Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Narrative of the “Free Republic” - Early American Gangs and the Myth of Statehood

Separating facts from myths is always one of the greatest challenges when examining the past. In particular, narratives that benefit those in power are particularly resistant to rational examination, since they tend to be propagated among the impressionable and credible – particularly children, in the form of state "education."

The history of the United States in particular has gone through an enormous amount of propagandistic revisionism, so that now the standard view of early American history tends to resemble more the slavishly pro-state "Pravda" palimpsests of the Stalinist era than a clear-eyed and rational assessment of past circumstances and events.

There remains at present a large constituency of Americans – often regarding themselves as libertarian – who look back with nostalgia to the founding of the Republic. In their mind's eye, the late 18th century was a noble era when the steely genius of the Founding Fathers forged in the fires of liberty precious documents designed to limit the power of the state over its citizens. These preternaturally wise philosopher-kings wafted above all human temptations for the exercise of power, remaining farseeing moral visionaries steeped in the humanism and rationality of the Enlightenment, keenly aware of the dangers of the state. These noble heroes led a people yearning for freedom to the revolution of 1776, overthrew an increasingly despotic foreign rule, and put in place a system designed to guarantee the liberty of individuals far into the future.

In this narrative, the founding of the American Republic was considered a watershed epoch in the history of humanity. Never before had a government been created according to rational and objective principles, with the express design of limiting its power, and forcing it to remain answerable to the citizens it served.

The slogans of the American Revolution have been carved into the lexicon of human fantasies about freedom – "all men are created equal," "government by and for the people," "conceived in liberty," "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," and so on. Early America was considered to be the highest achievement in the construction of a benevolent, wise, limited and regulated government.

Those who hold this view regard existing escalations of state power – particularly at the Federal level – to be fundamentally anti-American, and yearn for a return to an imaginary past where selfless heroes ran the government with the sole purpose of serving others.

On the other hand, certain historians – particularly leftists – have attempted to overthrow most of the supposed virtues of this period, repeatedly pointing out that early America enslaved nearly one sixth of its population, that under the cover of its Manifest Destiny doctrine the American government forcibly uprooted and exiled dozens of native tribes, that public hangings were a common form of entertainment, and that political bribery and corruption were endemic. In many ways, according to this version of history, the expansion of the United States at the expense of Mexicans and Native Americans was very similar to modern claims that China imposes on Tibet.

I view these opposing perspectives as a false dichotomy. In the "patriotic nostalgic" version, the evils of slavery and the forced relocations of native tribes and Mexicans are acknowledged as unfortunate but necessary political compromises required to create an initial union of disparate states. It is recognized that one of the original drafts of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," was "life, liberty and property," but that the word "property" had to be removed because of its implicit repudiation of the concept of slavery – if all men can own property, no man can be property. Jefferson's own ambiguity with regards to slavery is usually referenced by quoting his words: "We have the wolf by the ears; and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other."

The inability of the Founding Fathers to realize their own idealized visions of perfect and universal human equality is usually chalked up to the political realities of the time, and the ideological prejudices of those around them.

These two versions of history can be roughly characterized in the following manner: in the "patriotic nostalgic" view, the genuine political ideals of the Founding Fathers proved unachievable in practice due to the influence of history, and the collective self-interest of basic economic and political realities – particularly in the South.

In the "cynical leftist" view, the Founding Fathers crafted an idealized world out of their own lofty moral aspirations, while ignoring all those who were non-white, non-male, and often non-middle-class. In other words, Washington, Jefferson, Adams et al did in fact believe their goals of noble and political equality, but unconsciously limited its application to their own gender, class and race. The problem was that these men did not have any real conscious conception of "equality" for women, slaves, Native Americans, children and so on.

Thus while these men genuinely believed in "equality," they were limited in their practical application of this ideal because they genuinely could not consider those unlike themselves as particularly human. The forced relocation of Native American tribes, for instance, was by any rational standard a far more egregious crime against humanity than, say, the minor indignity of the Stamp Tax, but because the Native Americans were not considered to be particularly human – at least not in the way that your average middle-class white male was – they could not be emotionally or conceptually "fitted" on the same moral spectrum.

To me, arguing whether the Founding Fathers were genuine idealists who bowed to political pragmatism, or genuine idealists tragically limited by the ethical perspectives of their time, entirely misses the point by assuming that they were "genuine idealists" of any kind whatsoever.

When we judge a man's ethical idealism, it can perhaps be said that it is unfair to compare his ideals across time to a more modern understanding of ethics. In the same way, we cannot fault a medieval physician for failing to prescribe antibiotics, because they simply did not exist when he practiced medicine.

I believe that it is also reasonable to "forgive" some of the inevitable pragmatic compromises that idealists must make with the world as they find it. Even virulently anti-tax modern libertarians can be "forgiven" for paying their taxes, given that the alternative is a life on the run or in jail.

However, the Founding Fathers meet neither of these criteria. We can only forgive an idealist for bowing to pragmatism if the corruption of his ideals is demanded by powerful elements beyond his control. We can only forgive an idealist for his limited knowledge if he does not in fact possess knowledge of the standards he fails to meet.

If, however, a supposed "idealist" voluntarily corrupts his own standards, bowing to no powerful external pressure whatsoever, then clearly he is no idealist. If I set up a charity, and then shamelessly rob those I am supposed to help, I cannot reasonably be called a starry-eyed idealist who had to bow to pragmatic reality, or who was limited by the moral standards of my time. I could only be accurately called a moral hypocrite who used ethical "standards" to corrupt and betray my victims.

Anarchism and Revolution

The anarchist view of history can only regard the transfer of political power as directly analogous to the transfer of criminal power, as in the example of organized crime. Since in the anarchist approach all state power is considered criminal, any transfer of that power can be far more accurately understood by looking at criminal gangs, rather than repeating the quasi-ethical ramblings of self-interested state propagandists.

If this is the correct approach – as I believe it is – then all "ideals" put forward to justify state power – whether referring to a revolution, a despotic or democratic transfer of power, or even the daily continued existence of state power – are completely irrelevant, and foolish distractions to the actual process that is occurring.

Since the state is a criminal gang, referring to the ideals in the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights makes about as much sense as referring to a Mafia stooge's claims that he only wants to "protect" a shopkeeper that he is in fact extorting, or a pimp's protestations of virtuous benevolence with regards to his enslaved prostitutes.

Political leaders use virtuous abstractions to "sell" the imposition of violent power over citizens. As long as individuals continue to be distracted by the shiny emptiness of ethical bloviating, and ignore the gun that is steadily rising towards them, we will continue to remain as enslaved to words as we are to governments.

For example, let us take the following scenario.

Imagine a U.S. president who has never traveled east of Paris or fought in a war but who nonetheless claims to possess a deep understanding of how best to deal with military conflicts in the Middle East. During his presidency, he is faced with attacks upon Americans originating from state-supported mujahideen. In order to assuage these attacks, the U.S. government has historically both sold and given arms to the very Middle Eastern government that has been attacking Americans. Naturally, this government then used its new American weaponry to increase the number and severity of its attacks upon Americans. Pundits and intellectuals claim that if war is not declared upon this Middle Eastern government, said government will actually attack America directly.

Despite achieving office partly due to his isolationist promises to avoid international military entanglements, this president secretly wants to wage war in the Middle East – however, he faces a daunting legal obstacle. The U.S. Constitution denies him the right to declare war; reserving that power to Congress alone. Since he is not certain that Congress will declare war on this Middle Eastern country, this noble President decides to sidestep the legislature and order a "police operation" that falls just short of all-out war. In this way, he can circumvent the powers of Congress and personally authorize military action in the Middle East.

Does this sound at all familiar?

May I introduce you, ladies and gentlemen, to Thomas Jefferson?

The issue that Jefferson faced was state-sponsored piracy originating from what was then called Barbary States. Over 100 American trade ships sailing through the Mediterranean and into the Middle East were on occasion attacked by state-backed pirates – the "terrorists" of the day. Goods were seized, sailors were held for ransom, and ships were converted to supplement the pirate fleet. Given that 20% of all U.S. exports took this route, it was no small problem.

All European powers faced the same dilemma, and all but the Americans decided to pay the "tribute" required for safe passage of their ships, forge the documents of "safe passage," or hire the Spanish or Dutch gunboats that made themselves available as a military escort. By the late 18th century, the U.S. treasury was paying out as much as 20% of its annual revenue to the Barbary states – in gold and, perversely, in cannon, gunpowder and gunboats. Not for the last time would America end up going to war against a power it had well-armed prior to the conflict! (Of course, independence from England had robbed U.S. merchants of protection from the British Navy.)

In other words, one of the costs of doing business in the Middle East included the hiring of military protection, or the paying of "tribute" in order to secure a safe passage.

This, of course, was directly analogous to the ever-increasing tariffs and excise taxes that the U.S. government was imposing on its own citizens domestically. Subjecting the movement of goods to "taxes" is a universal phenomenon of governments throughout history, and around the world.

Even after paying the "protection money," good profits could still be reaped from Middle Eastern trade, particularly in the exchange of cloth for spices. However, U.S. merchants were very keen to shift those costs to the general taxpayer, in order to vastly increase their own profits and to gain a significant competitive edge over foreign merchants. Thus, merchant leaders offered to donate enormous sums to fund the campaigns of political aspirants, in return for their promises to use state funds to pay for military expeditions against the Barbary pirates.

Governments, naturally, always benefit from rousing the general population into animosity against an external enemy. As the saying goes, "war is the health of the state." It is very easy to restrict liberty, increase taxes, and promote "unity" when patriotic fervor can be co-mingled with fears of invasion and the natural – if cowardly – bloodlust that erupts at the exciting prospect of ogling a safe and distant foreign war.

In this way, the moral delusions of the population ("It's us against them!") serve both the commercial interests of the merchant class and the expansion of state power that is the primary interest of the political class.

It is both fascinating and highly instructive to see how one of the primary framers of the Constitution – and the author of the Declaration of Independence – so naturally gravitated towards violating the very principles that he claimed to be both pragmatically necessary and morally universal.

Some might argue that Jefferson had been corrupted by political power, and this was why he attempted to break the very moral rules that he had consistently espoused as the highest possible ideals. However, this thesis is empirically easy to disprove, and can be cast aside very quickly.

Jefferson claimed to be a great fan of limited government, and in particular railed against the potential tyranny of an individual despotic leader, which was why he so consistently championed the separation of powers. Naturally, since he was so against despotic leadership, and set up a system specifically designed to block the execution of war powers at the executive level, when he found that he was not just tempted by but actually initiated the process of executing these war powers on his own whim, he clearly had the intellectual ability to recognize that he had become an example of an evil that he originally aimed to conquer.

If Jefferson genuinely opposed the evil that he had become, then he would have resigned his position, and worked as hard as possible to find the flaws in the system he had helped design that had led to his own corruption. Surely, he would understand that if someone as moral, intelligent, understanding and well-meaning as himself could be utterly corrupted by political power, that the system he had worked so hard to create simply did not work.

However, there is no evidence that these pangs of conscience ever troubled Jefferson in the slightest - and he most certainly did not resign and devote himself to figuring out the flaws in his system. Instead, he sailed on attempting to foment a war between America and a variety of Muslim states, all the while attempting to bypass the powers that he had specifically reserved for Congress in order to avoid such a situation.

When a man consistently repudiates in action the moral ideals that he professes in theory, we can clearly understand that his moral ideals are only professed as a means of achieving the power to act in opposition to them. If a man claims to love and respect his wife, and then continually abuses her in private, we can understand that his claims of love and devotion are mere "covers" for his core desire, which is to continue to abuse his wife.

Thus, since Jefferson claimed that the power to declare war must be reserved for Congress alone, and then attempted to bypass that rule when he became president, it is clear that he had no interest in actually controlling the power of the executive branch of government. His "ideals" are thus revealed as a shallow form of hypocritical moral manipulation designed to hoodwink the average citizen into believing that Jeffersonian democracy is some sort of protection against the growth of tyranny.

If I convince others that my political system is designed to prevent tyranny, and then when I gain political power by implementing my system, I assiduously pursue tyrannical powers, it is surely clear to all but the most wilfully self-blinded that I only spoke of my hostility to tyranny because I wished to be a tyrant. My words were designed to disarm others, to lull their natural scepticism – and thus secure my dominance over them.

It is in this way that we can begin to pierce the quasi-religious veil of self-serving hypocrisy and look to the values that were in fact practiced, rather than the fairy tales that were merely preached. A man is revealed by his actions, not his words.

If we look at the actions of George Washington, we can see exactly the same pattern. This is a man who used violence to oppose a British tax that was not agreed to by the colonists. After the powers of the Federal government had been expanded by the replacement of the Articles of Confederation by the United States Constitution in 1789, it took less than two years for Alexander Hamilton to convince Congress to approve taxes on distilled spirits and carriages.

In order to control the increasing rebellions against this tax, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton summoned a militia of almost 13,000 men – approximately the size of the entire revolutionary army – and invoked martial law against those resisting the tax. The subsequent assault upon the rebels marked the first time that the U.S. Federal Government had attacked its own citizens in order to extract taxes, and set the precedent that laws could only be challenged through "peaceful" means.

The staggering hypocrisy in this action scarcely needs any comment at all. There is no evidence whatsoever that either Hamilton or Washington were disturbed by their own decisions – which clearly means that they had no interest in their own professed moral ideals, but rather only in the exercise of power over others.

When we look at the effects of the transfer of power through the un-Vaselined lens of anarchistic philosophy, we can see the following pattern clearly emerging. Let us analogize it – not unjustly – through the example of organized crime.

If Mafia Gang A attacks Mafia Gang B – while claiming eternal hatred for Mafia Gang B's evil practice of extortion – and then, as soon as it overthrows Mafia Gang B, immediately sets up its own more predatory extortion rackets, we can clearly understand that Mafia Gang A was motivated by jealousy of Mafia Gang B, not out of any fundamental dislike of their practices.

If we continue to believe the pious lies of statist propaganda, we will forever be drawn to drown ourselves in the mirage of a mythical past where people were "free." If we continue to believe that the "founding of the Republic" – really the overthrow of a relatively benign foreign gang by a vastly more rapacious domestic gang – was defined by the moral fairy tales designed to dull the scepticism of the average citizen, then we shall be forever drawn to repeat the mistakes of the past and waste our lives believing that a new criminal gang will somehow set us free.

If we believe that the Constitution was genuinely designed to limit the power of the state, then we will forever try to limit the power of the state by revising political documents or pursuing other kinds of political solutions. If we understand that political documents are in fact mere tools of hypocritical moral propaganda, we will be no more tempted to revise them then we would to fact-check back issues of "Pravda."

Unfortunately, as a population, we remain bamboozled by the pious sentiments of the power-hungry. We live free in a world of words, but lie chained in a prison of reality.

We can only achieve real liberty by refusing to sanctify criminals, and understanding the basic reality that the phrase "moral government" is as oxymoronic as the phrase "moral genocide."

The only path to a freer future is clarity about the tyrannies of the past.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Ron Paul Revolution – A Postmortem (& Prescription)

Now that the Ron Paul revolution is effectively over, the time has come for a levelheaded assessment of the pluses and minuses of the single largest movement that modern libertarianism has ever engaged in.

Any rational approach to life must seek objective answers to puzzling questions – we must steadfastly refuse to make up answers, but rather humbly look for them in the evidence.

Now that the Ron Paul revolution has failed in its stated objective – to increase political liberty by getting Ron Paul elected president – our great temptation will be to either make up answers as to why, or rewrite history by substituting another objective.

However, we owe it to the principles of liberty – if not truth – to reject easy or pat answers, but rather examine the root causes of such an enormous failure, so that we can do better next time.

The Premises

To begin, we must examine the central premises held by Ron Paul supporters.

In general, the basic beliefs were these:

1. Ron Paul is the most credible candidate that libertarianism has to offer.

2. The general electorate will respond to Ron Paul’s message of liberty.

3. Ron Paul can be elected.

4. If Ron Paul is elected, political liberty will increase substantially.

All of the above beliefs support the core approach, which is that political activism can achieve liberty – and also, for many Ron Paul supporters, only political activism can ever achieve liberty.

In this essay, we will have a look at the first two points, since the last two are immaterial.

1. Ron Paul is the most credible candidate that libertarianism has to offer.

In many ways, I believe that this is entirely true. Ron Paul is a doctor, a multi-term congressman with military experience, and a member of the Republican Party. It is inconceivable that a candidate even remotely as credible can arise over the next generation or so. Even if some magic genius exists somewhere in the party at the moment, it will take him decades to accumulate the same level of experience and credibility as Ron Paul.

This is a central reason why the emotions surrounding the Ron Paul candidacy were so volatile. In our hearts, we all knew that if it wasn’t going to be Ron Paul, it just wasn’t going to happen. This is why so many libertarians and minarchists threw themselves heart and soul into his campaign, donating millions of dollars and countless hours to spreading the word about the Ron Paul revolution. Furthermore, since as credible a candidate is unlikely to arise within the next generation, if Ron Paul did not succeed, most of his supporters would not live to see any of the real freedoms that they believed could be achieved through political success. Finally, it seems highly unlikely that the existing political and financial system can possibly last for another generation – thus it truly was “Ron Paul or bust!”

In addition to his political and medical credibility, Ron Paul is a Christian – a prerequisite for participation in American politics – as well as being hostile towards illegal immigrants, which is also required. He is not a pacifist, but rather is pro-military – again, a required position.

The tens of millions of dollars raised by Ron Paul is also highly unlikely to be replicated any time soon. The fervor which accompanied his campaign will be almost impossible to replicate in the future – particularly since a far less credible candidate will doubtless be at the helm.

2. The general electorate will respond to Ron Paul’s message of liberty.

This turned out to be entirely false. Ron Paul never polled more than a few percentage points at any time – and these poll numbers were entirely mirrored by the actual votes that he received in the primaries. The famed “Internet polls” that indicated far greater support turned out to be falsified after all.

This is essential information for us to process. The communication of libertarian values has always been one of the greatest challenges of the movement. It is essential to remember not only that Ron Paul had unprecedented access to the mainstream media, but also that the medium of the Internet was available in full force for the first time in history. Given the degree that Ron Paul supporters used this medium to spread the message, the fact that the message failed to get through is highly significant.

This indicates that the barriers to the general acceptance of libertarian values are far greater than is generally supposed. If we look back at the methods of communication available to von Mises or Rothbard – limited print books, small classrooms and specialized magazines – and compare those to the instantaneous and universal Internet email/broadcast options available today, I think that it is safe to say that additional methods of communication will not solve the problem.

Of course, the additional mediums available to Ron Paul supporters are also available to every other candidate’s supporters, and thus cannot be considered any kind of key differentiator.

The great danger of post-Ron Paul libertarianism is that we will simply make up answers as to why the message failed to resonate rather than examine the facts. We can blame the mainstream media, the apathy of the general electorate or traitorous intellectuals all we like, but that will not move us one step closer to actually achieving our goals of political liberty.


In my view, it is not accurate to view Ron Paul’s candidacy as a revolution, but rather as a mystical devolution. The desire to return to the Constitution is really the desire to return to American political institutions as they stood in the early 19th century. (Sans slavery, of course – and with rights for women and children, but without unrestricted immigration – okay, it’s a bit of a mishmash, but that’s the general idea.)

In other words, the goal was to return to the past, and restrict the US government to the size and role mandated in the original Constitution. This is not so much a step forward as it is a step backward – an attempt to “rewind the movie” in the hopes of somehow getting a different ending.

In most horror films, some hapless optimist always tells the others: “You go for help, I’ll follow the bloody footprints!” Attempting to return to the original Constitution – especially one that never actually existed – is like starting the movie over so that this time the optimist will not get an ax in the head.

The Backup Story: The Educational Outreach Program?

The failure of the Ron Paul revolution to achieve anything close to electoral success will undoubtedly give rise to a “backup story” which will attempt to reframe the candidacy as some sort of “educational outreach program.” (“Look at the number of people who have been exposed to libertarian ideas through Ron Paul! A presidential campaign provides unparalleled access to the general media, and the interest in the candidates exposes many new people to the message of freedom!”)

Unfortunately, this position has remained utterly untested, and so remains firmly in the land of vain assertion rather than empirical knowledge. It is certainly true that some people have been exposed to certain kinds of libertarian ideals through the Ron Paul campaign – but it is equally true that many people have been turned off libertarianism through exactly the same campaign. Secular thinkers scorn Ron Paul’s fundamentalist Christianity and rejection of evolution. Advocates of multiculturalism and visible minorities thoroughly dislike his attacks on illegal immigrants. Many women fear his approach to abortion; poverty advocates fear his approach to the welfare state – the list goes on and on.

The central question then remains – what is it about Ron Paul message that has drawn some people towards his brand of libertarianism? Is it his rational and consistent arguments from first principles? Of course not – he has made no such arguments whatsoever. Thus people must be drawn to his positions for emotional reasons – they are not swayed by the rational truth of his propositions, but rather because those propositions mesh with particular biases they hold already, such as a dislike of the federal government, a fear of illegal immigration, a frustration with taxation or the invasion of Iraq and so on.

This is not the spread of philosophical knowledge, but rather the exploitation and exacerbation of already-existing biases.

It is fundamentally impossible to call this progress.

To the untutored, an obvious inconsistency in one area of a thinker’s philosophy implies inconsistencies in other, less familiar areas. As a strong atheist, if I knew nothing about Dr. Paul’s positions on economics, I would look at his views on evolution and note that they were utterly untutored and incorrect.

If a thinker is incorrect in topics that I know something about, I am not likely to grant him credibility in topics that I know little to nothing about.

Thus while it is certainly true that some people have been emotionally drawn to Dr. Paul’s brand of libertarianism, it is equally true that many others have been driven away, never to return to libertarianism of any kind. There is no way to know for sure which way the pendulum has swung overall, but we can be certain that the more critical thinkers have kept their distance, while the more superstitious, emotional and credulous have not.

Thus reframing Dr. Paul’s candidacy as an “educational outreach program” does not transform his failure into a success. First of all, people primarily donated to his campaign because they wanted him to be elected president, not because they wanted him to educate other people about libertarianism. Secondly, the number of compromises required to sustain a political campaign dilute principled libertarianism into a kind of xenophobic nostalgia-for-a-country-that-never-was. If you can only access a widespread audience by saying things that are not true, you are doing far more harm than good.

Information Versus Propaganda

Particularly in economics, libertarianism has always had the best arguments. Over 300 years ago, Adam Smith clinched the case for free trade in “The Wealth of Nations” – today, we have less free trade than his contemporaries.

If a superior argument has failed to win for several hundred years, simply repeating that argument and hoping for a different outcome is an act of rank foolishness and self-willed blindness.

The greatest tragedy of libertarianism is that we continue to pursue the course of intellectual arguments, despite the clear and empirical fact that intellectual arguments do not carry the day.

Libertarian economics and political theories may be right, but the simple truth is that they are not effective. Coffee table conversations about free trade, property rights and the gold standard have done nothing to reverse the accelerating growth of state power – yet still, that is the approach taken by almost all libertarians. Debating, arguing, reasoning, citing facts – these are all empty intellectual exercises, which do nothing to advance the cause of liberty.

Libertarianism as we know it was born over 300 years ago – slightly after the scientific and medical revolutions. When we compare the progress of libertarianism to science and medicine, it is clear just how dismal our advance has been. Other rational disciplines have made staggering leaps forward, transforming the world in unimagined ways – while we continue to repeat the same stale and ineffective arguments that do not work and think that we are somehow changing the world.

Thus libertarianism has for hundreds of years sought to advance its agenda through education and political action. Indeed, such is the paucity of imagination within our movement that if we were somehow barred from pursuing either education or political action, we would literally have no idea what to do.

(In my podcast series at Freedomain Radio, I talk about the “third way” of advancing the cause of personal and political liberty. To be clear, I view this “third way” as the only way.)

Ron Paul and Closure

I have had my disagreements with Ron Paul supporters – and the Ron Paul candidacy in general – going back over a year, but I think that the time has now come to praise these starry-eyed political activists.

Throwing all of your energies behind a cause is incredibly liberating – because, if that cause does not work, you can at least get closure.

If you are in a bad marriage, where you fight constantly, then it is usually a good idea to do everything that you can to try and save that marriage. You should read books on how to communicate better, go to marriage counseling, strain every muscle and fiber to improve the relationship.

If, after months or years of working as hard as possible to improve your marriage, your marriage is still fractious and unhappy, you can at least walk away from it without regret, knowing that there is nothing more you could have done to change that outcome.

There is a kind of peace that comes from giving it your all, which libertarianism as a movement has gained from the highly committed focus of all of the Ron Paul supporters.

If the Ron Paul candidacy had received only a few hundred thousand dollars in donations, then the “answer” to the question of why his candidacy failed would be: “Because we didn’t have enough money.” If only a few volunteers had shown up to lick envelopes, make phone calls and pound lawn signs, then the candidacy would have failed because, “We didn’t have enough manpower.” If Ron Paul had been shut out of all of the major debates, his failures would have been blamed on a lack of media exposure.

However, none of those conditions arose – Ron Paul had access to tens of millions of dollars, tens of thousands of volunteers, many hours of mainstream media coverage – and unprecedented access to potential voters through blogs, podcasts, e-mails, videos and so.

Thus the intense and unwavering efforts of his supporters have removed all of the obvious reasons as to why his candidacy failed. No one can now seriously argue that if Ron Paul had only had another few million dollars, or another few hundred volunteers, he would have made it to the White House.

Thus, since the single greatest chance that libertarianism ever had – and will ever have – to achieve freedom through political activism and education – has utterly failed, we can now turn our attention towards how we can actually succeed.

What Went Wrong

The central problem with the Ron Paul candidacy can be summed up by a two sentence exchange that the congressman had with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show”.

Ron Paul said that the government did everything badly, and that everything should be privatized. Jon Stewart asked if that included the military. “Oh no!” exclaimed Dr. Paul.

There you have it, in a nutshell.

Propaganda is by its nature highly inconsistent – if it were consistent, it would be science, philosophy or just truth.

Citizens have been conditioned by statist propaganda for many, many years by the time they become politically active. They are able to hold opposing Orwellian “doublethink” principles without even noticing the inconsistencies. “The government that steals half my property at gunpoint is designed to protect my property” and so on.

Propaganda feels consistent to people, because it is consistent with the propaganda that everyone else believes. The only way to oppose propaganda is through complete consistency. The moment that inconsistent principles arise in any philosophy that opposes the general mythology of society, that opposing philosophy will inevitably fail. (We have seen the same phenomenon with Objectivism, the philosophy that utterly opposed the initiation of the use of force, but then supported the existence of a government.)

Thus when a libertarian candidate shows rank inconsistency within the first few seconds of a debate, the average audience member rolls his eyes and discounts the libertarian position. He says to himself: “Well, clearly libertarianism has nothing to do with intellectual consistency, and so it is in no way fundamentally different from the mainstream positions. Now, I can see that enormous difficulties will arise in my life if I accept the libertarian position, since I will become baffling and annoying to almost everyone I know. Thus, since the mainstream positions and the libertarian position both involve inconsistency, I might as well choose the inconsistency that is more comfortable.”

If you want to sell a product on the intellectual marketplace, it either needs to be highly beneficial or highly consistent. (Unfortunately, it cannot be both in our world as it stands.)

Highly beneficial beliefs are those that ease social interactions with those around you, or help advance your intellectual career. Highly consistent beliefs do quite the opposite – they irritate others, and tend to stall intellectual careers.

When the choice is between a highly advantageous inconsistent position (Republican/Democrat), and a highly disadvantageous inconsistent position (Libertarian), how many people will choose the latter?

Well, as we have seen from the numbers, all too few.

Consistency and Integrity

Libertarianism – even the economic aspects – is fundamentally based upon moral principles such as property rights and the universal validity of the nonaggression principle.

The only way that we can bring freedom to this world is to live by valid moral principles. Since taxation is the initiation of the use of force, then those who advocate taxation are either ignorant of its evil, or evil themselves.

Thus our first goal must be to educate people on the immorality of the system that we live in. However, libertarianism has for 300 years gotten stuck in a “broken record” repetition of its first five minutes. After communicating to people the basic reality that taxation is evil, libertarians then just repeat that argument – and a thousand others – without ever acting on that belief.

If you truly believe that taxation is evil, then those who advocate taxation – the initiation of force against you – are evil. If taxation is evil, but those who advocate it are not, then belief and action become completely disconnected, and ethics cease to exist.

A child is not a Nazi if he cheers Hitler while knowing nothing of Hitler’s policies and actions. A man becomes a Nazi when he cheers Hitler while knowing what Hitler thinks and does. In the same way, a person is not evil if he advocates taxation without understanding the moral evil of taxation – however, the moment that he understands this evil, he becomes responsible for his advocacy.

What do libertarians do when they tell someone that taxation is evil, and that person continues to advocate taxation?

Why, in general, they either repeat the argument, or switch to the evils of welfare, the war on drugs, the Patriot Act, the war on terror, fiat currency, public education and so on.

The most basic inconsistency in libertarianism is that morality is considered both essential and immaterial. It is essential, because it underpins the entire philosophy – it is immaterial, however, in that libertarians continue to associate with people that they define as evil.

If you define a man as evil, and you continue to associate with him – whether he is your brother, father, friend or whatever – then all your words and speeches and ethical theories amount to less than nothing.

This is why I say that education and political activism will never advance the cause of libertarianism one single inch.

Freedom will advance only when we act with integrity in our personal relationships – when we reject those we define as evil.

As libertarians, we expect people to accept wrenching changes in their lives as a result of our philosophy. We expect public sector employees to switch over to the private sector. We expect drug enforcement agents to lose their entire careers. We expect corporate participants in the military-industrial complex to accept catastrophic downsizing. We expect people trapped in the quicksand of the welfare state to claw their way out. We expect a decommissioned soldier to make the transition to a civilian life, even if he wants to spend the rest of his career in the military. We expect those who exploit the existing system – the financiers, politicians and state-protected unions – to give up their inflated profits.

We expect so much from everyone else – and so little from ourselves.

“You should give up your lucrative and comfortable public sector position,” we say, “though I will not give up spending time with my cousin who supports the war in Iraq.”

“You should give up your war profiteering,” we say to mercantilist corporations, “though I will continue to party with my friends who fully support the state pointing its guns at my head.”

Is it any wonder that the Ron Paul revolution could never have succeeded?

Is it any wonder that for the past few hundred years, libertarianism has made virtually no progress whatsoever?

The answer is very, very simple.

If we want to free the world, we have to stop lecturing others about our ethics, and start living them ourselves.

If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine of course – but if you don’t want to live your ethics, can you do the rest of us a favour please?

Please – just stop talking about “ethics,” and thus discrediting those of us who are actually trying to make a difference.