Former Libertarian Party presidential nominee (1988), long-term Republican congressman, and 2008 and 2012 GOP libertarian insurgent Ron Paul sees no meaningful differences among Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the remaining Republican candidates.
"It's super-nationalistic populism versus socialism," Paul tells CNN, talking about the Republican and Democratic frontrunners. But he's not done yet, either. When asked if he'd be endorsing any of the other remaining GOP candidates, he says no way and even throws a particular barb in the general direction of fellow Texan Ted Cruz: "Some of the top candidates want to carpet-bomb the world. A libertarian can't endorse this authoritarian approach."
Paul also had harsh words for Bernie Sanders, despite seeming agreement on a non-interventionist foreign policy:
"He's a big voter for militarism, but had one vote he could brag about," Paul said describing Sanders and his vote against the Iraq War. "He's an authoritarian of a different color, but Trump is a super authoritarian."
Over the past decade or so, I'd wager than Ron Paul has generated more libertarians than any other single figure. When I joined the staff of Reason way back in 1993, most people I encountered had been turned on by encountering works by Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and perhaps Robert Heinlein. F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, maybe, and some by Murray Rothbard, but that last trinity was definitely much smaller than the first (and this is only in terms of individuals; publications such as Reason and groups such as Cato, IHS, and FEE arguably played a bigger role than any individual in creating "new" libertarians).
So when Ron Paul talks, many people listen. I'm not a fan of overly sweeping statements but there is something to Paul's leveling approach that made me think of a comment about authoritarianism vs. libertarianism from the recent interview we did with Edward Snowden (full video and transcript here):
In the midst of a fiercely contested presidential race, Snowden remains steadfast in his distrust of partisan politics and declined to endorse any particular candidate or party, or even to label his beliefs. "I do see sort of a clear distinction between people who have a larger faith in liberties and rights than they do in states and institutions," he grants. "And this would be sort of the authoritarian/libertarian axis in the traditional sense. And I do think it's clear that if you believe in the progressive liberal tradition, which is that people should have greater capability to act freely, to make their own choices, to enjoy a better and freer life over the progression of sort of human life, you're going to be pushing away from that authoritarian axis at all times."
There's no question to me that Hillary Clinton is an authoritarian. I don't mean that she's some sort of crypto Mussolini hell-bent on cracking down on political enemies, but among her very top priorities is a belief in order over looseness, which she likely equates with chaos or anarchy (the bad kind). That undergirds her hawkish foreign policy, which is indistinguishable from or even more interventionist than any of the GOP candidate's, and also her fixation on controlling speech and technological innovation (read Matt Welch's "Hail To the Censor!" for an encyclopedic cataloguing of her offenses on the latter).
In this, she is indeed very much in step with both Trump and the other Republican candidates who, despite occasional libertarian rhetoric about individualism, are similarly obsessed with control, prohibition, and regulation of human activity and behavior. All the GOP candidates are foreign-policy hawks, of course, but the way most of them (certainly Trump, Cruz, and Rubio) talk about immigration and even the economy is in terms of commanding and controlling. We can't have a country without borders, right? And we can't have borders without cops, who shouldn't be questioned, right? While Bernie Sanders puts a kindly, old-man face on the regulatory state, the implications of his plans are also authoritarian, too, with the state or some group that has the force of law dictating an acceptable range of choices from which the masses are allowed to choose.
Again, none of this is to equate any of the current candidates with authoritarians of yore, much less contemporary villains such as Putin. I can appreciate the fears of folks "scared" of a Trump presidency because he talks about "opening up" libel laws and doing away with this or that settled reading of the Constitution (hey, where were all those National Review conservatives when Trump, like Rubio and Cruz, dismissed birthright citizenship?), but the United States does a pretty good job of reining in the most brutal and obvious forms of authoritarianism. The government can be more or less bullying, but we tend to moderate many of the worst forms of bullying (and, as the success of the movement to reform criminal justice excesses show, sometimes even correct course).
But Ron Paul is right when he tells CNN that for libertarians the similarities among the remaining officeseekers are pretty striking:
"From the libertarian viewpoint of limiting goverment, there's nothing that [any of the current candidates] offer to reduce the size and scope and intrusion of government. Who offers any cuts in spending? Who offers protections of our liberty? Some of the leading candidates want to carpet bomb the world! A libertarian can't endorse this authoritarian approach."
Indeed, as the talk about forming a new party—or reconstituting the Republican Party in response to Trump's success—picks up, Paul's insights are worth keeping front and center. The axis of American politics isn't right vs. left, or conservative vs. liberal, or even Republican vs. Democrat. It's authoritarian vs. libertarian. And despite all the yapping about the end of the "Libertarian Moment," it turns out that there are more libertarians than ever before and we now outnumber conservatives, liberals, and populists. After 15 years in which conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats each got their shots at running the show, who can blame us?
Here's the Snowden interview, which was conducted at The Free State Project's Liberty Forum a week and a half ago.