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.