Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Libertarianism, Ron Paul, and a Triumph of Ignorance

Ron Paul raised $4.3m on the internet on Monday, 11/5. The occasion was Guy Fawkes Day. Apparently, the Ron Paul folks (libertarians in Elephant clothing) have drawn inspiration from Guy Fawkes, via the movie "V for Vendetta," which portrays a pro-democratic revolutionary using Guy Fawkes Day as an occasion to blow up parliament when England has become a totalitarian state. For libertarians, the analogy is clear. Ron Paul is going to end the Tyranny of the US Government with its overtaxation and overregulation, restore the gold standard (!), and the usual libertarian/Ayn Randian litany. Btw, expect some TrueBeliever bloggers to assault this post. Obviously, I have contempt for this agenda.

Well, gee, Guy Fawkes!? Let's sort out who he is, shall we, for the ignorant Paulista/Libertarians who think he is a symbol of liberty because they have misinterpreted "V for Vendetta." Guy Fawkes was what we would call a terrorist. His goal was to blow up the houses of parliament during the state opening of the House of Lords. If successfull, it would have killed the king and most of the protestant nobles on Nov. 5, 1605. It's called the Gunpoweder Plot. He would have flown an airplane into them if they had existed. I have to believe Ron Paul supporters would choose a terrorist as an icon only out of massive ignorance.

Now, it's possible I'm wrong, that the Paulistas do indeed draw inspiration from the terrorist as a terrorist, since they called the one-day fundraiser a "money bomb."

But they've got it ass backwards even so. Guy Fawkes Day celebrates his arrest and (brutal) execution. Re-read that sentence. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered. British patriots and lovers of liberty do not celebrate his attempt to blow up parliament! For those who don't know, Guy Fawkes hoped that by destroying the Protestant rulers of England, he could restore a Catholic monarchy, and further create an absolute monarchy like Spain or France. Guy Fawkes had a radically anti-democratic agenda. In many ways, this was the first shot of the English Civil War that erupted a generation later when Charles I became the king Guy Fawkes longed for. Guy Fawkes day became celebrated widely as a national holiday after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that assured the primacy of parliament (and protestantism, which was associated with English liberty at that time because the Roman catholic monarchs were absolutists). English teenagers create effigies of Guy Fawkes and use them to collect funds for fireworks, which they explode in glee on Guy Fawkes Day. The slogan "Remember, remember, the Fifth of November!" is a pro-government slogan.

The movie "V for Vendetta" suggested that the time could come to turn Guy Fawkes Day on its head. It's just a movie, but I think it was very weird anyway. Imagine if someday 9/11 becomes a symbol of patriotic resistance to religious tyranny, where the 19 terrorists are hailed as freedom fighters by Americans. Or if Jefferson Davis were to become a hero to the Black Panthers. Or if the Mexicans took to the Alamo as a symbol of patriotic resistance. Or if July 4th became a holiday to celebrate British imperialism. One imagines it would take 400 years for that sort of ignorance and idiocy to triumph - just as it apparently has with Guy Fawkes and the Ron Paul people.

And I think Americans should be leery of anyone who would so blithely cotton on to a terrorist for inspiration.


Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG provides a timely reminder that ignorance of history allows politicians to distort it to support their own agendas. We tend to imagine the world of the past was simpler and cleaner than the world of today--perhaps we mistake older times for our own childhood--and ideologues exploit that error, selectively invoking caricatures of historical figures to support whatever is on their agenda. Libertarians seem particularly susceptible to oversimplifying and misconstruing the past, as their view of the present is also far too simple... and wrong.

Bob said...

Despite my natural inclinations, if you're interested in "V for Vendetta"'s use of Guy Fawkes, you could do worse than read my school chum Jacob's take on Ron Paul's fundraising.

I think it's patronizing to assume that a fan of "V for Vendetta" wouldn't realize that "Guy Fawkes was what we would call a terrorist." After all, the guy wearing the Fawkes mask in the movie is called a terrorist, too. It's worth recognizing that the Sons of Liberty were what we would call terrorists. Or if you think that's too grandiose for them, maybe they were just thugs.

I don't know all that much about Ron Paul supporters generally, but the self-identified libertarians I've met tend to be iconoclastic and skeptical of what the government tells them. The terrorist label is the current brand of opprobrium that the government bestows on those it wishes to dehumanize (it used to be commie). Identifying with someone so labeled, refusing to accept authority's marginalization, seems like a very libertarian thing to do.

I'm not saying the analogy doesn't require a large historical blind spot about what the real Guy Fawkes was about -- but it's a blind spot that's hardly unique to Ron Paul supporters. England isn't defined by anti-Catholicism anymore, but Guy Fawkes Day is still a big deal -- a celebration of British patriotism, rather than a particular remembrance of a particular thwarted attack.

"V for Vendetta" co-opted the story of Guy Fawkes Day, clearly arguing that perhaps the terrorist (not the historical Guy, but the fictional V) is expressing some form of patriotism truer than slavish loyalty to the (unjust) regime. V is intended to be a sympathetic anarchist. Which doesn't seem particularly far from a libertarian fantasy.

It is weird in a peculiarly myopic way for the Paul campaign to adopt the English patriotic holiday. But (a) it is somewhat explained insofar as they are continuing the sentiments of the movie that patriotism may mean the exact opposite of loyalty to government and that the time for upheaval is now. And (b) reviling them for their "massive ignorance" because they "blithely cotton on to a terrorist" isn't going to convince any of them of their folly.

Rather, it just shows that you're one of the squares who's been co-opted by the system, man. Just another brick in the wall, and you don't even know it. The president can just _call_ you an "enemy combatant" in his manufactured "War on Terror", and disappear you. Ron Paul is about disabling the mechanisms of the Power, man, and it's going to change the world.

I believe that fear writes checks, and this bizarre extravaganza is paranoid fear of government writing checks for Ron Paul. (Justified fear, though. "Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean...")

Raised By Republicans said...

Ooooo...there's a wierd thought. Ron Paul fans who listen to Pink Floyd. ;-)

The Law Talking Guy said...

I don't want to get into a whole THING about libertarianism, but I dispute the idea that libertarians are "against the system" in any serious way. They are opposed to government power, true enough, but their proposed policies will just result in unfettered corporate power. In that sense, I view libertarians as naive people who preach individualism but actually just provide an elaborate philosophical justification for corporate domination. Which is why they are tolerated in the Republican party. Libertarians can talk individual rights all they want, but at the end of the day they don't want the government to enforce a minimum wage, non-discrimination laws, or anti-pollution laws. Wall street and the Powers That Be are totally down with that.

This naivete matches up nicely with a seriously ahistorical take on Guy Fawkes as some sort of libertarian hero.

To say that libertarians would find some connection to terrorists because they are marginalized by the government is a twisted take on what it means to be "marginalized." Most libertarians that I've met are middle to upper-middle class white people, far from being marginalized. Marginalized people are the working poor, the homeless, migrant workers, immigrants, racial minorities, the disabled, and the like. These people would be devastated by policies that would remove all government protection and support for them and leave them at the tender mercies of the "free" market.

Bob said...


You are claiming libertarians aren't "against the system" because their proposed policies would _result_ in corporate supremacy.

That doesn't mean they're not against the system -- it means their policies won't get them what they want. (Specifically, it means that they don't see "the system" of corporate hegemony as a threat in the same way they see "the system" of federal power as a threat.)

Libertarians (and of course, maybe non-libertarians that like Ron Paul for other reasons) are sending money to Ron Paul based on what _they think_ their donation will achieve, not on what _you think_ it will (fail to) achieve.

Similarly, I didn't mean to suggest that most libertarians actually _are_ marginalized in some meaningful way, just that they're identifying with a marginalized hero (the fictional V or the hazy and fictionalized Guy, not Ron Paul, who's only "marginalized" in the sense that he's on the margin of the electoral race).

I certainly _didn't_ say "libertarians would find some connection to terrorists because they [libertarians] are marginalized by the government". (If you replaced the bracketed noun with [the terrorists], then that is a fair paraphrase of me.)

Of course, it should surprise no one that "middle to upper-middle class white people" are identifying with and idolizing and/or pretending to be someone who's NOT any and all of those things. My off-the-cuff paranoid "the system's got you in its clutches, man" character is no doubt actually living in the system rather well.

I'm a big fan of Adlerian pop psychology: the claim "libertarians would find some connection to terrorists because libertarians perceive themselves to be somehow marginalized by the government" wouldn't get much argument from me.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Bob - I think I agree with everything you said except that it depends on libertarians being intellectually honest. Most probably are, particularly the army of frightening True Believers I see at various public places. But I suspect some of the financial support for Ron Paul is generated by rich folks and businessmen who want to use him for their own purposes.

I also suggest that since libertarians do believe the defense is a proper role for government, it is not obvious where they would come down in the "war on terror" debate.

Dr. Strangelove said...

As I see it, anarchists are the only ones truly opposed to government. Libertarians support government.

Libertarians want government to perform several specific functions: to defend the borders and to support the financial and legal infrastructure that underlies corporate capitalism. They want courts to enforce contracts and uphold private property rights. (And they want government to do all of this without collecting taxes... but that's another issue.)

Raised By Republicans said...

Hey, let's talk about whether Ron Paul is really a libertarian or just another Texas conservative.

Is he pro-immigrant? Pro-choice? Pro-gay rights? Somehow I doubt it.

And yet, he's sponsor of a bill in Congress that would require the pledge of allegiance and prevent judges from even considering the removal of the recently added "under God" text. A libertarian should oppose the existence of the pledge in the first place not wrap himself up in it.

That Ron Paul and his fans are ignorant about Guy Fawkes is interesting and a little amusing in a nerdy way. That he is a raging hypocrit who conceals his true ideological perspective with appeals to lables is, I think, worth more of our attention.

Bob said...

RbR: To be fair, Ron Paul ran as the Libertarian party candidate in 1988, and much of my understanding of what libertarianism means stems from that campaign and people who supported it. I suspect I'm not alone in this.

While there may be some ideal notion of libertarianism, in pragmatic terms many of the people who call themselves libertarians call Ron Paul their standard-bearer. It seems to me that makes Ron Paul a libertarian.

(cf. Glenn Greenwald's argument against conservatives now lamenting that Bush isn't a real conservative -- his response is that the ideal conservatism you claim you want isn't what you voted for and supported for the last 6 years, so we'll judge you on the conservatism you've done, not that you claim you want.)

It's not at all clear to me that being a libertarian requires one to be pro-immigrant, pro-choice, or pro-gay rights. (Incidentally, Paul opposes "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, and is "pro-life" -- although he says the legality of abortion is something the individual states should have the right to determine. I don't know if he's made a statement on gay rights.)

LTG: I'm not sure what you mean by "intellectually honest". I don't dispute that there's probably people giving money to Paul that aren't libertarians. But surely to some extent being a libertarian means believing certain things? Is an intellectually dishonest libertarian believing things they know aren't true?

I agree that libertarians might come down on either side of the "War on Terror" (at least in the abstract -- in practice, the war in Iraq seems typical of a situation libertarians would say we don't belong in -- but maybe I just reject the justification that it's fighting Terror.) Probably there's libertarians on both sides.

Dr. S: I completely agree. I think the success of Paul's Guy Fawkes fundraiser is due to the unexpectedly huge number of anarchists for whom V for Vendetta (rightly) resonates. But, being nonviolent and pacified anarchists, they are supporting the closest thing to an anarchist candidate, hoping that the partial dismantling of the government will just be the start of a favorable trend toward anarchy.

Raised By Republicans said...

Bob makes a good point. If a populist conservative movement calls itself "Libertarian" than they are regardless of whether they are in line with what European Liberal parties (like the German FDP) would go for.

That said, I think if we take Bob's point that Libertarians can call themselves whatever they want regardless of their ideological positions, we should take seriously LTG's assertion that self-described Libertarians are using the term to mask their true positions.

For example, in numerous conversations with self-described Libertarians and Ron Paulistas they will declare that all their positions are motivated the wish to see the market make most if not all decisions rather than government. But then they espouse nationalist foreign policies, populist trade policies and religious inspired social policies - just like any other Republican conservative.

The term "Libertarian" is clearly an appeal to "Liberty" and to the family of ideologies associated with the classical liberalism of the 18th and 19th centuries. However, that they are really just a splinter group from the Republican party makes this public appeal to "liberty" very misleading.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Hey, hey. I resent that comment about nerdiness. Or rather, I resemble that remark...

But hey, did someone say Ron Paul is pro-life?!? Libertarians have always been pro-choice for obvious reasons, because a core belief of radical individualism is a belief of the integrity of the body against external control (hence the anti-fluoridation folks). Believing that the moment of conception creates a being with full 14th Amendment rights as a "person" is a religious argument, not an argument from libertarian philosophy. This makes me believe that Ron Paul may be, as RBR suggests, a conservative in libertarian's clothing.

Raised By Republicans said...

As I recall, Ron Paul's Libertarian candidacy was something of a departure from the usual run. He was much more of a conventional conservative than previous Libertarian candidates were.

Ron Paul is largely a "Guns, Gays, and God" Republican. This Libertarian stuff is just marketing.