Who's Scary? Or What?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In the Los Angeles Times is an interesting article by Jonah Goldberg which considers a question I barely began to scratch the surface of this morning.

Who is scarier: The Reverend Mike Huckabee, or Ron Paul?

My answer was that Ron Paul is scarier in some respects:

The Reverend Mike Huckabee is dangerous for wanting to mix religion and politics, but at least he is honest about wanting to do so. Paul pretends to be a secular candidate and does the same thing. In that sense, he is more dangerous to our secular republic than the Reverend, because he will fool some who would otherwise oppose the agenda of the religious right.

And I haven't even touched on the fact that as a libertarian, Paul is a poor proponent of individual rights generally and, in particular the philosophical arguments for them espoused by Ayn Rand, who is often mistaken for (or smeared as) a libertarian.
The only qualification to this that I would add is that Huckabee is, of the two, more likely to get elected, and so more likely to find himself in a position to do some damage with the help of the government. In that sense, he is the scarier.

But this shorter-range question is mooted by the fact that the Republican Party is a coalition between economic conservatives who favor limited government and religious conservatives who favor a theocracy. In practice, this has led down the slippery slope of compromise to the current situation -- in which the religionists are entrenching themselves and co-opting the apparatus of the state for their own purposes, aided in the enterprise by the votes and moral sanction of the fiscal conservatives. In other words, Paul and the Reverend Huckabee, as members of this alliance, are both aiding the descent of our nation into theocracy.

Goldberg sees my qualification and understands on one level why this is the case:
Huckabee represents compassionate conservatism on steroids. A devout social conservative on issues such as abortion, school prayer, homosexuality and evolution, Huckabee is a populist on economics, a fad-follower on the environment and an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do "good works" extends to using government -- and your tax dollars -- to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

For example, Huckabee has indicated he would support a nationwide federal ban on public smoking. Why? Because he's on a health kick, thinks smoking is bad and believes the government should do the right thing.


As for Huckabee -- as with most politicians, alas -- his personal preferences matter enormously because ultimately they're the only thing that can be relied on to constrain him.


Huckabee is much closer to the mainstream [than Paul]. And that's what scares me about Huckabee and the mainstream alike. [bold added]
Unfortunately, while Goldberg is correct that Huckabee's views are close to the mainstream, he gets things completely, disastrously wrong when he considers the stated political philosophy of Ron Paul:
And therein lies the chief difference between Paul and Huckabee. One is a culturally conservative libertarian. The other is a right-wing progressive.

Whatever the faults of the man and his friends may or may not be, Paul's dogma generally renders them irrelevant. He is a true ideologue in that his personal preferences are secondary to his philosophical principles. When asked what his position is, he generally responds that his position can be deduced from the text of the Constitution. Of course, that's not as dispositive as he thinks it is. But you get the point. [bold added]
First, the notion that a libertarian can even be principled (i.e., an "ideologue") is a contradiction in terms. The whole premise of the libertarian movement is that there is no need to defend individual rights on any particular grounds of political philosophy, or indeed even to define the term! Paul's appeal to a document (that can be amended) in lieu of stating his position is in part a manifestation of this approach of evading intellectual arguments.

Second, Paul's views on such matters as abortion and national defense not only cannot be deduced from the Constitution, they are inconsistent with an advocacy of individual rights. Furthermore, they are not mere "personal preferences", but represent implicit philosophical ideas that he does wish to implement politically. (And religion, the source of his stand on abortion, is, numerous conservatives' wishes to the contrary, an ideology.)

Third, not only is Paul not really an "ideologue", his position on abortion and his willingness to ally himself with what amounts to a religious party reflect a willingness to enact Christianity into law, limited only by his (admittedly more secular) personal preferences.

This means in sum that Paul, as an allegedly secular candidate who is, as such, dismissed as a threat to personal freedom in America, functions as a Trojan horse for the religious right even as he pretends that personal freedom is as obviously good and uncontroversial as breathing on a regular basis. (Personal freedom is good, but this is neither obvious nor uncontroversial.)

Thus while in Huckabee, we have a threatening, but at least identifiable enemy, in Paul, we have a turncoat who blends in with secularists and advocates of limited government!

So neither of these men deserves my support, and both are scary. But when someone as perceptive as Jonah Goldberg can be fooled by a Ron Paul, that is scary.

The fight for freedom is, as I have pointed out, a war on two fronts: the political and the intellectual. Of the two, the intellectual is the more fundamental, and cannot be lost. The longer enemies to freedom like Ron Paul can masquerade as friends, the longer it will take for people to become aware of the actual requirements for a society that respects individual rights.

-- CAV


madmax said...

If Ron Paul were not a Christian I would vote for him even if he is a loony libertarian. If we accept Peikoff's argument that the budding M2 Christians need to be defeated and that it is therefore necessary to punish the Republicans by voting Democrat then I think a secular Ron Paul would have been an interesting option. Paul's foreign policy is essentially the same as a Democrats so there is no difference there and if he were secular that would provide a bulwark against the Christians.

But the advantage we would get with a secular Paul would be that he might also stop the growth of government to some extent. I really don't place too much emphasis on foreign policy any more because no candidate is going to do the right thing, probably not for decades when it really becomes a fight for survival. Further, if we use Peikoff's voting scheme and put a Democrat in the White House with the idea that the Republicans will push him to do something to fight Islamic terrorism, then the same argument would apply to Paul.

So right now a small government secular candidate would be a good thing and Paul is the smallest government candidate out there. If only he were a secular loony libertarian instead of a Christian loony one. But since he isn't the deal is off.

Gus Van Horn said...


You make an interesting point, although I am not sure whether I agree with it.

Paul minus his religious baggage does resemble the Democrats in many ways, but is a bad option because (unlike the Democrats) he holds himself out as being a capitalist. In other words, he misrepresents the alternative to the false left-right dichotomy too many people already don't know about. Part of the argument for voting Democratic, after all, is that capitalism doesn't get blamed for the results.

Any decision to vote for such a Paul (as opposed to actually supporting him) would have to account for this major difficulty.


Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "ideology" and by "ideologue"?

Gus Van Horn said...

ideology: 1. the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.

From the same source, an "ideologue" is "a person who zealously advocates an ideology".

The only sense in which Ron Paul can be considered an ideologue is in the sense that libertarianism is philosophically opposed to integrating its followers' vague preference for things that remind them of "freedom" with any philosophial principles.

But that is not the sense that Paul is usually taken as an ideologue. He is instead mistaken for someone who actually favors freedom. He is not, Goldberg to the contrary, such an ideologue.