Paradoxically, Ron Paul`s Success Proving Irrelevance of (Establishment) Libertarianism

The libertarian
Establishment has disdain for

Ron Paul
`s presidential campaign. The geeky
idealists of Reason and the

Cato Institute
failed to warm to him; or, having

to him, have

quickly cooled again
, finding that he fails to meet

standards of ideological purity

Not only does Paul want

defend the America`s borders
, he has been

running TV ads

birthright citizenship!
—as if a genuine libertarian
gives a fig for such antique concepts as
. He is also willing to let the welfare
state wind down, fulfilling its current commitments to
senior citizens.

Worse yet, Paul seems to
have associated with people, fifteen or twenty years
ago, who thought that we were all

better off

had to be discreet, and that

black Americans
are prone to

civil disorder
, and that

Martin Luther King
was a

philandering plagiarist
, and that the Confederacy
had a right to

secede from the Union
, and that the

Korean storekeepers
of Los Angeles behaved in

true American spirit
when they

defended their property with guns
against rioters.

People really seem to
have believed such things! And Paul gave them
space in his newsletters! Euiw!

Never mind that, as the

beautiful, cultivated, and accomplished Ilana Mercer


pointed out
, Paul is

“a man
who`s led an exemplary life—has served his country and
community, stayed married to his childhood sweetheart
for 50 odd years, and is as devout a Christian as he is
a constitutionalist. It`s not easy to impugn this
impish, good-natured man, so

becomes a must.”

Paradoxically, Ron
Paul`s candidacy is proving the irrelevance of

Political space is

Take directions from people to keep
heading Left, and you eventually find yourself

in territory that looks uncannily Right.

Sampling the

pond life of left-wing student politics
in my

college days
, I learned that the furthest Left you
could get was the anarchists. Here is the definition of
"anarchism" from Webster`s Third:

political theory opposed to all forms of government and

governmental restraint
and advocating voluntary
cooperation and free association of individuals and
groups in order to satisfy their needs

Got that? Here, from the
same source, is the definition of "libertarian."
Angle brackets are for an illustrative quotation:

one who
upholds the principle of liberty; specif : one who
upholds the principles of

individual liberty
of thought and action <private
judgment and constitutional authority … authoritarians
have left but little scope for the former, libe rtarians
would always cut down the latter to the smallest

The entry for
actually includes a quote from

Norman Thomas

theories or practices of a libertarian <a new and
extreme libertarianism arising which … goes almost to
the length of anarchy in rejecting any state—Norman

There is of course a
difference of sensibility between the anarchist and the
libertarian, resting mainly in the anarchist being
hostile to money, private property, and

, while the libertarian does not object to
those things, but only wants them freed from state
interference. Your anarchist believes that

private property
is the

enemy of liberty
; your libertarian, that it is
liberty`s guarantor.

Going down a level,
anarchism belongs on the Left because it posits

human perfectibility
—the notion that if only the
human personality were not deformed by the need to
submit to authority, and to practice acquisitiveness for
survival, it would be nothing but sweetness and light,
nothing but selfless forbearance and a willingness to
cooperate with others.

By the same token,
libertarianism belongs on the

because libertarianism takes human beings

as they are,
at least to the degree of acknowledging

acquisitive competitiveness
. While not ruling out
enlightenment through improved understanding,
libertarianism does not seek to perfect us.

In its own way, though,
libertarianism is as disdainful of our lower natures as
is anarchism. Nine years ago I reviewed a


Virginia Postrel
, who was then editor of

Reason magazine
, our

chief libertarian periodical.
The book was better
than the average poli-sci tract, but I became aware,
reading it, of a big human-nature-shaped hole in

Ms. Postrel`s
schema. I concluded

my review

The Future and Its Enemies,

though very worthy in itself, left me feeling glum. We
are not short of books advocating

, wealth creation and open-mindedness. What
we are short of is any large public sentiment in favor
of those things. I agree with Ms. Postrel that we
currently have

too many law
s, and

way too many lawyers
; but how many of our fellow
citizens are of the same mind? In the recent elections
in my state, one of the

candidates for the U.S. Senate
boasted—boasted! in
paid ads on prime-time TV!—that he was a man with

`a passion to legislate`
. He won handily.”

In fact the
forward-thrusting "dynamists" of the present-day
libertarian imagination are as far from actual humanity
as the

happily cooperative kibbutzniks
of anarchist
fantasy. They exist, of course, just as good kibbutzniks
do; but

there aren`t a lot of them
. Postrelian
libertarianism is no prescription for any social unit
bigger than a software start-up. Modern libertarianism
(there is a bit more to say about

the older kind
) is in fact a geek fad, a

head game
for high-IQ bourgeois types.

This shows up all over.
Cast your eye down the list of

35 Heroes of Freedom
that Reason published in
December 2003.

Ms. Mercer
says what needs to be said about it

—basically, it`s more interested in what it
calls “grooviness” than government.

Or check in with the

open-borders über-libertarians
at The Wall
Street Journal


Race? Ethnicity? Tribe? Faith?
Just open up those borders and let economics
work its magic! We`ll all get on just fine!—like, you

Hutus and Tutsis

Sunnis and Shias

Prods and Taigs

Right. These guys make

Prince Kropotkin
look like a hard-boiled cynic.

And yet, of course, both
anarchists and libertarians have got hold of an
essential truth:

too much government
is bad for ya. It is only that
they have put that truth in the service of false ideas
about human nature.

Both groups are
disciples of

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
—all-time winner, in my
opinion, of the title "Person We Should Most Wish Had
Been Strangled In His Cradle."
If not for the
corrupting effects of industrial capitalism, said the
anarchists, we would be kindly, non-acquisitive
cooperators. If not for the corrupting effects of
bureaucratic welfarism, says the libertarian, we would
be rational economic competitors.

We are of course both
things, all of us, some of the time; but there`s a deal
of mischief in that "some." The notion of innate
kindly cooperativeness has taken a beating from

the anthropologists
; the notion of rational
competitiveness, from

the psychologists

And so libertarianism
marches forward with its band playing ("Rejoice,
Ye Pure in Heart
," perhaps) and its banners held
high, all blazoned with images of Reason`s


Dennis Rodman
! —and
affirmations of undying political correctness

straight into the Swamp of Irrelevance, just like the

anarchists of old

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an

incredible amount

on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. His

most recent book
is Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra.