Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Reason-Ron Paul Kerfuffle (Edited)

For those of you who care about such things, the libertarian blogosphere is abuzz in the wake of Reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward's now-infamous diss of Ron Paul's presidential candidacy on Fox News. In a segment on the lack of coverage of Paul's campaign following his strong showing in the Iowa straw poll, Mangu-Ward opined that Paul "is getting a tremendous amount of coverage for someone who is never going to be President. He knows that." After dismissing Paul as a "fringe-y candidate", she wondered why greater attention wasn't being focused on the campaign of Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and offered up the invisible (and lightweight) Gary Johnson as a "more coherent" alternative to Paul. In the wake of this, libertarians have offered up vigorous opinions on both sides of the debate. And it's shone a light on a long-standing division within the libertarian community. If you haven't seen the video, here it is:

Let us be clear: we like a lot of the work Reason does, and Golden State Liberty wouldn't be what it is today without the exposure that some of its contributors have given to our work. Nonetheless, we think that Mangu-Ward and Reason are in the wrong here, if their goal is really to advocate libertarian ideas and libertarian politicians. For one thing, it appears that her statements have roots in the long-standing tensions between Koch-sponsored institutions like Reason, Cato, and George Mason economics on one hand, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute and Lew Rockwell on the other. We won't bore anyone with the details, but suffice it to say that Reason is part of that wing of libertarianism that believes in electoral politics, lobbying, and advocacy as the path to a freer society. These folks are often dismissive of the Rothbardian-anarchist-leaning LvMI, which tends to eschew politics and embrace scholarship. So it can't feel good seeing a guy from the Mises Institute camp drawing so much popular attention in the electoral arena. In other words, Mangu-Ward's dismissal of Paul reeks of professional jealousy.

Her comments are also unfortunate from a practical perspective. Put simply, if you're going to trust in electoral politics to advance your ideals, which her employer does, then it's puzzling to slam the only candidate whose principles are remotely consistent with Reason's. We know enough libertarians to accept that not all of them are enthused about Paul's candidacy, but can anyone honestly say that a Paul presidency wouldn't be the most liberty-friendly one anyone alive can remember? (We grant that the bar is low.) He might not be perfect, but he's far more libertarian than any other candidate in the field. And if the retort is that he has no chance of winning, why on earth is she bringing up Gary Johnson, a perfectly nice (if intellectually muddled) candidate with nowhere near the money or the exposure of Ron Paul?

(UPDATED: To clarify: libertarians who eschew electoral politics are perfectly free to choose not to support any politician's campaign. Since Mangu-Ward falls into this group, her "libertarian bona fides" shouldn't be questioned. One wonders why Fox thought she'd be a good person to speak on the subject of Paul's media coverage. But otherwise, we'd still criticize her comments for being inelegant and not terribly insightful.)


  1. AnonymousAug 22, 2011 09:09 AM
    I think you're being especially kind to the Koch brothers and the outfits they fund. Organizations like Reason and Cato are, at best, simply think tanks, acting as hangers-on to the D.C. political coattails trying to grab a hold of whatever power they can. At worst, they're fronts to disguise the Kochs' attempts to steer government regulations their way as liberty and smaller government.
  2. GSLAug 22, 2011 09:20 AM
    Eh. Neither side of this issue smells like a rose at this point. I like a lot of what Reason/Cato do, but I often think they're more concerned about working the DC establishment than vigorously opposing government. On the LvMI side, I love the scholarship and the willingness to be provocative, but they've been increasingly guilty of equating support for Ron Paul with supporting liberty, which I think is overreaching.
  3. AnonymousAug 22, 2011 09:30 AM
    No disagreement from me about Reason/Cato. I get the sense that the people on the LvMI side are closer to your position that "can anyone honestly say that a Paul presidency wouldn't be the most liberty-friendly one anyone alive can remember? ... He might not be perfect, but he's far more libertarian than any other candidate in the field" than you're giving them credit.

    Personally, I find their position to be a bit disingenuous as both and LRC go on and on about the evils of the state but then support a candidate to wield the state's power. I understand their reasoning (as presented/defended most vigorously by Walter Block), but I think that Stephan Molyneux makes some excellent points here ( in response to Block.
  4. GSLAug 22, 2011 09:46 AM
    Yeah, I would say that my position on Paul is much closer to LvMI's than Reason's: he's a genuinely principled (and very well-read) libertarian, and for that reason is about the best that libertarians can hope for. I think the Reason folks like the correspondence between his positions and theirs, and appreciate the attention his campaign is bringing to these ideas, but many of their writers miss the importance of being principled.

    On the other hand, I think it's more distasteful to question someone's personal integrity than it is to ruffle feathers by questioning whether someone's favorite candidate can become President. As I said above, support for Paul shouldn't be a litmus test for whether someone is a "real" libertarian. And some in the LvMI crowd (most notably Block, here) seem to be pushing that litmus test

    And yes, there is a contradiction in supporting a political candidate when you call yourself an anarcho-capitalist.
  5. TonyNov 2, 2011 10:08 AM
    "Since Mangu-Ward falls into this group, her "libertarian bona fides" shouldn't be questioned."

    I *am* questioning Mangu-Ward's bona fides.
    Not because she doesn't think Ron Paul stands a chance or even that he would do any good even if he did win (a perfectly reasonable anarchist position), but because she favors Gary Johnson over him and has the audacity to claim he is "more coherent", when anybody remotely principled can prove instantly the many ways in which Gary Johnson compromises his alleged libertarianism in favor of the state, be it on foreign policy (humanitarian war is good), drug freedom (legalization of the hard stuff goes too far), indictment of "terrorists" (read: people America arrested in the countries they invaded) by military tribunal (read: the very institution that did the illegal invading and bombing that therefor has an interest in deeming suspects guilty of "attacking" them. Like having a burglar try the home-owner who attacked him), or the FED (reform, not abolish).