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Pacifism meets libertarianism

The troubling appeal of Republican candidate Ron Paul to America’s left

By Brian Platt

It’s election season in America, and as usual, Canadians are riveted. What’s holding our attention at the moment is the increasingly comical incompetence of the Republican candidates, who are almost certainly battling it out for the right to lose to Obama.

But I’ve been keeping an eye on the candidate who is creating all kinds of fascinating oscillations across the political spectrum: Ron Paul.

It’s the affinity that social justice progressives are expressing for Paul that is generating the biggest ripples. Kind words for Paul’s campaign have come from The Nation and Salon, prominent bastions of fashionable leftist opinion. There is a good rundown of that support by James Kirchick, who pillories Paul’s leftist supporters for glazing over his many repugnant views.

What most leftists support, of course, is Paul’s steadfast opposition to American military interventions. There is a certain amount of throat-clearing that has to be done first; it goes along the lines of, “I would never support Paul because he’s anti-choice, condemns the Civil Rights Act, wants to end all foreign aid, published racist newsletters, and so on . . . BUT . . .”

I’m actually not interested in simply calling out leftists for saying nice things about Ron Paul. I understand what people like Glenn Greenwald and Corey Robin are getting at: there is only one major candidate for president who is resolutely speaking out against all of America’s wars, and to that extent his voice is necessary and, for some, worth supporting.

What nobody seems to be talking about is that Ron Paul’s foreign policy stance is exactly in tune with his hard-core libertarian philosophy: people need to learn to solve their own problems, and if they can’t, tough beans. It’s not our job to go around helping people. Freedom essentially means everyone minding their own business.

That’s Paul’s honest view, and that’s what led him to oppose, say, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, given his philosophy, he couldn’t come to any other answer. But if we know that about Paul, I’d like to know how it came to be that orthodox progressive politics endorses a stance that leaves the poorest people in the world to fight this battle on their own.

I understand that different people can come to the same conclusion for different reasons. Yet what matters here, what ties progressives and Ron Paul together, is that they both view anti-imperialism as more important than anything else — including the duty of solidarity with the oppressed.

Some may write off the left’s agreement with Paul as coincidence or as a temporary convenience. I view it as a travesty, and deeply significant.

Author's photo
Brian Platt is a master of journalism student at Carleton University.
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