Reihan: Is Ron Paul A Bad Libertarian?

Alex Massie leads me to wonder: Should libertarians think Paul is bad for the movement? After all, he comes from an anti-immigration right-populist tradition that sharply contradicts the cosmopolitanism that increasingly defines libertarianism. It's clear that Ron Paul is more Bob Taft or than he is a modern-day hipstertarian, which is part of his charm. David Weigel asked the right questions back in May: if Paul gets more attention in the next few weeks, that will also mean increased scrutiny. Will the resulting "revelations" about his decidedly unconventional views on the gold standard, etc., which Paul has made no effort to hide, undermine libertarians as they attempt to spread their intellectual influence leftward?

Whether or not the "liberaltarian" strategy is embraced by social-democratic liberals (verdict: unlikely), there are obvious reasons for libertarians to emphasize their dovish, culturally liberal side. The increasing willingness of libertarians to embrace tactical interventions (e.g., wage subsidies help shore up the legitimacy of the market economy, so let's use them) means that in theory they could become a free-floating answer to the German Free Democrats in their prime. That is an obviously attractive and not-impossible goal.

I don't know, I figure movement libertarians have in mind a very long-term strategy that only glancingly involves, say, the Republican presidential primary of 2008. The Paul campaign strikes me as a narrow phenomenon that mostly reflects a quirky, populist subculture (or Birchers and Buchananites) meeting an affluent, angry subculture (of anti-war non-movement libertarians). Paul is thus unlikely to do any lasting damage to the libertarian brand, and his candidacy will in all likelihood help the broader movement flourish. (By, among other things, introducing some non-trivial number of young people to new and appealing ideas.)

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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