Monday, April 1, 2013

Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty

  Not long after my book came out, I was contacted by Walter Block. It seems that there are a handful of us that have written Ron Paul books in the last couple of years, and Walter thought it would be mutually beneficial that we  read and review each other’s books.  I have been reading Walter’s stuff for years, in fact his work on Defending the Undefendable was a crucial piece in my economic re-education. It’s pretty fair to say that, although we disagree passionately on  ‘evictionism’, I remain an admirer of  Walter’s work and I thought this was a great idea.  Since it was Walter’s idea, I’ll review his book first, with others to follow.
   Before I get into that, though, is it remarkable to anyone besides me that any of us have written books about Dr. Paul? I mean, by the methods by which some one usually measures such things, he was a flop.  He did not win the White House. There are no grand legislative achievements in his honor, no bridges or parks named after him (a fact he is quite proud of), as a matter of fact, he isn’t even in office.   While Romney couldn’t consistently draw a crowd until after he had stolen the nomination, Dr. Paul continues to grow in crowd size and popularity as a private citizen with no goodies to dole out to the faithful.    This phenomenon is based, at least in part on the fact that Dr. Paul used his office not to aggrandize or enrich himself, but as a platform to introduce and discuss ideas that will resonate long after he is gone.  By doing so, his influence outlives his campaign, and endears him to the heart of many. Seriously, how many Romney books do you expect to see on your bookstore shelves?
  Walter Block’s book is called Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty, and if you are looking for a biography of the Texas congressman, this is not it. Instead, the book, much like Dr. Paul’s campaign is a collection of ideas.  The book is broken down in to several parts by topic ( for example “Economics, “Foreign Policy”, et al) with  very adept explanations and examples given as to how someone arrives at  the positions endorsed by   Dr. Paul.  Ron Paul has been, in Block’s estimation, the greatest and most successful promoter of libertarian ideas in history, (he calls him a “one man publicity band for liberty”) and since ideas have power, it behooves us to understand the foundations of those ideas.   The statists have done a fine job of reducing   debate to Tom Woods’  “3x5 card of acceptable opinion” that  a  huge part of the job of the liberty movement is re-education  of  principles. Libertarians are not a bunch of hive-minders, and there are disagreements within the liberty crowd (Block says “Libertarians are a fractious bunch. What else do you expect from a group of very bright, committed and opinionated people?”), but we rally around principles, and those principles are explored in depth in this book.  Walter accomplishes this through a series of articles and essays, some of which are reprints, addressing   various topics from the default position of maximized individual liberty.  If you’ve read any significant portion of Walter Block’s writings, you will see very familiar material.
 This is not a dry, scholarly dissertation on theoretical policy though. Walter, when he isn’t delving into the minutiae of economic theory like the professor that he is (I’m assuming the discipline requires that sort of approach), is a very engaging and witty writer. One of my favorite quotes is “Lack of knowledge has never stopped me before in any of my writings…why should it do so now?”  When Walter  writes for  the sake of writing, there are some definite  bright spots in the book, one of my favorites being a series of  exchanges between  Block and an economist at the Federal Reserve in which  Walter addresses   them as a ‘criminal organization’. Another  delightful section is the  ‘Open Letters to Ron Paul’ in which Block alternately says that even though Paul’s  methodical, gentlemanly conduct is  one of the keys to  his success, some of  us wish he would  at least, from time to time, and openly, get as mad as the rest of us. Walter also suggests that Paul challenge the other GOP candidates to a triathlon or similar test of physical endurance, even as he admits that nobody wants to see Newt Gingrich in a swimsuit.
  Another   humorous section is Walter picks for President Paul’s   VP slot. He goes through a variety of names, dismissing some outright then throws the name Lew Rockwell in the ring. He quickly dismisses him since “if he went off to Washington in this capacity, who would run LewRockwell.com? The present authors look with dismay at the prospect of this blog being run by anybody else.”
  If there is any room for criticism in this work,  it is the section where Walter addresses some of Paul’s self-proclaimed libertarian critics.  My criticism is this: I had never heard of these people until Walter mentioned them. Maybe I live in a cave.  I’m not sure if I would have spent as much time dissecting and destroying their opinions as he does, but he makes it clear in his work that since Ron is the best voice for our ideals as we’re likely to see any time soon, stop cutting his legs out from underneath him with your poor understanding of his positions, especially when these misunderstandings highlight your own philosophical inconsistencies.
  All in all it is a very enjoyable work, and there are enough meaty parts to keep policy wonks like myself happy and even shallow pools where somebody still wondering what this libertarian stuff is all about can stick their toes in and learn a thing or two.  There is a whole generation coming up that learned about liberty from a Ron Paul clip on Youtube and we owe it to them to explain the bigger picture, of what freedom used to look like, and can look like again. This book is an important contribution in that area.
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