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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Politics, Society | 16 comments

Ron Paul, Conservative Champion of Liberalism

Conservative Liberal

Some of the greatest champions of liberal politics have been conservatives. In 1940, Churchill, a conservative, led Britain alone against the Nazis and did more to protect liberal values than anyone else in the last century.

But the best example is America’s own founding. When it was written, the Constitution was a liberal document, protecting the rights of common men and women against British tyranny. Yet, the founders didn’t believe they were progressives. They believed they were conservatives — conserving what they understood to be their true birthright of liberty in the Anglo tradition. They were conservative liberals.

Historically, conservatives who protect liberal values have risen at times of crisis. Today, history is rhyming with itself. America is in a crisis and the conservative who can keep America safe for liberal values happens to be called Ron Paul.

A Ron Paul presidency would represent a massive shift away from the old Left vs. Right paradigm that has prevailed for a century. What would it mean and how could it happen?

The fundamental difference between Left and Right is not one of political philosophy. Rather, it is this: the Left is a politics of goals (how things should be) while the Right is a politics of outcomes (how things, in fact, operate).

Let me explain. The fundamental assumption of the Left is that policy is good if it directly enforces good goals. The secondary assumption is that well-intended policy (i.e. with good goals) generally produces good results. Since the political Left experiences itself as “good,” it naturally sees its opponents on the right as “bad.”

This feeling on the Left lies at the root of its fundamental distrust toward the Right.

However, this feeling on the Left is largely mistaken. The moderate Right (including Constitutionalists, but excluding neocons and the religious Right who, just like socialists and communists, wish to use government to impose their own moral vision on society) does not seek for government policy to enforce social good, because the moderate Right doesn’t believe that government is an effective mechanism for achieving it. Since this belief about the way the world works (rather than any goal) drives the politics of the Right, those on the Right are more likely to see their opponents on the Left as “wrong” than to see them as “bad.”

Put simply: to those on the Left, the Right is bad. To those on the Right, the Left is wrong.

This fundamental asymmetry between Left and Right is the clue to how they can come together: Conservatives can maintain their belief that traditionally Liberal methods don’t serve liberal outcomes, while still validating the intentions of liberals; and liberals can continue to insist on their good social goals (intentions) while acknowledging that the conservative claim that government is an ineffective means of achieving lasting social good is reasonable — and does not make conservatives any less concerned with fairness, social justice or any other social good.

Since President Wilson, America has enlarged government, instituting huge, well-intended social programs.

Along with extensive militarism, these programs have bankrupted us. Reasons include the following:

1) Government planning is as crude a mechanism in the West as it was in communist states.
2) Politicians are less clever than they think they are.
3) Greater government reach provides greater opportunities for corruption.
4) All policies have unintended consequences.
5) Laws are not passed with any means of termination if they fail to achieve their well-intended goals; nor can their effects be easily reversed.

After a century of government engineering of society, the jury is in: policy-making without Constitutional constraints has brought us to a point of undoing the very good our policies were designed to achieve. For example, Medicare is unaffordable and welfare is sustained by a system of printing money that simultaneously supports big banks and inflation, making average citizens poorer, increasing the need for welfare and reducing the buying power of the welfare checks… and so on, in a vicious cycle. Liberals and Conservatives can agree that these outcomes are unsatisfactory.

Responsible Liberals clearly need a new approach to improving society, but they need not throw out their baby of good intentions with their bathwater of bad policy-making and government intervention.

Consider the following from Milton Friedman:

In my opinion, a society that aims for equality before liberty will end up with neither equality nor liberty. And a society that aims first for liberty will not end up with equality, but will end up to a closer approach to equality than any other kind of system than has even been developed. Now, that conclusion is based both on evidence from history, and also, I believe, on reasoning, which — if you try to follow through the implications of aiming first at equality — will become clear to you. You can only aim at equality by giving some people the right to take things from others. And what ultimately happens when you aim at equality is that A and B shall decide what C shall do for D.

Many Liberals consider Milton Friedman a political opponent, but this free marketeer not only acknowledges that a truly liberal value, equality, is a social good: he suggests that attempts to achieve social good should be evaluated not against ideology, but against the only thing that matters — historical results.

Evidence suggests that Milton Friedman’s above quote was correct. Try substituting the following into his final sentence above, and you’ll see.

A = Treasury, B = Federal Reserve, C = American taxpayer and D = Goldman Sachs.


A = state legislature, B = public union, C = state taxpayer, D = public workers.

Today’s great challenge for the responsible, moderate Left is to realize that its opponent is not the moderate Right. Rather, the moderate Left and Right have a common enemy, which is all those with an interest in an illiberal political establishment that wants to impose its will on society (always for our own good, of course) at the expense of individual liberty and, usually, prosperity. This enemy comes in many forms, including neocons, the religious Right and socialists.

Once moderate Liberals and Conservatives see that they don’t differ fundamentally in moral sensibility but share classical liberal values (small “L”), and that a century of data show that a century of massive government intervention has failed when judged by its own stated (and Liberal [capital “L”]) goals, America will be free to realign politically from the old Left vs. Right to the new classical liberal vs. illiberal.

It’s already begun, and it is showing up in Rasmussen’s polls, the “real” tea party and the massive support of Ron Paul among the young.

This wholesale political realignment is exactly what Ron Paul represents. A vote for him in 2012 will be a vote against the old political order of Left vs. Right and for classical liberal values. And you can’t have the second all the while you’re stuck with the first.

Like me, Liberals won’t agree with Paul on all issues, such as abortion, but that doesn’t matter: the whole point of Paul’s America is that people (and states) are free to make their own choices, and the rest of us are free to disagree with them, and make our own.

And that is the only true liberalism worthy of the name.

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Copyright 2011 The Moderate Voice
  • DLS


    1. You (Robin, from UK?) know that “liberal” often has retained its original value (roughly corresponding to “libertarian” in the USA) on the eastern side of the North Atlantic. (e.g., “neo-liberal” economic policy)

    2. Since Wilson: indeed before FDR, though the New Deal was our third US revolution. The “federal Leviathan” was first-best known during the Civil War. (That’s what underpins the far right’s talk of “Comrade Lincoln,” federal expansion, not constitutional problems.)

    3. Much of the Right seeks reduction of the federal government, not limited to constitutionalists or strict libertarians (who in the USA coincide normally with federalists). It’s separate from political philosophy, mainly, but respect for (constitutional!) federalism is missing nowadays with liberals still designing our society — there is ignorance of or contempt for constitutional federalism.

  • JohnChancery

    The trouble is most people learn about Ron Paul from the talking heads on TV. Learn about the REAL Ron Paul here at Ron Paul Videos and get to know who he really is.

  • hank_rearden

    What a wonderfully conscientious article. It has been a while since I’ve read anything that gave me such a bounty of new perspectives as this has.

    This article’s points are exactly why polls show Ron Paul performing best against Obama than any other GOP candidate. Many independent-minded people voted for Obama for a few, very specific reasons: his promises to end the wars, restore civil liberty and bring much-needed transparency to Washington. Now that it is so obvious that these promises are lies, these independent-minded voters will be looking for another to do the right thing. NO ONE can come close to the integrity Ron Paul has demonstrated over the course of both his personal and political lives, and it will be easy for these people to make the switch, the brush fires are already burning.

    Again, great article and very thoughtful.

  • JSpencer

    Some of the characterizations of liberals and conservatives are less than convincing to me, but it’s an interesting analysis nonetheless. If Ron Paul somehow managed to squeek into the White House, how much would he really be able to influence the process given the overwhelmingly partisan nature of congress and the supreme court? I think one of the greatest problems with our government (and it’s corporate entanglements) has to do with the absence of accountability for those in positions of power who create so much misery for the citizenry – either actively or through negligence. What can Ron Paul do about a corporatacracy that functions with impunity?

  • Dr. J

    Some of the characterizations of liberals and conservatives are less than convincing to me, but it’s an interesting analysis nonetheless.

    I thought the characterization was spot-on. It would be hard to imagine a more concise summary of TMV discussion than the right telling the left they’re wrong, and the left telling the right they’re bad.

  • roro80

    Well thank god y’all got it all figured out.

    The Ron Paul worship around here has become a little much for me, though. I mean, the number of people who talk about how those on the left are too idealistic and don’t live in the real world is staggering…and now this site has decided the big answer to all our problems is Ron Paul? The most ideologically pure, doesn’t-know-reality from-Reardon-Metal, head-in-the-clouds pol I can think of? I mean, wow.

    Edited to Add: OMG I did not even notice first-pass that there is an actual commenter named hank rearden here! That’s too, too funny. HAHAHAHAHA! (note: your avatar is a *fictional character* who by definition *does not exist*. If he did? My guess is that he’s not you. ) Boy oh boy these Randians, man…

  • JSpencer

    Roro, maybe you’d be more impressed with the Randians if you were still a teenager. I certainly was… but alas, I moved beyond that fascination by the time I was out of HS. I loved her writing when I first discovered it and dove into the objectivism/existentialism examination head first, but Rand’s philosophizing should be seen as a step, not an end. It should certainly not be seen as a primer for rational, mature, civilized governing.

  • roro80

    You mean that it’s not a mature posistion to think that if only everyone let you be the superman that is your destiny then the world would be the bestest ever? You mean that thinking the world would fall apart without your personal awesomeness holding it up is less than tenable?

    But yeah. I totally agree, JSpencer. Only slightly off-topic, have you seen the hilarious trailers to the new Atlas Shrugged movie? I guess it’s really awful, and they can’t get anyone to go see it. The invisible hand gave it a thumbs down. 😉

  • JSpencer

    Yup, that sums it up nicely roro! I don’t think modern libertarians have done themselves any favors (to put it mildly) by associating themselves with Ayn Rand. As for the movie, it sounds like the comedic value could make it worthwhile. I see RottenTomatoes gave it 1 star. 😉

  • Objectivism and libertarianism are not the same thing. While they both might support individual rights and free market capitalism, they are predicated upon two different principles.

    Libertarianism is predicated upon the non-aggression principle while objectivism is predicated upon Rand’s philosophy of rational self-interest. In other words, while libertarians believe that aggression is inherently wrong, objectivists only see aggression as being wrong to the extent that it violates Rand’s philosophy of rational self-interest. In fact, there are a number of objectivists who have used Rand’s philosophy of rational self-interest to defend the U.S. foreign policy of military interventionism–a policy that has long been decried by libertarians.

    All of the commmenters here at TMV who love to bash libertarians and so-called “Randians” seem completely oblivious to the fact that libertarians and objectivists (i.e. “Randians”) have been criticizing one another for several decades, going back to Rand herself who had some very nasty things to say about libertarians and libertarianism.

  • roro80

    Nick, this thread was about Ron Paul. His son’s name is “Rand”. So, um, I’m going to go with the hypothesis that nobody forced that name on him.

    I am not, in fact, under the delusion that the two groups are exactly the same, all though quite frankly most of the policies shake out pretty similarly, which means I’m not really all cool with either. The objectivists are objectively funnier, though. I have not, if you check the threads where I talk about the Pauls, in often not-so-nice terms, called either of them “libertarians”, and that was on purpose.

    And scare-quote it all you want, but his *name* is “Rand”. If that’s not a Randian, I don’t know what is…

  • roro80

    Also: “all of the commenters here on TMV” who dislike Ron Paul and/or Rand and/or libertarianism seem to consist of JSpencer and me. It’s astonishing how over-represented libertarians and/or libertarian-type folks are here.

  • Dr. J

    Nick, this thread was about Ron Paul. His son’s name is “Rand”. So, um, I’m going to go with the hypothesis that nobody forced that name on him.

    Apparently his daughter-in-law did.

  • roro80

    That’s pretty funny, Dr J. Thanks for the info. So he’s just “a really big fan of Ayn Rand” then.

  • Dr. J

    So Rand Paul says, though he sounded even a bigger fan of Dostoyevski. Does that make him and his father Dostoyevskians?

    Anyway, I liked Robin’s post, which I thought had some good insights about left and right. Although I don’t think Ron Paul can sell his ideas well enough to make it to the white house, I think he raises excellent points that other candidates shy away from. You can try to dismiss them with these tortured Ayn Rand ad-homs, or with general complaints that there are too many libertarians around, but that rather misses the point.

  • roro80

    Nobody’s creating immature nerd communities trying to enact Dostoyevski’s ideas on the best way to get away with killing old ladies, as far as I can tell.

    Well I’m very happy that you liked Robin’s post. I disagree with his analysis.

    If the only thing you’ve gotten out of the many, many conversations you and I have had, and the conversations you’ve jumped in on that I’ve had with other people, about my real problems with the ideas of Ron Paul is that I think Ayn Rand is dumb and I’m a little bored of all the Paul wanking around here, well, I just can’t help you. I’m not going to repeat yet again all the very many reasons I think Paul is disasterously wrong on many many issues, and libertarians are wrong on their philosophy in a lot of super fundamental ways. I do so pretty much every single time any of the individual issues come up, and I’ve been hanging around TMV for a good 3 years now. If I find the self-love and immaturity of objectivists friggin hilarious, this seems as good a time as any to say so. Heaven knows none of you who disagree with the issues I care about pull your punches with me, or give up the opportunity to rib me when you think my ideas are silly. I think YOUR ideas are silly, and I will do whatever I can to make sure they aren’t implemented.

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