Ron Paul: Our Best Hope or Our Worst Nightmare?

Thomas Knapp seems to think that Ron Paul's surging candidacy as a Republican is cause for grave concern among libertarians. While I remain skeptical towards any supposed libertarian who wants to affiliate with one of the major parties, I find his conspiracy theory plausible without being likely. Knapp thinks that Paul is being positioned to co-opt, and thus destroy, the libertarian movement.

I've made no secret of the fact that I believe Ron Paul's Republican presidential campaign to be a bad thing for the libertarian political movement in general, and for the Libertarian Party in particular.

What I haven't said before is that I believe that's the point -- that the objective of Paul's campaign is the destruction of the Libertarian Party and the co-opting of the libertarian political movement by a political party which will never serve that movement's goals.

Now, I think Knapp certainly has a point here - whether or not there is some conspiracy, the outcome could very well end up having the effect he predicts. For me, however, that's not the question. Of course we're putting the libertarian movement at risk to engage in such a high profile campaign. Any opportunity for advancing our cause entails risk to the movement, especially when electoral politics is involved. If Kubby were experiencing the success that Paul is, he'd be the biggest risk to the movement, too!

The point is that for those who embrace electoral politics, this risk of which Knapp warns us is hardly confined to Paul's candidacy - it is intrinsic to representative democracy itself. The abstraction of "representation" implies that we pretend a human being can authentically stand in for our interests. We anarchists realize this concept is ridiculous. Thus, we should agree that whatever irrationality Paul's supporters exhibit results from their faith in elections in general, not their faith in a particular candidate. Given the truth that any libertarian campaign endangers the movement - but also provides opportunities for growing it - this danger doesn't strike me as a valid reason to single Paul's candidacy out for criticism.

Instead of asking whether we're risking too much by entrusting the libertarian cause to an avowed Republican, we should ask ourselves whether or not we libertarians are risking much at the polls either way. I submit that we have everything to gain and little to lose, because the LP has largely been a disappointment to the libertarian cause, anyway, for a variety of reasons I don't want to get into here. Now, Knapp is very involved with the official Libertarian Party, and sees that organization as the premier exponent and promoter of libertarianism in this country. While he's entitled to his opinion, the bottom line is that many libertarians disagree on that belief. On top of that, many of the Republicans, Democrats, and independents who find Paul's substantially (though not completely) libertarian message appealing have had ample opportunities to fly the LP banner for its candidates - and they've consistently rejected it. This danger to the LP is not Paul's making, but rather, the result of the LP's mistakes and missed opportunities.

Those who back Paul's campaign are not irrational in the slightest to pin their hopes on the brightest star. His message is at total odds with the other candidates'. His track record can only be nipped at from around the edges (I take racism seriously; I just don't think this particular accusation, even if true, is sufficient to disqualify him any more than any other candidates). His experience in that ugly game, politics, dwarfs Kubby's, for whatever that's worth - and it's largely experience in government as a small-L libertarian - a record of action and not speculation. Knapp is a smart guy and a master debater, but I think it takes even him a lot of rhetorical acrobatics to convince most people that Paul isn't the most libertarian choice in this election.

UPDATE: Brad has a similar point.

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Written on Monday, July 16, 2007