Libertarianism, Current Events

Ron Paul continued

In my first post here, I wrote that among my reasons for embracing a liberal kind of libertarianism and wanting to publicly emphasize libertarianism’s liberal-ness is

the great importance, in America in particular, of sharply distinguishing the cause of freedom from the cause of slavery which is happy to claim its name.  The interpretation of American history that says “we were free until 1937″– an interpretation in which the restriction on Filburn’s wheat production is slavery but actual chattel slavery and the tyranny of Jim Crow are asterisks– doesn’t depend on a subtle philosophical claim about the nature of rights, and liberaltarians’ rejection of it doesn’t depend on subtle philosophical claims about social justice.  But I think that divide has been very important to the emergence of a liberaltarian idea as a stance within American politics.

That passage may be less obscure to some readers now than it was then.  I want to help rescue libertarianism from the kinds of Confederacy- and Jim Crow-sympathizing, race-baiting and sometimes just plain racist filth that it its advocates have sometimes soiled themselves by associating with or indulging in.  Murray Rothbard, the activist-author-scholar who was probably the single most influential member of the modern libertarian movement (as distinct from figures such as Friedman, Hayek, and Rand, who were more influential but not part of the organized political movement), supported Strom Thurmond for President in 1948.  He and his longtime associate Lew Rockwell pushed hard in the 1980s and early 90s for a “paleolibertarian” alliance with white cultural conservatives; they were involved with Pat Buchanan‘s campaign in 1992.   Rockwell in particular went in for race-baiting,  suggesting at one point that the problem with the Rodney King beating was that it was videotaped, impairing the ability of the police to get away with it.  And Rockwell, as many know by now, was Ron Paul’s Congressional chief of staff in the 1970s and, later, partners with Ron Paul on his profitable line of newsletters.  As Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel reported four years ago, Rockwell was widely known to be the ghost-writer for the newsletters, though they went out under Ron Paul’s name.

I should note here that Rockwell and Rothbard were at the time in open conflict with other libertarian authors and organizations– Reason, the Cato Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, Virginia Postrel, David and Charles Koch, and so on.  Rockwell’s writings from the era were filled with denunciations of  the Koch-funded groups (the “Kochtopus”) and the liberal side of organized libertarianism.  That is, their Buchananite, racist, culturally conservative “paleolibertarianism” was always in part directed against other libertarians.   (See Rockwell’s article calling for a paleolibertarian purification.)

But it was also in part a money-making enterprise for Rockwell and Ron Paul directed at a particular segment of the public, a way to sell an ersatz anti-statism to white subscribers who wanted monthly updates on the Trilateral Commission, the Israel lobby, the homosexual AIDS lobby, the Federal Reserve, criminal blacks, and the rest of The Crisis At Hand.

There’s no way to deny that the newsletters are “legitimate” topics to question Paul about.  He weaseled about them in the 1990s, then “disavowed” them without actually denouncing their content or breaking with Rockwell, and turned immediately to saying that they were old news, that he’d long since answered all questions about them.  He never really did (and Rockwell continued to not take responsibility for them).  But the real problem isn’t about answering questions about their authorship.  It’s about coming to terms with why the people writing under Paul’s name thought (accurately, it seems) that his fans and subscribers wanted this kind of thing, why Paul was associated with that kind of political movement in the first place.  Naming the author would be a first step, but no more than that.

And yet, of course… here we are.  If you think, as I do, that there’s great moral urgency in ending the drug war, in undoing the militarization of American police and the growth of the carceral state, you have some reason to root for Ron Paul to do well in the primaries.  His hands are dirty with racist filth; but Weber taught us that there is no governing with clean hands.  And all the other candidates who either have presided over or intend to preside over the drug war have or will have blood on their hands.  So I’ve got an unpleasant kind of ambivalence.  I’m glad not to be an Iowa Republican, I guess.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been doing terrific and important writing on the newsletters: here, herehere.  I also recommend Conor Friersdorf (who captures my own mood pretty well), Dave Weigel (and here and here and here), David Boaz, Nick Gillespie, and this and this  older post by Steve Horwitz.


  • Disable Public

    I fail to see why the newsletters are an important issue for the following reasons:

    First, he didn’t write it, it’s totally out of character, etc.  This has been well enough covered in many places, and is the official line…

    Second, and more importantly, it wouldn’t matter even if he did write it himself! It’s true that racism is a
    “vile form of collectivism,” as someone put it. But racism doesn’t necessarily pertain to one’s policy positions. There is a difference between moral theory and political theory. This is particularly true for libertarians, who operate on an impartial principle.

    I disagree with Ron Paul personally about lots of things, including the moral worth of prostitution, abortion, gambling, and drugs, for example. Still, it doesn’t matter because I know he’s going to stand firmly against making these things illegal on the federal level. What happens in the states is not in his control as president.

    The same is true if he, or anyone he associates with, turns out to be racist. Even if he is personally a racist, something I consider morally repugnant, there is no chance in hell that he’s going to implement racist public

    • Anonymous

      They are an important issue because Bleeding Heart libertarians have to do something to explain why they aren’t behind Paul and helping push his libertarian policy prescriptions.

      The newsletters give them intellectual cover to distance themselves from the Paul movement, while clapping with one hand at the policies and wishing Gary the human snore Johnson could win 1.5% of the popular vote for the party of Bob Barr.

      The truth is, Paul being able to debate Obama over these issues might actually advance the cause, and that is never in the interest of the punditocracy or blogosphere, who need a foil to motivate more posting and comment passion.

      • Disable Public

        I think they honestly believe that racism is an important issue.  I just don’t see it. 

        In just the way that it is dumb for Rockwell to think that atheists should be purged, as Levy put it in some comments below, it is dumb to think we shouldn’t support Paul for his personal beliefs.

        I’m waiting for a response to this argument still….

  • Hear, Hear, Jacob.

  • If Ron Paul is a racist he is the most unsuccessful racist of all time. He points out the racism inherent in the War on Drugs and wants to release many thousands of minority prisoners from jail. He also wants to end the attacks on Muslim nations all around the world.

    I agree that the newsletters reflect badly and are at the very least an indication that he didn’t run his company very well. It also raises the legitimate question of why he was associated with those people. I, too, wish he would answer these questions which he only seems to dodge now.  Still I find it hard to believe that a man who advocates the positions that Paul does is actually a racist. 

    • Read the posts by Coates linked to above.  Coates sometimes talks about the “Racist Child Molester Serial Killer” theory, whereby “racist,” like “serial killer” or “child molester,” is a bizarre, monstrous, binary trait that almost everybody is innocent of.  But that’s not what it’s like.  I don’t believe that Paul has racist sentiments in his heart.  And I do believe that his policies would improve the well-being of vast numbers of African-Americans.  And I also believe that he allied himself to and profited from deeply racist strains in American political culture, and that that’s, if not unforgivable, at the very least awfully hard to forgive when he doesn’t acknowledge the wrong of it in the first place.  To be honest I neither know nor care what’s in even Rockwell’s heart when he sees a black person on the street; he actively draws on and encourages racist ideas in American political culture, and *that* is racist.

      • Anonymous

        Jacob, who should forgive him?

        And do you believe that racism is unlibertarian? Are there any other thoughts you believe should be censored from libertarianism?

    • Alan Light

      A few questions:

      If one believes that members of [group x] are generally less intelligent, less honest, and less competent than [group y], but treats every person in both [group x] and [group y] as an individual with their own attributes and own worth without regard to the group they belong to, is that person a racist or do they simply have an opinion that may or may not match reality?  If this person believes that [group x] is inferior to [group y] but does his best to treat them with dignity and respect, and to improve their circumstances, is this person a better human being or a worse human being than one who believes that [group x] is little different from [group y], and seeks to exploit and coerce both groups for personal gain?

      Is it morally reprehensible to appeal to the members of a group with some reprehensible beliefs in order to advance shared interests and values? or is that simply politics?  In other words, is it permissible to ally with Stalin against Hitler?

      Would it better serve the interests of minorities to support a perceived racist whose policies are anti-racist, or to support a perceived anti-racist whose policies are racist?

      I don’t believe that Ron Paul is racist, but more importantly he is the only Republican candidate who will support the rights and dignity of all people regardless of race – and that is the real issue.

  • bill woolsey


    Rockwell denies that he wrote the the newsletters.   I find that credible.   The likely explanation is that some libertarian freelancer wrote the over-the-top propaganda and invective for the money.   This freelancer was promised anonymity.   The freelancer or freelancers wrote things that Rothbard and Rockwell wanted.  

    While Rothbard and Rockwell (and Paul) may have all wanted to earn money to finance high living, I doubt it.  At the end of the cold war, Rothbard thought that the right could be weaned away from foreign interventionism.    With no more communist threat, maybe the right would support a noninterventionist foreign policy. 

    At this same time, the militia movement developed.   I think the best way to understand the newsletters is that they were aimed at what Rothbard and Rockwell thought would appeal to the militia movement.   

    In my opinion, Paul is running for President to promote a libertarian message, not to win.  He hopes that people, and especially young people, will become better educated in the libertarian message.   In his view, the Mises Insitute is the proper respository of sound libertarian ideas.   In my view, the key for Paul is that the libertarian message should never be corrupted with any anti-gold standard, pro-abortion, or pro-war ideas.   Rockwell runs the Mises Institute and upholds Paul’s core values.   

    There is no point in “outing” the freelancer.   And Paul is not going to discredit Rockwell, and so, the Mises Institute, hoping to do slightly better in his political campaign or on some truly fantastic notion that he would win. 

    That Rothbard supported Thurmond in 1948 is troubling.   Of course, when I was a young libertarian, Rothbardians were proposing that most of the real estate in the old South be turned over to the decendants of slaves.  

    I supported Paul in 1988 (before the newsletters.)   I supported him in 2008, voting for him, though  I did back off after getting all of the direct mail.  The immigration stuff was especially bad, but the abortion stuff wasn’t too good either.   This campaign season, he was my second choice.   Now that Johnson is going to the Libertarian Party, I will vote for Paul again in the primary.    Hopefully, Johnson will win the LP nomination, and I will support him in the general.


    • Well, I think the content of the newsletters is awfully similar to stuff that appeared under Rockwell’s name and in the RRR of the era, and the style very much Rockwell’s.  Otherwise I largely agree with your analysis, including *why* RP isn’t going to break with Rockwell or really denounce (not merely “disavow”) what went out under his name.  But so long as he doesn’t do so, I don’t think he can even begin to wash the taint of those newsletters off his hands.

      Agreed about Johnson!

      • Anonymous

        Did you read all of the newsletters, or only the quotes?

        You know Paul put out hundreds of newsletters over the years, right?

        • “All” of them?  No, certainly not.  But many in the late 80s and early 90s– they weren’t secret documents– and the damning scans (not just isolated quotes) that have been put online more recently.

          • Anonymous

            How many of them have you read?  Which ones?

  • Anonymous

    Part of the break with the Koch’s was over theory, no?  Rothbard wanted to keep it Austrian and the Koch’s wanted to displace it with Chicago School utilitarianism. This switch just so happened to serve the Koch’s interest in cozying up to the Washington DC apparatus– since a strict Misesian line would have been to abolish the Fed and really rock the Establishment. The Chicagoites and mathematical economists believe that the Fed is okay if managed properly.

    That Jacob includes the Fed in the hateful rhetoric of the RP newsletters definitely raises questions about Levy’s character.  Especially since Levy names Koch ambit institutions “Reason, Cato…” while including Charles Koch on the same line as if C. Koch is separate from Reason and Cato.  That Levy wants people to believe that criticizing the Fed is hateful– could be considered hateful in itself.
    I have listened to Rothbard lecture as a professor. I found him to be culturally liberal in those instances– even emphasizing the special racist damage that Progressivism and New Deal policies had on minorities. 

    I have become aware of some of the unsavory relationships that Rothbard kept and that are still celebrated by Lew Rockwell.  I have learned the term “racialist”  as opposed to “racist” in the process- heh he. Sam Francis and Peter Brimelow are two such racialists. Neither are libertarians. Both are cultural supremacists– that betrays a collectivism based on race.  Hans Hoppe– the brilliant Misesian theorist that I admire for his academic work– is an IQ racialist. Hoppe believes it is an established or soon to be established genetic fact.  Yet, as far as I know, he is not willing to make IQ a policy matter, meaning that his libertarianism is tolerant as long as property takes precedent over prejudice. E.g.  Homophobes can be homophobes on their own dime, yet have no right to abolish homosexuality outside their own voluntary connections. Hence, I refrain from saying they are racist until I see them act that way. 

    The irony is that even though I am culturally on board with Steve Horwitz– and despise racism and homophobia– Hans Hoppe has the more tolerant theory of civilization down.

    • Criticizing the Fed isn’t per se hateful, though it has certainly been part of various anti-Semitic anti-banking tropes.  

       Neither is criticizing the Trilateral Commission, another item on my list.

      But the “hide your gold under the bed!” mood, the paranoia about currency itself (, and the treatment of the Fed as part of a conspiracy rather than as a mistake of political economy, are part of the Crisis mindset: the world is ending soon, everybody has it in for us, but with the help of my secret knowledge you can survive the coming apocalypse.  

      The criticisms of the Fed in the RP newsletters weren’t sophisticated Hayekian treatments of free banking.  They were part of a cultivated, encouraged mood of fear that isn’t intrinsically bigoted but that works well with bigotry.

      I don’t even know what it would mean to deny that Charles Koch the person is “separate” from the Cato Institute or Reason as institutions, and won’t engage about that kind of silliness.  There was, as I understand things, a Misesian-Hayekian divide mixed in with the original break between Koch/Crane and Rothbard, but that has not been an especially important feature of a decades-long antagonism.  Reason and Virginia Postrel were LA-based and pretty far from being cozying-up-to-the-Fed power-seeking economists– but they came in for plenty of vituperative denunciation for being culturally liberal.

      • Anonymous

        The leading anti-Fed thinkers were both Jews, Mises and Rothbard. 

      • Wait wait, Criticizing the Fed and the Trilateral commission is OK, but hiding your money under your bed is not?

        One of the solutions to the Euro crisis is for the PIIGS to institute Capital Controls and lock down the border as they convert the currency overnight, instantly devaluing and stealing money from savers.
        The ability to sell and own gold has been made illegal in this country in the past.  The IRS continues to crack down, to this day, on individuals who try to coin or sell gold and silver.  People have gone to jail!
        In contrast, all that CFR / Fed / Trilateral / Bohemian grove stuff is kind of silly x-files conspiracy nonsense.  It’s mostly just rich and powerful people using their money and power to enhance an extreme class divide, while leveraging their combined social and monetary status – perfectly normal and well understood phenomenons dressed up with a dash of weirdness because for fun.  The Fed stuff is just an alternative monetary theory and typical insular technocraticness and political and marketing ineptness.

        Paul’s still a crazy old guy, but NOT FOR THE REASON YOU’RE SAYING!

        This is the problem with you Urban-“McArdle”-libertarians.  You are just as crazy as the rest of us, but you’re not even smart enough to bury gold in your backyard.  You’re too focused on what other people think of you.

        Is it really so hard for liberaltarians to just come out and say, “I’m not voting for Ron Paul because, his position on the 14th amendment is inconsistent with original intent, and is unconstitutional.  Libertarians shouldn’t be voting anyways, since it endorses the state.”  you know, the typical libertarian nonsense that we come up with all the time?  These are just slightly rehashed Progressive critiques that make it look like you’re pandering to liberal friends because you don’t want to associate with the Gun Nuts and States Righters.

        • Burying gold is an excellent hedge against confiscation and the apocalypse.  But it’s an awfully expensive hedge. If you don’t believe there’s a political-financial apocalypse on the horizon, it’s bad advice.  so, again, it’s part of the mood of impending crisis that I was describing.

  • I think the main point with Ron Paul is that we now have a libertarian presidential candidate who has an unprecedented level of support in the GOP polls. That, I think, has practical value in the real world of politics. All this theorizing is great, but if we never actually get people in places of power who share certain core parts of the libertarian vision, how do we ever get change enacted? The idea that libertarianism will spread just one heart and mind at a time is sociologically naive. At some point libertarians need to play politics. Truth be told, I don’t know if Ron Paul is actually the right man for that job, but as it happens he is perhaps in the right place at the right time.

  • Does anyone have an opinion about the 1942 Wickard v. Filburn case that Jacob refers to above (“restriction on Filburn’s wheat production”)? 

    My experience with this key case in U.S. tax and Commerce Clause history is that it’s greatly misunderstood. Even law professors don’t seem to understand it, teaching students for almost 70 years that it gives Congress near unlimited powers under the Commerce Clause to tax and regulate any economic activity that even remotely affects interstate commerce.

    My research shows that farmer Filburn voluntarily registered with the Department of Agriculture under the Agriculture Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1938 so he could get a higher price for his crops. And when he was told to plant 11 acres of wheat, he cheated and planted something like 23, claiming that the extra wheat was for his personal use. 

    Of course, not following the program screws up the AAA price control system, and if everyone cheated, taken “in the aggregate” (famous words in the case), it causes systemic problems.  But how on earth does this give Congress near unlimited  power over individuals who don’t voluntarily register for programs like those with which farmer Filburn involved himself?

  • Jacob: You write: “If you think, as I do, that there’s great moral urgency in ending the
    drug war, in undoing the militarization of American police and the
    growth of the carceral state, you have some reason to root for
    Ron Paul to do well in the primaries.  His hands are dirty with racist
    filth; but Weber taught us that there is no governing with clean hands”

    Weber is talking about governing. Paul was publishing this filth (if I understand the timing) when he was practicing medicine – not when he was in the House or the Senate.

    In other words this is simply garden variety raciism. It has nothing to do with implementing a tragic policy – sacrificing one value in defense of another. It has to do with selling out your values for a naked, hateful  prejudice.

    I guess my question for Paul-ists this. If we are willing to countenance the notion that Paul (or his staff writer) was just peddling stuff he doesn’t actually believe (on, say, race, immigration, abortion) then why are to lend credence to other things he says he IS committed to?

    • Disable Public

      Almost everyone who cares about these newsletters acknowledges that they were published for paleolibertarian reasons. 

      Rothbard and Rockwell were trying to recruit more support from hard core social conservatives. 

      Why not think they were sacrificing one value for another in politics?

  • In other words, I “think … that there’s great moral urgency in ending the
    drug war, in undoing the militarization of American police and the
    growth of the carceral state” but see literally zero reason to vote for Paul. And here it is not just his racist trappings. It is the notion that there is a non-state (libertarian) version of legal enforcement and criminal justice. Marketizing the system strikes me as not laughable, but actively dangerous.

  • “That is, their Buchananite, racist, culturally conservative “paleolibertarianism” was always in part directed against other libertarians.”

    I don’t think thats really fair. Rothbard, Hoppe , Rockwell and others simply aimed to create a right wing libertarianism.  the main criticism of the beltway libertarians is that they are accomodating to power. While American Conservative, not a libertarian magazine, has articles with strong anti war messages and criticisms of Israel the federal Reserve and other fairly gutsy targets, Reason kinda keeps quite on alot of that stuff, or they did for the 6 months i had a subscription.  for me, I’m interested in ending wars and ending the income tax, not getting more tax cuts for billionaires or helping schoolkids grow marijuana or whatever they are talking about over there in the think tanks.

    Agree with the other poster about Gary Johnson. Unless he’s really stupid he will work overtime to court Pauls supporters.

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  • Chris, read Rockwell’s article here:
    The problem with all of us non-paleos wasn’t that we were insufficiently absolutist about taxes.  It’s that we were a bunch of anti-family non-Christian porn-loving drug-using jazz-listening environmentalist hippies who disapproved of racism.  There’s not a policy disagreement in the whole piece.  Neither,  pace 3cantuna above, is there anything about Mises vs Friedman.  It’s not an attack on those who live inside 
    the Beltway.  (And even the “inside the Beltway” problem isn’t just as you describe; there’s often more 
    homophobia than policy disagreement in the attacks on Cato.)

    (“helping schoolkids grow marijuana”?  Do you really think *that’s* what an emphasis on ending the drug war is about?)

    By the way, for everyone– in this thread and on Steve’s– who thinks that anti-racism can’t be a principle of libertarianism because it’s not about the initiation of force, think about this: racism against blacks was entangled with the worst violation of freedom in American history, chattel slavery; and then with the tyrannical Jim Crow police state; and now with the drug war-fighting carceral police state.  Racism in America hasn’t been a history of white racists living on their peaceful whites-only communes asking to be left alone.  

    Then read Rockwell’s purge-the-hippies article, which is filled with criteria that aren’t about the initiation of force, and understand ask yourself why he thinks atheists are a problem for libertarianism whereas racists are to be cherished as healthy believers in living in community with their own kind.

  • Anonymous

    I’m so delighted to have found this site. I’m NOT a libertarian precisely because of the blatant racism that pervaded libertarianism when I came of age–the Rothbard/Rockwell school, which looked much more like Jim Crow era social darwinism than anything else. I remember the libertarian enthusiasm for The Bell Curve and yes, a philosophy that called tax paying slavery while saying barely a peep about Jim Crow and actual slavery. Most hard core libertarians don’t understand how repellant this made libertarianism look. All the talk about freedom was about the freedom to systemically dominate. I’ve tried to express some of this in my own blog ( and never been satisfied with the results. 

    It’s great to see the perspective you offer here, and the possibility of a productive dialogue between “postmodern egalitarians” like myself, and “bleeding heart libertarians.

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  • Dmoore970

    I don’t think this is solely about race.  You say you support Paul because you want to end the “militarization of American police and the growth of the carceral state.”  Well, the whole implied tone of the newsletters is a desire increase the militarization of the police and expand the carceral state — it criticizes government not just for taxing and spending on welfare programs, but for neglecting its essential core functions of hurting an punishing people who aren’t like us.  You know, sort of like the War on Terror, the War on Islam, the War on Immigration, and all the other things Republicans other than Paul endorse.

    So, either Paul favored a vast expansion of the militarization of police and the carceral state not that long ago, or he was telling a bunch of politically expedient lies.  Neither explanation makes me trust him much.

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  • I like Ron Paul. Why disavow Lew Rockwell; he’s an extremely bright guy and eloquent writer that I almost always agree with.  Having read libertarian materials for about 8 years now, I find most of what I read above to totally misrepresent it. Libertarians do not like force, and only would use it to repel force. It doesn’t matter if the force comes from a robber, a rapist, or the government – unprovoked force is an infringement on our liberties. It’s not complicated. The Jim Crow laws were bad, because they forced discrimination.  Libertarians objected. The main conclusion of The Bell Curve is that intelligence is largely (40-80%) heritable.  This should not be shocking. They never said it was 100% heritable.

  • “Rockwell in particular went in for race-baiting,  suggesting at one point that the problem with the Rodney King beating was that it was videotaped, impairing the ability of the police to get away with it.”

    That letter is terribly repellent for the amount of power Rockwell wanted to hand over to the cops (I did not find the supposed race-baiting though, can you quote it for me?), but no more repellent than the idea of having the state license parenting, a position which I gather is respectable here.

    • I think that if you read the comment thread on the parenting post, you’ll find that Andrew’s co-bloggers were pretty sharply critical of it.

      • You’re saying the bloggers here don’t consider it a respectable proposal?

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