"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Ron Paul Dilemma

"If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."  ~Emma Goldman

Political Libertarianism vs Voluntaryism / Minarchism vs Anarchism

All libertarian philosophy is based on self ownership and the non-agression axiom.  All humans are sovereign over their own life, liberty, and property.  Aggression is intrinsically immoral.  No person has the right to initiate force against another human's life, liberty, or property.  This precludes acts of violence in self defense because force may be required to defend against an attack on one's own life, liberty, or property.

All libertarians fall into one of two categories: minarchist or anarchist.  Minarchist libertarians believe that the only moral government is one which does not violate the non-agression axiom.  This is the philosophy of the Libertarian party.  They believe that the system can be changed through the political process and that they can create a government that abides by the non-agression axiom.  In this post minarchist libertarians will be referred to as political libertarians.

Anarchist libertarians believe that all governments violate the non-agression axiom, and therefore are by their very nature, immoral.  History has shown time and again that all governments, sooner or later, tend toward tyranny.  Anarchist libertarians reject all forms of government, even those that may start off as non-violent, because the potential for violence is always present.  By definition, government is a monopoly on violence or a legitimate use of force.  Anarchist libertarians believe in a society based solely on voluntary mutual exchange and strict personal adherence to the non-agression axiom.

The term Anarcho-Capitalism is derived from the anarchist libertarian view.  It is a way of stating the political and economic views of a philosophy at the same time.  Other philosophies like Anarcho-Communism and Anarcho-Syndicalism use the same language.   Some people who subscribe to the anarchist libertarian philosophy prefer the term Voluntaryist over Anarcho-Capitlaist.  The psychological dimension of the word anarchism brings to mind a picture of a hooligan throwing a molotov cocktail. Where anarchy previously meant lack of government, it has come to mean lack of order.  The word voluntaryist paints a prettier picture.  The terms are interchangeable however; anarchist libertarian sounds scary, voluntaryist does not.

A standing joke in the voluntaryist community is, "The only difference between a libertarian and a voluntaryist is about seven years."  Political libertarians have already taken the first step in thinking outside the box.  They see the illogic of the status quo, two party system; but they still hold on to some of the minor trappings of politics as usual.  Once they are provided with enough evidence of state violence or the potential for state violence, they begin to see the total illegitimacy of the state.
This is the transitional point between being a political libertarian and a voluntaryist (minarchist and anarchist).  This transition happens quickly for some, and in others it takes a lifetime to realize.
Political libertarianism becomes a self defeating philosophy in the end.  It is a transitional worldview between supporting the status quo and all out rejection of the state.

The Voting Conundrum

The divide between political libertarians and voluntaryists can best be viewed by their willingness to vote or their refusal to vote.  Political libertarians try to change the system from within, and will consequently vote for libertarian candidates.  They see voting as a non-violent act and allowable under the non-agression axiom.    Voluntaryists refuse to support an immoral system, and see voting as support for that system.  To a voluntaryist, voting is guilt by extension.

The getaway driver in a bank robbery is just as guilty as the the thief who entered the bank and stole the money.  A woman who helps plan the murder of her sister's cheating husband is just as guilty as the sister who pulls the trigger.  Aiding and abetting a criminal who commits an act of violence is just as immoral as committing the act yourself. Since all governments are ultimately derived from the will of the people, every voter is responsible for actions of the government they institute.  All governments have the potential for aggression because they hold a monopoly on violence.  When viewed through this lens, the non-violent act of voting becomes violence by extension.

From One Extreme To The Other

A voluntaryist's stance on non-voting is a principled one.  It is not to be confused with apathy.  Voter turnout in America is abysmally low every election cycle.  This shows the political indifference of many people in our society.  Campaigns like MTV's Rock The Vote only serve the powers that be.  They encourage people to vote even though many people do not take the time to research and fully understand the ramifications of their actions.  This differs greatly from actively choosing not to vote on moral grounds.  Voluntaryists who choose not to vote have been through the political machine and come out on the other side.

Apathetic Non-Voting to Status Quo Voting to Third Party Voting to Principled Non-Voting

People may start out as indifferent or apathetic.  Some people have no knowledge of politics or interest in it.  Once a person finally takes notice of the political process, they are presented with two competing world views: modern day liberalism and conservatism.  This left/right paradigm is the status quo, and most people spend their entire lives trapped in this system.  Once a person realizes that there are more logical options available than what the status quo has to offer, they move to third party voting.  This is where people find political libertarianism.  And finally, when a person understands that violence is eternally linked to government, they move to a point of no longer supporting that system.  This is the final transition to voluntaryism.  There is nothing beyond this point because all forms of anarchism are at the extreme end of political theory.

The process above looks remarkably similar to Plato's divided line.  The end state on the right is a principled stance.  It is not an apathetic unwillingness to participate, it is a moral unwillingness to participate.  This process, however, can take a much more ominous route.

Apathy/Indifference to Status Quo to Understanding the System to Exploiting the System 

Once a person understands how things really work, they have a choice to make.  They can either opt out of the system and no longer participate in it, or they can become a part of the state.  Politics attracts the power hungry.  Politicians use their knowledge of the system to exploit everyone who is still trapped in the status quo paradigm.

The real war of ideas is being waged on the far right sides of these divided lines, between those who refuse to support the system, and those who mean to exploit it.  Politicians may pose as being part of the status quo, but their agenda lies on the far right side of the line.  If you do not understand any of this, you are still part of the status quo.  See my post on Plato's Cave and the Divided Line for a better understanding.

The Status Quo

The status quo populace has two main reasons for voting.  On the surface, people will vote a politician into power in the hopes that the politician will abide by the will of the people and solve all of society's problems.  Inevitably, that politician will fall short in this duty because the populace has placed unrealistic expectations on the politician.  Government cannot solve our problems, and one fallible individual in power cannot abide by the will of all the people.

Hiding under the surface, there lies a covert incentive for voting.  This motivation might not even be realized by those who vote, but they make use of it all the same.  When government fails to meet the needs of society, the voting bloc has an easy scapegoat for their own personal responsibility in the matter.  They can always claim that the politician did not perform as expected.  People mistakenly blame individual politicians in government for the problems caused by government as a whole.  This process continues voting year after voting year, ad infinitum.

This is the loophole of representative democracy.  People are allowed to claim that the politician they voted for did not live up to their expectations, or they claim that they voted for the politician's opponent.  Of course, things would always be different if the other guy won the election. All personal responsibility is thus alleviated from the individual voter for the actions of the government, even though all governments derive their power from the individuals.  The voter claims to be off the hook, and the status quo rolls along as usual.  Voluntaryists call the individual voter out, and lay the blame directly at their feet.

Some people spend their entire lives lost in this haze of partisan politics and support for a system that ultimately does the exact opposite of what it claims.  With an almost religious zeal, people put their trust and faith into the system, and never realize why things continue to get worse.  They may even move beyond this point to third party voting, but in the end they are still personally responsible for the actions of the government they helped to elect.

Participation of any kind in this system lends legitimacy to it.  Every time a person votes, they loose the moral high ground.  Every time a person votes, they turn all decision making processes for their own ethics over to the state.  They are, in essence, placing their moral judgement in the hands of someone else.

A Political Broken Window (The Nuclear Option)

This debate between minarchism and anarchism has concentrated on non-voting or voting for libertarian candidates.  There is, however, another option.  Lest we forget the excluded middle, this option must be explored as well. 

A boy throws a brick through the front window of a bakery.  A crowd gathers and begins to discuss the ramifications of this act.  One man notes that the broken window provides new job for the local window maker.  After much deliberation, they all agree that breaking the window was a good thing because it created work that was not previously available.  The baker has to pay for a new window, and this, they reckon, stimulates the local economy.  The baker, however, had money set aside to buy his wife a new dress.  Now instead of paying the dress maker, he is forced to pay for a new window.  The money would have been spent anyway, and the local economy would have been stimulated all the same.  The difference is, the baker lost the option of choosing what to spend his money on.  The window maker is richer but the dress maker is that much poorer.

The allegory above is referred to as the broken window fallacy.  It was used by Frederic Bastiat to describe the hidden costs of immoral actions.  It illustrates what is seen and what is unseen.  The broken window fallacy is often used to refute the Keynesian assertion that a war based economy is productive.  Economics aside, we can look at the broken window fallacy as the excluded middle in a libertarian's decision to vote.

A few crazy individuals believe that the best way to show the failures of government is to give the politicians enough rope to hang themselves with.  The thought process is to vote for the worst possible candidate in the hopes that they will make all the wrong choices.  The end state is the complete collapse of the US economy and political structure.  (I call this plan the nuclear option because relies on total destruction as an end state.)  Where voting for a libertarian candidate is akin to throwing a wrench in the gears of the machine, the nuclear option attempts to ramp up the RPMs so fast that the machine breaks down.  This kind of  reasoning is the broken window fallacy applied to the world of politics.  Our energy is best used where we have a choice.  Purposely breaking the system down leaves a big IF hanging in the air.  The vacuum left by this plan could be filled by something more violent and much worse than the current status quo.

A not-so-nuclear variation of this option would be voting for a status quo candidate, not because he is the worst possible choice, but because a few of the candidate's campaign promises sound somewhat libertarian and non-violent.  There were a few libertarians that did this in the 2008 election and the consequences were obviously disastrous.  The website Libertarians For Obama is one such example.  Obama's rhetoric about legalizing marijuana and ending the wars in the Middle East fooled some libertarians into voting for him.  Those libertarians learned a valuable lesson about trusting a status quo candidate to keep his word.

Bob Barr and Wayne Root and Ron Paul...Oh My!

Status quo conservatism claims to stand for small government, as does political libertarianism.  The litmus test for libertarianism is the non-aggression axiom.  Conservatives say they stand for small government, but they have no qualms about sending the military off to fight a war of aggression, or sending police onto private property on a drug raid.   Libertarians consistantly apply the non-agression axiom to all issues.  Be wary of people claiming to be libertarians who support state sponsored violence.

In the 2008 election cycle a strange phenomenon began to take shape.  The lines between the status quo and the Libertarian Party became hopelessly blurred.  Bob Barr ran as the Libertarian Party presidential nominee with Wayne Allyn Root as his vice presidential running mate.   Ron Paul, a political libertarian, ran on the Republican ticket.

Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, was a die hard neo-conservative during his time in the House of Representatives.  He voted against legalization of medical marijuana, voted in favor of the USA PATRIOT Act, authored the 1996 Defense of Marriage act, and voted in favor of the Iraq War Resolution.  In 2002, redistricting in Georgia did away with Barr's position in Congress, and he found himself running against an incumbent Republican from another district.  The Libertarian Party took him to task on his support of the drug war.  They ran a devastating ad campaign against him durning the election, and Barr was ultimately defeated.

Four years later, Bob Barr joined the Libertarian Party and two years after that he announced his candidacy for president on the Libertarian Party ticket.  Barr was selected as the LP candidate at the Libertarian Party Convention ten days after he announced his candidacy.  

After Ron Paul was defeated in the Republican primary, he held the Third Party Unity Conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.  Bob Barr sabotaged his own campaign by not attending, opting instead to hold his own press conference at the same location two hours later.  Subsequently, Ron Paul endorsed the Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin.

While there may not be enough evidence here to convict Barr of retribution in a court of law, the circumstantial evidence points to him plotting revenge on libertarians for their involvement in his congressional defeat.  This whole affair, and others, leads many libertarians to the conclusion that Bob Barr is still a neo-con.    

Wayne Allyn Root is another example of a libertarian who supports state sponsored violence.  The articles on his website show that he is frothing at the mouth for the opportunity to continue America's involvement in foreign wars of aggression in the Middle East.  Like Barr, he is a Neo-Con wolf in libertarian clothing.  His book, which will not gain any publicity here, is nothing more than an apologetic for the policies of his heros Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater and the philosophy of William F. Buckley.  Wayne Root is not a libertarian, and yet, he is considered by some to be the frontrunner for the Libertarian Party ticket in 2012. 

Given the evidence over the last few years, it seems that the Libertarian Party has turned into a dumping ground for small time conservative Republicans who have been used up and spit out by the status quo political machine, and for neo-cons who know they would never have a chance in the "big leagues" of the Republican party.  Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root have infiltrated the Libertarian party because the Republicans cannot use them.

After Ron Paul lost the primary to John McCain, many political libertarians opted to write him in rather than vote for Obama, McCain, or Barr.  Others voted for Chuck Baldwin.  Paul immediately took his campaign contributions from the Ron Paul Revolution and used them to start the Campaign for Liberty.  This organization has used the internet to communicate the ideas of liberty to thousands of people.

If there is one point we can take away from the 2008 election cycle, it is this:  The status quo is a monster.  It has been slowly gnawing away at the Libertarian Party in an attempt to marginalize its base.  More recently we have seen the Tea Party swallowed hole by this monster.  Neo-conservatism wants its voters back, and the progressives are more than willing to foment the anger.  

The time for political libertarianism was in 2008, before the omnibus spending bills and the transfer of 16 trillion dollars from "public" to private hands.  The system may have been able to change from within at that point.  Truth cannot, however, be found in speculations about what could have been.  That bird has flown the coop.  Any hope of an easy recovery brought about by political libertarianism has long since past.

For anyone who has been paying attention for the last few years, it is very apparent that the US government is now rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  This ship is going down.  Terms like "bailout" make that abundantly clear.  When you have a hole in the hull, the boat is going to sink.  The big gamble is allowing a libertarian president to preside over that sinking ship.  Although a crash is most likely what we need to reboot the system, Ron Paul at the presidential helm may set the liberty movement back decades.

The positive aspects that have come out of this whole mess are worthy of note.  The 2008 Ron Paul Revolution and the Campaign for Liberty have provided a starting point for thousands of people who had never previously considered libertarianism as a viable option.  In 2008, Ron Paul was one man alone.  He was the only candidate who endorsed any form of libertarianism in the mainstream.  Two years later, his son, Rand Paul was elected as a Senator from Kentucky.  The upcoming election cycle features two libertarian candidates on the Republican Party ticket: Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.  Libertarian ideas are catching on and gaining popular acceptance.

The problems we have in America right now are a much needed wake up call.  The population needs all of the doom and gloom.  They need to live in a state of never ending crisis.  It serves as undeniable proof that the status quo is a massive failure.  As our political and economic condition gets worse, more people are beginning to look for solutions outside the box.  Libertarians are waiting with sound philosopy and open arms.


When all the aforementioned information is taken into account, we can identify five options for the libertarian in the 2012 election.

1- Stand on principle and not vote
2- Vote the status quo (the nuclear option)
3- Vote for a third party candidate (Libertarian Party)
4- Vote for Gary Johnson
5- Vote for Ron Paul

For most voluntaryists, the only option is non-voting.  A vote for the status quo only supports the machine.  The nuclear option is out of the question.  If the 2012 Libertarian Party looks anything like it did in 2008, a vote for a card carrying Libertarian might as well be a vote for a status quo neo-con.  Since Ron Paul has been through the process already, his name is already widely recognized.  Gary Johnson is a relative newcomer, and will not have a large impact like Ron Paul could.

This leaves only two viable options.  Vote for Ron Paul or don't vote at all.

Conclusion (My Take)

A voluntary society may sound extremely utopian to the status quo populace or the novice libertarian.  It should be noted that the state only exists because of the population's participation in it.  In the same manner, a voluntary society does not exist because it is thought to be a utopian impossibility.  The only thing that separates one from the other is our belief and support.  Reification of libertarian ideas into reality may be close at hand, but we are teetering on the brink of destruction as well.  We have an opportunity, right now, to create a better world.  How this all plays out is anybody's guess.  We live in very interesting times.  Getting in close to the ground floor and watching all of this transpire amazes me.

Ron Paul and Ayn Rand constitute a one-two punch to the intellect.  Once you get hit, it is all but impossible to go back to the status quo.  I am not an objectivist, but I was so taken with the profound change that Rand's writing had on me, I named my blog after a location in her novel.  Ron Paul acts as another vehicle for waking people up.  I do not agree with all of his views, but those points of contention are debates within the libertarian philosophy anyway.  I support him as a starting point for changing people's minds.  The Libertarian Party cannot seem to find decent candidate.  They run neo-cons posing as libertarians.

The biggest problem with the Ron Paul Revolution, like political libertarianism, is that it is self defeating.   While it is gaining disenfranchised Republican and Democrat voters on the front end, it is loosing them to voluntaryism on the other end.  The only difference between a libertarian and an anarchist is seven years.  This process happens much faster for some people.  I voted for John McCain, and look at what I am writing now!  If the transition happened this quickly for me, there are bound to be thousands of others who followed the same path in the same timeline.  This reason alone almost ensures that Ron Paul does not have a chance of being elected.

I have moved far past the point of thinking the system can be fixed from the inside.  You cannot fix a system that is inherently flawed at its core.  You cannot bring morality to a system that is by its very nature, immoral.  Ron Paul might be able to do a lot of good as President, but he will not be able to cure all of the ills of our economy and society.  Let's not place unrealistic expectations on the man.  Additionally, electing Ron Paul to the presidency could be the biggest mistake libertarians ever make.  He would make an easy patsy for the status quo when everything comes crashing down.

That being said, every vote for Ron Paul is a vote for the legitimacy of libertarian ideals.  In 2008 we had Ron Paul.  In 2012 we have Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.  The Libertarian party has been infiltrated by neo-cons like Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root, but political libertarians are playing the same game with the Republican party.  The lines between the status quo and third party options is becoming fuzzy.  Maybe in 2013 these ideas will be even more widely recognized.  Political libertarianism is a necessary step on the road to voluntaryism.  As candidates like Paul and Johnson gain legitimacy, more people will start their journey and we can begin to transition to a voluntary society.

I support Ron Paul because he is a catalyst.  He is a red pill.  He is informing the masses about Plato's Cave.  He is a spark that has ignited the fires of liberty in our hearts and minds.  Kindled by the fuel of free information exchange on the internet, the dream of a voluntary society is sweeping the world like a prairie brushfire burning out of control.  People are really starting to wake up!

I am a voluntaryist, I believe voting is immoral, and I am voting for Ron Paul.

I am not voting for a man. I am not voting for a politician. I am not voting in a misguided hope that someone can change the system from the inside.  I am voting for a philosophy of non-voting.  I am voting to support a starting point for the education of status quo voters.  I am voting in the hopes that there will not be voting in the future.  I am taking a consequentialist view of things during the upcoming election cycle.  I know that ends should not justify means, but in this instance I will make an exception.  I am rolling the dice and taking a big gamble.  I am voting for Ron Paul because I think he will loose.  This may seem like circular reasoning to some, but I think I have made my logic abundantly clear.  His loss will bring more people to a voluntaryist philosophy in the end.  Once people realize that we do not need the system, the system will disappear.

This is the end of the line for my time in the voting booth.  Win, loose, or whatever; 2012 will be the last time I ever vote.  It doesn't really matter anyway.  If voting made any difference, they would outlaw it.

See you at Galt's Gulch!

Further Reading

Libertarian Dilemma: Anarchy or Minarchy
Anarchy or Minarchy Is Only Half The Question Part I
Anarchy or Minarchy Is Only Half The Question Part II


Old Jules said...

Thanks for the fine, educational post. I had no idea there was a name, voluntarism, for the position I've taken for several decades. Also didn't know enough people embraced a similar enough position for anyone to know apathy doesn't describe it.

Sheeze. It has a name and somewhere some other people think that way! Sort of boggles the mind, mildly annoying having people crawling across my fences.

Sgt. Jarhead said...

I am glad you enjoyed the post Jules. The internet has finally connected all us crazy kooks! Now we can organize!

Anonymous said...

Solid. I too have been debating what to do, and still have not decided. I also worry that Dr. Paul could be successful, and that all the horror would be blamed on liberty. It's hard to decide.

forLiberty said...

Happened to be reading this by Wendy McElroy today, it is about the differences between 'individual anarchism and communist anarchism'. It has an excellent summary of some of the history of anarchism and libertarianism. Also has some good content, with Spooner and Voltairine de Cleyre weighing in on voting. You may find it interesting:


Sgt. Jarhead said...


Thank you for the comment and the link. I enjoyed reading the speech.

I hinted at some of the themes expressed in that speechin my post, and I am actually planning on writing a post that discusses the difference between Anarcho-Communism and Anarcho-Capitalism.

My thesis is this, Anarcho-Communisim is an oxymoronic term. Anarchism in its most basic form is lack of a governing body. Communism requires everyone to share. It requires communal ownership of property and the abolition of all private property. This goes against human nature, however. People are selfish. The only way to get everyone to share is to force them into it. Since government is force, and force is government; the entire philosophy of Anarcho-Communism contradicts itself.

Anarcho-Capitalism takes into account the aspects of humanity which are less than desirable. Sure, it would be great if everyone would share, but not everyone is going to do that. Forcing people to do so is immoral. If people voluntarily choose to live in a communal society, I have no problem with it, as long as they do not try to force me to do the same.

"The difference between libertarianism and socialism is that libertarians will tolerate the existence of a socialist community, but socialists can't tolerate a libertarian community." – David D. Boaz (1997)

Boaz was alluding to this same argument. I am just discussing it in its most extreme form.

Maybe I don't need to write a post about it now. I just said everything I wanted to say in my reply! Thanks for the comment!


forLiberty said...

The principle emphasized in the Boaz quote seems to be why many choose to use the descriptive 'voluntaryist' rather anarcho-capitalist or sometimes even in place of libertarian.

I find it interesting that as I have come to these ideas I am sometimes entirely surprised that there is a whole body of writing and a complex history about these exact ideas many of us are finding now.
It's as though the ideas are left out of the public consciousness/debate, marginalized and outright ignored.

Subsequently, I suggest you do write the post, as I am confident you will not only do an excellent job of communicating but also are likely to explore the idea further and reveal its relevance.

I have greatly appreciated your posts. Thank You.

A Critic said...

I voted for Ron Paul in 2008 for two reasons:

1) I knew he wouldn't win.

2) To "send a message" aka "FU!!!" to the establishment.

I won't be voting for him again though. His Campaign for Liberty is run by a conman, a liar, a thief, who has gone beyond exaggerations, truth stretching, implications of the impossible, to outright lying and promising the impossible. For only 153,000 John Tate of the C4L promised Ron Paul would audit the Fed! That's downright fraudulent, and Ron Paul's lack of character judgment and complete lack of awareness to what people say and do in his name leave me so disgusted that I won't vote for him again. Still, if you aren't too offended by such awful shenanigans, he isn't going to win, and it will still be a FU! to the state.

Great post by the way!