Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why I Am Not One of Those Democrats Who Are Fond of Ron Paul, Not Even Up To A Point

Ron Paul is often discussed by Democrats as though there was something paradoxical about his hostility to regulation and general welfare on the one hand, which they dislike enormously about him of course, and his hostility to militarism and the war on drugs on the other, with which they imagine they sympathize.

This whiff of paradox vanishes immediately once we recall that Democrats do not merely abhor militarism but advocate the implementation of a planetary rights culture and vastly amplified provision of foreign aid as a progressive alternative to self-defeating militarism, and that Democrats do no not merely abhor the racist and hysterically moralizing War on (some but not all) Drugs but advocate the implementation of more sensible safety regulations and the taxation of drugs the better to fund rehabilitation and education programs to ameliorate the social problems of drug abuse.

While Democrats disapprove (as Ron Paul and other libertarians sometimes also seem to do) of war-making as the image and model for their address, Democrats know that there actually are planetary problems of systemic injustice, social instability, organized violence, environmental threat, needless harm and suffering for which we are impelled by our shared inhabitation of this planet and this historical moment to work our way toward shared solutions.

Let us be very clear: Democracy is the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them, but this is best understood not only as an affirmation of individual dignity as it is part of a larger commitment to the elimination of violence from public life (that people must also have a say in the decision as to what will count as violence in public life yokes these commitments ever tighter together, even while rendering the experimental implementation of these commitments interminably dynamic).

Democrats defend the widening of the franchise and accountability of election to public office to provide an alternative to the violent transfer of authority over public institutions, they defend the law to provide alternatives to the violent adjudication of disputes otherwise, they defend welfare programs to secure a scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms on which we deal with one another in our commercial and private relations, and defend the public administration and investment in common and public goods to overcome tendencies toward structural violations that inevitably attend other administrative arrangements of such goods: nonviolence and equity-in-diversity suffuse the democratic vision across all of its layers.

Ron Paul, like all market libertarians, declares market exchanges and contractual arrangements "non-violent" by fiat, whatever the misinformation and duress that actually prevail over their terms; he believes that the contingent historical artifact of regulations, treaties, pricing conventions, provincial customs, norms, infrastructural affordances that passes for "the market" here and now is somehow an eternal and natural and spontaneous order; and he believes that the contingent historical artifact parochially construed by him as a reasonable responsible resourceful possessive individual subject is likewise given and natural. Like all market libertarians (and I do suspect all libertarians, always, even those who imagine themselves to be of the left) his is a vision of freedom and dignity that requires the treatment of key assumptions and institutions of the status quo as natural and inevitable rather than as artificial and historical, and hence his is a profoundly reactionary viewpoint at its base.

It is from this reactionary base that arise all the reactionary details, from the racism of his defense of segregation to his rejection of public health, safety, education, which those who view him as a paradoxical figure seem to want to regard as accidental or incidental to his "civil libertarianism." Not to put too fine a point on it, one cannot properly be civil anything if one repudiates civics as such.

For Ron Paul individualism means isolation, liberty means neglect, free to choose means free to lose (even when the loss is an avoidable one and a loss to us all). There is nothing paradoxical about his worldview -- except perhaps the usual Republican paradox of those who declare their detestation of government scrambling to find a comfortable home in government all their lives long. But I daresay that is better described as hypocrisy than as paradox. Like all libertarians, Ron Paul's point of view is an essentially pre-political one. Democrats who discern paradox in Ron Paul's positions would do better to grasp the consistency that unites Ron Paul's anti-democracy as well as unites the democratic commitment to nonviolence and consent, to equity-in-diversity.


jollyspaniard said...

I'm not certain the Democrats abhor militarism, America's military budgets have more than a whiff of bipartisanship about them. Still Obama is winding things down in a manner that is prudent. America can't unplug it's military hegemony, it's got to be replaced with something else.

Still I have to say it's good to see an anti war wing in the Republican party. This could be part of their evolution into something less odious (although it probably isn't). However that's not to say that I'd want it's current cheerleader in chief anywhere near the levers of power.

Dale Carrico said...

The first point is fair enough, certainly Obama is hardly a pacifist and the Dems have more than their share of hawks... nevertheless, you know as well as I do that when nonviolent activists find their way into organized politics they are most likely to become Democrats, when a politician proposes the creation of a Peace Department they are most likely to be a Democrat, when you hear prioritizations of diplomacy and foreign aid over armed intervention you are likely to be listening to Democrats, that critiques of militarism and budgets skewed to Defense you are hearing Democrats. This makes a difference.

Your second point I'm a bit more ambivalent about. I don't know that I agree that all "anti-war" positions are made equally. I think Ron Paul's anti-war stance is ultimately superficial when viewed as premised on a repudiation of foreign policy as an instrument to solve shared planetary problems altogether (and hence only incidentally disapproves war-making like all other foreign policy interventions, including sensible problem-solving and democratizing ones) and on an anti-civilizational war of all against all handwaved fancifully into a "spontaneous order" of virtuous and optimally efficient markets that always only accidentally amounts to plutocracy, dear.

That is to say, I think it is wishful thinking to hope for something "less odious" to emerge (discourse does not "evolve," but that is another discussion) from such assumptions and aspirations -- it just won't. Only by actually understanding the indispensable connections between nonviolence - consent - welfare - democracy - diversity can advocates nudge public discourse hegemonically to a place that will make the political parties, Democratic, Republican, whatever, less odious more generally.

jimf said...

> The first point is fair enough, certainly Obama is hardly
> a pacifist and the Dems have more than their share of hawks...
> nevertheless, you know as well as I do that when nonviolent
> activists find their way into organized politics they are
> most likely to become Democrats. . .

Which is of course a handicap the Democrats always struggle under,
even when they're in power. They're always liable, when reining
in war-fever or defense spending, or attempting foreign policy
through diplomacy, to be accused of being,
at best, defeatist wusses and at worst traitors. Or Communists,
or anti-American, or crypto-sympathizers with America's
enemies. For "wuss" you can substitute weak, unmanly (to
the point of effeminacy or homosexuality), cowardly,
etc. For "anti-American" you can substitute ungodly,
immoral (to the point of evil), imprudent (if not loving
of the destruction of tradition and authority just out
of spite or out of the ressentiment of the sissy for
the he-man), etc.

These stereotypes **always** play into the hands of right-wingers,
and tie the hands of left-wingers even when they're in power.

So it goes.

Dale Carrico said...

We won the Culture Wars. My point is not to indulge in wishful denialism but to point to a real (if obviously incomplete) accomplishment and insist that we grasp its implications. It's ever more and more okay to be gay, homophobia and misogyny are ever more and more likely to signal a threatened and defensive phony-masculinity than to signal and bolster "true masculine" agency. Sexist stereotypes **always** play into the hands of right-wingers... right up until they don't. The patriarchal underpinning of militarism is undeniable -- which is part of the reason ending DADT and having strong women and "effeminate" men treated as normal parts of the cultural landscape on tee vee are far from the superficial changes they may seem. America is wholesomely browning and secularizing and queering... the right-wing playbook will have to be re-written altogether sooner than you think and sooner than the assholes can stand. Serves them right!

BerserkRL said...

You claim that "all market libertarians," including "those who imagine themselves to be of the left," ignore "the contingent historical artifact of regulations, treaties, pricing conventions, provincial customs, norms, infrastructural affordances that passes for 'the market' here and now," etc.

Now since you mention libertarian of the left, you're obviously aware that some of us do stress at great length those "contingent historical artifact of regulations, treaties, pricing conventions, provincial customs, norms, infrastructural affordances that passes for 'the market' here and now," etc.

So it looks as though you're simultaneously acknowledging and denying our existence. Why's that?

Dale Carrico said...

Simply enough, because it doesn't look that way to me, that's why.

I would say that anarcho-capitalists "naturalize" historically contingent arrangements as a "spontaneous market order" in an effort to legitimize them, while anarcho-socialists expose historically contingent arrangements in an effort to illegitimize them the better to "naturalize" whatever "spontaneous order" they themselves prefer.

It is my conclusion that these superficially different positions are actually complementary if not identical errors that you are probably mistaking as a paradox or contradiction on my part (which is not to deny that you might still productively disagree with my conclusion).

I would be the last to deny there is all the difference in the world between profit-taking and love-making -- but to the extent that parochial characterizations of these are universalized to provide the basis for false faith in spontaneous orders and programmatic anarchisms I disapprove of them all the same and for much the same reasons.

(As an aside, as an entirely negative critical rather than positive programmatic vantage I am more sympathetic to anarchisms, especially of the green, socialist, radical democratic, and queer/punk varieties.)