Ron Paul is Right, Bernie Sanders is an Authoritarian
The fact that so many former Ron Paul supporters are now passionately behind Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump for President is indicative of the widespread confusion over basic concepts of politics and the economy.
I have tried to analyse why so many have jumped ship to Sandersism. Today I’m going to respond to the responses to that article. My argument is summarised thus: no, Sanders is not a libertarian, and you are not a libertarian for supporting him.
I say the same to Trump supporters, but I’ll just focus on Sanders now. Be satisfied that I dislike Trump, Hillary, Cruz and Rubio just as much (I think I just saved myself a lot of trouble by pointing that out).
Incidentally, you can insert British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn in place of Sanders if you want. He is commendably better than Sanders on foreign policy, but nonetheless also an authoritarian. The same criticisms apply to him.
‘Libertarian’ Bernie Sanders supporters like to throw ‘The Political Compass’ around, claiming that since he is closest to the bottom line, ‘libertarian’, he is necessarily the most libertarian candidate and worthy of our support.
The most popular political quiz on the internet produces a square-shaped graph with the x axis representing economic policy, whilst the y axis represents authoritarian vs. libertarian. It can be found at politicalcompass.org.
The creator of the quiz has produced a mockup of where all of the 2016 candidates sit within the spectrum.
This is a pretty good representation of how most people have gone wrong in their estimation of the current lot of candidates. If you take it at face-value, you might think that Ted Cruz and Adolf Hitler would be bosom buddies, and by comparison Sanders is the moderate.
There are so many problems with this spectrum, and the quiz, that I am planning to devote an entire article to them. But what I want to point out today is this: the graph first overemphasises the difference between ‘left’ and ‘right’, underemphasises the difference between ‘authoritarian’ and ‘libertarian’, and then doesn’t take into account the authoritarian potential in economic policy.
This square-shaped spectrum suggests to us that there is a difference between right-wing and left-wing economics, which nobody can deny, but it incorrectly suggests that the differences between right-wing and left-wing are as significant as the differences between authoritarian and libertarian. According to the quiz, a right libertarian is as diametrically opposed to a left-libertarian as he is to a communist or a fascist.
Some people like to put it on a single line, with authoritarian at the left and libertarian at the left (or the other way round – at that point, you’re just debating semantics). I wouldn’t go as far to say that. There are tangible differences between socialism and fascism, for example, that cannot be represented on a single axis.
But the square shaped spectrum will not do. In reality, one is more likely to find left and right libertarians cooperating, e.g. at liberty.me, than right-libertarians and fascists cooperating (certain libertarian radio host/bloggers notwithstanding). For libertarians, the fact that you’re not an authoritarian is more likely to get you into their good books than because you’re on the same side of the left/right spectrum.
In turn, you’re more likely to find the extreme authoritarian left and the extreme authoritarian right cooperating than with libertarians of both stripes. If two people share the aim of creating a totalitarian government, there is plenty of incentive to make leviathan beneficial for both of them. John T. Flynn remarked on this in As We Go Marching, with the most blatant real-life example in fascist Italy. It turned out that fascism only prospered with backing from the influential left-syndicalists and trade unionists, who were promised favours by the big business interests that expected monopolies via state power. Flynn says:
“The explanation lies at this point. Both Right and Left joined in this urge for regulation. The motives, the arguments, and the forms of expression were different but all drove in the same direction. And this was that the economic system must be controlled in its essential functions and this control must be exercised by the producing groups.”
This happens because the differences between left and right merely amount to differences in administration style rather than fundamental philosophy. Both left and right want to control you, but in different ways.
Left and right are constantly finding it mutually beneficial to expand state power. In the mid-20r Century, Flynn took the examples of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to warn Americans about the New Deal. But Obamacare is a more modern example of this: a Republican idea that benefits special business interests, implemented by a Democrat wanting to look like a compassionate individual. It is far more sustainable for the state to find a way to cater to all kinds of authoritarians than one stripe.
And now look at the current crop of candidates – they’re peas in a pod. Neither Sanders and Trump have respect for individual liberty as a principle, and violate it by their own methods.
To address this, I came up with my own oval shaped political spectrum that de-emphasises the difference between left and right. It is inspired by Hans-Herman Hoppe’s masterful treatise A Theory of Capitalism and Socialism, that most successfully establishes the difference between capitalism and socialism, plus the differences between different kinds of socialism (or statism, if you prefer).As you can see, this is much more instructive, especially for those that judge peoples’ views based on their respect for individual liberty. For a libertarian, the difference between left and right may only be a question of whether the person is a Democratic Socialist, a Crony Capitalist or a Social Engineer. This is the difference between weather the person would use the state to implement a large welfare state (Sanders) or use it to grant subsidies to favoured corporations (Hillary, Cruz, Rubio), or build a big wall and ban Muslims (Trump). Important distinctions, but not nearly as important as to how authoritarian the person is.
Ron Paul was right: Bernie Sanders is an authoritarian.
The common perception seems to be that economic policy doesn’t have anything to do with the authoritarian/libertarian axis. This is wrong; every intervention in the economy is necessarily a restriction of at least one person’s liberty, and therefore inherently authoritarian.
One of Sanders’ key selling points is his support of higher taxes on the richest in society. The popular square-shaped political spectrum would tell us that that simply places Sanders more on the left than the others that want less taxation, not affecting the y axis one way or the other.
But what is taxation, exactly? Non-Sequiturs aside, taxation is little more than legalised theft. It is the forceful taking of a person’s money to give to somebody else. For every dollar taken, that is one dollar that would have been allocated by that person for their own ends. Therefore, every tax is an imposition and a violation of a person’s individual liberty.
On the Egg Political Spectrum, the more taxation a candidate supports, the higher they go on the y axis. Since Sanders is in favour of huge amounts of taxation, he ranks pretty high as an authoritarian.
And then there’s his general support of the military-industrial-complex, again an authoritarian institution that precludes massive incursions into people’s private lives via the police state.
And apart from the fact that the interventions in and of themselves are authoritarian, history shows us that the more economic intervention there is, the greater the strain on civil liberties are necessary.
In nearly every instance of socialist or communist economies, the political class end up instituting an omnipotent government upon the people. The numerous rules and ‘plans’ require Stasi’s to spy on and intimidate the populace. They have to build giant walls to make sure nobody leaves. They ban contraception so as to increase the workforce. And then we are expected to believe that the fact that so many socialist states have ended up throwing people in concentration camps and committing mass genocide is just an unfortunate coincidence.
This is why the claims of leftists that want to implement socialism ‘without the totalitarianism’ are preposterous. In order to enforce all of the interventions, regulations, restrictions and distributions required, the state will necessarily have to be big. The more rules you have, the more police you need to enforce them. The more people that violate the rules, as is inevitable the more restrictive the economy gets, the more draconian the punishments have to be.The more ‘left’ you go on the x axis on The Political Compass, the more ‘up’ you go on the y axis on the Egg Spectrum.
This is not recognised by traditional political spectrums – they would have us believe that it is possible to have a libertarian socialist, which is a contradiction in terms.
The only way to make left-libertarianism coherent is if it simply describes libertarians that prefer communal based living, with collectively run property, but operating within a free market. This is nothing like what Sanders is advocating: he wants a massive state to inhibit the market and tell people what to do.
Sanders supporters, in turn, are not borderline-pacifists and agrarian communalists: they’re statist to the core. They despise the idea of people making more money than them, even if they’re doing it peacefully, and more than willing to allow others to use force against the rich to take their money, and give it to themselves. They have little to no respect for property rights and individual liberty.
It’s true, Sanders is not a socialist in the Venezuelan style. He is more in favour of the Scandinavian socialist model – which in fact requires a relatively free economy in order to fund their massive welfare state. That’s why he sits in the ‘Democratic Socialist’ section rather than the ‘Russian-style socialist’ section. In political reality though, as President, he would probably sit in the Crony Capitalism section, just like the rest.
But what are Sanders’ libertarian credentials exactly? He wants to legalise cannabis nationally, which is great, but without comprehensive legalisation of all drugs, the destructive drug war would be set to continue. And then there’s the fact that he voted against the war in Iraq. But as Ron Paul points out, that is one ‘No’ vote amongst many ‘Yes’s for other aggressive interventions abroad. There is no evidence to suggest that he would implement a truly libertarian foreign policy, i.e. that of non-interventionism. From a freedom-lover’s perspective, it’s all a bit lame.
The former Ron Paul supporters that are now behind Bernie are not attracted to him because he is more libertarian than the others, but because he is more anti-establishment than the others. But regardless, libertarians are expected to support Sanders simply because many of his supporters were once supporters of Ron Paul. But it’s not the libertarians’ fault that Sanders supporters are wrong.
But what does it all matter? Bernie Sanders will not become President.
I know this, but ideas are powerful. It’s important to have a clear idea of what socialism, authoritarianism, capitalism and libertarianism is. The establishment can only survive by the consent of the governed, if only tacit. The more popular Bernie becomes, the more the people with real power will have to cater to the ideas that support him.
Plus, when he inevitably loses, and then supporters have their mourning period, somebody will have to show them a light. That may as well be the libertarians.
Since Sanders will not win, it seems silly to support him when there are far more robust libertarians that are in the running. If a libertarian is going to get behind a Presidential candidate that is not going to win, she may as well go for the eventual Libertarian Party nominee.
If you’re still plagued by Sandersism, there is a remedy: Tom Woods has written Bernie Sanders Is Wrong, available here for free.
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