series of considerations on a scale of 0 to 5 and then asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements on the same scale of 0 to 5. Thus, 2.5 can be considered the “zero” point. If a group averages above a 2.5, that foundation can be considered a part of their morality. Below 2.5 and they either don’t care about it or potentially disdain it.
If you would like to read the questions and/or take the quiz yourself to find out your own scores, you can either do it online at YourMorals.org or look at a PDF copy here or a .doc format here. If you are going to take the time to complete the quiz, I think it would be a good idea to register and take it online, so that you’re answers will be added to their data set and the authors of this study can have more data from which to write more studies about the beliefs of libertarians. If you want to see which questions fall into which categories, look at a the pdf or .doc versions as the online quiz autotmates the scoring process and thus doesn’t give you the key.
Below is the graph that displays the results for self-identified liberals, libertarians and conservatives. I have drawn in red a line at about 2.5 to help illustrate whether or not a the foundation is a part of the group’s morality or not.
I’ll let the authors of the study analyze the results for you:
Our results suggest why libertarians do not feel fully at home in either of the major American political parties. Consistent with our prediction, libertarians were relatively low on all five foundations. Libertarians share with liberals, a distaste for the morality of in group, authority, and purity, characteristic of social conservatives, particularly those on the religious right . Like liberals, libertarians can be said to have a two-foundation morality, prioritizing harm and fairness above the other three foundations. But libertarians share with conservatives their moderate scores on these two foundations. They are therefore likely to be less responsive than liberals to moral appeals from groups who claim to be victimized, oppressed, or treated unfairly. Libertarianism is clearly not just a point on the liberal-conservative continuum; libertarians have a unique pattern of moral concerns, with relatively low reliance on all five foundations.
For people familiar with the libertarian movement, I think some of the results, such as the idea that libertarians don’t like authority or that we don’t really feel at home with either liberals or conservatives, are obvious.
The one result that certainly caught me by surprise is that libertarians look nearly identical to liberals except for not feeling as strongly as liberals about harm and fairness. The history of cooperation between libertarians and conservatives would seem to suggest that libertarians have at least as much in common with conservatives as liberals if not more.
However, something just doesn’t seem quite right. The questions don’t seem to address some areas of libertarian beliefs. The authors of the study realized further questions were needed:
In the original conception of Moral Foundations Theory, concerns about liberty (or autonomy or freedom) were not measured. But as we began to collect data on libertarians and to hear objections from libertarians that their core value was not well represented, we created questions related to liberty in the style of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. We generated 11 items about several forms of liberty (see Appendix S1) and collected responses from 3,732 participants (2,105 men; 2,181 liberals, 573 conservatives, and 525 libertarians). Principal component analysis using varimax rotation indicated two clear factors (Eigenvalues of 3.40 and 1.48; next highest was .74). Six items loaded greater than .60 on the first factor, which represented concerns about economic/government liberty (e.g., ‘‘People who are successful in business have a right to enjoy their wealth as they see fit’’). Three items loaded greater than .60 on the second factor, which can be interpreted as a ‘‘lifestyle liberty’’ factor (e.g., ‘‘Everyone should be free to do as they choose, as long as they don’t infringe upon the equal freedom of others.’’).
The Liberty Foundation quiz results explain a lot about what was missing from the Moral Foundations Questionnaire alone. (Once again, I have added in a red line myself at the “neutral” value of 2.5 on the scale of 0 to 5.)
Suddenly, things start to make sense. When you consider liberty as an end in itself, libertarians no longer seem to be more amoral versions of liberals. The same 0 to 5 scale is used for both surveys, so it can be accurately said that libertarians care more about both economic and lifestyle liberty than either liberals or conservatives care about anything.
Thus, liberals are like libertarians who don’t care about economic liberty and instead care more about harm and fairness. Conservatives are similar to libertarians except they care slightly less about lifestyle liberty and also care about authority, ingroup and purity.
Trying to convert all of this academic insight into the morality of various political groups into insight about the optimal political strategy for libertarians leads us to all kinds of questions. Many of them, I don’t know that anyone has an answer to. Others require the kind of large scale data collection and analysis that were needed for this study.
Given that we are a distinct group, should libertarians even be pursuing political alliances at all? If so, should we ally ourselves with the right or the left? Do we have to pick or can we manage alliances on specific issues? Politically, is it easier for us to work with a group of people whose difference is that they don’t value something we do or a group whose difference is that they value several things we don’t?
Are people’s senses of morality static or can we change them? What kinds of things cause people’s senses of morality to change? Is trying to change them a viable political strategy?
Are there people who have morality profiles similar to liberals or conservatives, yet end up coming to the same political conclusions as libertarians and self-identify as libertarians? If so, are there any common traits that lead them to do so?
At nearly 1500 words, this post has gotten long enough and some of those questions require easily another 1000 words, so I will leave them for another post.
Explaining the Liberty Republican Election Results
By PATRICK MCEWEN | Published: NOVEMBER 20, 2012
When people read my post from last weekend about the failures of the liberty Republicans in the election there are basically two reactions. Some people didn’t want to believe it and came up with all kinds of reasons as to why my analysis was wrong. People told me I didn’t take into account Ron Paul supporters who stayed home, down ballot effects caused by Mitt Romney or that only winning mattered and it shouldn’t be concerning that liberty Republicans underperformed Romney in their districts. Some of those people came around eventually to see my point and joined those who read it and asked, “What are the implications of this for libertarian strategy?”
At the time I wrote the post, I had no idea. I actually had initially set out to try to gather the evidence that libertarian friendly Republicans would do better than Romney. I bought into the idea that Ron Paul and Republicans like Rand Paul and Justin Amash had more appeal to independents than establishment Republicans like Romney would. I fully expected to find Amash creating independent ticket splitters who would vote for him and Obama.
After a week of thought, I think that I have the answer. There is both a surface level explanation and a more detailed explanation of how we arrived there. I want to start with a brief description of the surface level explanation and then start from the beginning to explain the fundamental strategy decisions that lead us to that point.
The Surface Level Explanation
The surface level explanation is interestingly enough, exactly the same one that nearly everyone in the media came up with right after the election – namely, that Republicans need to become more moderate on social issues in order to reach out to female and Hispanic voters. The problem was that libertarians heard that and thought to themselves, “Great! Libertarians are left-wing Republicans on social issues. We want to end the drug war, repeal the Patriot Act and protect the privacy of Internet users! We’re exactly the kind of Republicans that the media is talking about!”
Unfortunately for us, those are not the social issues that they were talking about. They were talking about a set of social issues that are exemplified by abortion and immigration. They were not talking about libertarian Republicans, they were talking about Republicans like the mayoral version of Rudy Giuliani, a pro-choice, pro-immigrant (at the time) Republican who no one in their right mind would confuse for being a libertarian. Successful liberty Republicans on the other hand, have tended to be very pro-life and have taken a rather anti-immigrant tone.
The confusing thing for many people within the libertarian movement is that those attitudes are not representative of libertarians a group nor are they issues we tend to care a ton about. Thus we haven’t picked up on the importance of those issues and their important implications for electoral success. The result is that we suffer from the same problems as the Republican Party as a whole, too many old, straight, Christian, white men who fail to communicate well with people too far outside of that demographic.
For example, read through the comments in this thread on reddit about Rand Paul. You can see that the attitude is that Rand Paul is a great defender of civil liberties for straight, white men. As user BDS_UHS puts it:
As long as you’re not gay, a racial minority, or a woman, he’s done more to protect your liberties than many senators of either party.
Remember, that I’m not asking you to agree with that characterization or arguing that it is true. I’m just pointing out that that is the impression that other people have of the libertarian Republicans who are most representative of the movement I’m talking about, such as Ron and Rand Paul, Justin Amash, Ted Cruz, etc.
Establishment vs. Insurgent
Turning to the underlying causes, I am going to borrow a graph and explanation of the Republican primary process from NY Times’ predictor extraordinaire Nate Silver. He utilizes a 2-axis graph to identify different positions in the field that is somewhat similar to the Nolan Chart that most libertarians are familiar with. However, rather than plotting social and fiscal conservatism on different axes, he keeps them grouped together and instead plots each candidates place on a moderate to conservative spectrum against their place on an establishment to insurgent spectrum.
Of course, such a graph has its flaws. As Silver admits:
There is room to analyze how I’ve positioned the individual candidates. Libertarian-minded candidates like Mr. Paul are never going to be easy to classify on a chart that includes just one dimension for political ideology. And I’m not quite sure where to put Rick Santorum on the establishment/insurgent axis.
Wherever Ron Paul should be placed on the moderate to conservative axis, there is no doubt that he is just about a close to the insurgent side as possible. There is also no doubt that he tried to run as a candidate playing up his very conservative fiscal views. As I blogged about during the campaign, it was pretty clear that the strategy of the Ron Paul campaign was to eliminate everyone from the race except Romney and then try and unite voters who thought that Romney was either too establishment or too moderate behind his candidates.
However, more than anything, he needed to be able to spin the race as establishment candidate vs. insurgent candidate. That’s a big reason why the campaign tried to deal with issues very selectively rather than focus on comprehensive libertarian education, leading to the controversy over the Super Brochures. He needed to be able to appeal to anti-establishment voters across the ideological spectrum.
In my opinion, GOP primary voters tend to fall in a band that goes from establishment moderate to insurgent conservative. Keep in mind this is only within the Republican party and it handicapped by its inability to reflect deviations from the moderate to conservative spectrum, such as libertarians. I’ve attempted to illustrate a heat map of roughly where I believe Republican Party voters fall on the chart:
This is only based upon my personal observations and logic. Generally, it is very difficult for very conservative positions or politicians to end up being favored by the party establishment. Such principled views making taking power and governing once you have power much more difficult. Similarly, moderate candidates and positions are only permissible if they agree with the Republican establishment. Insurgent moderates would just never end up in the Republican Party in the first place. The people who end up in the top left tend to be pragmatic compromisers while the people in the lower right are the principled trouble makers. The people who would like to be in the top right corner can never make it into the establishment and the people who would occupy the lower left corner never join the Republican Party in the first place.
That is the root of the problem for libertarian activism within the Republican Party. The combination of political beliefs that oppose state power, a minority status within the GOP, and the very nature of our morals and personalities to oppose authority, libertarians have little choice other than to operate from the insurgent wing of the party.
The problem is the allies that leaves us within the Republican Party are not the ones we would want if we had a choice. People like the religious right and paleo-conservatives like Pat Buchanan and the John Birch Society. The results can be seen in the candidates that emerge as able to become GOP nominees and then actually get elected.
Abortion, Immigration and Gay Rights
While the libertarian movement is not particularly concerned with abortion and has self-identified libertarians taking positions ranging nearly across the spectrum from pro-choice to pro-life, the libertarian friendly candidates that emerge from the Republican Party end up as very pro-life. Justin Amash doesn’t believe in rape or incest exceptions and considers himself the most pro-life member of Congress and has introduce legislation restricting abortions in DC. Rand Paul doesn’t support rape or incest exceptions either. Neither does Ted Cruz. Ron Paul does support such exceptions, but can you really say he is in the moderate wing of the GOP on the issue? Much less pushing them that direction? I haven’t been able to find definitive statements for every one of the YAL PAC endorsed candidates, but I can’t manage to find a single one that is any more moderate on the issue than supporting rape, incest and life the mother exceptions.
I’m not arguing that abortion is the issue that was responsible for the Republican election losses 2 weeks ago, but perceived extremism on the issue certainly is contributing to the decline of the GOP brand. The losses of Todd Aiken in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana make it very clear that extreme right-wing rhetoric on abortion is one of the quickest and easiest ways for a Republican to lose what should be easy victories in red states.
On immigration, the liberty Republicans are better, but it is still not entirely clear that they represent a more moderate direction for the GOP on the issue. Even Ted Cruz, of Cuban descent himself, opposes amnesty and the DREAM Act leading to articles questioning if he is “Latino enough”. Rand Paul has recently made an about face on the DREAM Act after getting elected to office while opposing it. In heavily Hispanic Arizona, Jeff Flake has draw criticism for voting against the DREAM Act in 2010 in what some believe was a move designed to help him win the Republican Senate primary. Ron Paul himself advocates for a Constitutional amendment ending birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants and voted against the DREAM Act in 2010. Justin Amash sounds like a conventional conservative Republican on immigration. Ron Paul’s anti-war ally on the Republican side in Congress, Walter Jones, proudly cites a anti-immigration group that ranks him as one of the top 10 members of Congress.
What makes the failure of liberty Republicans to lead the GOP towards a policy of freer immigration even worse than their positions on abortion is that there very clearly is a libertarian position on immigration. I personally believe that the most libertarian position on abortion is the one held by Walter Block that he calls evictionism, but I don’t think that the position held by people like Ron Paul or those who are more pro-choice than that is necessarily unlibertarian. On immigration, there is no doubt that we ought to be working to reduce restrictions on the free flow of people across international borders.
Further, there is no doubt that the Hispanic vote is growing and growing in importance and that the Republican Party’s hardline stance on immigration and immigration reform is going to make it very difficult for them to avoid losing Hispanics by an overwhelming margin. Obama won Latino voters by a wider margin than in 2008, 71-27, in a demographic that has seen an increase of 27% in the number of registered voters in just 4 years. A Republican Party that wants to win back the White House and the Senate can’t allow that trend to continue.
Similarly on gay marriage, nearly all of the libertarians I know, though that is certainly biased by my age, have essentially the same view on gay marriage as I do – that we would prefer the government stay out of it all together, but to the extent that they are going to be involved, same sex couples need to be treated exactly the same way as straight couples.
However, where is the evidence that the libertarian leaning Republicans we have managed to get elected or nominated by the GOP are leading the party in a moderate direction on the issue? Ron Paul supports DOMA and would like to see Lawrence v. Texas overturned. Just this summer, Rand Paul made this awkward remark about President Obama and his “evolving” views on gay marriage. Justin Amash supports DOMA as well. Ted Cruz criticizes the “gay rights agenda” and bashes his opponent for marching in gay rights parades.
For independent or swing voters who would like to see a more moderate Republican Party on gay rights issues or a gay fiscal conservative who feels passionately about both gay rights and budget cuts, can libertarians seriously make the claim that the candidates they have been supporting in the Republican Party are the answer?
Interestingly enough, libertarians as a group suffer from nearly all the same demographic failures of the Republican Party as a whole. We’re very white and very male, probably even more than the base of Republican voters, which is a pretty white, male dominated group. If you believe that the problem Republicans have is their inability to reach out to women, gays, racial minorities, and non-Christians in an increasingly diverse America, there is really no good argument that libertarians are the answer.
We’re roughly equal to or significant less than the general population in our proportions of any of the aforementioned groups and the candidates we put forward are no better than the Republican Party as a group on the important social issues to those groups. Therefore, in an election that Republicans lost because they lost with female, non-white and gay voters it shouldn’t be a surprise that candidates who are not much different than the Republicans as a group on the issues important to those groups, didn’t do any better than Republicans as a party in the election results.
Is the Tea Party just Paleolibertarianism 2.0?
Back in the early 1990′s, a group of libertarians who were tired of political irrelevance believed that an alliance with anti-establishment social conservatives within the Republican Party was exactly what was needed. Lead by Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell, they termed their movement paleolibertarianism. If you are unfamiliar with the movement, the part on paleolibertarianism of my essay “Why Don’t They Like Ron Paul?” is a good place to start.
Looking back, it is not hard to see that the movement was mistaken in many ways. Attracted by a similar anti-interventionist foreign policy approach from the right, it made compromises on economic policy by getting behind Pat Buchanan’s presidential runs. As we learned from Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 runs, jump starting a libertarian movement requires an actual libertarian. It can be worth supporting and working with non-libertarians to further various policies in the libertarian agenda, but our long term success requires our own intellectual leaders, politicians, think tanks, websites, etc.
Not only was paleolibertarianism not successful at the time, it’s now clear that the ways in which it deviated from standard libertarianism were from poor long term political strategy choices. To someone like myself who wasn’t quite yet walking or talking when the 90′s began, the rhetoric of Rothbard and Rockwell on social policy sounds like it might as well have been written in 1960. Time was not and is not on the side of opponents of gay rights, drug war crusaders, and people trying to appeal to lingering racism.
Predicting the political future is a difficult thing to do. However, I am confident in predicting that 20 years from now that gay marriage will be legal in more places than it is now, marijuana will be legal for either medicinal or recreational use in more places than it is currently and that on average people will be more welcoming to Latino immigrants than they are today. Deviating from libertarian values to take the ultimately losing side isn’t a very good long term strategy to grow the libertarian movement.
I see many parallels between paleolibertarianism and what the Tea Party movement has become today. It bring back together many of the same people that made up the Pat Buchanan coaltion of 1992, with the exception that this time the emphasis on fiscal issues. The Tea Party alliance is certainly more advantageous because of the focus on the issues where conservatives agree most with libertarians and because we have been able to use it to leverage social conservative support for libertarians instead of letting our efforts be used to support candidates who were not libertarians.
Why is it that libertarians have to be considered economic conservatives?
By PATRICK MCEWEN | Published: NOVEMBER 25, 2012
As I was writing my most recent post, I kept finding myself wanting to write the term “fiscal conservative” or “economic conservative.” Thinking about the use of those words, I became increasingly unsatisfied with using such a term to describe the economic policy views of libertarians for several reasons.
First of all, considering libertarians to be fiscal conservatives implies that conservatism is a major philosophy that everyone should be familiar with and that libertarianism is a minor one that is forced to piece together views from other more important political schools of thought. It implies that libertarian ideas are not important enough to stand on their own and that we must piggyback on conservative ideas. Political movements that are important enough to be taken seriously create their own identities rather than borrowing from others.
Secondly, I will have to admit I am a bit biased about this, but when you look at history, it is probably more accurate to say that conservatives have gotten their ideas from libertarian economists than to claim that libertarians are borrowing from conservative economists. The history gets a bit tricky because the word libertarian is a fairly recent one and conservative has meant different things, but libertarians trace their identity essentially through a series of very free market oriented economists going back to at least before 1900. Most of those economists referred to themselves as liberals, not conservatives, until well after WW2. In recent times, it may be conservatives who get elected and implement ideas, but there is no doubt that many right-wing economists either identify as or are better classified as libertarians. Much of the libertarian-conservative fusion think tank world revolves around conservatives implementing the ideas that libertarians come up with.
For these reasons, I hereby propose that all libertarians cease to referring to economic or fiscal conservatism or conservatives and instead refer to economic or fiscal libertarianism and libertarians.
What are the worst things that can happen? The one potential downside that I can think of is that it could perhaps come off as arrogant or abrasive to call a conservative a fiscal libertarian. This could potentially be a real problem, but isn’t one that should come up that often.
The upside is enormous. The way that we use language can have powerful effects on perception and if libertarians ever hope to overcome the notion that libertarianism is just the awkward step child of the liberalism and conservatism, we’re going to have to start talking like we deserve a seat at the adult table. Even if there is a credible case to be made that we’re not there yet, conservatives and liberals don’t want us there and aren’t going to invite us, not that there is a person or group that makes that determination anyways. We’re going to have to just sit down at that table ourselves and let people know it’s where we belong.
It is more historically accurate in its description of the ideas in question. We haven’t adopted very many economic ideas from conservatives if any at all, yet they have adopted quite a few from us. The potential to spark discussion about why it was used in place of conservative has limitless potentially to create situations to discuss various aspects of libertarianism.
Why Don’t They Like Ron Paul?
A Brief History of the Libertarian Movement for the Ron Paul Generation
“Like any movement of any size, it is an endless operation of trying to figure out more and more ways in which people who agree on 99.9 percent of everything can really hate each other’s guts.”-Nick Gillespie, as quoted on Mother Jones
In late 2011, I had several conversations with college-aged or slightly older Ron Paul supporters in about various aspects of the history of the libertarian movement prompted by the media outcry over the early 90‘s newsletters bearing Ron Paul’s name. As a result, I realized that there was a substantial lack of knowledge about certain aspects of the history of the libertarian movement. More importantly, there was no relatively short and available online history that I could refer them to in order to get caught up.
This essay is aimed exactly at that group, namely the crowd of younger libertarians who as a result of Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns found the ideological influence not only of Ron Paul but also of people like Murray Rothard, Lew Rockwell and the many others associated with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in other words, people exactly like me. I like to call this broadly defined group the Ron Paul generation of libertarians. Though most of us were or are college students during either the 2008 or 2012 presidential campaigns, the group is certainly not age-defined. There are some high school students and even more that are over thirty. The important connection that we all share is that we found the libertarian movement through Ron Paul, likely with the aid of the internet.
I want to stress that this is, for the most part, an outsiders history. I was born in 1989 and therefore was not yet alive when many of the events I am describing took place and was too young to have been paying attention to anything other than the last two Ron Paul presidential campaigns. With the exception of Ron Paul, whose hand I’ve shaken, I have not met any of the people that will be named nor have I ever had any direct involvement with any of the organizations. The entirety of my knowledge comes from what I read on the internet and in books along with conversations I’ve had with other Thus in as much as a libertarian can be, I am an unbiased and neutral third party observer in all of these events. It is a history for the Ron Paul generation of libertarians, by a member of the Ron Paul generation of libertarians.
I also envision this publication to serve the purpose of a starting point for many younger libertarians into reading the first hand historical accounts written before we were born or at least before we became dedicated libertarians. In this spirit, I have provided links to as many original sources as I can find and links to as many websites details about the people and organizations I mention as possible, even if it is just a Wikipedia page. My hope is that my writing will be the starting point into further reading about libertarian history and historical libertarians and their work for many of my readers.
In that spirit, I would also like to mention that this is not intended to be a comprehensive history of libertarianism, modern libertarian activism or anything similar. There are many important figures in the latter half of the 20th century history of libertarianism that are not mentioned in this history or only mentioned in passing because their contributions to libertarianism don’t have much relevance on the place of Ron Paul and his perception in the libertarian movement. People like Robert Nozick, author of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, and novelist Ayn Rand of Atlas Shrugged fame, among others are only mentioned in passing if at all despite their sizable impacts on libertarianism during the times being discussed.
It is also important to note that this is not intended to take one side or the other in the debate. My hope is to explain fairly the history involved and secondly the arguments made by contemporary libertarians on all sides, hence the extensive use of quotations where possible.
This history will take six parts in addition to this introduction. First, a discussion of the libertarian movement in the 1960‘s and into the 70‘s that would set the stage for events to come. Secondly, the events that lead to the initial split between the Rothbard and Koch factions around 1980. Then, the so-called paleo-libertarian turn that Rothbard and Lew Rockwell took at the end of the 80‘s and into the 90‘s during which time the now infamous newsletters were written. Next, a summary of many of the more prominent modern day squabbles that have taken place mostly on the internet followed by an explanation of how all of this history relates to what is happening today in the 2012 Ron Paul campaign. Finally, the conclusion which lays out my vision for the future.
The Way Things Were – Libertarians before 1980
Our greatest strength is that our philosophy is a consistent world view and will appeal to the brightest, most enthusiastic, most capable people, particularly young people. But to realize that strength, we have to state it in a radical, pure form.
-Charles Koch speaking in 1978 at a panel of libertarian activists assembled by Reason, quoted in Radicals for Capitalism by Brian Doherty page 442
The 1950‘s were in many ways the time during which the American libertarian began to turn into a political movement clearly recognizable as a forbearer to the modern one.
The world of libertarian academia and activism basically ran through a handful of organizations and individuals. Ludwig von Mises was at his teaching post at NYU and F.A. Hayek would be at the University of Chicago until 1960 along with Milton Friedman. Education outreach on liberty issues was primarily handled by Leonard Read’s Foundation for Economic Education. A more intense crash course could be found in the Colorado mountains at Robert LeFevre’s Freedom School. For international academic dialogue, there existed the Mont Pelerin Society which counted Hayek, Friedman, Read, and Henry Hazlitt among its founding members.
The source of funding for the libertarian movement was almost exclusively the Volker Fund which spent over a million dollars a year. It helped fund academic positions for Mises and Hayek and put together enough jobs to allow libertarians like Murray Rothbard to make things work financially. The guiding document of the Volker Fund was Hayek’s essay “The Intellectuals and Socialism” and as a result focused largely on building an intellectual base on which to grow the ideas of libertarianism in order to eventually be spread out to the masses.
Milton Friedman would release his book Capitalism and Freedom in 1962, bringing libertarian ideas into the public discussion in a way that perhaps no work since Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom had done. The end of the Volker Fund came that same year and for a while send the libertarian movement into a period where funding was scare.
The lack of a reliable source of funding would prevent F.A. “Baldy” Harper’s Institute for Human Studies, conceived of and founded before the end of the Volker Fund, struggled to really get going until the late 60‘s.
Reason Magazine would be founded in 1968 by Boston University student Lenny Friedlander and is the lone surviving magazine from the dozens that popped up and disappeared over the years.
Emerging on the libertarian scene and in many ways replacing the Volker Fund as the deep pockets of the libertarian movement were billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. After attending LeFevre’s Freedom School in the 60‘s, the brothers began to fund a variety of libertarian causes. Charles would even for a short while replace Harper the head of the IHS after his death.
While there were no true libertarian political candidates of note in the 1950′s and 60′s, libertarians tended to support Ohio Senator Robert Taft’s runs for President in 1940, 1948 and 1952. Many libertarians also supported Barry Goldwater’s candidacy when he won the Republican nomination in 1964.
By the 1970′s and the Vietnam War era, some libertarians shifted their political alliances from the right to the left. As Rothbard wrote in a 1968 in the left-wing publication Rampart, in an essay titled “Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal“:
Twenty year ago I was an extreme right-wing Republican, a young and lone “Neanderthal” (as the liberals used to call us) who believed, as one friend pungently put it, that “Senator Taft had sold out to the socialists.” Today, I am most likely to be called an extreme leftist, since I favor immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, denounce U.S. imperialism, advocate Black Power and have just joined the new Peace and Freedom Party. And yet my basic political views have not changed by a single iota in these two decades!
The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 by a group that included David Nolan of Nolan Chart fame and ran it’s first Presidential candidate that same year. Presidential candidate USC philosophy professor John Hospers and VP candidate Tonie Nathan received an electoral vote when Virginia Republican elector Roger MacBride refused to cast his vote in the Electoral College for Nixon and voted for Hospers instead. In 1974 San Fransisco investor named Ed Crane became the national director of the Libertarian Party. He made the decision to leave his job and take an enormous pay cut to run the party full-time in 1975.
After the 1976 presidential campaign of Roger MacBride, Crane was planning on leaving full time libertarian work to go back to an investment job. Charles Koch asked him what it would take to keep him as a member of the libertarian movement full-time and Crane suggested a libertarian think tank. Thus in 1977, Charles Koch, Murray Rothbard, Ed Crane and another Koch associate became the founding shareholders of a new San Fransisco libertarian think tank called the Cato Institute at Rothbard’s suggestion after Revolutionary War-era pamphlets titled Cato’s Letters.
In 1978, LA lawyer Ed Clark became the most successful Libertarian Party candidate in the history of the party during his run for governor of California when he won over 5% of the vote.
The Libertarian Party and the Cato Institute would be the battlegrounds for setting for the disputes that would for the first time splinter the fledgling libertarian activist movement in America.
Pragmatism vs. Principle – 1980 to the mid-80‘s
“Every ideological revolution has to worry about selling out upon achieving Power, on surrendering principle to the lure of pragmatism, respectability, Establishment acclaim and the mushhead “vital centre” of the country’s polity.”
-Murray Rothbard, Freelife: The Journal of the Libertarian Alliance, Vol. 4: No.1
The 1980 Libertarian Party presidential campaign would start the movement down the path to answer the unavoidable question of internal conflict for any political movement, libertarian or otherwise, the question of whether principles should be compromised in the name of pragmatic political gain. Murray Rothbard was becoming increasingly frustrated with what he perceived to be a lack of radical, principled stands coming from the Koch and Crane crowd and the way the 1980 presidential campaign would go a long way in cementing that divide. The Libertarian Party would provide the battleground for the first front in the battle for the heart and soul of the libertarian movement.
Former California gubernatorial candidate Ed Clark was chosen as the nominee on the heels of the success of his 1978 campaign. Largely due to the Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA) that passed after Watergate and limited campaign donations, the ticket exploited a loophole by naming David Koch the Vice Presidential candidate and thereby allowing the ticket to spend the Koch millions without restriction. The ticket would be the most successful presidential one in Libertarian Party history despite running againsnt disaffected Republican-turned-independent candidate John Anderson and Ronald Reagan’s libertarian rhetoric filled campaign. They got on the ballot in all 50 states and received the most votes in LP history, 921,000, good enough for over 1 percent of the total. In fact only Harry Browne’s 1996 run was even able to garner half that total, barely doing so.
However, Rothbard believed this success was sown on the seeds of selling out libertarian principle. He thought the campaign slogan advertising them as “low-tax liberals” was selling out needed libertarian radicalism. He formed a coalition against the Crane team promising “Never again Clark. Never again Crane.” going so far as to dedicate an entire issue of the Libertarian Forum titling it “The Clark Campaign: Never Again.”
In the cover story of that newletter, Rothbard insulted the performance of the campaign saying:
The Clark/Koch campaign was a fouribld disaster, on the following counts: betrayal of principle; failure to educate or build cadre; fiscal irresponsibility; and lack of votes. Betrayal of principle is of course the most important, as well as the most extensive, category. The campaign was marked throughout, in strategy and in tactics, by deception and duplicity. The platform was ignored, the message distorted.
He also articulated the differences in his vision for the purpose of the Libertarian Party, criticizing the Clark campaign for selling out principle in order to try to receive votes and saying that:
The purpose of an LP electoral campaign is not to get as many votes as possible. If that were the objective, then the place to go for votes is the Democratic or Republican parties. The purpose of any campaign is, in the short-run, twofold: to educate the electorate in libertarian principles, and to find more libertarians and bring them into the party (“party-building” or “cadre building”). The third, long-run, objective is to get into office so as to roll back the State.
The second front in the libertarian civil war would be the Cato Institute. It began with the hiring of David Henderson about which Murray Rothbard has been quoted as saying, “The Sarajevo of the Cato Institute was a seemingly simple act: the hiring of Dr. David Henderson as his policy analyst and economist.” Crane wanted Cato to have more of a focus on policy analysis, something that he believed was lacking among the Austrian school economists at Cato. To Rothbard, the hiring of the Chicago School supporting Henderson was a violation of principle.
In March of 1981, Rothbard would be fired from Cato. As one of the 4 founding shareholders, Rothbard was supposed to have a special and permanent place in Cato and thus he contended that his shares were illegally seized. He made the mistake of leaving his shares with a Koch associate in Wichita, Kansas and thus they did him no good when he was kicked out and his shares declared void. He wrote about what happened in the next issue of Libertarian Forum in a front page article titled “Purged from Cato!: It Usually Ends With Ed Crane.” As Rothbard explained in the introduction to the full 5-page feature story of the newsletter:
On Black Friday, March 27, 1981, at 9:00 A.M. in San Francisco, the”libertarian” power elite of the Cato Institute, consisting of President Edward H. Crane III and Other Shareholder Charles G. Koch, revealed its true nature and its cloven hoof. Crane, aided and abetted by Koch, ordered me to leave Cato’s regular quarterly board meeting, even though I am a shareholder and a founding board member of the Cato Institute. The Crane/Koch action was not only iniquitous and high-handed but also illegal, as my attorneys informed them before and during the meeting. They didn’t care. What’s more, as will be explained shortly, in order to accomplish thin this foul deed to their own satisfaction, Crane/Koch literally appropriated and confiscated the shares which I had naively left in the Cato Wichita office for “safekeeping”, an act clearly in violation of our agreement as well as contrary to every tenet of libertarian principle.
Rothbard continued to comment on Crane and Cato in the Libertarian Forum writing “An Open Letter To The Crane Machine” in the next issue.
The battle over the direction of the Libertarian Party would get even more heated during the 1984 nomination process. The Crane faction was united behind Earl Ravenal of the Cato board of directors while Rothbard united his anti-Crane coalition behind David Bergland, the 1976 VP candidate. Ravenal was a Georgetown professor and supporters cited his real world foreign policy credentials. Detractors pointed to his endorsement of compulsory vaccination as proof that he wasn’t sufficiently hardcore. In the end Bergland won by a single vote sending Crane, the Kochs and the remainder.
It is also worth noting that in some of the issues of the Libertarian Forum published during the early 1980′s, Rothbard refers to people he is criticizing by what can only be inferred to be a derogatory nicknames. For example he calls Ed Crane “Big Eddie Crane” and referred to Koch lieutenant Richard Fink “young Richie Fink.” This kind of treatment is a good example of how the fights over the libertarian movement between the Koch/Crane side and the Rothbard side was more than just philosophical; it was personal.
Author’s Notes: A great history of these events written from a more Rothbardian perspective than this is a series of articles published on lewrockwell.com by David Gordon called Rothbard vs. the Kochtapus. Justin Raimondo’s biography of Murray Rothbard, An Enemy of the State, also contains a great deal of insight into these events. As far as I know, there is no version of these events ever published by anyone on the Crane and Koch side of things. The closest thing are the multiple accounts from Crane backers cited by Brian Doherty in Radicals for Capitalism.
Paleolibertarianism – The late 1980′s onward
“But perhaps the best refutation of the old approach is not the absence of race-baiting rhetoric from its progenitors, but the success of the 2008 Ron Paul phenomenon. The man who was once the Great Paleolibertarian Hope has built a broad base of enthusiastic supporters without resorting to venomous rhetoric or coded racism. He has stuck stubbornly to the issues of sound money, “humble foreign policy,” and shrinking the state.”
-Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez, - writing in Reason in 2008
After Cato, Rothbard helped Lew Rockwell, former chief of staff to Ron Paul while he was in Congress in the 70‘s, found the Ludwig von Mises Institute, which to this day remains a distinctly Rothbardian place.
By 1990, the idea came about to reach out to many disaffected political persuasions on the right representing views points perhaps most indicative of the John Birch Society. A sort of ironic twist in the story of libertarian history that Rothbard’s sworn enemies the Koch brothers would have their ideological start through their father’s JBS activism and Rothbard would end his career reaching out to many of the same people decades later.
As was briefly discussed Part 2 of this history, Murray Rothbard was a part of many political alliances over the years starting in what he often called “the Old Right” after World War 2 and most notably allying himself with many far-left activists over their shared opposition to the Vietnam War. In light of that history of occasionally odd coalition building, paleolibertarianism is perhaps best viewed in the context of merely Rothbard’s last attempt at building a political alliance in his lifelong battle against the state.
It was also during this time that Ron Paul was out of Congress and before the paleolibertarian turn really got started, he decided to undertake his first run for president through the Libertarian Party. Despite being the only LP presidential candidate with any federal political experience until Bob Barr in 2008, the battle from the nomination was incredibly close. Paul only secured it by a 3 vote margin over Sioux activist Russel Means, whose past included at the firefight with the feds at Wounded Knee.
Doherty writes on page 515 of Radicals for Capitalism:
Some old party hands such as Bergland thought Ron Paul ended up a carpetbagger, moving in on the LP merely to expand the mailing list and donor base for his investment advice business. The party didn’t get the hoped-for influx of members and cash from Ron Paul’s hard money hard right.
Paul’s performance in the election itself also may have disappointed many movement libertarians. Despite being the most qualified LP candidate ever, no serious third party competition and a Republican candidate without close to the libertarian rhetoric or credentials of Reagan, Paul only received 432,000 votes. That was less than half of the 921,000 that Clark received in 1980 with only the advantage of $2 million of David Koch’s money.
The explicitly paleolibertarian turn was officially launched with the 1990 manifesto by Rockwell in Liberty magazine titled “The Case for Paleo-Libertarianism” where he laid out what he believed to be the problems plaguing the libertarian movement:
Conservatives have always argued that political freedom is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the good society, and they’re right. Neither is it sufficient for the free society. We also need social institutions and standards that encourage public virtue, and protect the individual from the State.
Unfortunately, many libertarians - especially those in the Libertarian Party- see freedom as necessary and sufficient for all purposes. Worse, they equate freedom from State oppression with freedom from cultural’ norms, religion, bourgeois morality, and social authority.
and got a little more personal adding:
The cultural anti-norms that mark the libertarian image are abhorrent; they have nothing to do with libertarianism per se; and they are deadly baggage. Unless we dump that baggage, we will miss the greatest opportunity in decades.
The strategy was outlined by Rothbard in a Rothbard/Rockwell Report essay titled “Right-Wing Populism.” In statements that would make former Reason editor Radley Balko cringe, Rothbard advocated two policy platform planks that took a decided turn away from much of the anti-police rhetoric seen from Rothbardians:
4. Take Back the Streets: Crush Criminals. And by this I mean, of course, not “white collar criminals” or “inside traders” but violent street criminals – robbers, muggers, rapists, murderers. Cops must be unleashed, and allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error.
5. Take Back the Streets: Get Rid of the Bums. Again: unleash the cops to clear the streets of bums and vagrants. Where will they go? Who cares? Hopefully, they will disappear, that is, move from the ranks of the petted and cosseted bum class to the ranks of the productive members of society.
That sentiment on the police was echoed by Rockwell in a March 1991 LA Times opinion piece that borders on advocating for police brutality.
A key part of the paleolibertarian shift was the presidential runs of Pat Buchanan. Though it is not often discussed, Ron Paul considered running for president again in 1992 and actually formed an exploratory committee, but bowed out in favor of Buchanan who was endorsed by Rothbard and Rockwell in the January 1992 edition of the Rothbard/Rockwell Report which explained:
Ron was determined that Bush would not go unchallenged, but he was not anxious for personal reasons to make the race. When Pat phoned him, without hesitation, Ron welcomed Pat’s entry into the race and without hesitation pledged his support for the Buchanan effort. Unlike most libertarians, Ron Paul understands that we have an unprecedented opportunity to forge a powerful coalition to create a new libertarian-conservative Old Right movement that can grow and become extraordinarily influential and perhaps even take over the presidency within a short period of time.
To libertarians: the opportunity is here. This is it. This is the real world. Get real!
Rockwell also reflected back on the time in a 2002 article “What I Learned From Paleoism,” detailing the successes and mistakes of the coalition and strategy.
By the time of his death in 1995, Rothbard had so alienated himself from some of his previous allies that Reason, a magazine where he was a columnist from the 70′s until 1983 that the magazine didn’t even note his passing. Even William F. Buckley took the time to note Rothbard’s passing infamously closing the obituary he published in National Review by saying:
It was a great pity, but his problem ought not to be thought of as tracing to the seamless integrity of libertarian principles. In Murray’s case, much of what drove him was a contrarian spirit, the deranging scrupulosity that caused him to disdain such as Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and-yes-Newt Gingrich, while huffing and puffing in the little cloister whose walls he labored so strenuously to contract, leaving him, in the end, not as the father of a swelling movement that “rous [ed] the masses from their slumber,” as he once stated his ambition, but with about as many disciples as David Koresh had in his little redoubt in Waco. Yes, Murray Rothbard believed in freedom, and yes, David Koresh believed in God.
Author’s Note: There is perhaps no better explanation of the paleolibertarian turn undertaken by Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell after Rothbard was fired from Cato from other side of the libertarian movement than the article written for Reason in 2008 by Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel. However, I still wanted to retell much of the same story to make it fit the context for this essay and to include more excerpts from the writings of Rockwell and Rothbard. For the rebuttal to the Reason article on the newsletters most often cited by Rothbardians, see Justin Raimondo writing in Taki Mag.
Modern Day Squabbles
“I tried to stay close to Murray, but he’s a very difficult character. Murray has two features that are related. One is to trash and destroy anyone who publicly disagrees with him or criticizes him, resulting in constant alienation of people, both among economists and conservatives, and he thus tended to isolate himself. But on the other hand, he’s extremely magnanimous and generous to people look to him for guidance and are friendly to him.”
-Gary Greenberg, New York LP activist quoted on page 565 of Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism
Just as the Jerome Tucille book title makes the contention that It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand, when it comes to discussion of disagreements among libertarians it’s safe to say that it usually ends with Murray Rothbard. Past sections of this essay have illustrated how that came to be while he was alive, but even after his death it is often the case that the root of recent inter-libertarian conflicts lies with the ideas and vision for libertarianism laid out by Rothbard.
Before I start detailing some of the modern day squabbles, it’s important to detail who exactly is on each side. As hinted to above, the two sides can largely be defined by their opinions on the work of Murray Rothbard. As has already been discussed, the center of Rothbardian thought is the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama founded and still run today by Lew Rockwell. They are separated by what they would argue is a more principled defense of liberty than their more compromising counterparts, though it is probably more accurately described as an advocacy of anarcho-capitalism combined with an uncompromising advocacy of Austrian economics in the Mises-Rothbard tradition. Some of the more prominent scholars and writers associated with this side include historian and author Tom Woods, Loyola University economics professor Walter Block, economist Robert Murphy and legal scholar Stephan Kinsella.
As can be inferred from previous sections, the other side consists largely of the modern day Koch/Crane faction that walked out of the 1984 Libertarian Party convention. Ed Crane still is in charge of Cato and David and Charles Koch are still using their billions to fund more libertarian groups than ever. While recent news have focused on a picture of the Koch brothers as right-wing, Republican extraordinaire financiers, with the New Yorker profiling their “war against Obama” and New York Magazine calling them the “tea party’s wallet,” many of their political contributions still go towards explicitly libertarian groups. This is not to discount their contributions to Republican candidates who don’t resemble libertarians in any shape or form and involvement in groups such as Americans for Prosperity both of which are substantial.
The libertarian principles and goals of these groups vary tremendously and as a result they are most commonly referred to by those wishing to criticize them as the Kochtopus because they are the many arms of the Koch brothers. The organizations range from those explicitly founded and run by them such as the Charles G. Koch Foundation to the less obviously connected such as the Reason Magazine which was founded and run for well over a decade without Koch money or involvement though is now Koch connected through the Reason Foundation which has published the magazine since it was founded in 1978 and currently counts David Koch among its 23 board members and has been the recipient of Koch donations over the years. Other notable libertarian organizations with strong Koch ties include the Institute for Humane Studies, the Mercatus Center which is located at George Mason University and run by Tyler Cowen, and the George Mason economics department which has received tens of millions of dollars from the Kochs.
While most prominent libertarians have some kind of connection either to the Kochs or the Mises Institute, there are several who do not have any strong ties to either and as a result the idea that all libertarians can be grouped into one category or the other is clearly false. For example, investment guru Peter Schiff rose to prominence during the 2008 Ron Paul campaign, to which he was an economic adviser, on the back of a prophetic YouTube compilation titled “Peter Schiff Was Right (2006-07)” doesn’t have incredibly strong connections to either side, though he has spoken at the Mises Institute and attended Koch events. Libertarian journalist John Stossel worked his way up through the world of journalism before slowly becoming a libertarian and as a result also lacks strong connections to either side. There are also groups of libertarians that clearly have no direct connections such as some Objectivist organizations and the leaders of the Libertarian Party which was has been abandoned by the Kochs and the Rothbardians for decades now.
There is perhaps no better starting point for a discussion of the modern day squabbles of libertarian activists than over the telling of the history. The most comprehensive work in the area is undoubtedly Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism. Published in 2007, the book is a 741-page tome that will likely go down as the most complete history of the American libertarian movement of the 20th century ever written and constitutes a must read book for anyone who would like to consider themselves a serious libertarian.
Doherty is a senior editor at Reason and therefore anyone who has read this far will not be surprised to learn that the book was the subject of criticism from several Rothbardians. David Gordon writing in the Mises Review raises many of the same points made earlier by Rothbard biographer Justin Raimondo in his earlier review on Antiwar.com, the books treatment of war revisionism, its curious choice to have the introduction profile Cato’s push for Social Security privatization during the second Bush administration and most importantly over how it portrays the role of Rothbard in the libertarian movement. Raimondo wrote:
The theme of this book – that libertarianism, in growing up, has had to cast aside the more flamboyant insignia of rebellion, and is, in the end, all the better for it – is not consistently expressed, and, indeed, is often contradicted by the author some pages later. Thus we see Rothbard, a seminal figure – and leader of the movement’s radical wing – depicted as, variously, a great scholar, “the most uniquely and characteristically libertarian of libertarians,” a “venomous” sectarian, a modern-day Mencken, a purveyor of low gossip, the ideological equivalent of the Rock of Gibraltar, and an opportunist who allied himself with Ayn Rand, the New Left, and the paleoconservative Pat Buchanan. In the opening pages of Radicals for Capitalism, we are told that Rothbard is “the one whose influence explains the most about what makes the ideas, behavior, and general flavor of libertarianism unique,” and by the end of the book we are left with the clear implication that he wound up alienating everyone but Lew Rockwell and myself. Both of these views can’t be true.
It’s not only discussion of what libertarianism was that drives conflict. Another major point of contention is over what libertarianism is today.
One great example is the vision penned by Reason editors Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie in their co-authored book The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America. Unsurprisingly, the book describes libertarians as culturally more similar to the kind of people Rothbard and Rockwell wanted to disassociate themselves from during their paleoconservative Pat Buchanan days that is more typical of the Reason audience rather than principled non-aggression principle upholding, Rothbardian theorists. Also unsurprising was that their characterization was criticized by one of those Rothbardians. David Gordon writing on Lewrockwell.com argued that:
They characterize libertarianism in this way: “While there are competing definitions of what ‘libertarian’ means, the simplest understanding attaches to people who believe that government is less efficient than the private sector, that people should be left alone as much as possible to lead their own lives, and that tolerance is the most important social value.”(p.34) This very much differs from the conception of libertarianism defended over a lifetime by Murray Rothbard. As Rothbard saw matters, libertarians are committed only to defining the permissible use of force. They are free to adopt whatever attitudes they wish towards people’s lifestyles, so long as they respect rights. They are emphatically not required to be “social liberals”. Though Rothbard indisputably ranks as a towering figure of the modern libertarian movement, his name nowhere appears in the book.
Unlike the crowd closely tied to the Kochs that maintains strict radio silence publicly over anything published on a Lew Rockwell affiliated website and seems to hold onto hope that if they can avoid mentioning Murray Rothbard’s name for long enough everyone else will forget him too, Reason affiliated writers respond back on occasion. Welch did so in a lengthy blog post taking issue with many of Gordon’s characterizations of his definition of what it means to be a libertarian and even managed to convince Gordon that he had misconstrued his rock music argument. Despite his differences with Gordon, he essentially agrees with my characterization of the disagreement writing:
But there is an identifiable difference of philosophy and emphasis embedded in Gordon’s Rothbard-vs.-Reason formulation (even if it should also be pointed out here that Rothbard was a Reason columnist in the 1970s and ’80s). It’s similar to the tension at play in our great November 2009 exchange “Are Property Rights Enough? Should libertarians care about cultural values?“, between Kerry Howley, Todd Seavey, and Daniel McCarthy. I basically take the Howley view that “Freedom is about more than just the absence of government.”
There have also been a number of accusations of various writers not being libertarians over positions they have taken and things they have written. One oft cited criticism is of Brink Lindsey over his support for the invasion of Iraq.
Walter Block has even gone so far as to call the Reason Foundation anti-libertarian over the arguments Robert Poole used to oppose government investment in high speed rail and Katherine Mangu-Ward’s dismissal of the Ron Paul campaign, that will be discussed in detail later. Writing in a response to a letter from Students for Liberty leader Alexander McCobin, Block goes so far as to say “This organization has been doing its level best to undermine liberty, from a supposed libertarian point of view, for years.” and even provides a detailed list of anti-libertarian positions Reason has taken over the years:
Kinsella on Poole on the TSA; Klein on Poole on Buckley; Vance on Poole on McCain/Bush; Gregory on Reason on inflation; Woods on Reason on Ron Paul; Rockwell on Reason; Kwiatkowski on Reason on Ron Paul; Parfitt on Reason; Kinsella on Reason on IP; Rockwell on Reason on Libertarian Heroes; Kinsella on Reason on rights of patients; Mortellaro on organ donations; Wicks on Rand Paul and slavery; Raimondo on Reason and Ron Paul.
Prefacing the list by saying “I have been assured by my researchers that even all of these comprise, merely the tip of the veritable iceberg.”
The Cato Institute’s David Boaz has also been a popular target for criticisms of not being a libertarian on Lewrockwell.com. His editorial about a fond remembrance of the Clinton years lead to a blog post titled “David Boaz Is No Libertarian” by Walter Block. He was also criticized for his quotations of Brink Lindsey and because he disagreed with Jacob Hornberger over whether or not America has become more or less free in recent years.
Author’s Note: An alternative description of the two factions of libertarians can be found in Brian Doherty’s 2010 article from Reason, “A Tale of Two Libertarianisms.” There is also plenty of commentary on the so-called divide in modern times from places like Lewrockwell.com, for example see this blog post or this one.
Where does the Ron Paul campaign fit into all of this?
“And so it’s understandable that over the past few months a lot of people have been asking why writers at the Cato Institute seemed to display a lack of interest in or enthusiasm for the Paul campaign. Well, now you know. We had never seen the newsletters that have recently come to light, and I for one was surprised at just how vile they turned out to be. But we knew the company Ron Paul had been keeping, and we feared that they would have tied him to some reprehensible ideas far from the principles we hold.”
-David Boaz, writing on the Cato @ Liberty blog in January of 2008
In the context of the libertarian movement, Ron Paul is clearly more associated with Rothbard and Rockwell side of things than any other. It’s not an affiliation he has made any pretensions running away from recently either. It’s not hard to find a recommendation from him to read material affiliated with Rothbard and Rockwell and in fact the final paragraph of his most recent book, Liberty Defined says
Young people, especially, ask me what I read in pursuit of these goals of freedom, peace, and prosperity. I reference many important works, old and new, in this and my other books, of course. But on the Internet, about which I am questioned the most, I especially value Lewrockwell.com, as well as Mises.org, Antiwar.com, and Campaignforliberty.com
The opening dedication of the book is to Mises, Hayek, Leonard Read, Rothbard and Mises’ PhD student and Grove College professor Hans Sennholz. Rockwell was a staffer for Paul in the 1970‘s when he was first elected to Congress.
In 1995 as part of the Mises Institute publication, “Murray N. Rothbard: In Memorandum“, Ron Paul wrote:
Although I had read Murray for years, I didn’t meet him until 1979. I wrote him, he wrote back, and I invited him to the “belly of the beast,” the U.S. Congress. I knew he had a great mind, but instead of a pompous professor, I discovered a joyous libertarian, and one of the most fascinating human beings I’ve ever met.
I loved talking to this down-to-earth genius. And he told me he enjoyed meeting a Congressman who had not only read his books, but used them as a guide in his votes and legislation. A close and lasting friendship was the result, which wasn’t hard. Murray was the sweetest, funniest, most generous of men.
He was also a great help with the Minority Report of the U.S. Gold Commission, published as The Case for Gold. But who could be surprised? He was our greatest academic expert on the history and economics of the gold standard.
There is no doubt that in at least a certain sense of the term, Ron Paul was and is a Rothbardian. It’s hard to understand Ron Paul’s political philosophy without having read Rothbard.
I have witnessed or read of many libertarians of the Ron Paul generation complain of the lack of backing Ron Paul got in his presidential runs from the likes of Cato, Reason and various other libertarian organizations.
On one hand, I emphatically agree with this sentiment. Ron Paul has through his presidential campaigns done more for furthering libertarianism than any individual alive today. Before his efforts, libertarianism was stuck somewhere between firming up its beachhead in the academic world and trying to start to make an impact on the world of as Hayek termed them “second hand dealers.” Ron Paul became the most impactful second hand dealer of ideas perhaps ever and leveraging the informational power of the internet, brought libertarianism directly from the academics to the masses in a way that perhaps has never been done before. It’s not hard to see why anyone who dares call themselves a libertarian to not shower him with praise could easily be construed as not deserving to label themselves a libertarian at all.
The reactions to the Ron Paul campaign from many other libertarians, has been something less than enthusiastic. Many libertarians weighed in on the subject back in 2008 when the the newsletters story first broke. What many of them have to say reveals that their criticisms are mostly aimed towards Lew Rockwell, the Mises Institute, and other often vaguely described people associated with Ron Paul.
Former Reason writer Tim Cavanaugh wrote on the L.A. Times blog a reaction cited by many other libertarians, saying:
The strategy was unworkable for many reasons: It was a little too dishonest even for me; libertarianism doesn’t generate enough public interest to support a longterm market in defection; and as it happens, defectors from and within libertarianism are a dime a dozen.
But the tactic I was planning to use would have been very effective: Simply collect story after story of the moonlight-and-magnolias Confederate nostalgists, stop-the-war-on-men misogynists, traditionalist homophobes, scientific racists and similar fringe characters who seemed to gravitate toward libertarianism, in numbers that I and others found remarkable.
But it’s weird that a philosophy of non-aggression, ownership of self and property, individual choice, free trade and so on is so attractive to people whose greatest passsion is arguing that Abraham Lincoln was the foulest butcher in American history, that black people are stupider than white people, that Mexicans are naturally inclined to favor a welfare state, that our culture is being undermined by the feminization of boys, and so on. Folks of this stripe are present in not-inconsequential numbers in both small-l and big-L libertarianism. I can understand why drag queens, pot smokers, gun lovers and entrepreneurs are libertarians. I comprehend why localist, traditionalist, Chestertonian Christian types gravitate toward the movement.
But why are Confederate apologists attracted to a philosophy that draws so much of its thinking from either abolitionists (Lysander Spooner, Robert Green Ingersoll, Henry David Thoreau and others) or market-based freedom types (Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, etc.)? Why is Lincoln — whose one-liner “As I would not be a slave so I would not be a master” could easily be the motto of the Libertarian party — not given the same warts-and-all historical courtesy that is extended to Thomas Jefferson? Why does Woodrow Wilson’s support for Jim Crow laws not get more attention among the many other particulars that cause libertarians to view him (rightly in my view) as the worst president of the twentieth century? Why the fascination with how different ethnic groups score on standardized tests if you believe in an individualistic, non-averaged universe?
Another often referenced response came from former Reason editor-in-chief Virginia Postrel and decided less positive take on the Ron Paul phenomenon:
As I told Bill in an email, I was never particularly interested in the Paul campaign, which I considered a fringe effort in both its chances (nil) and much of its rhetoric (too many conspiracies). Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t consider Paul “one of the biggest mainstream representatives of libertarian thought.” I’m not sure whether I would have written about him if I had.
The justly criticized NY Times article on the newsletters from December 2011 contained these 3 sentences that offer a tremendous amount of insight as well:
[Cato Institute founder] Crane, a longtime critic of Mr. Rockwell, called Mr. Paul’s close association with him “one of the more perplexing things I’ve ever come across in my 67 years.” He added: “I wish Ron would condemn these fringe things that float around because of Rockwell. I don’t believe he believes any of that stuff.”
Mr. Paul said in the interview that he did not, but he declined to condemn Mr. Rockwell, saying he did not want to get in the middle of a fight. “I could understand that, but I could also understand the Rothbard group saying, Why don’t you quit talking to Cato?” he said.
Mr. Paul described Mr. Rockwell and Mr. Rothbard as political provocateurs. “They enjoyed antagonizing people, to tell you the truth, and trying to split people,” he said. “I thought, we’re so small, why shouldn’t we be talking to everybody and bringing people together?”
The 2012 campaign has been treated more with what I would call cautious acceptance by many of the libertarians who either ignored or criticized him 4 years ago. Perhaps some of the acceptance has come from the emergence of his son Rand onto the scene who prioritizes a broader appeal in his language and arguments than his father as a May 2010 profile in Reason described.
There is perhaps no better example of that new found acceptance than the invitation extended to the elder Dr. Paul to speak at the Cato Institute’s 29th Annual Monetary Conference last fall. It might not seem like such a big deal to invite the foremost libertarian critic of monetary policy in Congress in the last 30 years to speak at a libertarian conference on monetary policy, but considering that he wasn’t invited to speak at any of the first 28, it is clearly a sign that something has changed.
The magnitude of Ron Paul’s impact is emphasized by the decision Ed Crane, yes the same one reviled by so many of Ron Paul’s most ardent backers at the Mises Institute, to title his recent Wall Street Journal article “Why Ron Paul Matters” and after taking time to heavily qualify his praise and condemn Lew Rockwell by name, conclude by saying:
Support for dynamic market capitalism (as opposed to crony capitalism), social tolerance, and a healthy skepticism of foreign military adventurism is a combination of views held by a plurality of Americans. It is why the 21st century is likely to be a libertarian century. It is why the focus should be on Ron Paul’s philosophy and his policy proposals in 2012.
“I thought, we’re so small, why shouldn’t we be talking to everybody and bringing people together?”
-Ron Paul, quoted in the NY Times
Now that you know a little more about their history, hopefully its much easier to see why Cato probably isn’t having an event for the release of the next Tom Woods book; why David Boaz doesn’t stand a chance of being asked to speak at the next Mises Circle; why Lew Rockwell started a blog that at times seems almost exclusively to exist in order to promote links to positive commentary on Ron Paul and lambaste anyone who dares to criticize him; and most importantly why so many prominent libertarians that based on policy issues alone could be expected to be incredibly enthusiastic about Ron Paul’s presidential candidacy are instead lukewarm or even somewhat hostile towards him.
I’m not holding out my hopes for a more unified libertarian or at least cooperative movement while Ed Crane runs Cato, Lew Rockwell the Mises Institute and the Koch brothers keep giving millions with tight strings attached to the many organization that constitute the arms of the so-called Kochtapus, but I think that perhaps a truce under the basic guiding principle of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” wouldn’t be too much to ask for.
It is my sense that the Ron Paul generation of libertarians really doesn’t care to take sides in the old feuds. I know plenty of people who will gladly attend Mises University as well as apply to be an intern at Cato or Reason and who read the LewRockwell.com blog daily yet dream about what their life could have been like if they had been fortunate enough to have been a George Mason economics major in college. The few who do even know the details of many of the fights from the 80‘s wonder how much further the cause of liberty and libertarianism could have been advanced if the infighting hadn’t been so destructive.
Ron Paul is by any standard far from a perfect messenger, but the lesson that I believe the Ron Paul generation has learned is that dwelling on it doesn’t do anyone any good to waste time smearing someone who is trying to advance the cause of liberty in a general sense. There are proper ways to let someone know you disagree with them and it can be done without needing to call for a judgement on whether or not they are a libertarian based on one thing they have said or written.
The way that intra-libertarian fights seem so much more damaging that arguments with non-libertarians is perhaps best described in one of my favorite pieces of evidence to cite during my high school debate career, where philosopher Slavoj Zizek wrote:
Sometimes, a small distance is much more explosive for the system than an ineffective radical rejection. In religion, a small heresy can be more threatening than an outright atheism or passage to another religion; for a hard-line Stalinist, a Trotskyite is infinitely more threatening than a bourgeois liberal or social democrat. As le Carre put it, one true revisionist in the Central Committee is worth more than thousand dissidents outside it.
Interestingly enough, I think that quote also goes a long way in explaining why Ron Paul has been able to be one of the most effective critics of government action in history.
Remember that even the staunches advocates of radicalism and strict adherence to principle have usually advocated for a more pragmatic approach at some point in time. Rothbard and Rockwell once wrote that “Pat Buchanan is our ideal candidate,” despite their lack of agreement with him on many issues of economics, most notably free trade. And on the other hand, even the most squishy libertarians who are willing to compromise on almost everything must have some kind of libertarian principles in order to identify as libertarians in the first place.
Just as libertarians have argued for the need to have libertarians who were intellectuals, politicians, teachers, reporters, businessmen and many other professions, we need to have libertarians of different philosophies and degrees of radicalness as well. While the hardcore might be the equivalent of the intellectuals in being the key to sustaining the movement, the softcore play the vital role of initially suckering people into libertarian ideas. Few of us start off, like Walter Block, as socialists pledging to debate Nathaniel Branden until being converted. Without a bridge of people holding opinions connecting the radicals to the mainstream, it becomes much easier for them to be cut off entirely and marginalized as holding opinions too crazy to even be worth looking into in the first place. There are of course always people who just don’t care enough to ever hold radical political opinions of any kind, who aren’t going to read any books on the subject, but yet still will go vote and it’s certainly much better that they vote for liberty rather than more government.
As Rothbard described in his 1961 Memorandum to the Volker Fund, not everyone can ever be expected to be a hardcore libertarian:
For one of the reasons behind the idea of “infiltration” is that we can probably never hope to have everyone a hardcore man, just as we can never hope to have everyone an intellectual. Since the hard core will always be relatively small, its influence must be maximized by giving it “leverage” through allied, less libertarian “united fronts” with less libertarian thinkers and doers.
To restate my view of the proper strategy: we must, first and foremost, nourish and increase the hard core; we must, then, try to diffuse and advance principles and action as far as possible in the direction of hardcore doctrines. To abandon the hard core is liquidationist; to abandon all hardcore leverage upon others is to remain sterile and ineffective. We must combine the two elements; we must, in short, nourish and develop a hard core, which will then permeate and exert leverage upon others.
The goal of the hardcore ought not be to alienate and condemn as not a libertarian anyone they deem to not be sufficiently radical, but rather as Rothbard described to work with them to reach out and bring more people into the broader libertarian fold while at the same time working to make those who are already libertarians more radical.
For the all the examples of people on one side or the other, there is one public figure who has successfully bridged the divide and routinely interacts with libertarians of all varieties on his show, Judge Andrew Napolitano. On his show “Freedom Watch” on Fox Business, Napolitano routinely has on Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell and Tom Woods as well as libertarians ranging from Peter Schiff to John Stossel to various writers from Reason, like Radley Balko, Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie and I could go on. Judge Napolitano is a living example that being a libertarian does not have to mean choosing to associate or favor one group of libertarians over another.
I have no doubt that this account of historical events of the libertarian movement and some my thoughts on the current status of libertarian opinions of Ron Paul will make at least someone upset if it ever becomes important enough to do so. Commentary such as this on historical events so personal and political to so many makes that result all but inevitable. My hope is that it I have given all the events I describe a fair enough treatment that no one would take issue with them, but I’m aware that it is unlikely that I have managed to walk that fine line.
Finally, I would like to give a thanks to Brian Doherty. Without the countless years of research and writing he put into his book “Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement” I would likely not have either been inspired enough or knowledgeable enough to undertake this project. And to my friend Mike for taking the time to read over drafts and offer feedback. While this work may have happened without him, it certainly wouldn’t have been as well done