Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Left-Wing Market Anarchism and Ron Paul

If you say you're against the state these days, someone's sure to ask you how your views parallel Ron Paul's.

I'm sitting out this year's electoral battles: I'm not a principled non-voter (though I'm skeptical about electoral politics), but my friend Brad Spangler has agreed to promote my book, The Conscience of an Anarchist, in connection with his Vote for Nobody campaign. But that doesn't mean I don't have opinions about the election season.

To begin with, anyone who's derailing proponents of the corporate-warfare-administrative-national-security state like Willard "Mitt" Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry deserves three cheers for performing a public service. Until now, the Republican field has been dominated by warmongers and corporatists outdoing themselves in their support for state thuggery.

And, in case you haven't noticed, the same thing is true on the Democratic side, except that there are no alternatives there. Barack Obama clearly wants to serve George W. Bush's third term. His record of support for war, for the various abuses of the national security state—including surveillance, assassination, secrecy, and indefinite detention, and for bailouts and other forms of corporatism make him largely indistinguishable from his predecessor. And his willingness to legitimate evils that could previously have been framed as GOP aberrations as the products of a bipartisan consensus is especially troubling.

A Gingrich, Romney, or Perry term in the White House would be a disaster. So would another Obama term.

On many of the issues that I care about most, Ron Paul stands tall. New Left icon Tom Hayden writes: "Paul opposes the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He opposes the empire of military bases. He opposes Wall Street thievery, tax subsidies for oil companies, the suppression of WikiLeaks, the drug war and the criminalization of marijuana. Those positions might just save America." And Hayden is surely on to something.

Politicians are most unlikely to save America. But by far the worst thing governments do is to make war, and Paul's campaign is committed to dramatically reducing the chances that the US government's awesome power will be used in war-making.

And of course he's right about his other signature issue, too: as long as there's a central bank, the state will use it to fund otherwise unsupportable wars. Ending the Fed is a crucial step toward peace.

He's opposed to bailouts and other forms of corporate privilege. And he's acknowledged the legitimacy of many of the Occupy movement's concerns.

But while positions like these are worth affirming, that doesn't mean that Paul's candidacy is an unmixed blessing for those of us on the anti-state left. For Paul is, after all, a self-proclaimed conservative.

His stances regarding immigration, abortion, and same-sex marriage are wrong, and he needs to be much more clearly radical where other issues, like racism, poverty, and health care, as well as IP and worker freedom, are concerned.

It is unclear to me precisely what Paul actually thinks about immigration, but it seems apparent that he is open to at least some immigration restrictions (though, even here, he seems to be better than his fellow Republicans and President Obama. Anyone who believes in the freedom to work, who regards borders as arbitrary lines drawn by politicians, and who sees immigration freedom as a key weapon in the real war on poverty should have no time for nativist or nationalist stances on this (or any other) issue.

Paul's conservative positions on abortion and same-sex marriage aren't conservative enough for many on the religious right. But they're still mistaken.

He'd like to see the legality of abortion decided at the state level—an option I fear would lead to lots of victimless crime prosecutions. And he has supported the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which has had devastating consequences for same-sex couples. (Of course all levels of government should get out of the marriage business, but turning marriage into a private contractual relationships will pose serious problems for people in same-sex relationships until relationship status stops mattering entirely to government agencies.)

As a leftist, I believe in abortion rights and marriage equality. And I believe it's important to challenge not only bad laws and policies regarding these matters but also the moral convictions and cultural values that underly them.

I am confident that Ron Paul is not himself a racist. But the controversy about the racially inflammatory language in some of the newsletters his office mailed out in decades past, and the racist and anti-immigrant flavor of some immigration materials Paul campaigners have distributed more recently, is sure to raise its head again now that his campaign is attracting more attention. Paul has sometimes reached out to unsavory, even racist allies in the past, employing a strategy I find deeply troubling and utterly unwarranted. I believe he needs to repudiate this strategy while reemphasizing his own principled opposition to racism.

As an anarchist, I believe the state is unjust, unnecessary, and dangerous. So I'd certainly like to see it reduced in size rather than expanded. And Ron Paul is actually interested in making the bloated behemoth that is the United States government smaller (though he still seems mistakenly to treat it as legitimate in principle). But I think it's vital to proceed dialectically, in full awareness of the interconnections among various forms of oppression. The state is excellent at breaking people's legs and then offering them crutches (thanks to Harry Browne for the analogy). In a sane world, it would do neither; but taking away the crutches while leaving the state's leg-breaking activities in place or unremedied isn't sane, or fair, either.

And if Paul were a candidate on the left, he would be very clear about this point when discussing issues like racial discrimination, poverty relief, and health care.

Ending state support for segregation, the provision of remedies for past injustice, and a continued program of non-violent protest could have undermined entrenched white dominance in the South in the absence of the state action a gentle Paul critic like Hayden would like to promote; you don't need state action to promote racial justice and inclusion. Eliminating state-secured privilege and rectifying the effects of violent dispossession, subsidy, and land engrossment could deal with the problem of structural poverty, while mutual aid networks could provide ongoing economic security in the state's absence. The same sort of approach could ensure the widespread availability of health care services and make them dramatically more affordable than those on offer today.

There are clearly alternatives to state action in response to these problems. A leftist anti-statism would emphasize them in a way that Paul has not.

And as far as I know, Paul hasn't noted the ways in which monopolistic intellectual property privileges boost corporate power at the public's expense, or the ways in which the state empowers employers at the expense of workers or makes centralized, hierarchical corporations more economically viable than they would be without politically secured support. A leftist campaign would address these kinds of concerns head-on. And it would take a firm stand for markets, but against capitalism.

Ron Paul is, as far as I can tell, a kind and decent person who has said important things—things leftists should endorse. Anti-state leftists would do well to affirm Paul's positions on war, civil liberties, the drug war, corporatism, and the national security state, while challenging his stances on abortion, immigration, and same-sex marriage and his cultural conservatism and urging him to radicalize his views of remedies for racial injustice, of poverty, of IP, of worker freedom, and of capitalism.

21 comments:

Ricketson said...

Great summary of Paul's appeal. On the racism thing, I don't think that it's limited to those old newsletters -- I abandoned his 2008 campaign after it distributed racist anti-immigration (anti-immigrant) advertisements.

Paul seems like a nice guy. I doubt that he's racist, but he seems to be too comfortable around racists. I think he hasn't bothered to face up to the totalitarian legacy of racism in the USA.

Gary Chartier said...

Very troubling about the 2008 campaign materials. I've updated the relevant par. above to reflect this.

Bert McDert said...

Paul/Morgenstern '12! Or, failing a mutuality of interest, I nominate instead anarchist folk singer and self-proclaimed "tree huggin’, peace lovin’, pot smokin’, porn watchin’, love makin’, pro-choice-in', gay weddin’, Widespread diggin', barefootin’ folk-singin’ lazy-ass hippie" Todd Snider.

Thad Russell said...

Great post, Gary.

Keith Preson said...

Paul only plans to reduce the military budget by 15%: http://attackthesystem.com/2011/12/03/ron-paul-only-a-15-reduction-in-military-spending-hmm/

I wrote a number of articles for Lew Rockwell endorsing RP back in 2007, but I've never seen him as anything more than a prelude to a much, much more radical anti-state movement.

Gary Chartier said...

Keith: wow! I hadn't checked the numbers. When Johnson says he wants to cut (as I recall) 43% of the USG budget, I assume he's envisioning lots of cuts from the Pentagon. Do you take this tiny number to be one RP is advocating on purely strategic grounds? Has he suggested he'd cut more? How about closing the frickin' empire of bases?

Keith Preston said...

RP still advocates closing foreign military bases: http://www.politico.com/blogs/politicolive/1111/Ron_Paul_Close_foreign_military_bases.html

I think Paul is sincere in his anti-empire views, and would like to see the bases closed and foreign wars ended. I think the 15% plan originates from strategic considerations.

The problem is these are the kinds of concessions that have to made if RP is serious about running for Prez, which he seems to be. I just don't think that's a workable proposition.

I doubt the Republicans would ever give him the nomination. He's antithetical to everything their neocon leadership stands for. Even if he got the nomination, I don't think he'd win with the weight of media and state propaganda against him. Even if he won, there would be too much pressure to compromise beyond acceptable limits.

And if as president he took the goal of shutting down the empire seriously, the power elite would simply remove him in a Pinochet-style coup if they needed to. There's no beating the system at its own game.

Gary Gunnels said...

Great summation of Paul's merits and defects.

Unknown said...
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David Eldridge said...

I have seen Paul talk a little on immigration. This is what I gathered (not by inference): he is opposed to immigration so long as we have a strong welfare state, because it (the welfare state) is open to grave abuses by immigrants (and Americans for that matter). He said the he is interested in seeing welfare repeal and open borders and trade. Along that line, he is opposed to fences, because they are so much more likely to be used to keep us in, than to keep anyone out.

I am sorry that I cannot cite the video to which I refer. But it was for me formative, because honestly, I was looking for a libertarian view on the issue when I found it. I was (and am) afraid of open immigration for the very reasons that he pointed out, and no other substantive reason. I think Americans have historically fought large in fluxes of immigrants, because they threaten 'our livelihood' even at a state-by-state level, like free staters in Kansas before Lincoln's War, without regard to the hatred of Irish, Chinese, etc. I know that some in IT fear Indians, and so many Americans (generally) fear hispanics.

I am consistently impressed by his measured responses and ideas about the undermining of our present systems: e.g. the Fed, where he proposes a free market in currency, not an immediate abolition of the Fed. To me his ideas on immigration are directly in line with other approaches that are intelligent, deliberate and restrained. He is looking for revolutionary changes, but at a slower (though not evolutionary) pace.

Nathan West said...

Immigrants actually barely make use of the welfare system... Single moms are actually use welfare the most. Very few immigrants are able to obtain a SS# to take part in the welfare system. Mostly they just live in groups and carpool in order to afford things while working below minimum wage under the table and not having to pay taxes.

Nathan West said...

Immigrants actually barely make use of the welfare system... Single moms are actually use welfare the most. Very few immigrants are able to obtain a SS# to take part in the welfare system. Mostly they just live in groups and carpool in order to afford things while working below minimum wage under the table and not having to pay taxes.

Cornelius said...

Good response on Young Turks. One point that needs to be considered is that Ron Paul will not win without a coalition with progressives which would greatly curb the negatives. You might like this: http://progressivesforronpaul.blogspot.com/2011/12/what-is-green-republican-coalition.html

Gary Chartier said...

Thanks a lot Cornelius. Glad you liked it. I had fun, but of course one never has the opportunity to explore issues in depth in a setting like this.

Cornelius said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jimmy Rick said...

A leftist candidatte would be nice but the liberatarian left isn't as secure in the political system as the libertarian right, who gain initial support by advocateing "principled conservatism". It takes a little more work to convince an everyday liberal that government is the enemy.

Still, people like Paul have some great ideas (particularly on war and the Fed) and are a sort of gateway to left libertarian ideas.

I was acctually very conservative a long time ago but following my conservative skepticism of government I eventually became a bleeding heart "liberaltarian". It would have taken me a lot longer to come to this position if I had started out as a party-line democrat.

Ralph Lombreglia said...

Re your comment that there are no alternatives to Obama on the left, I'd be interested in any thoughts on the Justice Party nominee, Rocky Anderson. http://voterocky.org/

Jim Davidson said...

Evidently, Obama is not serving Bush's third term, but Nixon's tenth term.

Another point I would disagree with is where Ron Paul's actual interest is located. He is actually interested in getting a lot of money for his political campaign. It is evident that he is capable of raising tens of millions of dollars for a fourth-place-out-of-four campaign for the GOP nomination from among the very same people who would be wiser to spend their money separating from the state.

Anonymous said...

As a deeply conservative anarchist (more specifically, an individualist anarchist, not an anarcap), this article makes me pleased because it not only shows rational, logical discourse about libertarianism crossing the lines of the left and right, but is also atypical of the common Democrat statist left and the stubborn anarcho-commies. (Similarly, if a Republican senator like Ron Paul pushed libertarianism while appealing to the other side.) Thank you for writing a genuinely unbiased article despite stating your clear convictions. And by the way, Ron Paul has slowly but surely become a critic of both internet fascism (sopa, pipa, cispa, etc) as well as a critic of intellectual property, because as a conservative libertarian would see it, goods without scarcity cannot be property because anyone can have them.

ONCE AGAIN thank you for the reasonable discourse. Hopefully anarchists some day get over the left-right shit that is wasting our time and making us subservient to statism, and work together to allow a society built upon voluntary interaction/exchange and the non-aggression principle.

(A)

Anti Money Laundering said...

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Richard Torre said...

Ron Paul's most important quality is that he cares about the truth. If you care about the truth, check this out: http://www.truthcontest.com - read "The Present" - what it says will help people wake up, so that they can see the value in candidates like Ron Paul.