Recently, I engaged in a brief facebook tiff regarding Representative Ron Paul (R*-Texas). I said that he was a demagogue (even though I didn’t know how to spell it). A couple of folks came to his defense arguing that he couldn’t be a demagogue, because a) the issues he cares about are issues that nobody knows about and b) he doesn’t have sufficient influence to be truly demagogic. Of course, both of these dudes (along with 80% of the online conservatives I know) promote Ron Paul endlessly, so perhaps they want him to become a demagogue? I’m uncertain.
What I can tell you is that their criticism inspired me to go out and read a Ron Paul book. I had a vague understanding of Ron Paul’s positions prior to reading his latest (Liberty Defined: 50 essential issues that affect our freedom). Unfortunately, after having read the book, my understanding continues to be vague. This isn’t entirely my fault, as the book is both incredibly repetitive and self-contradictory. One would think those qualities would be mutually exclusive (especially after editing), but Rep. Paul manages to pull it off. I assume that the primary audience for his writings are people who enjoy his prose sufficiently that they don’t care about content. There must be some. Unfortunately, I was interested in the content, which made the whole experience a disappointment.
In defense of the book, I think that it is meant to be a reference work, which explains, to a degree, both the repetition and the self-contradiction. Rep. Paul lays out his position, insofar as it is possible, on fifty different issues that he feels are important to the maintenance of liberty (which is defined, almost as an afterthought, in one sentence in the introduction, which doesn’t quite make the title false advertising, but only just barely). I believe that he doesn’t expect people to read it through and, therefore, he must push the same ideas over and over again in several entries, because otherwise people might not encounter them (take, for instance, the chapter on abortion, which also includes Rep. Paul’s opinions on euthanasia, military action, capital punishment, government health care, and secret government human experimentation). What leads him to rail against the influential few in a chapter on demagoguery (of all things), while decrying the influence of the influential majority in a chapter on democracy that comes immediately afterword, remains mysterious. It is clear from this that Rep. Paul dislikes the influence of both the majority and the minority (at least, when they disagree with him). As I said before, it makes his own opinion hard to discern.
Actually, it isn’t that hard to discern. In the chapter on Campaign Finance Reform, Rep. Paul argues that the way to get business money out of the government is not to limit it (because corporations should have free speech), but to make the federal government so powerless as to render it too unimportant to influence. This continues to lead me to believe that Rep. Paul and his supporters do not actually want a return to Constitutional principles, but rather a return to the principles of the Articles of Confederation (the governing principles that the Constitution was created to replace). Rep. Paul wants to weaken the Union, presumably because he believes that our existence prior to the Civil War was superior to our existence after it. Not that he is for slavery, of course (he makes a special point of noting that he isn’t).
But I haven’t come here to review his book (wherein, really, you know what you are getting when you pick it up). Rather, I have come today to make a comparison. When Rep. Paul is arguing about the stakes that motivated his writing this book, he says:
What is at stake is the American dream itself, which in turn is wrapped up with our standard of living. Too often, we underestimate what the phrase “standard of living” really means. In my mind, it deals with all the issues that affect our material well-being, and therefore affects our outlook on life itself: whether we are hopeful or despairing, whether we expect progression or regression, whether we think our children will be better off or worse off than we are. All of these considerations go to the heart of the idea of happiness. The phrase “standard of living” comprises nearly all we expect out of life on this earth. It is, simply, how we are able to define our lives.(p. xiii)
Rep. Paul here is trying to make standard of living mean more than its commonly used definition (which, as I understand it, refers to the material wealth and support one has in life). However, he doesn’t entirely succeed. In fact, he places our material well-being at the heart of our happiness, arguing that how well we are doing materially is what determines our outlook in all other aspects of our life (also, based on this book, Rep. Paul must not be doing too well). It is not necessarily an incorrect outlook, although it is surprisingly economically determined. Perhaps Rep. Paul is a closet Marxist.
In Alma, chapter 30, Korihor, an infamous Anti-Christ, states the following:
Every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime. (vs. 17)
In its context, Korihor states this as an argument against belief in God and against belief in the need for an atonement. There is no such thing as sin, he says, so no need for a Christ. But let’s consider this passage in isolation. The argument here is that people prosper in accordance with their ability. Is it too much of a stretch to consider prosperity (or lack thereof) to be an analogue of “standard of living”? Is Korihor here arguing that one’s standard of living is the characteristic that determines a person’s quality? If I’m right in this, then Korihor appears to have been as interested in the standard of living as Rep. Paul.
Also, take a look at the last clause in the quote. We tend to see it as a parallel to sin (which is used in the unquoted portion of the verse), but there is no parallel usage elsewhere in scripture. Is it possible Alma meant crime, which is temporal and social, rather than sin, which is spiritual, eternal, and personal? Perhaps Korihor was arguing that many of the things that we humans consider crimes are not actually crimes. Rather they are obstacles that our placed in our way by people who wish to keep us from realizing our true potential. Or, as Rep. Paul says:
The same type of fear propaganda has been raised to the extreme by the environmental movement determined to socialize our nation and deindustrialize it, seemingly on purpose.
Radical environmentalism has systematically undermined the defense of free markets for decades (p.134)
the envious will stop at nothing in order to achieve their goals of harming those who succeed, even when achieving their goal is itself personally harmful. Policies driven by envy, such as the progressive income tax and the inheritance tax, do not help society…but such policies do accomplish the goal of harming people who are rich and successful. (p.102)
Or (echoing that renowned touchstone, Ayn Rand)
The planners [government bureaucrats] are not bashful in saying that average people aren’t smart enough to take care of themselves. They deny they seek power over others just for the sake of power – heaven forbid. Whether they seek power for their own sake or they are truly motivated to make a better world, most authoritarians pursue government and domination over others by espousing humanitarian causes passed off as virtues…The recipients of the humanitarian efforts never see themselves as participating in an immoral process (p. 163)
Now setting aside the fact that Rep. Paul called people too stupid to govern themselves in his chapter on Democracy, he really seems to be parroting Korihor’s argument, given to the high priest Giddonah:
thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges. Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God — a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be. (vs. 27-28)
People who claim that they are counseling you or trying to limit you for your own good are only doing it to give themselves power over you. There is no true altruism in government.
Now, I realize that this isn’t the best comparison, but I hope it illuminates what I find dangerous and demagogic in Tea Party libertarianism. Or failing that, what I find self-contradictory and silly. Rep. Paul (R*-Texas) is trying to argue that any limit on liberty is a limit on all liberty (sorta kinda paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). But he fails to acknowledge that limits on liberty are what allow us to live together, to establish trust, to create a community. Certainly some limits are uncalled for and despotic, but not all are. Some limits on even our inherent rights are necessary for a society to function. Of course, if your ideal society is a well-armed cabin neighbored by another well armed cabin off your property, then this may work for you. But that isn’t the sort of world I want to live in. And when some people argue that Rep. Paul might be a better Mormon than Mitt Romney (someone I also don’t intend to vote for), well, I feel the need to point out that he makes a better Anti-Christ than Mitt, too.