This is an excellent speech given by Lew Rockwell at a Young American for Liberty convention. It is well worth the 15 minutes it takes to listen, and I encourage you to do so.
This talk was delivered to the Alabama state convention of Young Americans for Liberty in Auburn, Alabama, on April 6, 2013.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing Ron Paul for 37 years. I worked as his chief of staff during his early years in Congress, and he played an important role when I opened the Mises Institute, where he has served as our distinguished counselor ever since.
He’s the same person in private life that he is in public: thoughtful, decent, humble, self-effacing, and generous in acknowledging his intellectual debts.
These are not qualities people associate with political figures. That’s part of the reason Ron became such a phenomenon.
More than anything else, Ron has been a teacher throughout his years in public life. In his articles and speeches, and even in the bills he introduced, he sought to convey the philosophy of liberty and what that philosophy implies for our daily lives. His books, which include numerous bestsellers, have done the same thing. Compare Ron’s books to Mitt Romney’s, and you’ll see what I mean.
But as the person who reached more people with the message of liberty than anyone in our time, Ron has also taught us how that message can and must be spread. I want to talk about five of these lessons tonight.
#1 The subject of war cannot, and should not, be avoided.
First and foremost, Ron is a critic of the warfare state.
The war in Iraq, which was still a live issue when Ron first ran for the Republican nomination, had been sold to the public on the basis of lies that were transparent and insulting even by the US government’s standards. The devastation – in terms of deaths, maimings, displacement, and sheer destruction – appalled every decent human being.
Yes, the Department of Education is an outrage, but it is nothing next to the horrifying images of what happened to the men, women, and children of Iraq. If he wasn’t going to denounce such a clear moral evil, Ron thought, what was the point of being in public life at all?
Still, this is the issue strategists would have had him avoid. Just talk about the budget, talk about the greatness of America, talk about whatever everyone else was talking about, and you’ll be fine. And, they neglected to add, forgotten.
But had Ron shied away from this issue, there would have been no Ron Paul Revolution. It was his courageous refusal to back down from certain unspeakable truths about the American role in the world that caused Americans, and especially students, to sit up and take notice.
While still in his thirties, Murray Rothbard wrote privately that he was beginning to view war as “the key to the whole libertarian business.” Here is another way Ron Paul has been faithful to the Rothbardian tradition. Time after time, in interviews and public appearances, Ron has brought the questions posed to him back to the central issues of war and foreign policy.
Worried about the budget? You can’t run an empire on the cheap. Concerned about TSA groping, or government eavesdropping, or cameras trained on you? These are the inevitable policies of a hegemon. In case after case, Ron pointed to the connection between an imperial policy abroad and abuses and outrages at home.
Inspired by Ron, libertarians began to challenge conservatives by reminding them that war, after all, is the ultimate government program. War has it all: propaganda, censorship, spying, crony contracts, money printing, skyrocketing spending, debt creation, central planning, hubris – everything we associate with the worst interventions into the economy.
Robert Higgs, in his classic book Crisis and Leviathan, showed how war left longstanding scars on American society, as power and wealth grabbed by the federal government during wartime were never relinquished in their entirety when hostilities ended. When Franklin Roosevelt launched his New Deal in the 1930s, he appealed to ideological and statutory precedents established during the American involvement in World War I.
But Ron Paul permanently changed the nature of the discussion on war and foreign policy. The word “nonintervention” rarely appeared in foreign-policy discussions before 2007. Opposition to war was associated with anti-capitalist causes. That is no longer the case.
Ron kept insisting that there was no real foreign policy debate in America because all we were allowed to do was argue over what kind of intervention the US government should pursue. Whether intervention itself was desirable, or whether the bipartisan assumptions behind US foreign policy were sound – this was not even mentioned, much less debated.
In exposing the fraudulent American foreign policy debate, Ron exposed an overlooked truth about American political life. The debates Americans are allowed to have are ones in which the real decisions have already been made: income tax or consumption tax, fiscal stimulus or monetary stimulus, sanctions or war, later war or war right away. With debates like these, it hardly matters who wins. Ron pulled back the curtain on all of it.