I have been a libertarian seemingly forever, as part of a family tradition of libertarian thinking (even before it was commonly called ‘libertarian’ thinking). Many contemporary libertarians would refer to it as being ‘in the movement.’ If you’ve been in the movement, even for a while, then you know that there’s a broad range of thought that passes as libertarian, much of it in conflict with other parts. We are reminded of the joke that there cannot be a libertarian meeting, because libertarians could never agree on a common agenda. They often have trouble agreeing on common principles, or heroes, too.
Ron Paul has caught notice of many libertarians, but as I wrote recently, I have no preferred candidate in the upcoming presidential race. Even before the recent controversy over the execrable newsletter that went out in Paul’s name in the ’90s, I had reason to think that Paul was only libertarian in part. In some of his positions, he is as far from a commitment to individual liberty as any other candidate running. Paul is part libertarian, part arch-conservative, and part…odd apologist for crackpot theories. Some libertarian publications and groups rushed to embrace him (e.g., Reason), while others sensibly viewed him with greater caution (e.g., Cato).
They best place to see how unusual are Paul’s views is to read the transcript of his recent Meet the Press interview from late December. In that interview, Paul advocates any number of restrictive ideas, and a few crackpot ones, too. His hostility to immigrants is deep-seated and inconsistent with what so many libertarians believe about the free movement of labor. His position that slavery should have been allowed to fade away, and that Lincoln was wrong to defend the Union, is typically present only among crackpot libertarian extremists and secessionist apologists. He has an objectionable antipathy to democratic Israel that runs through many statements he’s made over the years. I could go on, but readers can review the transcript for themselves if they’d like.
(For solid, compelling support of Lincoln’s use of war powers in defense of human liberty — a view I very much share — see, for example, Timothy Sandefur’s Liberty and Union, Now and Forever.)
Young libertarians, and a few old ones, too, were likely excited in Paul’s candidacy. Many now find themselves retracting their prior support. That’s an honest, reasonable response: Paul’s views are not sufficiently liberty-enhancing. Often, they’re the exact opposite. People understandably want a candidate to support, to be excited about, for whom to work and cheer. Paul’s just not the one.
We can wait.