Tag Archives: libertarianism

Conservatism is More Harmful to Liberty Than Progressive Liberalism

Publication1Following the horrors of the Wilson and FDR presidencies, conservatives made nice with classical liberals and later libertarians as the only way to maintain any relevancy. This was a rather odd fellowship, conservatism being a fundamentally authoritarian philosophy. And because people seem unable to think in terms of anything outside the conservative-liberal spectrum, this has caused many people genuinely interested in a freer society to conflate authoritarian, conservative positions with classical liberal or libertarian ones. Examples:

  • Conflating conservative “pro-business” mercantilism/crony capitalism with free markets
  • Worshiping the enormous standing army rather than being suspicious of and reluctant to pay for it, as any liberty-minded person should be
  • Ditto for the ubiquitous domestic standing army, the police
  • Blaming corporations acting in their best interests in a corrupted business environment, rather than the government that created that environment and made it a business necessity to exploit it, lest their competitors do so first (Amazon, Walmart, etc.). This is how Tucker Carlson finds himself agreeing with Bernie Sanders

The foundation of conservatism, the reason it seeks to “conserve” what is already established by any forceful means necessary, individual rights be damned, is its belief that man’s nature is so fallen, dark, or inherently violent that it must be kept at bay. Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk all agreed that the primary purpose of government was to override men’s natural inclinations by force. For all of them, any freedom man has in society is a privilege granted by the government, not an inalienable right carried into society which the government is charged to defend.

In American history, Hamilton was a true conservative, seeking to conserve mercantilism and empire, the status quo of his day, albeit under American control. Lincoln was a true conservative, seeking to preserve the status quo of the union despite the expressed wishes of the states attempting to leave it peacefully. Today, Trump and the majority of the Republican Party are the true conservatives, pursuing an explicitly Hamiltonian platform, even borrowing Hamilton’s “national greatness” slogan.

Ironically, what attracts well-meaning people to the conservative brand is the libertarian-sounding rhetoric it often employs, despite libertarian ideas being fundamentally antithetical to conservatism. Once they’ve adopted that brand, and seeing that virtually no conservative politicians ever propose anything resembling a move towards laissez faire markets, a less powerful police state or a more peaceful foreign policy, they resort to suggesting the people who run for office under the conservative or Republican banners are not “true conservatives,” or in the case of the Republican Party, are “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only).

When pressed to name some “true conservatives” or “true Republicans,” the only answer one will ever get is Hamiltonian Calvin Coolidge, a conservative who genuinely seemed to hold some classical liberal positions, along with some conservative ones. We’re supposed to believe that in all American history, Coolidge and a few Republicans today like Rand Paul, Justin Amash and Thomas Massie are the true conservatives and/or true Republicans, and virtually everyone else were the “RINOs.”

That should sound ludicrous to any dispassionate observer. Why wouldn’t Coolidge, Paul, Massie and Amash be the RINOs, i.e., the ones who don’t think or act like 99% of the Republican Party throughout its history?

For these reasons, I believe there is a good argument that conservatism is more harmful to the cause of liberty than progressive liberalism. At least proponents of the latter come right out and tell us they’re going to trample our personal and economic liberty “for our own good.” Anyone seeking freedom knows not to vote for them. Not so the conservatives, who occasionally talk like Jefferson but always govern like FDR and Catherine the Great had a love child who won a U.S. election.

The conservative movement’s success in absorbing people with libertarian impulses keeps American politics from breaking out of a narrow range of positions, all statist to the core. This ultimately makes us poorer and less free than we would be if those interested in free markets, peaceful trade and a non-interventionist foreign policy would let go of their emotional attachment to the conservative label and let the Republican Party take its place on the junk heap with its predecessors, the Whig and Federalist parties.

A new movement and party, devoid of authoritarian conservative baggage, may attract a lot of people who currently hold their nose and vote Democrat, but don’t necessarily like the awful far left any more than libertarians do. In other words, what is needed is a radical change in the political landscape, meaning conservatism has to go.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Response to Elie Mystal’s ‘Libertarian Hero Meets The Justice Of The Streets (Err.. Suburbs)’

Rand_Paul,_official_portrait,_112th_Congress_alternateI read Elie Mystal’s article on Rand Paul’s assault, which suggests such violent encounters are the inevitable result of libertarianism in practice. He makes two errors. First, he contends Rand Paul ignores the rules of his HOA based on his libertarian philosophy. Second, he contends basing a legal framework on the libertarian non-aggression principle (NAP) is unworkable.

Regarding the first error, libertarianism is based on the sanctity of voluntary contracts. An HOA is a perfect example of what libertarians would replace zoning regulations with – an enforceable contract voluntarily entered into by every individual, instead of a set of rules imposed on the whole by a supposed majority. Mystal conflates voluntary contracts with regulations near the end of his piece, writing, “Rand Paul’s broken ribs are a goddamn case study in why we need regulations.” This begs the question, “Why do we need regulations, rather than just enforcement of the HOA?”

Neither Mystal nor I know the terms of Rand Paul’s HOA contract, but if they prohibit either pumpkin patches or compost heaps, then Rand Paul appears to be in violation of that contract. Libertarians would side with the HOA, not Rand Paul. However, the HOA contract also provides penalties for violation of the terms, which I’m fairly certain don’t include bum-rushing him and breaking his ribs.

This all assumes there is any truth to reports Senator Paul used his property in ways his neighbors found offensive, whether compliant with the letter of his HOA agreement or not. Several of his neighbors have come forward since Mystal’s piece was written to refute those reports.

Even in the absence of a written agreement, libertarians recognize longstanding local conditions as binding on new property owners. Thus, I cannot come into a quiet community and build an airport on my land, subjecting my neighbors to the noise and other inconveniences of having an airport border their land. By the same token, I cannot buy the land next to an existing airport and then demand the airport stop making noise or doing the other things an airport must do to conduct its business. This principle extends to all sorts of questions, including air pollution, zoning, etc. Murray Rothbard wrote about this concept many times. Here is an example.

Second, Mystal’s article includes this passage:

“You can do what you want and I can do what I want and, so long as we’re not hurting anybody, the government can do nothing.” It’s… cute, as theories of social interactions go. It’s not a workable basis for law and governance.”

I would refer the writer to this passage from Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural address:

“With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens — a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities. [emphasis added]

In fact, Jefferson reiterated the NAP as the basis for law and governance many times over the course of his life. Examples include this, this and this.

Rather than a “cute theory of social interaction,” the NAP was the guiding principle of American liberty for well over a century, until Woodrow Wilson specifically called it out as no longer adequate for what he considered too complex a society for the NAP to govern. Libertarians disagree with Wilson. Mystal may not. But it would be a much more valuable discussion if libertarianism would at least be represented correctly when criticized, rather than presented in the cartoonish fashion our sound bite media so often resorts to.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Gary Johnson is not a libertarian

TAMPA, April 12, 2012 — While the media continue to ignore compelling evidence that the Republican primary race is much closer than they are reporting, some Ron Paul supporters are nevertheless thinking about what they might do if Paul does not get the Republican nomination.

Throughout this election cycle, Gary Johnson’s name has been omnipresent as a libertarian alternative. There’s only one problem. Gary Johnson is not a libertarian.

This just seems to be occurring to some of the faithful after his disastrous interview with the Daily Caller. In it, Johnson proposes to cut the military budget by 43 percent. However, when pressed on one hypothetical military intervention after another, Johnson refuses to rule any out. He’d consider military intervention for humanitarian reasons. He believes the United States should maintain a military presence in the Middle East. He would continue drone attacks in Pakistan. By the end of the interview, libertarians were likely waiting for Johnson to rip off a mask Scooby Doo villain-style, revealing he was really Dick Cheney in disguise.

From the moment he announced his run for president as a Republican, Gary Johnson has stated that he believes all government policies should be formulated using a “cost-benefit analysis” (about the 2:20 mark). What are we spending our money on and what are we getting in return? (Libertarians would likely question him on just who “we” is and how it became “our money,” but I digress.) While that might be a lot better than what Washington is doing now – all cost and no discernible benefit – it’s not how libertarians make policy decisions.

There is no evidence Gary Johnson is even aware of the philosophical basis of libertarianism. If he is aware of it, he’s obviously decided to reject it. That’s certainly his prerogative, but he shouldn’t be seeking the Libertarian Party’s nomination.

The Libertarian Party has never garnered more than about 1% of the vote in a presidential election. Its chief benefit has always been that it nominated candidates libertarians could actually believe in, even if they weren’t going to win. This was true as late as 2004, when the party nominated Michael Badnarik. However, it badly damaged itself by nominating Bob Barr in 2008. If it nominates Gary Johnson for president in 2012, it will completely lose all relevance, even among libertarians.

Ron Paul is not a perfect libertarian, but he does understand libertarian philosophy and he does form his positions based upon the non-aggression principle, as he confirmed in my own interview with him last year (about the 7:30 mark). That’s why he told Matt Lauer (about the 5:00 mark) that economic liberty, personal liberty and his non-interventionist foreign policy are all one package. Libertarians believe initiating force is wrong, whether it is military force against another nation or a government bureau forcibly transferring money from one person or group to another.

{Note to reader: A portion of this article is missing here. This originally appeared in Washington Times Communities, but due to contractual issues all posts written during this period have been taken down from the Washington Times website. I retrieved  this from a blogger who reprinted most of this article, but there appears to have been a portion here that he did not reprint. If anyone can locate the article in its entirety, I would be grateful to have a copy.}

If the Libertarian Party wants to be practical in spreading the libertarian message, it should endorse Ron Paul as its candidate in 2012. He is more libertarian than any politician in U.S. history and has more visibility than any candidate the party could field. If it insists upon putting forth its own candidate, it should nominate a true libertarian. It has several choices.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Non-Aggression Is Not Pacifism (Libertarians Hit Back)

Heading into “Super Tuesday,” many conservatives lament that they do not like any of the remaining Republican candidates for president. Romney is too moderate, Gingrich too much a “Washington insider,” and Santorum both an insider and a guaranteed loser against Obama thanks to his willingness to bare his soul about some of his more outlandish socially conservative views.

That leaves Ron Paul, who would seem to be the ideal conservative candidate. Paul’s Plan to Restore America actually cuts $1 trillion from the federal budget in his first year as president, including eliminating the Department of Education that Ronald Reagan promised to abolish.

Paul is the only candidate that actually disagrees with President Obama in principle on “spreading the wealth around.” Paul doesn’t just nibble a few pennies away from financially insignificant welfare programs. He actually has a funded plan to let young people opt out of Medicare and Social Security. This is really a plan to responsibly end these programs. Government-mandated programs only survive because people are forced to participate. If conservatives really do oppose socialism, they should agree with Paul on this. Where do they think Social Security got its name?

For a large group of conservatives, they are with Paul right up until he explains his foreign policy. Suddenly, not only does the courtship end, they stop taking calls and change their phone numbers. That’s unfortunate because most conservatives make this decision upon a completely distorted view of Paul’s foreign policy.

Read the rest at The Daily Caller…

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.


[1] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Francis Walker Gilmer June 7, 1816 from The Works of Thomas Jefferson edited by Paul Leicester Ford G.P. Putnam’s Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1905  pg. 533-34

Earth to Rick Santorum: Libertarians Founded the United States

Andrew Napolitano recently showed a clip in which Rick Santorum explained his views on libertarianism. His comments are also instructive in understanding his animosity (politically) towards Ron Paul. Santorum said:

“One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a Libertarianish right. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. That is not how traditional conservatives view the world. There is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.”

As David Boaz pointed out in the interview with Napolitano, Santorum seems to oppose a basic American principle- the right to the pursuit of happiness. I agree with him on this, but there is something even more fundamental here than that. It has to do with the conservative philosophy itself. One of the statements that Santorum makes is true. “That is not how traditional conservatives view the world.”

There is a great disconnect between average Americans who refer to themselves as “conservatives” and the small group of politicians and politically-connected businessman who call themselves likewise. The members of the former group believe in the founding principles of the United States, including the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They believe that these rights are endowed by their Creator. In other words, they preexist the government. They are not created by the government. It is the government’s one and only job to protect those rights and when the government fails to protect them and instead violates them, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish the government.

These inalienable rights are also referred to as “natural rights,” meaning that man possesses them even in the state of nature (the state without government). For Jefferson, whose philosophy was inspired by Locke, the reason that men formed governments was to protect these rights better than they could be protected otherwise.

Locke viewed man as capable of both good and evil. For Locke, man’s natural state was a state of reason, which meant that he respected the rights of other men and observed the natural law of non-aggression. “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

For Locke and his philosophical heir Jefferson, this natural law of non-aggression was the basis of government power. By prohibiting aggression by one person or group against another, the government would preserve the natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Importantly, repelling aggression was also the limit of government power, for when the government exercised power for any other reason it was committing aggression itself and invading the rights it was meant to protect.

That this was Jefferson’s guiding political principle is clear from his many statements to that effect. In his first inaugural, he argued for,

“…a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”

In a letter to Francis Walker Gilmer in 1816, he wrote, “Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

Even on religious freedom, Jefferson based his position on the non-aggression principle. ““The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

The non-aggression principle defines liberty itself as Jefferson understood it. For him, as well as for the likeminded libertarians that led the secession from Great Britain, the word “liberty” as used in the Declaration of Independence had a specific definition. It meant the right to do what one pleases as long as one does not invade the life, liberty, or property of another human being. In other words, each individual was beyond the reach of government power so long as he committed no aggression against anyone else.

These are not conservative ideas. They are libertarian ideas. While Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and the others who espoused this theory may not have called themselves by that name, the basic tenets of their philosophy were the same. Today, the non-aggression axiom remains the fundamental basis for libertarian theory. Ron Paul bases his positions on it, as he said (about the 3:30 mark) when running for president on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988.

Just as this non-aggression principle serves as the foundation and limit of government power between individuals within society, it is the foundation and limit of government power with respect to other nations. As all nations exist in a state of nature with each other, the natural law of non-aggression is the only one that governs them. As I’ve stated before, the non-aggression principle is the basis for the Declaration of War Power. The purpose of that power is for Congress to debate whether or not the nation in question has actually committed aggression against the United States. If it has, then a state of war exists and military action is justified. If it hasn’t, there is no state of war, no declaration, and no military action is justified. The use of military force in the absence of a state of war (previous aggression by another nation) violates the natural law.

The conservative philosophy rejects all of these ideas. There were conservatives in the 18th century just as there are today and their philosophy hasn’t fundamentally changed, either. The writer that most modern conservatives trace their philosophical ideas to was Edmund Burke. He has this to say about inalienable rights.

“Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it, and exist in much greater clearness and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection; but their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to everything they want everything. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection. This can only be done by a power out of themselves, and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. In this sense the restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights. But as the liberties and the restrictions vary with times and circumstances and admit to infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle.”

While modern conservatives like Russell Kirk have pointed to Burke as their philosophical inspiration, one can clearly see that Burke is here merely restating ideas from the true father of modern conservatism, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes asserted that in the state of nature man had “a right to everything,” even a right to one another’s bodies. Hobbes asserted, as Burke implies here, that man’s passions would always overcome his reason and because of this the state of nature was a state of war of “everyone against everyone.” For Hobbes, as for true conservatives today, man has to give up his natural rights upon entering society and accept those privileges to liberty and property that the government grants him.

For Hobbes, not only did man give up his natural rights upon entering society, but he also had to grant the “sovereign” absolute and undivided power. This was necessary in order to completely dominate man’s natural impulses, which would always lead him to harm his neighbor if they were not checked. This power must literally keep each individual “in awe,” to make him fearful of committing any unlawful act. To secure this absolute power, the sovereign needed control over the economy, which he consolidated through a privileged, wealthy elite. He also needed control over education and even the religious beliefs of the people. No individual could ever be allowed to follow the dictates of his own will, as it would inevitably lead him to harm his neighbor or the commonwealth in general.

On foreign policy, Hobbes also viewed all nations as existing in a state of nature. However, since he viewed the state of nature as equivalent to the state of war, he viewed all nations not under control of the sovereign as de facto enemies. In reading Leviathan, one can almost hear George W. Bush’s famous remark, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” This is why conservatives support the deployment of troops all over the world. Like Hobbes, they believe that we are in constant danger from any nation that we are not completely dominating with the threat of force.

The reason that conservatism seeks to “conserve” the status quo is because its adherents do not believe that natural rights are inalienable. Upon entering society, man has to give up all of his natural rights, so the only rights that man has in society are those he has been given by government in the past. Thus, if you get rid of the past, you get rid of the rights. While the status quo might not be optimal, the conservative believes that to get rid of the status quo means returning to the awful state of nature, and necessitates reconstructing man’s rights – via government – all over again. Conservatives are always fearful that rights can be lost and never regained – as opposed to libertarians who believe that rights are inalienable.

The conservative tradition in America does not trace back to Thomas Jefferson or the Declaration of Independence. Its tenets are completely incompatible with the basic libertarian philosophy that informed Jefferson and that document. The conservative tradition in America traces back to Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, who were the conservatives of their day. Hamilton sought to preserve the status quo, which was a central government with absolute power, along with its mercantilist economic system. The only change he sought was that the system be run by Americans rather than the British.

Hamilton was a Hobbesian on every issue, which is why he clashed so stridently with Jefferson. Hamilton also believed that the power of the federal government had to be absolute. Otherwise, the separate states would be in the state of nature with each other and inevitably at war. He often spoke of the “want of power in Congress” leading to the states “being at each other’s throats.” Economically, he wanted a central bank, high protectionist tariffs to enrich domestic manufacturer’s at taxpayer expense, and “internal improvements,” which meant the government using taxpayer money to build what we would today call “infrastructure.” While all of these policies were anti-free market, they served the agenda of securing the loyalty of a wealthy elite to the government. Hamilton went so far as to call the national debt “a national blessing” for the same reason. On foreign policy, Hamilton was an unqualified militarist who sought to lead an army in conquering an American empire, starting with the Western Hemisphere possessions of Spain.

He felt justified in all of these invasions of individual rights and violations of non-aggresion because he believed that what he called “national greatness” (today conservatives call it “American Exceptionalism”) trumped the rights of individuals. For Hamilton, as for conservatives throughout human history, the individual lived to serve the commonwealth, as opposed to the libertarian belief that the commonwealth only existed to serve the individual.

This conservative tradition can be traced throughout American history from the Federalists to the Whigs to the Republican Pary. The Republican Party was born as the party of big government, centralized power, and a mercantilist economy. Ironically, all that history remembers of the Republican Party at its birth in the 1850’s is its opposition to slavery – its one libertarian position – while ignoring its Hobbesian conservatism on all other matters. However, with slavery abolished, the Republican Party retained the rest of its philosophy through the next century and right up to the present day. One can hear it rehashed in any 2012 Republican presidential primary debate.

Today, conservative American voters wonder why the Republican politicians that they elect never seem to make the government smaller or less intrusive. They refer to elected Republicans who consistently grow the size and power of the government as “RINOS” (Republicans In Name Only). They believe these politicians are not “true conservatives,” because while they may belong to the Republican Party, they do not adhere to the principles of an underlying conservative philosophy that they imagine to exist. They are wrong. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, George Bush, and the rest of the establishment Republicans are the true conservatives. The American voters identifying themselves as conservatives are really libertarians  – they just don’t know it yet.

Go to any Tea Party rally. This is where you will supposedly find “radical conservatives,” but you won’t find them carrying any signs quoting Alexander Hamilton. You won’t find speakers extolling the virtues of government spending on infrastructure. Instead, you see signs quoting Thomas Jefferson and speakers mocking the many “bridges to nowhere” that have resulted from attempting to put Hamilton’s conservative ideas into practice.

The one inconsistency is the Tea Party’s support of the U.S. government’s military empire. This false note in the otherwise libertarian movement is the result of cultural confusion. These conservatives don’t yet realize that they aren’t really conservatives. They are libertarians, and the warfare state is inconsistent with the rest of their philosophy. They support it because they have been told all of their lives that it is the conservative position, which it is. However, limited government, inalienable rights, free markets, and individual liberty are not.

Contrary to Rick Santorum’s assertion that no society based upon radical individualism has ever succeeded, the libertarian, radically individualist principles upon which the United States was founded were precisely why it succeeded so spectacularly. It was libertarianism that made America different from any society before or since – what made it the “shining city on the hill” as Santorum calls it. It was the collectivist conservative philosophy that helped bring it down – with a lot of help from a third philosophical movement called Progressivism. Neither more conservatism nor more progressivism – nor any combination of the two – can solve the problems that America faces today. If Americans want to see liberty and prosperity restored in the United States, then restoring libertarianism is their only hope.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Lord and Levin Welcome Ron Paul to the Top Tier

Punctuated by his move past Michele Bachmann into third place in the race for the Republican nomination for president, Ron Paul has arrived in the “top tier.” While this is a significant positive for his supporters, it does not mean that opposition to Paul from within the party will diminish. On the contrary, now that it is undeniable that he really could win the nomination, Paul’s supporters should expect attacks from the opposition to intensify. They have.

Beginning with a piece in the American Spectator by Jeffrey Lord, conservative opponents of Paul have fired the first shots in what from here on out will probably be an all-out bombardment of Paul and his platform. I say “Paul and his platform” because along with substantive criticism of his positions, one should expect a generous amount of ad hominem directed at Paul himself. Judging from the Lord piece and Mark Levin’s replies in weighing in on the matter, one can expect even more mudslinging than usual.

That is not to single out Lord or Levin as particularly unique in this regard. Mudslinging or “muckraking” has been a part of American politics since the earliest days of the republic. Contrary to what many Americans seem to believe, there never was a “golden age” of American journalism where reporters objectively reported the facts and avoided all political bias. In fact, early American newspapers were not only unapologetically biased; they were unconcerned about even the veracity of the mud they slung. During the election of 1800, John Adams was reported to have “ordered Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to London to procure four pretty mistresses to divide between them.” [1] Adams laughed off this completely false accusation, saying that Pinckney must have kept them all to himself.

Indeed, Ron Paul is unique among politicians for his refusal to attack his opponents personally, even when he vehemently disagrees with their positions. After Rick Perry suggested that Ben Bernanke’s monetary policies might be treasonous, Ron Paul declined to join in even when invited to. Asked by Wolf Blitzer to respond to Perry’s comments, Paul refused to take the bait, saying “I try never to make it the individual as much as the philosophy.”

In the same spirit, I would like to take a look at Lord’s and Levin’s criticisms of Paul and respond to the substantive parts of them. Generally, both accuse Paul of not being a true conservative due to his foreign policy of non-interventionism. Lord claims that this policy is rooted in “neo-liberal” philosophy and that in Paul’s case, like many of the supposed neo-liberals that Lord cites, the policy is also motivated by racism (anti-Semitism being racism directed at Jewish people). Finally, Lord accuses Paul of being disingenuous in portraying the founding fathers as non-interventionist, citing Washington’s invasion of Canada during the Revolutionary War, John Adams’ prosecuting of the Quasi War, James Madison’s prosecution of the War of 1812, and James Monroe’s Monroe doctrine.

Taking these points in order, the first concerns “non-interventionism.” What is it and what is its motivation?

First, we have to recognize the actual definition of the word “intervene.” It certainly does not mean using force to defend oneself. If an individual is attacked by a mugger and uses force to defend himself, he is not “intervening.” Intervention is by definition the interposing of one party into the affairs of two or more others. Thus, if England and France go to war, and Russia enters the war on France’s side, then Russia is intervening. Likewise, if a revolution occurs in Albania, and Spain enters the war on the side of the rebels, Spain is intervening. However, if the United States were attacked by Russia and used military force to defend herself against the attack, the United States would not be intervening.

Ron Paul consistently states that the United States should have a strong national defense but should also be non-interventionist. Is this philosophy rooted in racism? In my own interview with him in July 2011, Paul confirmed that the underlying philosophy that informs all of his positions is the libertarian non-aggression axiom (this question and answer begins around the 11:50 mark). This axiom holds that no human being has the right to initiate force against another, including against their person, liberty, or justly acquired property. This is what makes Paul’s positions against the welfare state, the Patriot Act, and preemptive war consistent. All of these policies represent the initiation of force.

Mssrs. Lord and Levin do not distinguish the concept of non-aggression from pacifism. This is an error. Libertarians like Paul are fierce defenders of the right to bear arms precisely because they are not pacifists. They recognize the right, even the duty, to defend oneself with force against aggression. This applies both to the relationship between individuals within society and the relationship between nations. Paul does not champion pacifism if another nation attacks the United States. However, he opposes the United States initiating force against another nation, even if that nation’s policies are oppressive or otherwise objectionable.

Lest opponents of this libertarian philosophy tag it as “leftism” the reader should understand that it was the central principle that inspired Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy. In his own words,

“Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”[2]

This was by no means the only time that Jefferson invoked the non-aggression principle. He invoked it in defending religious freedom, saying ““The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”[3]

In fact, on nearly every occasion where he had the opportunity to define the role of government, he invoked this principle. His first inaugural address was centered around it.

“What more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens — a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”[4] [emphasis added]

That this founding principle is completely consistent with non-interventionism is reflected by Jefferson’s support for it in that same speech.

“Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none;”[5]

Lord points to Jefferson’s war with the Barbary pirates as an example of interventionism, but this is absurd. Jefferson was not intervening in a dispute between two other nations or an internal dispute within one. He was defending the United States against acts of war that had been committed against them. On May 10, 1801, the pasha of Tripoli formally declared war against the United States. Jefferson’s military response was completely consistent with non-aggression and its sub-corollary, non-interventionism. Again, neither non-aggression nor non-interventionism are synonymous with pacifism.

As Tom Woods and Kevin Gutzman have pointed out, all of the early American wars cited by Lord as examples of the founders being ‘interventionists” were in fact similarly defensive. Lord’s citing of the Quasi War with France as “interventionist” is particularly confused. The whole reason that it was called a “quasi” war was Adams staunch refusal to ask for a declaration of full-out war, even against the wishes of many in his own party. As I have written before, Adams actually considered avoiding war with France the crowning achievement of his presidency.

As I argued regarding Obama’s war in Libya, taxing American citizens to defend people in other countries similarly violates the non-aggression principle. If conservatives actually believe that the U.S. government can tax Americans to provide freedom or security to people in other countries, then what is their objection to the liberal policy of taxing American citizens to provide healthcare or housing to other Americans? In either case, one person is taxed to provide benefits exclusively to another. Is this conservative? It certainly isn’t libertarian.

On the racism/anti-Semitism charge, there is nothing in any of Ron Paul’s public statements, voting record, or writing that can remotely support a charge of racism or anti-Semitism. In his own words,

“Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans only as members of groups and never as individuals. Racists believe that all individual who share superficial physical characteristics are alike; as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called “diversity” actually perpetuate racism. Their intense focus on race is inherently racist, because it views individuals only as members of racial groups.”

Lord and Levin accuse Paul of not being a true conservative and of espousing major tenets of the liberal philosophy. However, it is they who adopt the tactic that conservatives consistently accuse liberals of using: making an unfounded charge of racism in the hope that the mere association of the word with the position will evoke an emotional response in the minds of voters and persuade them to oppose the position, regardless of its merits. I agree with conservatives that this is a dishonest and reprehensible tactic.

They also accuse Paul and some of his supporters of not being conservative for criticizing Reagan. Reagan, who said in this interview that “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism,” invoked Jefferson’s first inaugural in stating that it was government’s role to keep us from harming each other, but should not try to keep us from harming ourselves. However, as the interview goes on, Reagan is able to put virtually the whole progressive regulatory state into the former category, with very little recognized as part of the latter. This lends insight into his presidency, where the size and the power of the federal government doubled, despite his libertarian rhetoric both before and after his election.

If the heart and soul of conservatism is truly libertarianism as Reagan argued, then true libertarians and conservatives would have to criticize Reagan’s presidency. He did not, as he promised he would, abolish the Department of Education, but expanded it. He did not, as he promised, reduce the size and influence of the federal establishment back within the limits imposed upon it by the Constitution. He did not lower taxes. He raised them. He did not cut government spending – it doubled on his watch, outpacing the spending increases of Carter and Clinton by large orders of magnitude. Both libertarians and conservatives should criticize these aspects of his presidency. Doing so doesn’t make them less libertarian or conservative. It merely confirms that they have a grip on reality.

Finally, the personal nature of Levin’s attacks on Mike Church and Jack Hunter belie their lack of substance. Levin calls Church a moron, accuses him of being intoxicated on the air, and even belittles Church’s supposedly insignificant radio audience. Most people are familiar with the ad hominem attack. While passion for one’s viewpoints is understandable, “attacking the man” rather than the man’s arguments amount to a capitulation that one has lost the debate. Don’t expect this to diminish as Ron Paul’s popularity continues to increase. Supporters of the establishment have good reason to fear a Paul presidency, and one can expect the attacks on him and his supporters to get uglier and uglier. And yes, expect supposed conservatives to act just like liberals in calling anyone who disagrees with them a racist. Welcome to the top tier, Congressman Paul.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

© Thomas Mullen 2011

[1] McCullough, David John
Adams pg. 544
[2] Jefferson, Thomas Letter
to Francis Walker Gilmer June 7, 1816 from The Works of Thomas Jefferson edited
by Paul Leicester Ford G.P. Putnam‘s Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker
Press 1905 pg. 533-34
[3] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on
Virginia, Query XVII 1782
[4] http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/jefinau1.asp
[5] Ibid

Can Ron Paul Really Be Right About Everything?

I was in Jacksonville last Friday for an event called “Ron Paul on the River.” The Republican presidential candidate was supposed to speak there, but had to cancel at the last minute due to a Libya vote in the House scheduled on short notice. While it was disappointing that the congressman would not appear, the keynote speaker that appeared in his place was well worth the trip.

Doug Wead is a self-confessed former member of the Establishment. In addition to being a best-selling author and world-renowned speaker, Wead has worked as a special advisor to President George H.W. Bush and on the campaign of George W. Bush. According to Wikipedia, Time magazine called Wead “an insider in the Bush family orbit.”

A good portion of Wead’s speech in Jacksonville focused on issues on which he had formerly disagreed with Paul. At one point, he made the startling statement, “but now I agree with him on everything.” He encouraged Paul supporters to persevere through the difficulties of supporting an anti-Establishment candidate and to remember that “logic and the truth are on your side.”

It is not fashionable to admit that you agree with someone “on everything.” To say that you do is to invite the accusation of belonging to a personality cult whose members blindly follow their leader no matter what position he takes. Indeed, this criticism is leveled at Paul’s grassroots supporters, who are called “Paulites” by detractors, implying that they have a pseudo-religious devotion to Paul rather than informed positions on the issues.

In modern American political thought, where only the results of political action are considered rather than the rights of the parties involved, it is not considered reasonable to agree with anyone 100% of the time. For someone like Wead, whose living depends upon his credibility as an expert on those things he writes and speaks about, there is a certain amount of risk in making this statement. Yet he did it in Jacksonville without hesitation, emphasizing the words “on everything” to ensure that no one missed the point.

This immediately struck me, because it was the second time in as many weeks that I had heard a statement like this from someone who had something to lose by saying it. Appearing on The O’Reilly Factor, John Stossel answered O’Reilly’s assertion that Ron Paul hadn’t won the New Hampshire debate by saying, “But he’s right about everything and you’re wrong.” O’Reilly retorted, “Everything?” Stossel repeated, “Everything.” When O’Reilly pressed yet again with the same question, Stossel finally backed up to “Just about everything.”

Stossel is a television journalist, so credibility is arguably even more important to his living than it is to Wead’s. That is not all the two have in common. Stossel also admits that he regrets much of the first 20 years of his career when he attacked the free enterprise system and championed increased government regulation over business. Like Wead, Stossel was a member of the Establishment, albeit from the other side of its aisle. Now, despite the risk to his credibility, he says that Ron Paul is right about everything.

So is this some sort of quasi-religious devotion? Are Paul’s followers simply caught up in a mass hysteria over someone who is likeable and has demonstrated his integrity for so long that they abandon their reason to avoid critical examination of his positions? Isn’t it impossible for an intelligent person to agree with someone on everything?

The answer to all three of these questions is “no.” In fact, contrary to what conventional wisdom tells us, it is actually illogical to agree with Paul on some things and not others.[1] As I’ve said before, Paul is simply applying the central libertarian axiom to each issue. As long as he applies the axiom properly and does not make an error of logic, he is going to come out with a position that is consistent with libertarianism 100% of the time.

For those in the grip of this “conventional wisdom” that has led us to the brink of societal collapse, Paul’s answers are anything but consistent. On economic policy, he seems like a hardcore conservative, surpassing all other Republicans in his zeal to eliminate regulation and taxes. On foreign policy and social issues, he seems to be some sort of lefty hippie, arguing to legalize all drugs, allow homosexuals to marry if they wish to (he wants government out of marriage even at the state level), and to immediately order home every soldier stationed on a foreign base.

Those just learning about libertarianism might conclude that it is some sort of “compromise” between conservatism and progressivism/liberalism. This is untrue. Libertarianism evaluates political issues from a completely different perspective than either mainstream political philosophy. Sometimes, conservatives happen to agree with libertarians, but for different reasons. Sometimes, the same is true for progressives/liberals. Libertarians care not for who agrees/disagrees. They follow one simple principle and let the chips fall where they may.

Walter Block sums this up best in terms of understanding how libertarians like Paul formulate  their positions.

“This is because libertarianism is solely a political philosophy. It asks one and only one question: Under what conditions is the use of violence justified? And it gives one and only one answer: violence can be used only in response, or reaction to, a prior violation of private property rights.”

In order to understand Ron Paul’s platform, there are two conclusions one must reach. The first is that libertarians are correct that violence is only justified in response or reaction to a prior violation of private property rights. Block does not limit the definition of “private property” to land ownership or even physical property in general. Instead, property includes all of one’s life, liberty, and justly acquired possessions. So, any murder, assault, theft, fraud, or coercion would be violation of a private property right. Based upon that understanding, ask anyone if they agree that violence should never be initiated, but instead only used in defense, and you will almost always get agreement. So far, so good.

The second thing that one must conclude in order to understand Ron Paul is that all government action is violent action. This is where it gets difficult for conservatives and liberals alike. While it is easy to see the government’s use of its military as an act of violence, it is harder for people to see that other government activities represent violence. How could providing healthcare, ensuring workplace safety, or licensing barbers be violent acts?

This is the great truth that hides in plain site under every human being’s nose. In order to recognize it, one must disengage the deep, emotional attachments that almost everyone has developed to some or all government activity. Once you get someone to that point and they are truly ready to reason, they will come to the libertarian conclusion every time. To the genuinely interested and rational person, only one question is necessary:

“What if you do not cooperate?”

I cannot count how many times I have asked this question and received in response a stare – not a blank stare, but a thoughtful one. You can see the wheels turning. Sometimes they will begin to speak, then stop themselves while they think some more. They are looking for a hole in the theory. They are unable to find one. They are genuinely interested in either proving or disproving your argument. By that time, you have won.

For those who do not immediately “see the light,” you can pick any government action and walk them through that reasoning process:

You: Suppose that I do not wish to participate in Medicare and withhold only that percentage of my payroll taxes that would otherwise go to fund it. In return, I agree not to make use of any of the Medicare benefits. What will happen to me?

Him/Her: You will be charged with income tax evasion.

You: What if I don’t answer the charge?

Him/Her: You will be arrested.

You: What if I do not agree to submit to the arrest?

Him/Her: You will be physically forced to submit.

You: And if I resist further?

Him/Her: (reluctantly) You will be killed.

You: So, you now agree that we are forced to participate in Medicare under the threat of violence, correct?

Him/Her: (Even more reluctantly) Yes.

You: Is there any government tax, law, or regulation that we are not similarly forced to participate in under the threat of violence? Are not all of these answers the same in relation to even the least significant government regulation, like a parking ticket?

Recall the final scenes in the 1999 movie, The Matrix. After Neo’s “resurrection,” he stands up to once again face the agents that had apparently killed him a moment before. However, when we see the matrix through Neo’s eyes, as he sees it now, the whole world is made up of lines of green code. Neo had been told early in the movie that the matrix is a computer-generated illusion. He heard it, but did not know it. He is now seeing that world as it really is for the first time. His mind has reasoned through and understood all of the implications of what Morpheus has told him. Once he truly understands, he is invincible.

This is a wonderful metaphor for the libertarian “conversion.” Once one has had the epiphany that all government action is violent action, there are only three choices. 1) You come to the same conclusions that Ron Paul does on every issue, 2) You disagree with Walter Block and conclude that it is morally justifiable to initiate violence against other people, or 3) You abandon logic and stop acknowledging reality. This is why Paul told the Today Show’s Matt Lauer that “economic liberty and personal liberty are one and the same and foreign policy that defends America and not police the world [sic] – that’s part of the package as well.”

Doug Wead, John Stossel, and millions of Paul’s supporters have had this revelation. This is why they agree with Paul without exception. They refuse to accept the other two choices available to them: to support the initiation of violence or to abandon logic and refuse to acknowledge reality. This is not fanaticism. It is the inevitable conclusion that one must come to if one employs logic and faces reality. That is why Doug Wead said, “logic and the truth are on your side.”

During his 2008 presidential campaign, Ron Paul lost the Washington state primaries by a considerable margin. However, he won big in Spokane. Why? Because that was the one part of Washington in which Paul’s campaign was able to schedule an appearance. During that campaign, Howard Stern remarked about his exposure to Paul’s message just as Wead, Stossel and millions of Paul supporters have: “I think I agreed with everything that dude just said.” Stern went on to say that he had never heard of Paul before and that it was a shame that the Republican Party was not taking him seriously.

Once a reasonable person hears the libertarian message, it is inevitable that they will not only agree, but agree completely and without exception. This is the antithesis of fanaticism. It is reason. It is recognizing the real world for what it truly is and applying logic to those observations. It is the consistent application to separate political issues of one undeniable principle, which can only lead to libertarian conclusions. It is actually illogical and fanatical to come to any others.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Establishment media had a strategy to combat this very troublesome dynamic: Don’t let the message be heard. That is no longer a viable strategy. Paul’s grassroots supporters have forced his platform into the mainstream. The media is simply unable to ignore Paul’s campaign this time around. The libertarian message will be heard. Whether or not Paul wins the presidency is secondary. Every day, more Americans are hearing the truth for the first time and its power is irresistible. The revolution is underway. Whether it takes a year, a decade, or longer, liberty is going to prevail.

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

© Thomas Mullen 2011

[1] This assumes that Paul continues to apply libertarian reasoning consistently. It is certainly possible to disagree with him if he misapplies the theory. There are also fine points of theory that libertarians would take Paul to task for, but not on his general positions on the domestic and foreign policy of the federal government.

Hate the Game, Not the Players

In his 1973 book, For a New Liberty: A Libertarian Manifesto, Murray Rothbard rejoiced at the momentum that libertarianism had achieved within just a few short years. After almost a century of dominance by the “progressive” movement (both conservative and liberal), Rothbard sensed that the moment had arrived for a rapid and dramatic sea change in American political thought. As he wrote,

“In particular, we must examine the firm and growing conviction of the present author not only that libertarianism will triumph eventually and in the long run, but also that it will emerge victorious in a remarkably short period of time. For I am convinced that the dark night of tyranny is ending, and that a new dawn of liberty is now at hand.”[1]

By 1989, Rothbard had left the Libertarian Party and sought other vehicles for his ideas. While never one to despair, he certainly must have adjusted his expectations of an imminent “Libertarian Spring” by the time of his death. Despite its repeated failures, the state had managed to maintain its legitimacy in the minds of the people. During the apparently prosperous 1990’s, the widespread belief that government no longer worked had subsided. Electoral success for libertarians had plateaued. The name “libertarian” was no longer in the forefront of popular consciousness and rarely, if ever, mentioned in the mainstream media.

Today, all of that has changed. Beginning with Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, the word “libertarian” can now be heard over the mainstream airwaves again. As the present presidential primary contest gets underway, not only Paul but former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson are openly referred to as “libertarian candidates,” despite the fact that they are seeking the Republican nomination for president. Mainstream media pundits now routinely refer to a significant minority of Republican legislators as “libertarian-leaning.” The “L-word” has been de-stigmatized. Over the next several years, it seems likely that libertarianism is going to get another hearing.

While all of this is great news, it does beg some very important questions. What was the reason for the stigmatization in the first place? More importantly, why has the libertarian movement failed to get off the launch pad after such an auspicious start in the 1970’s?

Certainly the biggest hurdle for libertarianism has been its difficulty for most people to accept. With true liberty comes an enormous amount of personal responsibility. As W. Somerset Maugham wrote, “the path to salvation is narrow, and as difficult to walk as on a razor’s edge.” For an American electorate that has come to expect government to “take care of” so many things for them, rolling back what to libertarians are merely incursions into their liberty seems unworkable. Most people have been taught since childhood that government intervention is necessary and that the slightest reduction in any of it will result in unspeakable horrors.

However, while the task of persuading our fellow citizens to adopt libertarian ideas is difficult, it is apparent that libertarians often compound the difficulty with their approach. Let’s face it, we’re an unforgiving crowd, ready to pounce upon the slightest mistake of logic or deviation from principle with a ferocity that rivals the National Park Police at a Saturday afternoon dance party. Indeed, the most vitriolic attacks made by libertarians are upon other libertarians – for not being libertarian enough.

Yet, we still have plenty left over for those we deem “the usual suspects,” namely government employees, the beneficiaries of government programs, and the military (and this is by no means an exhaustive list). Certainly, there are a plethora of reasons that libertarians might cite to take issue with people in any of these groups. After all, they are actively participating in those activities that are destroying civilized society and robbing us of rights that we are entitled to enjoy. Even those who do not actively participate but who support these institutions with their votes are subject to our unrelenting scorn, typically punctuated by the damning rejoinder “statist.”

Now, these criticisms are almost always well-deserved. In supporting government intervention into our lives here at home and in the affairs of other nations, our opponents are claiming the right to initiate the use of force. Even on domestic issues, these interventions amount to acts of war against us as individuals, for an act of war is nothing other than the initiation of force by one party against another, whether the parties are nations or individuals. It is hard not to respond with sarcasm and contempt when proponents of intervention argue that their opinion is just as valid as ours – the opinion that they have a right to invade the life and property of other people.

Although we have been right on every single issue since the modern libertarian movement was born, it is apparent that our approach hasn’t worked. In terms of national politics, the high-water mark for libertarianism was Harry Browne’s 2000 presidential campaign, which netted less than 1% of the vote. Since then, libertarian candidates have not even done as well.

To use a well-worn cliché of the punditry, much of hardcore libertarians’ rhetoric isn’t resonating. When talking to those just hearing libertarian ideas for the first time, one must be very careful with words like parasite, thief, or murderer. Make no mistake, there is a time and place for calling a spade a spade and there is never an appropriate time to back up on a principle. However, there is an important distinction between vehemently opposing the violation of our rights and denouncing those who (for the most part) unknowingly do so as defective people. The natural reaction of anyone made to feel this way is to reaffirm their self-worth and find any justification – however illogical – for the interventions in question.

This is especially important in dealing with those programs that purport to help the poor. While libertarians should never compromise the principle that money should not be forcibly stolen from taxpayers even for this purpose, we should focus on the theft itself, rather than on those who reap its pitiable rewards. Remember that the perceived necessity for these programs is mostly caused by the myriad other government economic interventions, without which the vast majority of welfare recipients would be gainfully employed. Liberals taking an interest in libertarianism might be open to opposition to these programs based upon the non-aggression principle or the welfare system’s obvious failure. However, they will shut down completely if the argument sounds like the conservative one, which places the blame for the programs on the recipients and their supposed shortcomings.

In addition to eliciting a defensive reaction from those who support government intervention, libertarians have also inspired genuine dislike towards themselves. People who are open to libertarian ideas often conclude, quite understandably, that libertarians themselves are not likeable people. Part of this is rooted in the refusal of libertarians to compromise on their principles, prompting accusations of “extremism.” That is unavoidable without actually compromising – which we shouldn’t do. However, at least some part of this is due to the passion with which libertarians argue their points. When directed at ideas, it is admirable. When directed at people, it can be downright ugly.

As we enter a new era in which libertarianism is again on the table in the mainstream, we should learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past. There is a time for throwing bombs (in the philosophical/literary sense), and no one does that better than my two favorite libertarian columnists, Will Grigg and Karen De Coster. However, there is also a time, when our friends, neighbors, readers, or audiences have expressed an interest in hearing our ideas, to persuade rather than to attack (something Grigg and De Coster also know and practice). It is important to remember that most of the people, most of the time, want to do what is right. However, they have been taught bad ideas about what is right for their entire lives, reinforced ad nauseum by politicians, media, and popular culture. We are fighting deep emotional attachments to many of these ideas, rather than conclusions arrived at through reason. It is crucial to remember this when trying to persuade those who are genuinely interested.

As the Age of Government draws to its inevitable end, libertarianism has another chance to fill the void. Let us never stop opposing the state at every turn. Let us never compromise that great law of nature, the non-aggression principle. However, let us also recognize that our brothers and sisters in this great family called humanity have not been taught this principle – that it has in fact been purposefully kept from them – and tailor our approach accordingly. When we achieve acceptance of some of our ideas, let us be as quick to praise those who have made that great leap as we are to attack those who advocate for the state. And when those same people take a step backwards on another issue, however illogical and inconsistent that step may be, let us remember the words of that great teacher, “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”

If that sounds too religious for your tastes, then Chris Rock put it another way: Hate the game, not the players.

Check out Tom Mullen’s book, A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. Right Here!

© Thomas Mullen 2011

[1] Rothbard, Murray For a New Liberty pg. 321

What’s So Hard to Understand About Ron Paul?

Ron-PaulThis time things are going to be different for Ron Paul’s presidential run. After correctly predicting the collapse of the housing bubble and the resulting financial and economic crisis, Paul has become a mainstay on business talk shows, especially on the conservatively-oriented Fox News. One can almost sense the resignation in the voices of talk show hosts and reporters as they acknowledge that Paul will not be ignored by the media this time around – which is ironic because it is these same people who ignored him in 2008.

However, while supporters will rejoice at the increased quantity of coverage of Paul’s campaign, they should be realistic about the quality of the coverage. Namely, supporters should expect that conservatives will agree with him on most of his economic positions, including cutting down the welfare state and rolling back government regulations, but disagree with him on foreign policy.

Similarly, supporters should expect that liberals will agree with Paul on foreign policy (although somewhat reservedly while there is a Democrat running the empire) and civil liberties, but disagree with him on economic policy, especially when it comes to Paul’s positions on responsibly ending Social Security and Medicare.

Watching Paul’s appearance on The View, one could already see this dynamic in action. While the ladies on the show were very gracious to the congressman, Whoopi Goldberg took the lead in asking some policy questions and demonstrated the liberal take on Paul perfectly. She first stated that she agreed that she would like to see the wars end, but wanted to know how Paul could get us out of them (a concern that never would have arisen with a Republican running the empire). After Paul gave his customary answer, “we marched right in there, we can march right out,” Goldberg then challenged Paul on his position that healthcare is not a right. She truly looked baffled that any politician could be both anti-war and anti-entitlement.

On the conservative side, media figures have been doing the opposite routine with Ron Paul for years. Glenn Beck (pre-blackboard) routinely had Paul on during the economic crisis and always emphasized his agreement with Ron Paul’s economic positions and  his disagreement on foreign policy. Ann Coulter has also weighed in on Paul in this way, as have countless other media figures.

Neither conservatives nor liberals agree with Ron Paul that the Federal Reserve should be abolished.

Conservatives believe that along with what they would call “free market capitalism” (their version including privileges and subsidies for big business), one must support a large military establishment and an aggressive foreign policy. For conservatives, it is just inconceivable that anyone could support one and not the other. This is not a position that can be supported by reason. Rather, it is closer to an article of faith to which conservatives have developed a deep emotional attachment. The conservative philosophy still has its roots in the “ancien regime,” whereby the king/executive and a wealthy elite control commerce and support a large, active military establishment, both for the aggrandizement of the empire.

Liberals believe this, too. They share the mistaken perception of conservatives that free market capitalism is dependent upon an imperialistic foreign policy. However, instead of wholly supporting it, they wholly oppose it, confusing the state capitalism supported by conservatives with a truly free market.  Therefore, liberals oppose imperialism and free markets as if one cannot exist without the other and cannot conceive of anyone who could disagree. As with conservatives, their positions are not reasonable. They are likewise articles of faith, rooted in the ideals of ancient democracies in which the majority had unlimited power over the life and property of individuals, taken to new extremes by Marx and other socialists in the modern era.

Ron Paul’s positions do not fit into either one of these belief systems, nor does he seem to “compromise” between the two. Conservatives accuse him of being too liberal. Liberals accuse him of being too conservative. For both groups, many of his positions seem completely unexplainable.

To his supporters, Paul’s positions are so obviously consistent that they often attribute genuine confusion about them to some sort of media conspiracy. Paul bases all of his positions on what we today call “the non-aggression axiom,” which Thomas Jefferson and his supporters called “the law of nature.” This is a very simple principle which states that because we are all created equal, no one individual or group has the right to initiate force against another. Consistently applied, this principle prohibits the government from running welfare programs, regulating commerce beyond prohibiting aggression, or waging war unless the nation is actually attacked.

Paul insists that the military only be used after a declaration of war because in order for Congress to issue this declaration, the president has to cite the overt acts of war committed by the other nation against the United States. The Congress then deliberates and votes to determine whether or not a state of war already exists. That process binds the government’s use of the military to the law of nature. That is the way the declaration of war power has been exercised in every case in American history.

The main reason that conservatives and liberals do not understand Paul’s reasoning is that they have never heard of the non-aggression axiom. Despite the fact that it was the founding principle of the United States, it is not taught in schools. It is not discussed in the media. Instead, 100% of political debate revolves around results. “If the government does A, will B or C be the result?” Conservatives argue B, liberals C. Neither discusses the rights of the parties involved. Paul bases all of his positions upon these rights, which is how all political decisions should be made.

On May 5, Paul will participate in the first debate among candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president. One should not expect the objections to his positions to be substantively different than they were in 2008. While he may get more respect and stage time from the media, conservatives will still try to attack Paul’s foreign policy positions. The most that supporters should expect is the grudging admission that he may be right on economic policy, but that his foreign policy would be some sort of disaster. This follows logically from the fact that conservatives apply the tenets of their political faith and Paul follows the law of nature. He may be right, but don’t expect most conservatives or liberals to have caught up with him yet.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

>I Want a New Name

>Call it a midlife crisis, but I can tolerate the label “conservative” no longer. Can there possibly be a name that makes a person sound more boring? Certainly this is the work of our adversaries, in an attempt to make our ideas sound old, outdated, and irrelevant. When I hear the word “conservative,” I think of an old guy in a smoking jacket, having a scotch at “the club.” Now, I have nothing against a good single malt, but as for the rest, well…

I’m not sure how this happened. How did the people that are in favor of maximum liberty become “conservative?” How did the people that are in favor of maximum government become “liberal?”

It wasn’t always this way. Most Americans in 2008 don’t remember this, but it was not that long ago that the term “liberal” meant exactly the opposite of what it does today. Locke, Rousseau, and Hume are all considered fathers of the modern “liberal tradition.” Their work directly inspired our founding fathers, who were liberals one and all. As late as the 1940’s, F.A. Hayek was still referring to the concepts of laissez faire capitalism and individual liberty as “liberal.” Even today, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines liberalism as,

“b: a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard c: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties”[1]

If that is what liberalism is, one only need look at the campaign platforms of Barack Obama and Ron Paul to see that we have become terribly confused. Somehow, less freedom has become “liberal” and more freedom has become “conservative.” What kind of Orwellian doublespeak is this? What’s next, “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength?”[2]

Actually, over sixty years ago, Hayek warned us about the redefining of important words,

“The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before. The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretence that the new gods really are what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning.”[3]

Wow. That explains why every time I hear people say the word “liberal” in relation to politics, I feel like Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. I want to say, “You keep on using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It’s time to start beating the pro-tyranny crowd at their own game. First, they changed the meaning of the word “liberal” to mean exactly the opposite of what it used to mean. The “classical liberals” became modern conservatives. If that weren’t bad enough, “conservative” has now been redefined as well. If you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t mean less government and more freedom anymore. We now have “neo-conservatives” that like big government just fine – complete with huge gains in entitlement spending, unnecessary warfare, corporate bailouts, and unmasked socialism. Neither “liberal” nor “conservative” have any liberty left in them. We need a new name.

I suggest that the freedom movement wage a little linguistic warfare itself. From now on, let us call ourselves “neo-liberals.” I know. Half of the people reading this just spit their cheerios all over their computer monitors. Lew Rockwell is organizing a posse. Even mild-mannered Ron Paul is warming up his left jab, unused along with his wrestling moves since 1952. I have to admit, the first time I said it, I had an attack of the heebie jeebies myself. However, it is not even a matter that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”[4] It really is OUR name. It was simply stolen from us, like Charles Manson stole that song from the Beatles. Now, we’re stealing it back.

There is no reason why this couldn’t work. If we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned that if you say something over and over enough times, no matter how ridiculous it might be, you can get the majority of people to start believing it. This idea isn’t a bit ridiculous. We have to come to terms with the fact that, whatever we think conservatism means, the rest of America has moved on with the new “neo-conservative” definition. Conservative now means pre-emptive war, police-state security policies, record government spending, and corporate socialism. Liberal now means the politics of envy, higher taxes, record government spending, and democratic socialism. Liberty needs a new word, a word people under seventy can live with.

Neo-liberals. See? You’re getting used to it already.

Tom Mullen

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberalism (the first definition is omitted as it appliesto the word as defined when used in a religious context).
[2] Orwell, George 1984 © 1990 Penguin Books
[3] Hayek, F.A. The Road to Serfdom Routledge Classics 270 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016 Pg. 161
[4] Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)