Many voices – mainstream liberal analyst, skeptical gentlemen, special pleading left-libertarian, committed defender, center-right political assailant, chastened (ex-)endorser, and so on – have sounded out on the Ron Paul candidacy, lately in relation to those notorious newsletters, but David Neiwert of the further-left site Crooks & Liars is among the very few commenters to put the matter in a larger historical and ideological context:
What is utterly missing from libertarianism — and particularly the libertarianism of Ron Paul — is a recognition that their love of freedom is easily perverted into the freedom to deprive other people of their freedoms. When confronted with it, they simply try to shrug it off as a problem that freedom itself will eventually overcome — when history, of course, has proven them wrong time and time again.
Yet even Neiwert, not known for his reticence, stops himself at the precipice of any too uncomfortable insight into the inherent moral limitations and contradictions of American libertarianism, which last is not merely the personal property of self-styled libertarians, but is still the mainspring of Americanism.
The first great task of the first self-consciously “American” Americans was the accumulation of property – the actual land of the New World. No matter how we choose to view this vast expropriation, arguably the greatest act of “accumulation by dispossession” ever achieved, as historically necessary or as an unforgivable crime, or both, it remains inarguably the material foundation, accompanied by the ultimate sins of genocide and slavery, of the American nation as we know it: What we really are vs. what we prefer or can allow ourselves to say.
The key to understanding the unspeakable organic truth about America in relation to contemporary libertarian theory is that this great, ineluctably profitable work of genocide and enslavement (later wage slavery and neo-imperial global expansion) was largely accomplished without or expressly against the direction of the federal government or any central governing authority, whose various military interventions and eminently revisable diplomatic initiatives chiefly served, and could only serve, to ratify or consolidate established facts on the ground – again in the manner of an efficient defense mechanism, active forgetting, against disruptions to ego ideals.
It was therefore no mere happenstance that led “paleo-libertarians” like Ron Paul and his circle to seek an alliance with the radical right back in ’90s, or that leads Ron Paul and libertarians today to question such fundaments of American progressivism as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or Child Labor Laws, or other somewhat more controversial national and global institutions like the Federal Reserve, the IMF, or the United Nations. Reactionary libertarianism was and remains a typical American political configuration, as irresistible an alliance as the great expropriation – the creation of the United States of America – was historically (materially, economically, and even philosophically) irresistible.
Elias Isquith’s critique of Paul’s isolationism, as non-cognizant of nationalistic impulses, in effect re-outlines the functioning of the entire ideological and psychological mechanism. The realization of an effective alliance between, as per Neiwert, freedom and freedom to oppress is so fundamental, so constitutional one might say, that as individual citizens we all, without exception, sooner or later or always already, also find ourselves internalizing it, or at minimum, if we wish to continue to function at all, acquiescing in it. It relies on the same “Empire of Liberty” paradox first proposed by Jefferson and effectuated during his administration, and realized under alternative but related configurations across the American political spectrum up to the present moment. It is in a word the definitional contradiction within the American idea, the essential and obligatory blind spot of Americanism itself.
Only a straitening of circumstances, the discovery of real geographical, technological, economic, and military obstacles, experienced as crisis, can force us to peer through the customary darkness, glimpse the shocking pinpoints of light, and respond. The reaction, pursued as a survival necessity, is, of course, to suppress the recognition. Only the absolute crisis could sustain the momentary vision, because coping with what we really are always implies becoming something other than what we have been. In a certain sense we can never be ready for such a task, since that would mean to be destroyed by its necessity.
Instead, we will continue to discover figures like Ron Paul, rather like Jeremiah Wright on the left, consigned via a ritualistic routine of scandal detection and mandatory ostracism to the “crazy uncle”‘s basement, thus to re-assure the collective ego – at least for the time being, for whatever time we have left, up to the last moment and not one second less.