Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Full Newsletter Story

Julian Sanchez and David Weigel have pieced together a history of the Ron Paul newsletters and the attempts at a strategic alliance between paleo-libertarians and far-right paleoconservatives. The article is in many ways revealing- it shows the extent to which Paul reaped the rewards of the newsletters, and the extent to which the fiery - and often clearly racist - rhetoric was part of a deliberate strategy to build a paleo-alliance. They also expose that an element of that alliance was a compromise centered on states' rights, particularly with respect to morality legislation.

The article importantly does not argue that Rockwell, Rothbard, and Paul are racists themselves, but instead that they made a conscious decision that an alliance with racists and paleoconservatives was the best way to grow libertarianism. In the process, though, it seems they did precisely what the accuse Cato of doing: they compromised some of their own libertarian values, rationalizing ways in which very un-libertarian policy aims were consistent with their purported values.

They went beyond traditional libertarian opposition to state-enforced integration to actually providing moral justification for private segregation, calling it a "natural and normal human impulse." The traditional libertarian view, however, would call private segregation irrational and doomed to failure, and therefore utterly unworthy of state intervention.

In any event, the full article is outstanding. Although it will likely be called a "hit piece" or another part of Reason's "smear campaign" (odd for a magazine that did a puff piece on Paul and put it on its cover this month), it is actually far kinder to the Rockwellians than they deserve, pointing out that they have dropped much of their racially incendiary rhetoric over the last five or six years and pointing out that Paul's campaign has for the most part been built on cosmopolitan principles. However, this does not excuse the active attempt to pander to racists, and I could not agree more with Sanchez's final paragraph:

Yet those new supporters, many of whom are first encountering libertarian ideas through the Ron Paul Revolution, deserve a far more frank explanation than the campaign has as yet provided of how their candidate's name ended up atop so many ugly words. Ron Paul may not be a racist, but he became complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists—and taking "moral responsibility" for that now means more than just uttering the phrase. It means openly grappling with his own past—acknowledging who said what, and why. Otherwise he risks damaging not only his own reputation, but that of the philosophy to which he has committed his life.

Is it really too much to ask for Paul and/or Rockwell to come clean about this fiasco? Instead, the response we get is non-denial denials and, now, this classic straw man - essentially the equivalent of "But I have black friends!" If the Rockwellians can't distinguish between the language in the newsletters and legitimate criticism of Lincoln or legitimate discussion of racial differences, then I feel sorry for them. They don't seem to understand that it's possible to agree with the Walt Williams articles they reference (or at least view them as legitimate inquiry) while still taking deep and legitimate offense at the language in the newsletters.

More reactions at memeorandum, including this from Allahpundit at Hot Air that gives me hope the fallout from the Paul fiasco will be limited and will "separate the wheat from the chaff."