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Election 2008 Libertarianism McCain Obama Political Philosophy Politics The Opinionsphere

The Worst Are Full of Passionate Intensity

[digg-reddit-me]Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. – or Lew Rockwell – has decided that this election calls for non-participation. “[T]here is no lesser of two evils,” he says. “There is socialism or fascism.” We will – by boycotting the vote – instill fear in our leaders that they are “ruling us without our consent.”

I expect little better from Lew Rockwell, a man who saw fit to promote racism in the service of a libertarian ideology. (I do not blame libertarianism for it’s promoters, but I can fault the individuals who used explicit race-baiting as Rockwell did.) What disturbs me about this opinion piece is in part it’s resonance – as demonstrated by it’s support on reddit. But what bothers me more is that it seems rooted in the same tendency to demonize opponents, the same desire to re-make the world in the service of ideology, the same rejection of pragmatism, the same denigration of “the masses,” as other ideologies from Communism to neoconservatism.

For the sake of clarity, Rockwell, rejects any truths too subtle to fit into a propagandist slogan – and so – Obama becomes a socialist, and McCain a fascist.

There are real problems with voting and our financial system and the centralization of power that Rockwell touches on – and for a libertarian citizen, neither candidate offers a clear libertarian policy vision. Each seems to offer government encroachment in different areas of life. But a libertarian philosophy does not necessarily lead to this theology of dueling evils that Rockwell invokes – in which we presume only our own innocence and purity while we attack anyone with power or who might gain power as inherently corrupt. There is a healthy skepticism needed about power and the powerful – but Rockwell goes beyond this.

He is one of those who is certain, full of passionate intensity. Which is why he can see Obama and McCain as two competing evils – and why he must simplify their pragmatic politics into two ideologies of certainty: fascism and socialism. But his appeal here is insidious – it is not just to those who share his certainties but to the uncertain. He calls on us to reject all alternatives in favor of … nothing – justifying this with the flimsy excuse that by shunning the political process we may have a psychological effect on the politicians.

My duty as a citizen, my duty as a political being, is to inform myself and to vote and then to participate in governance. It is an abdication of this duty to throw up my hands, moved by an old man’s bitterness at repeated defeat and disappointment, and to despair.

To be a grown-up in this world, to be a citizen, means to act even when the alternatives are only dimly understood – for we can only dimly understand our world.

We live in a complex environment where every action has unintended consequences – and the right path is rarely clear. By failing to act, we enable those whose secular or religious theology leads them to certainty to monopolize power and drag us from one extreme to another, as we have often seen in the past thirty years in America.

Which is why I will vote on November 4th.

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Domestic issues Election 2008 Libertarianism McCain Politics Videos

The Ron Paul Revolution

[digg-reddit-me]It’s becoming more and more clear between Bob Barr’s Libertarian bid for the presidency and Ron Paul’s continued campaign that George W. Bush has done more than almost any political figure to resurrect the libertarian movement.

The energy motivating this movement is still there, seeking an outlet, even as Ron Paul’s campaign has been stymied. This libertarianism will be disgusted by McCain’s visions of an American empire; and it will not be satisfied with Obama’s pragmatism, though some may hold their nose and vote for who they see as the lesser evil. The assimilation of libertarian ideas into the mainstream Democratic party 1 will not be able to satisfy the revolutionary and vaguely anarchist2 goals of this movement.

While libertarianism is necessarily mainly concerned with process, the Ron Paul Revolution, and most of the rest of the animating forces behind libertarianism today are more ideological. It is this focus on ideology, on radicalism, on a refusal to compromise that leads me to reject libertarianism proper, even as I remain sympathetic to many of its basic ideas.

What I share with more ideological libertarians today is a sense that our nation has gone far astray from it’s founding ideals – that though George W. Bush has in many ways made this problems worse, the problems go far deeper than a single two-term presidency. The problems are systematic. That’s why I feel the appeal, the pull, the emotional release of revolutionary fervor motivating the libertarian movement today:

But I also am wary of such emotionalism. The martial beat is appealing, but dangerous from a historical point of view.

Jonah Goldberg and many other conservative pundits have talked about the “fascist” potential of Obama’s campaign. They see hundreds of thousands – millions – of people motivated and inspired. They are afraid and have been trying to paint Obama as a demagogue – perhaps to justify their own loathing of him. But Obama has refrained from inciting people’s fears or darker passions; he has called on people to hope and to act to create a better tomorrow. Historically, fascism has had an ugly element to its appeal – as it stirs nativism and unthinking jingoism to achieve it’s ends. This is not Obama’s approach.

This was the approach of Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, and many other libertarians during the 1990’s as they sought to try everything to win some power to reverse the crisis they saw as imminent. As these libertarians adopted the tactics of fascists, they became even more marginalized.

Ron Paul’s campaign today succeeded because it avoided such tactics – and because the presidency of George W. Bush has demonstrated to many both how corrupt both parties are and how endangered our liberty has become. But what was evident both then and now is that ideology is the motivation behind the changes they seek. That is why Ron Paul was willing to use race-baiting as a tactic – because achieving a libertarian revolution was worth the price. That is why Ron Paul’s opinions are so simple, appealing, and revolutionary – because they are based on ideology rather than reality. The appeal of these ideas today comes from the fact that the libertarian ideology is such a relief from the neo-conservative and neo-liberal ideologies of the past sixteen years.

But what is needed is neither of these neo-ideologies. What we need is pragmatism and activism at all levels of our society. To accomplish this, we need what Lawrence Lessig has called a “process revolution.”

And that is why I support Obama.

  1. The ideas having gained prominence in a large part due to the ascendance of Mountain West as a potential Democratic stronghold. []
  2. Which is an unfair characterization of many libertarians, but the tendency towards anarchism does color the movement as a whole. []