The Ron Paul newsletters, in the news — again!


The following appeared on Wirkman Netizen, on September 1, 2008:

Virginia Postrel defends herself against a remonstrance, against the charge that she should have warned others about Ron Paul. And she shifts the blame:

I do fault my friends at Reason, who are much cooler than I’ll ever be and who, scornful of the earnestness that takes politics seriously, apparently didn’t do their homework before embracing Paul as the latest indicator of libertarian cachet. For starters, they might have asked my old boss Bob Poole about Ron Paul; I remember a board member complaining about Paul’s newsletters back in the early ’90s

Yeah, yeah. It turns out that the Reason staff is now all too young to have read the early newsletters. Jesse Walker, who did read voraciously in Bill Bradford’s huge stack of back-issues, probably did not bother with the Ron Paul files for one simple reason: He did not expect to learn anything. Ron Paul is not a great teacher. He is not an original thinker. He is not even (when writing himself) that fun a writer. So Jesse had little reason to go spelunking into Liberty magazine’s dustiest shelves and boxes. I, who filed them there, certainly did not want to look at them a second time. On any given afternoon at Liberty, I would have preferred to keep my lunch.

Frankly, I had forgotten about most of this old “Ron Paul” bigotry. I mean, one reason for my tepid-at-first enthusiasm for the recent Paul outing was, after all, his old connection with Murray Rothbard, whose influence on the libertarian movement I regarded as poison. And Lew Rockwell, whose influence on Murray Rothbard I regarded as poison in double dose. (I did not support Ron Paul in 1987, for the Libertarian Party nomination. When Rothbard heard this, he hated me for it, and scowled in my direction the only time we could have met. What a sour old grump, I thought.)

There was an added wrinkle, though: over the years I had warmed to Lew Rockwell, following his break with Liberty and (more importantly) my break with Liberty. He had distanced himself, somewhat, from the Paleo Turn, and was talking straight libertarianism more. He had seen the old paleocon forces get sucked back into neocon war, like piglets to their porcine mother’s teats. And though he still exhibited his nasty streak, I didn’t see it as often or as vile as I had in the old days. He had mellowed, I thought.

Besides, the Mises Institute, which he runs, does some good work. Any place that puts out Menger’s Grundsätze will get a slight nod from me.

And besides, some of Bill Bradford’s reactions to Rockwell were themselves petty and stupid. So I cut Rockwell some slack. Maybe I had made too much of my distaste for paleoism.

But then, reading the PDFs supplied by TNR, the whole thing came back to me, in full whiff.

Really, one wants to just get away from all that. And so, over time, most of us old-timers tried to forget the ugly period of Paleolibertianism Beta.

Besides, no one asks me or pays me to write about this stuff.

So I have Virginia Postrel’s excuse.

But what of her other excuses? “Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t consider Paul one of the biggest mainstream representatives of libertarian thought.” Well, that’s easy. He isn’t. He never was. Except in politics.He is libertarianism’s almost sole political representative, certainly sole member of Congress.

This passage puzzles me: “Besides, people as cosmopolitan as Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch should be able to detect something awry in Paul’s populist appeals. . . . I suspect they did but decided it was more useful to spin things their way than to take Paul’s record and ideas seriously.” Did they really spin anything? Not really. They recognized Paul’s odd populist-conservative takes. It obviously made many of the Reason folk queasy. They just didn’t think the queasiness went very deep.

And it does go deep. Right down into the vile maw of Paleolibertarianism, the strange stance of anti-statist class warfare and out-group hate.

By the way, Ron Paul’s popularity is the latest indicator of libertarian cachet. That is Ron Paul’s appeal. Reason didn’t need to spin this. That’s just good reporting. Ron talks liberty up as a principle that unites anti-war and no-special-favors government. Fiscal responsibility. Individual responsibility. Listening to Paul today, that’s what he preaches, and the fact that people grok that is a story, and it’s good for libertarianism.

It’s just too bad about that Paleolibertarian period, and Ron Paul’s enduring connections to people who still, to this day, probably don’t want to deal with their old rhetoric in public.

I could have told anyone who asked the dangers. But no one asked. And if I spent over $50 on a brown recluse spider to benefit Ron Paul, maybe that makes me part of the problem, not the solution.

So blame me. Don’t blame Virginia. Don’t blame Reason. Blame all us old guys who heard the gossip about the Rockwell-Rothbard alliance. Blame the late Bill Bradford, who heard all this first hand.

Or not. Realize that we opposed this nonsense at the time. At least I did, as much as I could in print.

And as for Virginia Postrel, well, I really liked the last book of hers I read. Her support for the Iraq war, on the other hand, strikes me as so gullible that . . . well, what are the consequences?

Maybe people need to grow up a bit.

Politicians will always betray you somehow. I mean, I grew up on Thomas Jefferson, but realized early on that, on the slavery issue, this man was as compromised as one could be. Ron Paul comes out looking like a saint compared to Tom. But then, Tom had more excuses. His whole life was based on slavery, his stance as a rich guy able to do science and philosophy and music and all the civilized rest. It rested on slaves. What excuse do modern-day paleos have, to dredge up the old bigotries about color and culture and skin and the rest?

It is an odd thing, trying to be a civilized person in the libertarian movement — or in modern society. You have to keep some independence of mind. You cannot allow yourself to become part of any cult. For all the leaders will betray you. All the prophets will prove false. All the gems will prove brummagem.

What lives on is an ideal, freedom, and our present-day paths that all seem to lead away from it. Even the ones that at first seem to lead toit.