Ron Paul did not intend to write a campaign book. If he did, he's too late; although Paul has not conceded, John McCain's nomination by the Republican Party is all but official. What Paul has written instead is a practical guide to the ideas of individual liberty and limited government.
By "practical" I mean that Paul has not written a philosophical discourse on ethics - although he does quote Aquinas. Neither has he an economic treatise -although he does express his admiration for Ludwig von Mises. Instead, Paul provides a list for further reading in the back, and gives us a brief, 167-page guide to what's wrong in the U.S. and which principles can make the country strong and free again. These are:
- a non-interventionist foreign policy
- following the letter and originally-understood meaning of the Constitution
- economic freedom
- personal freedom
- sound money
"Non-interventionism" is the foreign policy of the Founding Fathers, and it served the nation well in its first 100 years. It is the position that the United States should not intervene in the internal disputes of other countries, or between two or more countries in an overseas war. Even with the best of intentions, intervention leads to unintended consequences, or "blowback." The clearest case of blowback was 9/11, and ex-CIA Al Qaeda expert Michael Scheuer backs up Paul's claims. Osama bin Laden doesn't recruit terrorists bent on killing Americans for religious reasons, but to expel U.S presence in the Middle East. Paul also cites Professor Robert Pape, who claims that nearly every instance of over 400 suicide bombings from 1980-2004 were motivated by expelling an occupying force. The most common acts came from the Tamil Tigers, a secessionist group in Sri Linka (and they're not even Muslim!) As those who honor the dead at the Alamo can attest, people are willing to kill and die for their homeland. It's not all about religious fanaticism.
One of the reasons America has moved from a non-interventionist foreign policy to a quasi-imperial one with troops stationed in 130 countries is that we have strayed from the constraints of the Constitution. The power to declare war and authorize smaller engagements once rested in Congress. Since the Korean War, however, Presidents have initiated wars on their own, sometimes getting an after-the-fact rubber-stamp of approval from Congress, other times getting an "authorization" by which Congress delegates the power to decide if and when to go to war to the President. This delegation is unconstitutional. As are most Presidential Executive Orders and Signing Statements.
But it's not just the President who violates the Constitution. From abortion to prayer in school, federal courts have intervened in areas the Constitution had reserved to the states. Paul points out that those who say states can not be allowed to decide abortion or other moral issues because they might make the wrong choice are in essence calling for world government. After all, other countries may make the wrong choice, too!
Paul's economic chapter addresses how individuals have been raised to believe the government will take care of them, and that is why everyone from the poor to Big Business "favor government intervention on their behalf." Yet Paul wonders how a system based on legal plunder can benefit the poor and middle class, as it causes higher prices, less competitive businesses, and a sluggish economy. Paul also notes that, before the welfare state, citizens really were
more charitable toward each other; now they believe their taxes will take care of the less fortunate.
Paul goes into health care with some detail, and advocates tax-free medical savings accounts. His note on the environment is a little too sketchy: Paul believes that polluters should pay for the property damage they inflict and that the court system should work it out. This is true, but could use some elaboration. As could his explanation of why we are better off than 100 years ago. Big Government gets the credit, but Paul says it is greater access to capital these days. Perhaps he could have elaborated on what he meant by "capital" and its role in technological development.
Paul is probably most passionate on the issue of civil liberties. He details some of the evils of the Patriot Act, Military Commissions Act, and illegal activities of the Bush Administration, with anecdotes about a few of its victims. He proceeds to the War on Drugs, which he says is based on "lies, bigotry, and ignorance." The story of marijuana prohibition that he tells would be comical if it weren't true. Paul also defends the rights of homeschoolers, and his larger point is that families, churches, and communities are the best instruments to address moral issues and character development, not the federal government.
Finally, there is the issue of money - sound money. This is where the mainstream media has been most hostile to Paul and his "cranky" views. But his analysis is cogent: when the Federal Reserve inflates the money supply, we do
get higher prices and speculative bubbles. If this keeps up, hyperinflation and ruin will
be the result. There should be free competition in money, Paul argues, so that individuals can escape the mess. This probably means that people would trade in gold and silver without having to accept Federal Reserve dollars if they choose not to.
Paul makes some policy proposals throughout the book and again in the final chapter, though nothing detailed or comprehensive. Among these are bringing the troops home from foreign wars and occupations, the American Freedom Agenda Act to restore Bill of Rights protections from Executive abuse, holding the line on federal spending, and eliminating the income tax. I think he could have been more bold: if he really wants to eliminate the income tax, he should also target unconstitutional federal programs to make sure the budget is balanced.
But The Revolution is not a policy blueprint. Instead, it provides a new way to think about our problems and solutions, showing that favoring Constitutional limits and individual freedom are the only ways to avert the country from ruin. The book is also a challenge to the Republican Party, as in several places he quotes authors of the "Old Right" conservative tradition, as well as "Mr. Republican," Robert Taft. In many ways this book describes what Republicans used to believe and, in Paul's view, should believe.
But the Republican Party has lost its soul, and Paul's message is resonating instead to a younger, independently-minded generation. That is why Paul's message is revolutionary: it won't "reform" our country through yet more laws, programs, and meddling, but rather transform
it into the free, secure, prosperous nation it can be.
Longtime readers are aware that I have been a fan of Ron Paul and endorsed his candidacy for President. Many of the topics he addresses have also been addressed in this column, drawing many of the same conclusions. That said, I am impressed by Paul's ability to make clearly-written arguments with both logic and evidence on so many issues in such a small book. I highly recommend it as an introduction to the idea of liberty and how it is applied to specific issues. I hope it does inspire a revolution.