What did the “Revolution” accomplish?

A look back at the candidacy of Ron Paul

By Evan McLaren

Congressman Ron Paul burst onto the scene this presidential campaign season, turning heads in GOP debates and setting miraculous fundraising records with a grassroots-organized, Internet-driven campaign.

The national Paul phenomenon is new—so new that it remains a source of astonishment to the good doctor himself. Paul frequently expresses surprise and pleasure to find his movement continuing to attract attention. He is delighted to be invited to myriad rallies and television appearances, and to discover his latest book on the New York Times best seller list. With so much ground already traveled since last winter, when Paul was only a humble Congressman with no wider recognition, his supporters have their eyes fixed on the future.

Paul himself, however, is not new. He’s 73, and he’s been involved in politics for over thirty years. Paul has been hard at work developing his Constitutionalist agenda and sculpting its libertarian, free market, hard money muscles. He has received plenty of help over the years from intellectuals and politicos with whom he exchanges mutual admiration and respect. In early 2007, when Paul began exploring the idea of a presidential campaign, he was not acting alone. Behind him was a geographically dispersed but highly networked libertarian subculture that regarded Paul as its present-day hero and stood ready to devote itself to his cause.

Paul palpably benefits by associating with this subculture. Unlike the established conservative movement, whose leaders and hirelings have ceded its identity to the GOP and various groups of post-conservative sub-creatures, Paul and his Campaign for Liberty are drawing on intellectual and political reservoirs that are pristine by comparison. The pro-Paul camp is littered with highly intelligent partisans of the Old Right, people who make a habit of calling a spade a spade, a neocon a neocon, and a Republican a Leftist. The people Paul keeps closest are those gathered around the Ludwig von Mises Institute, who reverently tend the fire of the Austrian economic tradition from whence Paul and his acolytes draw warmth.”

Despite all the positives, it is not a revelation that Paul’s campaign has limitations and disappointing features. One such limitation is his single-minded devotion to monetary affairs. Though his followers listen obediently to his lecturing on the necessity of a sound dollar, Paul gets his biggest applause when he is venting his spleen against the hated neocons. One could not fill a single regiment with people who would go into battle to restore the gold standard, and though Paul’s expertise and relative idiosyncrasy on monetary issues gets him invited on financial reporting programs, to the general voter he seems quaint and less-than-relevant when he is pushing his favorite issue.

Even if Paul suddenly gave his monetary views a more nuanced role in his program, though, the Campaign for Liberty remains a vehicle that will take the Right only so far. One ought to sense this by observing how comfortable those gathered around Lewrockwell.com (the unofficial clearinghouse for Ron Paul enthusiasm) are with the sociological makeup of the campaign’s grassroots following. While that following is not distinguished by its professional or material ties to a debased establishment (my local meet-up is attended by four well-dressed elderly ladies, a data analyst, a retired schoolteacher, a gold coin vendor, and an unemployed forklift operator), their ties to an inherited Western civilization are not necessarily more stable than those held by the rest of the population. They deserve credit for recognizing Paul’s authenticity, and for sensing that their government has strayed outside its Constitutional limits. But the Campaign does not clearly belong to those with a more historically-informed eagerness for civilizational restoration. Instead it sometimes appears to be driven by people whose attachments to a post-national, post-Christian society of consumers and global democrats are indelible. The MLK-themed fundraiser organized by the grassroots in January 2008 evidences a spirit of contentment with and even enthusiasm for a political and social context that people of the right oppose to their core.

This does not appear to bother Campaign leadership. Whatever the culturally conservative beliefs of many right-libertarians, they seem satisfied to limit their fight to the economic and limited government wonkery exemplified by the Campaign. Given their worldview this should come as no surprise. Following the bourgeois liberal minarchism of Ludwig von Mises and the right-minded anarchism of Rothbard, these libertarians have pinned 100% of the blame for modern calamities on the State. Restore individual liberty, overcome institutionalized violence—fin. Absent is any sense of pre-political uncomfortable realities like race, culture, or religion—or at least, that sense is seriously atrophied, allowing LRC types to reduce those realities to a point below meaningful recognition.

That means different things for different anarcho-libertarians. Some appear to have no interest at all in pre-political matters, and, like post-New Deal liberal historiographers, appreciate Western civilization for little else than having produced their preferred political tradition. Others (Tom Woods may be a good example) exhibit an appreciation of the West wide and deep enough to include things other than individualism, and seem truly interested in restoration. Yet even in those cases, their allegiance to the West runs a close second to their pursuit of a libertarian agenda. Both groups apply praise and blame to historical figures based solely on their proximity to a complete laissez faire mind set.

This doesn’t mean that there’s nothing in the Campaign for Liberty for right-wingers. Most of the serious people of the Right I know remain on the fence in this regard. Ultimately any judgment must take into account certain facts—that the Campaign’s grassroots exhibits an outlook that is generally presentist, and not historical or restorative (in spite of its Constitutionalist script); and that those in firmest control of its top-down agenda hold restoration, if they hold it at all, as a secondary goal. Meanwhile the program of the Right must remain, in the language of Youth for Western Civilization, the creation of “a subculture that will promote the survival of Western Civilization and pride in Western heritage.”



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