Ron Paul is a Threat to the Republic – Part 2

III

So how is it that with such a misunderstanding of political theory and such extreme views, Paul could, nonetheless, achieve such popularity?

His appeal lies largely in his “grocery list” ramblings; the fact that he opposes virtually every current governmental policy – taxes, health care, social security, the war on drugs, military spending, the FED, financial regulation, gun control, etc. – means that his ideas attract a wide-range of adherents: Ayn Rand idealists; pot-smoking trustafarians; gun-nut militia-men; upper-middle class, mini-van drivin’, Palin-supportin’, soccer moms; deficit hawks and Gold-pushers; etc.  And while this characterization may leave one with idea that contemporary libertarianism is a coalition of loony fringe elements, the obvious nut jobs are also joined by a fair number of average, everyday citizens just looking for an explanation of exactly what the hell is going on in the world today!  In a time where complex political economic occurrences have created uncertainty for many, Paul offers up a clear antagonist (those forces supporting government tyranny) and a clear protagonist (those forces safeguarding “our” freedom through the preservation of the free market) through which to examine political life.  Through this simplistic binary, it all makes sense.

The result is a sizeable following articulating a combination of 9th grade civics lessons and business class ethics: they Know that the Founders were remarkable, and the Constitution is worth preserving; and they also Know that free enterprise is good, and profits are worth preserving.  Swept up in the alarmist rhetoric of Paul and his Tea Party cronies, this contingent is genuinely convinced that virtually any state intervention is a threat to the Republic; even if the intervention is initiated through processes of representative democracy.

Aside from ignoring the obvious (and aforementioned) disparities in the views of early American statesmen with regard to state intervention, this positions the “founding fathers” as all-knowing Gods (forget that they were rich, white, male, slave-holders) who, like a magic eight-ball, can be  turned to for an immediate and obvious answer to all contemporary debates.  But how would the founders have dealt with the expansion of corporate personhood? The emergence of transnational corporations operating in a global market? The power of international financial institutions? The myriad questions raised by technological advances? The environmental crisis?  Anyone who suggests that there is an obvious answer to each of these questions is kidding themselves.  Foundational texts can serve as valuable guides in dealing with these matters, but there exist hermeneutic gaps that are inevitably filled by contemporary debates over constitutional law, political theory and political economics.  Paul, for instance, answers each question by turning to Austrian economists and then ramming these libertarian views into the emotionally-charged symbol that is “the founders.”

What you’re left with is a libertarianism punctured by nationalism.  “The Republic” must be saved at all cost and this can only be accomplished by returning to a purely laissez-faire system.  Paul and his followers attempt to invoke what Italian theorist Giorgio Agamben has termed a state of exception.  Agamben is speaking here of a condition that seems to persist within liberal democracies, where in times of crisis, it is deemed necessary to suspend the democratic order in the name of saving that very order.  For Paul and fellow libertarian dogmatists, pure economic freedom is threatened by the tyranny of the state to such an extent that extreme measures are necessary.  Those disagreeing are effectively devalued to bare life – deemed no longer capable of exercising their political rights, yet still subject to the iron clad normative rules of the libertarian Republic.

From Aristotle through early American town hall meetings to contemporary democratic theorists, free and open dialogue and civil deliberation in a public sphere has been seen as an integral component of any healthy political system.  But how can you have rational debate with one who thinks you’re an enemy of all that is good?  There is nothing undemocratic about supporting policies with a libertarian bent, but it is profoundly undemocratic to suppose that one’s own ideology is the only acceptable mode of thinking.  According to this rationale, the policies supported by many citizens (i.e. their political will) – attempts to check the power of transnational corporations, to institute environmental regulations, to protect workers against employer abuses, to provide social safety nets or re-training to those out of work, to protect historically marginalized populations against discrimination, etc. – are illegitimate. Increasingly, such policies are met with calls to violence.

Paul is correct that there are innumerable threats to democracy today – the role of money in politics, an irresponsible media that plays to party elites and extremists, a culture weaned on celebrity gossip and at a loss for critical thinking, the expansion of executive powers, the rise of the transnational corporation, etc. – but if he wants to think about threats to “the republic,” he need look no further than the mirror.  In an ideal democracy – one with an inclusive, civil public sphere – we could treat him as a nice, genuine guy whose views just happen to differ on certain matters.  But he has extended no such civility to anyone disagreeing with him.  Indeed, Paul and his followers have poisoned democratic dialogue.

There is a real arrogance in collapsing questions that have occupied thinkers for two-plus millennia into a narrowly circumscribed sphere where the state is reduced to a mere umpire for the market, and then proclaiming this personal ideology to reflect THE essence of “our republic.”

Let the force of one’s ideas determine whether or not they make it through the democratic process and are enshrined in law.

Sources:

Hayek, Friedrich von. 1960. The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Paul, Ron. 1987. Freedom Under Siege: The U.S. Constitution After 200 Years. Lake Jackson, TX: Foundation for Rational Economics and Education.

Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-1979 [Trans. Graham Burchell]. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

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~ by iamtomjoad on May 6, 2010.

2 Responses to “Ron Paul is a Threat to the Republic – Part 2”

  1. There’s a lot of heft behind your posts. Nice work

  2. […] have lot of other problems with Paul that I’ve detailed here and here. But his position on race might take the cake. Paul may not be a racist (in the way that white […]

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