Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Paul Grassroots Movement and Spontaneous Order

For all of the railing I've done against some of Ron Paul's more vocal supporters, and for all of some of their failures to understand that online polls and presence don't necessarily translate to the real world, it's worth remembering that Ron Paul's most dedicated supporters aren't always online. I've noted before how these supporters have started to "self-police" the movement online, and viewed that as a major turning point for the Paul campaign.

But just as I've admonished online supporters for thinking the internet is the same as the real world, so too have I gotten caught up in that false reality. The fact is that there are plenty of Paul supporters on the ground who are giving up days and weeks of their time to live in small towns far from home. Those supporters are the real core of the Paul campaign, not the echo chamber that is the netroots. This article today from TNR serves as a potent reminder of that fact and of the promise of the "spontaneous order" that has started to take shape within the Paul grassroots. It may not get Paul very far in the primary and may not get him any states should he run as a third party, but that doesn't take away from the beauty of spontaneous order when a movement grows up based entirely around voluntary, optimistic choices.

Money quote:

These volunteers' whole idea is to get the world's attention without shouting. They're the closest thing this race has to the Deaniacs of '04: Hundreds of young volunteers, who have traveled to Iowa on their own dime to knock on doors and make pleading phone calls. But where the Deaniacs got a reputation for being revved-up and angry, the Paul guys are pacific. At Paul's headquarters, they hesitate to bash other candidates, even when I goad them. They are unfailingly courteous, holding doors and always referring to their candidate as "Dr. Paul." They pepper me with curious questions. ("Are the police in Washington D.C. under federal or local authority?") After the taping, when the ABC cameraman observes to nobody in particular that "they remind me of Howard Dean's people," several of the volunteers urge him, "Don't say that!" as much to dissociate themselves from the Dean people's wildness as from Dean himself. "I know you meant it as a compliment," one especially young-looking volunteer in a pageboy cap reassures the cameraman, gently.

I understand from the article that these supporters represent the cream of the crop amongst the Paul grassroots- they don't represent the entirety of the movement. But that's exactly the point: if there is ever to be a libertopia based on spontaneous order, it will be a pure meritocracy. There is something comforting in knowing that the Paul grassroots understand that the most meritous of their numbers are the calmest, least angry, and even most subdued. No matter how the Paul campaign does in the next year, this article gives me real hope that the effects of the grassroots movement around his campaign will create a lasting and powerful movement that at the very least places libertarians in a position of influence that they have not seen before.