Ron Paul: Thunder on the Right
Reading Alan Crawford's Thunder on the Right: The New Right and the Politics of Resentment, some years ago, we remember being fascinated by the book, but puzzled by its organization. For Crawford coupled his analysis of the John Birch Society, the epitome of all that is authoritarian in the American Right, with a discussion of the libertarian movement. "The Birchites and libertarians," wrote Crawford, "though often at war, represent the tradition of 'entrepreneurial radicalism' (as Richard Hofstader had described the rugged individualist tradition), but the Birchites represent as well a backlash against the 'hot-tub' morality of Hollywood and its 'laid-back' lifestyles."
Highlighting the fact that California's Orange County is a hotbed of both Birchism and libertarianism, Crawford makes his point in the title of the chapter, "The New Old West." "While the libertarians detest and fear the New Right, and find the John Birch Society somewhat comical (a disdain which is returned), there are striking similarities between the two groups. Both the Birchers and the libertarians, so characteristic of the attitudes of the New Old West, are deeply suspicious of... politics in general. ... Both groups are individualist to the bitter end, yearning to get the federal agencies off their backs, the United States out of the U.N., and Uncle Sam's hand out of their pockets and away from their gun holsters."
With this we could not agree. It was, after all, the spring of 1980, and the Libertarian Party seemed to be living up to the vision of a movement that was truly "beyond left and right," as the party theoreticians claimed. Under the tutelage of the Cato Institute, the LP had just run Ed Clark for governor of California, an effort that featured radio ads simultaneously praising Howard Jarvis's taxcutting Proposition 13 and condemning State Senator John Briggs' Prop. 6, which would have banned all gay teachers from the public schools. Back in those heady days, when Clark's gubernatorial campaign garnered a respectable 5% of the vote and the LP was in its heyday, such an ideological confluence as Crawford suggested seemed utterly fantastic.
Re-reading this chapter of Thunder on the Right seven years later, Crawford's thesis seems uncannily accurate. Today the leading candidate for the LP presidential nomination is Ron Paul, an ex-Republican congressman from Texas, whose farewell speech to the House, delivered on September 19, 1984, is the perfect expression of the Birchite influence on our movement, replete with Welchian references to a conspiracy of "internationalists" intent on destroying America's sovereignty.
The Trilateralists are Coming
"Our problems," says Paul, "have become international in scope due to the nature of the political system and our policies. This need not be, but it is. The financial problems of the Nation, although clearly linked to our deficits and domestic monetary policy, cannot be separated from the international schemes of banking as promoted by the IMF, the World Bank and the Development Banks. It is much clearer to me now, having been in Washington for 7 years, how our banking and monetary policies are closely linked to our foreign policy and controlled by men not motivated to protect the sovereignty of America nor the liberties of our citizens."
This talk: of the "elite"—a word which, Paul uses interchangeably with "the international bankers" and "the internationalists"—runs like a leitmotif throughout the speech. Attacking conservative advocates of massive military spending, Paul scolds them for being naive. "This only serves the inflationists, the internationalists, the banking elite..."
Who are these mysterious, sinister internationalists? Paul is vague on this point. Although he never uses the word "insiders," there is more than a hint of conspiracy in the air. Describing Congress as the captive of special interests, he says: "The errand boy mentality is ordinary-the defender of liberty is seen as bizarre. The elite few who control our money, or foreign policy, and the international banking institutions, in a system designed to keep the welfare rich in diamonds and Mercedes, make the debates on the House and Senate floors nearly meaningless."
If this particular defender of liberty was seen by his colleagues in the House as bizarre, then perhaps it was due to the striking similarity between Paul's rhetoric and that of that other lone nut in the House of Representatives, the late Larry McDonald. A leader of the John Birch Society, McDonald was an anomaly within his own party, a nominal Democrat who denounced both major parties as "dominated by the same forces, internationalist forces that are downplaying national sovereignty" and the Constitution in favor of "international concepts." Like Paul, he sees "internationalism" as the main danger to American liberty; unlike Paul, he was not vague as to the exact identity of the internationalist cabal. "The key leadership in the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderbergers ... the American liberal internationalist establishment [are promoting] international sellout." (Thunder on the Right, p. 135.)
This talk: of the "elite"-a word which, Paul uses interchangeably with "the international bankers" and "the internationalists"—runs like a leitmotif throughout the speech. Attacking conservative advocates of massive military spending, Paul scolds them for being naive. "This only serves the inflationists, the internationalists, the banking elite ... " Who are these mysterious, sinister internationalists? Paul is vague on this point. Although he never uses the word "insiders," there is more than a hint of conspiracy in the air. Describing Congress as the captive of special interests, he says: "The errand boy mentality is ordinary-the defender of liberty is seen as bizarre. The elite few who control our money, or foreign policy, and the international banking institutions, in a system designed to keep the welfare rich in diamonds and Mercedes, make the debates on the House and Senate floors nearly meaningless." Paul's fixation on the evil international bankers—an obsession shared by Lyndon LaRouche and other less savory characters—is echoed in Alan Stang's JBS pamphlet It's Time Expose the Conspiracy. Like Paul, Stang sees the IMF at the center of an internationalist conspiracy. Discussing the IMF’s 1979 rescue operation, which shored up a sinking dollar, Stang quotes right-wing economist Jeremiah Novak's study of "Trilateralism": "The problem with this program is that the IMF would then have the same power over the U.S. as it does over most other nations. The difference is that the U.S. no longer controls the IMF, for Europe and Japan have as much power as does the U.S., and their power is increasing. The IMF will be able, therefore, to dictate to the U.S .... " Then comes the punch line:
"The man who supervised creation of the International Monetary Fund at the close of World War II," says Stang, "was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Harry Dexter White, who was later exposed as a Soviet spy."
The specter of a grand conspiracy, a world in which both sides are puppets in the hands of master puppeteers, is the dominant theme of the American ultra-right. It colors—and, I would contend, distorts—their analysis of every issue, from economics to foreign policy. Attacking the conservative hawk who supposedly "appeases and subsidizes the Communists, and never starts the war," and the liberal dove, "the one more likely to involve us in a war to protect democracy," Paul says: "Is this a mere coincidence or is it contrived by those dedicated to internationalism?"
The right-wing myth that U.S. foreign policy failures are due to treason in high places, that America wasn't allowed to win the war in Vietnam because we were stabbed in the back by weak-kneed liberals, is echoed in Paul's farewell address:
"Praising the greatness of the Vietnam veterans and honoring them can never remove the truth of our failed policy that took us there. Resurrecting heroes will never erase the pain and suffering of an interventionist foreign policy that prompted unnecessary military activities and a no-win strategy" [emphasis added]. No doubt the villains are the all powerful international bankers who, according to Paul, control U.S. foreign policy and "are not motivated to protect the sovereignty of America."
This standard right-wing revisionist history is expanded on by Stang, who traces the pattern of betrayal all the way back to the Korean War. "The traitors did the same thing in Vietnam. How many times must this happen before we get the point? Again we entered the war under the auspices of the United Nations, through our membership in the South East Asian Treaty Organization, a U.N. subsidiary. Again we couldn't win it because our own C.F.R. leaders wouldn't let us. " According to Stang—and Ron Paul—the reason Vietnam was a bad war was because we didn't win.
Whatever their superficial differences, Paul and the Birchers share the same crankish mind set. Although they may argue as to the exact identity of the conspirators—whether they refer to the Trilateral Commission, the CFR, "international bankers," the Bilderbergers, or (a LaRouche favorite) the Queen of England—the shared vocabulary of the nutty Right is the rhetoric of conspiracy.
This hyperbolic fantasy world, the shared worldview of the Birchite Right, is always presented in a tone of the utmost urgency. The rhetoric of conspiracy is almost always accompanied by visions of apocalypse. The Birchers used to publish a yearly map of the world, with the Communist-controlled areas in various shades of red. The last installment showed the continental U.S. a bright pink which, according to the key, indicated the area was 65% Communist-dominated.
Like the Birchers, whose anti-"internationalist" rhetoric he parrots, Ron Paul rejects the idea that free market ideology has made any gains in the Reagan years. "Repealing the welfare state may be popular with a growing number of frustrated American citizens, but that attitude is not yet reflected in Washington." Things are bad and getting worse. "It's highly unlikely that we'll reach the 1990's without a convulsion of our political and economic system," says Paul. "Although nothing goes up or down in a straight line, we can be sure the long term will bring us ever-increasing interest rates—higher with each cycle and over 20 percent before this cycle completes itself in 1986 or 1987."
In the hopped-up world of the political cult—whether it be the Marxists predicting the sudden collapse of capitalism or the Birchers predicting the end of U.S. national sovereignty—apocalypse is always right around the comer. Paul is more dramatic, and more explicit than most. Interest rates will reach "unbelievable heights in this decade." No doubt the evil international bankers are responsible for this one. "There will come a day," says Paul, "when the world finanaciers will rush from dollars just as they have recently rushed into dollars." He predicts "chaos in the international financial markets," "massive debt liquidation," and an "inflationary collapse." "The form of timing of the collapse are yet to be determined; the event itself is certain." All of this—a major banking, currency, economic, and political crisis"—will supposedly "hit this Nation and the western world, most likely before the 1990's."
This wild-eyed millennialism is characteristic of all fringe political movements, and is a device utilized by religious cults as well, notably the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. These groups are forever forecasting universal destruction. Some, like the early Adventists—and Ron Paul—even set a specific date for Armageddon. The Adventists found, however, that the popularity of their sect plummeted when the appointed day arrived and the End was nowhere in sight. Ron Paul and his followers would do well to heed the Adventist example and stay vague about dates.
Like his Bircher allies and brothers-in-spirit, Ron Paul is an avid defender of South Africa's racist apartheid regime. "The shortcomings of South Africa's apartheid system are denounced continuously by the same politicians who ignore the fact that in communist countries dissidents aren't segregated; they are shot or sent to concentration camps. In comparison, segregation is seen as more vicious than the exiling and the killing of the political dissidents in Russia. South Africa, for its defective system of civil liberties, is banned from the Olympics, while we beg the murdering communists to come."
A system which denies the black majority the right to vote, to own property, to travel freely, to live as human beings, is described as merely a "defective system of civil liberties." Apartheid is reduced to "segregation," as if the wholesale enslavement of the black population was not involved. Paul seems to think that poor persecuted South Africa is getting a bum rap, picked on by pinko liberals who "beg the murdering communists to come" to the Olympics.
What Paul misses is that the world has seen what happens when racist ideology is allowed to take and keep power in a Western, industrialized state; South Africa's status as an international pariah is inextricably linked to memories of the Holocaust and the determination that it shall not happen again.
Blind to the oppression of millions of black South Africans, Paul is a fanatic on the subject of the "rights" of the fetus. "Government responsibility to protect life and liberty becomes muddled when the Government and courts chosen to protect them under the guise of privacy and civil liberties, totally ignore the real issue. The abortionist who makes a fortune dropping fetuses and infants into buckets, instead of being restrained by government, is encouraged by the courts and the law. Some show greater concern for the lives of seals than for the life of a human baby."
At a time when the Reaganites are determined to leave their mark on future generations by stacking the Supreme Court and reversing Roe vs. Wad, is the Libertarian Party really going to nominate an anti-abortion activist for Presidents of the United States? If anything is a clear indication that some in the LP have hitched their wagon to the New Right, then this is it.
"Unwitting allies, [libertarians and Birchers] usually end up voting in what must be, for them, a distressingly similar manner, against the liberals," wrote Alan Crawford, in 1980. "When it comes time to put aside discussions of ideology and enter the voting booth to choose between the candidates before them, they reject liberalism and function as supporters (grudgingly or otherwise) of the New Right." This thesis, startling back in 1980, was years ahead of its time. The nomination of Ron Paul will be proof enough of that.
What is "Libertarian Populism"?
In his apologia for Ron Paul, which is being distributed by the campaign, Murray Rotbard claims that "the exciting thing about the Ron Paul campaign is that he will push for a resurrection of the Old Right (that's the oldold Right, the pre-National Review right), the right-wing of Taft and Bricker and Wherry ... Ron Paul believes, and I agree, that there are millions of Americans who are instinctive Old Rightists, or libertarian populists, who have been confused and bewildered by decades of Establishment propaganda, and who are there waiting for someone to supply articulation and leadership to resurrect the old cause.
The reality is that, in the unlikely event Ron Paul resurrects anything, it is likely to be the Same Old Right of Robert Welch, Gary Allen and Larry McDonald. As for the alleged appeal of some strange hybrid known as "libertarian populism," the truth of the matter is that this is an exotic brand of populism indeed. Far from appealing to the average, everyday voter, Paul's perfervid rhetoric denouncing the nefarious "internationalists" and the evil bankers will appeal only to convinced ultra-rightists. "We have before us a rare and remarkable opportunity to seize the moment,” fantasizes Rothbard, “to leave at long last the era of the small club and the study group and leap into the mainstream of history.” But Paul’s Birchite line will narrow rather than broaden the LP political horizons. His hate-the-bankers line will only make sense to the minuscule constituencies of the American Independent Party and the Liberty Lobby-inspired Populist Party, which regularly excoriate the evils of “internationalist bankers and “international Zionist-Communist conspiracy” in the same breath. (In these circles, the former is a code word for the latter.)
Rothbard claims that the purpose of the campaign will be to "mobilize a coalition of Americans who are exercised over one or more libertarian goals." In fact, it will mobilize only a dubious and unstable coalition with an embarrassing array of right-wing extremists. As an admirer of "tax protester" Gordon Kohl, the right-wing terrorist and leader of the anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus, no doubt Rothbard considers this a good thing.1
The real clue as to the nature of the campaign Rothbard envisions is his list of the campaign's basic themes. First and foremost is: "(1) opposition to taxes. Specifically, as 'the only fair tax,' abolition of the income tax, and the passage of the Liberty Amendment."
Incredibly, the number one issue of the Libertarian Party's 1988 campaign is to be the Liberty Amendment, the Birch-sponsored right-wing "mass movement" of the Fifties which never really got off the ground. For years Robert Welch exhorted his followers to put the Liberty Amendment at the head of their agenda; in the JBS Bulletin, it always appeared near the top of the Leader's long list of things members ought to be doing. Welch's latter day followers are still at the old stand, trying to get their panacea approved by have before us a rare and remarkable state legislatures. This is "the old cause" that opportunity to seize the moment," fantasizes Rothbard and Ron Paul hope to resurrect—a "mass movement" that has been stalled for decades.
What this strategy makes crystal clear is that Rothbard & Co. have decided to write off the vast majority of the American people, and instead focus on the fringe, specifically members and sympathizers of the John Birch Society and the rest of the right-wing fever swamp.
The rest of Paul's agenda fits in nicely with this central theme; in addition to "ultrahard money" (i.e. the gold standard) Rothbard lists: "(3) personal liberty. That means opposition to the draft, to draft registration, to drug laws, sodomy laws, or ... gun control." In other words, we will hear about nothing but the evils of gun control and, on occasion, the draft. Number four is "all-out opposition to foreign intevention", which means abolition of foreign aid and an explicit call "to bring the boys back home." Naturally there is to be no mention of nuclear arms control-that would turn off the Liberty Amendment crowd (remember, the Liberty Amendment is to be the top priority). Besides, the Old Right didn't have to deal with nuclear weapons and hi-tech horrors like Star Wars-which is why Paul is able to graft support for SDI and opposition to all arms talks onto his peculiar brand of "isolationism."
Paul's foreign policy pronouncements exude a distinctly nativist undertone, because xenophobia permeates his entire worldview. In his Farewell Address to Congress, he rhapsodizes on the glorious future that awaits us if only we can reduce Federal spending by 80%. "The budget will be immediately balanced and the debt repaid. No more wealth will be transferred to the poor, the rich, the foreigner, the bankers, or the arms manufacturers." [emphasis added] For shame.
What emerges from Rothbard's call to support Ron Paul is the unmistakable yearning for some kind of mass influence, no matter what the cost to principle. "Libertarianism does not have to be a small movement, confined to a few thousand, or a few hundred thousand people. We have to realize that... libertarianism was a mighty mass movement, commanding the allegiance of a large number, often a large majority of the population.” If he has to settle for the Birchers, and the denizens of the nativist American Right, then so be it.
Satan's words in Paradise Lost—"Better to reign in Hell then serve in Heaven"--certainly characterize not only the spirit of Rothbard's politics, but also the politics of the Paul campaign. Both are a prescription for disaster.
1. Rothbard discontinued his Reason column when editor Bob Poole refused to publish his paean to Kohl. He submitted it to Libertarian Vanguard. where the editorial board chose to kill it rather than nm it alongside a response from one of the editors.
Our notes: This analysis of Ron Paul was written prior to the Ron Paul newsletter scandal. It accurately laid out the numerous themes that Ron Paul and his newsletter would promote for the next several years. More importantly it laid out how the Ron Paul team planned a "libertarian populist" theme to appeal to the nativist elements in America. After the scandal with the Ron Paul newsletters and their various bigoted and conspiracist themes Reason magazine went back into history and showed how this "populist" agenda was actively planned out. It should be noted that these "populist" themes that Paul pushed began a transformation of libertarianism away from its original classical liberal principles and toward a Right-wing conservative worldview that often clashes violent with genuine libertarianism. The author of the article is now associated closely with Lew Rockwell and is attacking people who says things similar to what he originally said in this piece.
For the Reason article detailing the plan by Rockwell, Rothbard and Paul to reach out to the extreme Right go here.