Politics

Ron Paul's March 1990 Reaction to the "Paleo-Libertarian" Strategy

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Linger on…your paleo blue eyes

As readers of Reason (and The New York Times!) know, Llewelyn Rockwell, Jr., made a "Case for Paleo-Libertarianism" in the January 1990 issue [PDF] of the libertarian journal Liberty, arguing that libertarians must "cleanse" the "libertine muck" off their movement and make alliance with "resurgent paleoconservatives" over issues such as crime, civil rights, family values, and "the Judeo-Christian tradition." What is less well known is that Liberty invited responses to the essay in its March 1990 issue [PDF], and among the respondents was Ron Paul, then in between congressional stints and coming off a 1988 Libertarian Party presidential run.

Since the next couple of years would feature "Ron Paul"-branded newsletters produced by a company Rockwell worked for, some containing grotesque culture-war bombthrowing on the subjects listed above in language that sounds nothing like Ron Paul, I thought it would be of historical interest to republish Paul's real-time public response to the paleo-libertarianism initiative. First, some of the more contentious passages in Rockwell's original essay:

In its 17-year history, the LP may never have gotten 1% in a national election, but it has smeared the most glorious political idea in human history with libertine muck. For the sake of that glorious idea, it's time to get out the scrub brushes.

New punk band name: The Anti-Norms. First LP title: Abhorrence.

Most Americans agree that aggression against the innocent and their property is wrong. Although these millions are potential libertarians, they are put off by the Woodstockian flavor of the movement. Hair may have left Broadway long ago, but the Age of Aquarius survives in the LP. The cultural anti-norms that mark the libertarian image are abhorrent; they have nothing to do with libertarianism per se; and they are deadly baggage. Unless we dump that baggage, we will miss the greatest opportunity in decades. […]

[U]nless we cleanse libertarianism of its cultural image, our movement will fail as miserably as the LP has. We will continue to be seen as a sect that "resists authority" and not just statism, that endorses the behaviors it would legalize, and that rejects the standards of Western civilization. Arguments against the drug war, no matter how intellectually compelling, are undermined when they come from the party of the stoned. […]

It is…understandable and desirable that libertarianism have a cultural tone, but not that it be anti-religious, modernist, morally relativist, and egalitarian. This tone rightly repels the vast majority of Americans and has helped keep libertarianism such a small movement. […]

Libertarians have to catch up with the American people, who are fed up with modernism in arts, literature, and manners that is really an attack on the West. […]

But it's still OK to like the band, right? At least the Ziggy Stardust cover?

Pornographic photography, "free" thinking, chaotic painting, atonal music, deconstructionist literature, Bauhaus architecture, and modernist films have nothing in common with the libertarian political agenda-no matter how much individual libertarians may revel in them. In addition to their aesthetic and moral disabilities, these "art forms" are political liabilities outside Berkeley and Greenwich Village. […]

Congressman Ron Paul, the 1988 LP presidential candidate, was attacked by libertarians for opposing the tax-financed Martin Luther King holiday. King was a socialist who attacked private property and advocated forced integration. How could he be a libertarian hero? Yet he is-for egalitarian reasons. […]

The present State monopoly over the production of domestic security is a failure. The streets of our big cities have become the realm of barbarians (if that is not a libel against the Visigoths). […]

Libertarians can and must talk again with the resurgent paleoconservatives, now in the process of breaking away from the neocons. We can even form an alliance with them. […]

Together, we have a chance to attain victory. But first we must junk the libertarian image as repugnant, self-defeating, and unworthy of liberty.

OK, now repeat after me: YOU DON'T HAVE TO LIKE MY TASTE IN MUSIC. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Paul's response? Well, it was similar to the way he talks about Rockwell today. Under the all-caps headline "NO COMMMENT," he wrote only this:

I hesitate to comment on Rockwell's article because I see the debate as being more divisive than productive. I prefer to use my energy attacking those who support statism, whether they do so intentionally or out of ignorance.

Having said this, I will make one comment: it's obvious to me that the Libertarian Party would be a lot bigger than it is now if its image were perceived as more libertarian and less libertine.

Keep in mind that at the same time these two very different conceptions of rhetorical strategizing were being aired, there were first-person "Ron Paul" newsletters being mailed out with content like this.

You can draw any number of conclusions from this stuff, but the one that strikes me most is how little Rockwell's original complaints have to do with the modern-day content and spirit of Ron Paul's campaign and appeal (which is one reason that many cultural libertines find Paul copacetic). Looks like libertarianism was strong enough to survive the onslaught of Bahaus architecture enthusiasts after all.