To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand.
— Charles Taylor
In the early 1980s, which now seems a few lifetimes ago, I began offering a college seminar course titled “The Politics of Personal Identity,” quickly dubbed “POPI” by students. It was designed as a capstone course and limited to twelve seniors. Most of the identity groupings around today were addressed in readings, films and guest speakers. During the final weeks of the course, each student was responsible for giving a 45-minute oral presentation: “Who Am I? What Do I Believe? Why Do I Believe It?” This was followed by a lengthy period of questioning from the other seminar members and myself. Each of our guest speakers gave presentations on this topic and I presented my own on the last day of class. Germane to this was an exploration one’s political beliefs and their consequences was the critical component of the course and in what follows below.
Before exploring identities like race, gender, class, ethnicity and others, we attempted to establish a framework by including the work of Canadian philosopher and political activist Charles Taylor and specifically, his pioneering ideas on the politics of identity.1
For Taylor, “Selfhood and the good, or in another way, selfhood and morality, turn out to be inextricably intertwined themes. We are selves only in that certain issues matter to us. What I am as a self, my identity, is essentially defined by the way things have significance for me… We are selves only in that we move in a certain space of questions, as we seek and find an orientation to the good.” By his light, “Who I am” is most crucially this space of moral orientation “within which my most defining relations are lived out.”
And this isn’t just a strong preference or attachment. It means that people are saying that if they were to this commitment or identification, “they would be at sea, as it were, they wouldn’t know anymore, for an important range of questions, what the significance of things was for them.”
There is a sense of the ‘self’ that conveys to these beings of requisite depth to their identity or those who at the very least are struggling to find one. Others, who we judge as shallow, also have commitments but we see them as conventional and not the result of deep searching. And, as Taylor notes, those without any framework at all are pathologically amoral.
An important corollary is that one must include oneself in the mix because as Erich Fromm wisely counsels, “Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself” means nothing unless we realize that the discovery of my own self is inseparably connected with the discovery of any other self.”2
We also read some work by the character actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, including this passage about how to act in a morally responsible way:
My daily obligation was, first and foremost, to learn how to make a correct
And careful study of the world. If I didn’t know what the world was like, how
Could I know what action to take? And so it turns out that morality insists upon accuracy —
painstakingly steady and researched.3
I hoped that Shawn’s words would resonate with the students, most of whom had also taken my intro course: International Politics: How the World Works, the bookend course to POPI. I was gratified that virtually all of the seminar participants made the connection and often referenced the intro course. (Note: I’m painfully aware of the immense difference between an intro course with two sessions for fourteen weeks to examine a subject versus the forced, frustrated and episodic nature of most exchanges about politics on Facebook and elsewhere.)
And further, one cannot be a self strictly on one’s own. For starters, who did I interact with that helped me achieve self-realization? Who are those around me right now who contribute to my self-understanding? Beyond the standard sources, how widely have I searched? Is there evidence to support my conclusions or am I relying only on tradition, feelings and the accepted authorities? How has the “community” or culture withIn which I identify, affected my moral stands? Finally, it’s virtually impossible to have a sense of who/where I am without some grasp of how we got there. This can be painful and tempting to avoid, especially as one advances in age and possible regrets loom. Taylor asks us to consider what type of life is worth living? “E.g., what would a rich meaningful life, as against an empty one, or what would constitute an honorable life or the like?”
In sum, my argument was that there’s a virtually seamless web connecting knowing ourselves, knowing how the world works, and knowing that something needs to be done — starting with oneself. Uncertainty, deliberation and experimentation about the specific course of action don’t detract from the wisdom found in the Asian proverb “To know and not to act is not to know.”4
If we can answer to ourselves “This is where I stand,“ we have a fundamental moral orientation that has grown out of a careful examination of how the world works and we possess an identity that permits us to define what is important to us and what is not.
If we have serious uncertainty about ourselves and what is of value to us, our very identity is called into question. And here, I think, is Taylor’s most salient point: “To lose this orientation, or not to have found it, is not to know who one is.” In short, an identity crisis occurs because qualitative distinctions about how to live our lives are missing. Taylor notes that we also know people who we consider terribly shallow who also have their own sense about what’s important but who haven’t thought very deeply about the world or the origins of their conventional ideas.
I didn’t tell the class that several faculty turned down my request to speak and expressed uneasiness about the topic. I couldn’t help wondering if this was because they’d never really thought through questions of identity. A college professor can hide behind a role and never need reveal his or her beliefs. In any event, for me, this threw into sharp relief a critical issue that also became a discussion topic in the seminar. That is, with the exception of some red diaper babies, most of us who define ourselves as radicals were once liberals. By virtue of searing historical experiences, patient veterans of past struggles, contact with other cultures, reading outside the mainstream and just plain luck, we ended up embracing a radical political viewpoint.
My hypothesis and cautionary note to younger people is that the older one gets the harder it becomes to rethink one’s identity and question beliefs in which one has a considerable material and psychic investment, without risking Taylor’s aforementioned identity crisis. The danger of peering too deeply, especially in mid-life or beyond, is the prospect of discovering that one has lived a trivial, insubstantial life that hasn’t been the prelude or harbinger of anything meaningful.
And the personal cost of not doing this is really incalculable. This is because the prevailing economic and social forces within which we live deny us the experience of genuine love, life’s most rewarding experience and in Fromm’s words, “The only sane and satisfying answer to the problem of human existance.” Fromm, who died in 1980, isolated the dilemma for out political reality, “The principle underlying capitalist society and the principal of love are incompatible.”
It’s been my observation that in the face of this reality, many people adopt “liberal” beliefs and behaviors that they hope this will stave off or neuter the gnawing discomfort that Fromm is correct and what this will mean for their personal political identity. Here’s a short list:
I take no pleasure in taking this a step further but I sense it needs saying in order for leftists to make more productive use of their time and energy. Australian political analyst Caitlin Johnstone has listed several reasons why liberals hate and fear leftists. Here are just four of them:
First, because as noted earlier, one’s worldview is an important component of one’s identity and “exposing its flaws and one’s hypocrisy can feel like a personal attack”
Second, because if the leftists are right “everyone who taught them everything they thought they knew is wrong.”
Third, because change is scary.
Fourth, because the aforementioned “psychological discomfort known as cognitive dissonance actually hurts, and those who provoke it can often be perceived as the cause of the pain.”5
Finally, we know “the self,” especially in a hyper-individualistic, empathy-anesthetizing, neoliberal capitalist culture, can become detached from the collectivity and less appreciative of the communal nature of life. There’s strong incentive to disavow one’s own role and complicity in the suffering of others here and abroad and failing to help make the world safer for loving our neighbors. Over my lifetime (I’m 76) I’ve watched this occur countless times, especially recently. However, it’s neither inevitable nor excusable, especially if one’s had the luxury of time, travel, education and access to varied sources of information. It’s really never too late to begin the process.
- Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989).
- Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (New York: Bantam Books, 1956), p.49.
- Wallace Shawn, Appendix to Aunt Dan & Lemon (1987).
- Gary Olson, Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture and the Brain (New York: Spring Publishing, 2012), See, especially, “Dangerously Empathic Samaritans,” p. 6-10.
- Caitlin Johnstone, “Why Liberals Hate Leftists,” September 26, 2020.
The post A Few Thoughts on Identity, Morality, Politics and Liberals first appeared on Dissident Voice.
I was always dismissed as a ‘Sov symp’ in the days of communism, attracted by the Soviet Union’s great foreign policy: anti-imperialist, ant-zionist, pro-nuclear disarmament, pro-liberation movements, etc, etc. I could never understand why lefties didn’t fall in love with the only real non-capitalist modern society. It worked, however badly. It had to be at the heart of the struggle against capitalism, imperialism.
Now I’m a ‘putinist’ according to my Canadian MP Chrystia Freeland, herself granddaughter of the leading WWII Ukrainian Hitler propagandist as Ukrainian Jews were whisked away to concentration camps and death. She was trying to insult me, as I stood with a friend and a placard ‘Hands off Venezuela’, ‘welcoming’ her constituents at a levy on a frosty but sunny afternoon in 2018. Canada had just signed on to the US conspiracy to overthrow Maduro, par for Canada’s craven course in world affairs. A bit of ‘pot calling the kettle black,’ I wanted to needle her, but refrained, anxious to leave a pro-Bolivarian soundbyte in her haughty mind.
‘Sticks and stones’, I always say. In any case, I am still a supporter of Russian foreign policy, generally following its Soviet parent. Not for any love of Putin, but because it is right. And I still remain a Sov symp, now, more for its egalitarian domestic policy, guaranteeing a first rate, free education, and quite passable universal health care, not to mention cheap housing, cheap public transport, lots of holidays. Russia, sadly, has abandoned much of that in its embrace of capitalism.
Freeland, like Catherine Belton, was Financial Times correspondent in Moscow in the 1990s, a close friend of the Bill Browder whose financial shenanigans in Moscow led to the Magnitsky Act in 2012, banning Russians deemed undesirable from the US. Like Browder, Freeland too cashed in on Russia’s woes, with Sale of the Century (2000) about Russia’s journey from communism to capitalism, and Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012).
Freeland had the curious dilemma of being Canada’s foreign minister (2017-19) while being banned from Canada’s northern Russian neighbour, thanks to her very loud pillorying of Putin. When asked if this wasn’t a problem, she dismissed the ban as ‘something for Moscow to deal with.’ Have I got this right? As Arctic sovereignty rears its contentious head, Canada’s inability to work with its main contender is not a problem? Where the only interaction of leaders is Trudeau and Freeland name-calling Putin at international gatherings?
Communist (sorry, Russian) conspiracies
Belton’s tome, Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West, is being touted as ‘the definitive account of the rise of Putin and Putinism’, according to Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic. All these strident critics of Putin, Catherine, Chrystia and Anne, are, well, women-in-a-man’s-world. Putin’s appeal is definitely not to feminists. His image is of a macho man, silent and serious, crafty and intelligent. The story line is: KGB man appears from nowhere, bashes the Chechens, exiles and/or assassinates his foes, redistributes the country’s resources to his KGB friends, creating a new patriotic elite, meanwhile, spending millions to subvert the West. Vladimir Putin has presided over the country and its resources like a tsar, bolstered by a cadre of friendly oligarchs and secret service agents. ‘Very dangerous’ in the words of Freeland.
Although the writing style, seeing everything through conspiratorial eyes, with Russia always the bad guy, is irksome, there are interesting themes and juicy gossip:
*Under Andropov, the KGB was already working with the black market in anticipation of loosening control, and allowing creation of a genuine market (the ‘luch’ (light) program). Of course, the KGB wanted to keep control of cash flows. If that indeed was Andropov’s plan, was it bad, as Belton implies? It sure beats letting a handful of men steal the nation’s wealth and spirit it abroad, as Yeltsin did in the 1990s.
Andropov died just months after Gorbachev arrived in Moscow, prematurely thrusting him into sole leadership, without Andropov’s skills and knowledge, or his caution. Instead of a Russian transition, Russians got a free-for-all by wannabe westernerizers, Chubais, Khodorkovsky et al, with neoliberal American advisers. By then, there was no authority to rein in the greed. Russia was gutted.
*Putin’s mentor was Leningrader and reformer Anatolii Sobchak. Belton suggests Yeltsin orchestrated Sobchak’s defeat as mayor in 1996, as Sobchak was too charismatic (and intelligent). That brought Putin to Moscow and the KGB orchestrated his rise to keep control. Primakov and Luzhkov, supported by the Communists, were jockeying to take over from Yeltsin.
A telling anecdote Belton relates (if true) is how Putin spirited Sobchak out of the country to avoid investigations which might have landed him in jail. When Yelstin heard of this, he was impressed at his loyalty, clearly with his own family in mind, and promoted Putin to head the FSB and finally prime minister in 1999.
When Sobchak heard this (so the story goes), he said: Don’t frighten me! Sobchak’s only public criticism of the post-Soviet KGB (and Putin) was an article charging them with complicity in murder of an official, Manevich, involving the Petersburg port (where Putin was supposedly involved in drug smuggling). And then he died ‘mysteriously’ a month before Putin’s inauguration as president in 2000.
*The next step in Belton’s conspiratorial take is the explosions that hit four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999, culminating in Putin beating out Primakov in an orchestrated coup. (Did the KGB blow up Russians to make a strongman KGB more palatable?)
How much of this scenario is fact is hard to tell, but the upshot is that Russia lives with a West not much different from Soviet days. Yes, the KGB was formed by a Cold War mentality and connections. Whose fault was that? Under Putin, Russia has been rebuilt as the Soviet Union with capitalism, crony capitalism. Andropov’s vision of a controlled transition to a more open economy, with socialism still the guiding force, was not to be. There is not ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not Putin’s fault.
New banks that popped up overnight had been able to manipulate the ‘loans for shares’ scheme to obtain shares in firms with strong potential as collateral for loans to the state. This was how Khodorkovsky got a 78% share of ownership in Yukos. In a few years, most of Russia’s wealth was funneled into a dozen hands. It was too late to close the barn door, but at least Putin slowed the hemorrhaging and created a functioning state.
With his presidential mandate, Putin immediately went after the oligarchs. He summoned them for regular meetings, warned them of ‘fishing in muddy waters’, that it was ‘no use blaming the mirror’ [because you’re ugly].
We have a category of people who have become billionaires overnight. The state appointed them billionaires. It simply gave out a huge amount of property, practically for free. Then they got the idea that ‘the gods themselves slept on their heads,’ that everything was permitted to them.1
‘Privatization didn’t create legitimate property,’ Khodorkovsky’s ex-lawyer told Belton in 2018. You don’t own it, Putin warned them, but merely can use it under the government’s scrutiny. At the same time, Putin promised not to reverse 1990s privatizations. Bad cop, good cop.
Khodorkovsky gets special attention. How from 2003 on, Khodorkovsky started to push a political agenda, aiming for control by financing the Communists, Yabloko and Union of Right forces at the same time, trying to appeal to both left and right against Putin, planning to run for president 2008. Essentially privatizing politics. He started a youth movement and made a public display of charity.
But what Russia needed was not charity from a slick snake-oil salesman, but tax revenue, and to make sure that oil remained in Russian hands. When Khodorkovsky planned to give majority ownership of Yukos to ExxonMobil and/or ChevronTexaco in 2003, that crossed Putin’s red line and Kh lost his ill-gotten wealth, landing in prison in 2005. At the end of 2014 (after a pardon by Putin), he was still worth about $500 million. In 2015, he moved to London.
Khodorkovsky would be the exception that proves the rule about respecting the ’90s fire sale. Belton tsk-tsks that the husband of Kh’s judge was ‘driven to a Subaru salesroom and told to choose a vehicle for himself.’ That Putin was merely creating a new set of oligarchs from among his friends, the siloviki (the ‘powers’). Yes, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. At least the new boss is under the control of the country’s government.
Belton compares Putin’s regime to that of Tsar Nicholas I, who reigned from 1825 to 1855. Putin directly copies the state doctrine of ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality’ of Nicholas I. Khodorovsky was even sent to Krasnokamensk in Siberia, where Decembrists were sent two centuries ago by Nicholas. The tsar suppressed the westernizers of the day, fans of Napoleon, whom, remember Russia had just defeated. Shades of treason. But Russian soldiers liked what they saw in Europe, where there was much greater freedom of speech and no serfdom. Eventually Nicholas’s son Alexander II built on that legacy.
Putin is a big fan of Russian history, and compares his rule to that of all his predecessors. But Tsar Nicholas was not faced with such hostility from Europe, at least till the end of his 30-year reign, with the Crimean War. After it was over, relations went back to normal. The Crimean War was all about asserting Britain as the world empire. In the ‘great game’ of the time, Russia grudgingly accepted that, and soon Tsar Nicholas II and his cousin King George V were leading their nations into WWI together.
To stretch the analogy, the US is the world empire today and expects Russia to toe the line. But there are no monarchs to paper over the cracks. The great game today is not a simple replay, except that the 19th century version ended in world wars, and the current game is already one of economic war and an accelerating arms race. In both cases, Russia was/is trying to develop peacefully, never under anyone’s thumb, making it Belton’s foe not so much for Putin’s ruthlessness and corruption, but for his temerity to defy the US empire.
Putin is more like Stalin in his drive to defend the motherland against very real enemies, his ruthlessness and zeal to modernize Russia and ensure a strong state. In a telling show of force shortly after his election as president in 2000, he first lectured the oligarchs about their fishing in muddy waters, then ‘invited’ them to Stalin’s dacha for an informal party, dressed in jeans and t-shirt.
Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev did not have the same fear of the West as Stalin and Putin. But that’s not Putin’s fault. (And they were deceived as it turns out.) Belton’s warped interpretations of things ignore the very real threat posed by the West, not just in Soviet times, but even more so today, eager to further dismember a weakened Russia and force it to accept US hegemony.
As for the oligarchs, Belton even denies they are genuine oligarchs: ‘Russia has no oligarchs, only wealthy servants of Putin and his FSB.’ (But maybe they like the restrictions, as Putin promises them not only security, but a renewed Russia.)
Belton rightly notes the big moment for Putin was the Munich security conference 2007, where Putin shocked—and impressed—the world by telling truth to power, charging that the US imperial project was back in full force. This is a world of one master, one sovereign. And this in the end is ruinous not just for everyone in the system, but for the sovereign itself. For it will destroy the sovereign from the inside. The world is changing rapidly. Belton dismisses this now legendary attack on US pretense, instead, accusing Putin of reviving the Cold War.
And what of the claims of Russian meddling in foreign governments? Belton points to Putin’s ‘suggestion’ to Abramovich to buy the Chelsea football club, that this helped clinch the World Cup in 2018, relying on a corrupt FIFA. All the Russian wealth circulating in Britain allowed Putin to manipulate British politics. Oh really?
Was it Putin’s fault that Trump spent so much time with rich pals and pretty women in Moscow, even hosting the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 in Krasnogorsk? Belton attributes Trump’s isolationism (his pre-election call to withdraw troops from Japan and the Persian Gulf) to Russia. No. Just common sense. Like a broken clock, Trump occasionally gets it right.
And the wikileaks of 2016, even if courtesy of Russia, merely showed Washington as corrupt and cynical. Interesting that both Donald Jr and Biden Jr (to their peril) were also attracted to ‘wild east’.
But no. For Applebaum, ‘in 2016, Putin finally hit the jackpot: His operatives helped elect an American president with long-standing Russian links who would not only sow chaos, but systematically undermine America’s alliances, erode American influence, and even, in the spring of 2020, render the American federal government dysfunctional, damaging the reputation of both the U.S. and democracy more broadly.’ So it’s Putin who is causing all of America’s woes! That explains everything.
And Ukraine. Russia was eyeing Ukraine from the Orange Revolution in 2005 on, encouraging instability in a plan to ‘rebuild the empire’, to dominate Ukraine and seize Crimea. So it was Russia that set off the 2014 Maidan riots, not the many western-backed NGOS and Ukraine’s budding fascist movement (cheered on by the likes of Freeland, Belton and Applebaum)?
And then Russia turned around and blamed the US! ‘Without any proof Russia claimed the US was behind the protests that buffeted Yanukovich’s regime.’ Belton describes the ‘deep paranoia that haunted Putin and his men since the days of the Orange Revolution in 2004.’ At the same time, ‘Russia was seeking to sow division in the West.’
Why would Russia want to cripple neighbour Ukraine? Only the distant US has benefited by the tragedy there, selling more arms, harassing Russia. The US has a long tradition of fighting its battles far away. Out of sight, out of mind.
In Georgia, Putin ‘had long ago laid a trap for Saakashvili’, so when Saakashvili invaded south Ossetia in 2008, Russia was once again the culprit. ‘These aggressions’ are Putin’s doing.
Clamping down on western-backed NGOS from the ‘white revolution’ in 2011 on is condemned as downright unfair. Putin: They do not represent the state. You have many individuals, Soros for example, worth billions, and they are meddling everywhere. He didn’t need to mention US interference to ensure Yeltsin’s re-election in 1996, or Clinton’s work with dissidents in 2011 (‘Human rights is part of who we are’) to undermine the Russian presidential election in 2012.
Belton grudgingly admits Putin was blessed by high oil prices in the 2000s, and that he used his new control over oil to revive the state and amass foreign reserves to prevent another 1997 meltdown. Then reasserted Russia’s traditional regional hegemony. That accounts for his renewed popularity. But she sees this all negatively. Tell that to the Russians (wherever they find themselves).
For Belton, Russia is everything bad, and it’s Putin’s fault. At best a throw-back to autocrat Nicholas I. Where are Peter the Great or Catherine the Great as inspirations for Putin? Belton portrays Russia as a dictatorship riddled with corruption. But isn’t that the US too? Oh, I forgot, they have elections every 4 year and change the puppet on top. At least Putin more or less controls things, without needing to look over his shoulder for the puppet master.
All Belton’s umbrage merely confirms my impression of Putin — he is a tsar, a ‘great’ one but like all tsars, he takes a big chunk for himself and his circle. That’s what tsars do. And his critics generally have a hard life, though smart ones prosper.
As for alt history, Belton makes two telling points, quoting first a once-close aide to Putin, Sergei Pugachev: Yes, Primakov and the communists ‘would have been better.’ And Berezovsky: It is dangerous to give the KGB the reins of power. They ‘enter a vicious circle,’ doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. In short, Putin’s legacy may end up as a repeat of the Soviet decline due to a rigid autocracy.
The West royally screwed Russia when it was down in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If they’d played along with Gorby, everyone would be better off, maybe realizing a bit of Andropov’s vision. The bottom line: Putin saved Russia. It’s that simple.
Now if only he can prepare a successor. So far he’s not in the mood. But then Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great (not to mention Lenin and Stalin) were not much better at that. If Putin rests on his laurels, then he (or a weak successor) could end up in the same corner that Lukashenko has painted himself into.
- Putin quoted in the New York Times, October 5, 2003.
When Dr. Ron Paul suffered a health scare during his live Liberty Report show last Friday, I was perhaps less worried than most of his friends, family, and fans. His remarkable vitality, vigor, and energy are well known to those around him, along with his penchant for exercise, clean living, and light eating. Having known him thirty years, I simply had no recollection of him ever being sick or out of commission. This is a man who had never missed a day of work or an event, at least in my memory. In my mind he was simply always there, a fixed feature of life. So my immediate reaction was to think he would be fine.
As it turns out, he is fine. Even unstoppable.
In Dr. Paul's congressional office during the early 2000s, his mostly Generation X staff joked about how Ron would bury us someday despite being several decades older. Now that we're in our fifties, the joke hits a bit closer to home! But we were all familiar with his relentless nature. His pace was legendary: waking early, printing articles to read, gathering newspapers, putting together his busy schedule for the day, and preparing for votes.
It was always tough to keep up with him, literally, legging around Capitol Hill to hearings, media hits, or finalizing details for one of his infamous "special order" speeches at the end of the congressional day. Ron bid for our office in the Cannon House building primarily for its proximity to the Capitol building itself, so he'd spend the least amount of time "commuting." When he needed knee replacements there was no question about doing both the same day, over the congressional Christmas break. Always true to form, he was up and about almost immediately and eschewed even over-the-counter pain medication.
He was always moving, and absolutely hated to wait. His years as a busy obstetrician, with babies arriving at all hours of the night in far-flung rural Texas hospitals, certainly served him well when it came to the less serious job of Congress—with its late night votes and sudden schedule changes. Unlike medicine, however, the work of Congress is defined by motion rather than action. And unlike many of his colleagues, when the votes ended Ron headed back to his nondescript condo in Alexandria. There were no DC steakhouse dinners with lobbyists, no Capitol Hill bars and nightlife, and certainly none of the fleshy graft which ensnared so many pols over the years.
Dr. Paul's energy spills over into his life at home, where he is always busy walking, biking, swimming, tending to his prized tomatoes, and hosting a steady stream of family and guests. His "retirement" from Congress at the end of 2012 finds him producing five live Liberty Report episodes with his cohost, Daniel McAdams, every week, along with writing, public speaking, and media appearances. But he is much happier without the dreadful weekly slog back and forth to Bush Intercontinental Airport on the far side of Houston, along with the infuriating kabuki theater known as TSA. His family life is no doubt much improved.
Speaking of family, Ron and his wife, Carol (née Wells), stand atop a pyramid of children (five, with three MDs), nineteen grandchildren, and ten (for now) great-grandchildren. The Pauls have been married sixty-three years; their children have been married 167 years combined! Family, more than anything he has done in medicine or politics, will be Dr. Paul's lasting legacy.
But there were a lot of nights and weekends away from that family over the years, starting all the way back in the 1970s. So a bit of history is in order. Today happens to be the birthday of Ludwig von Mises, who played a brief but important role in the Ron Paul story. Nixon cut off gold convertibility by foreign central banks in 1971, and the alarmed young obstetrician began reading everything he could on money and inflation—including Mises. A year later, Dr. Paul managed to get away from his busy medical practice for a day to hear the great man speak at the nearby University of Houston. That talk, titled "Why Socialism Always Fails" (listen here!), made a deep impression on Ron. He knew he had to do something.
That "something" took form in his decision to run for Congress in 1974. And in a very real sense Dr. Paul is the only Misesian ever to serve in Congress.
His first stint in the US House only deepened his concerns about the monetary system, and in 1984 he took the gambit of giving up his seat to run against Phil Gramm for US Senate. Gramm prevailed, but Ron returned home to his medical practice determined to remain active. He became involved in the precious metals community, began building contacts, and ultimately became the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 1988.
Those involved with that presidential campaign, including Lew Rockwell and the late Kent Snyder, can tell you it was no luxurious affair. With no internet, mobile phones, email, or social media, campaign events were hit or miss. Local newsletters and bulletin boards were the only source of information, and media appearances were distinctly "earned" in those days. Often a supporter in a beat-up car was the only campaign contact in any city, after long flights on cheap Southwest. Small groups of twenty or thirty people would meet at someone's home or a local diner, hear Ron speak, and pass the hat for travel funds. It was a shoestring of a campaign, and hardly energizing or optimistic. But Ron persevered, knowing his efforts would bear fruit someday.1
So the "famous" Ron Paul of 2012—who spoke to five thousand students at Berkeley, raised $30 million, and appeared in CNN debates—first spent years away from his family and his medical practice.
He return to the House of Representative in the 1990s was both helped and hindered by his identification as a libertarian. His extensive contacts and earlier time in Congress gave him a fundraising base and name recognition, but also earned him the ire of the GOP. Upon informing Republican leaders of his intention to run for Congress again, and suggesting he could win the south Texas seat from a sitting Democrat, the party swung into action against him. His by then well-known antiwar and anti-Fed views alarmed them, and his departure from the party in 1988 angered them. So Newt Gingrich, the powerful speaker of the House, convinced that Democrat (Greg Laughlin) to switch parties by promising him a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Dr. Paul thus found himself in a primary race against the sitting Congressman he intended to face in the general election. But Ron knew the district, and campaigned effectively against the outsiders trying to dictate who would hold the seat—especially Newt Gingrich, who blundered by flying to Texas for a Laughlin event. Meanwhile, then governor George W. Bush and his chief of staff Karl Rove were working behind the scenes to help Laughlin as well, but to no avail. When Ron won the primary, they called him over to the statehouse in Austin to offer both their surprise and their congratulations.
His Democratic opponent in the general election, a trial lawyer named Charles "Lefty" Morris, attempted to paint Ron's position on the drug war as irresponsible and crazy. But Ron's campaign responded with an ad showing the mild-mannered doctor in his medical coat, the down-to-earth trusted physician who had delivered thousands of babies across the congressional district. His personal reputation for sobriety, as a family man deeply involved in his community, blunted the political hits—which is of course an important lesson in itself.
But even winning the general election in 1996 did not endear the GOP to Dr. Paul. Congressional leaders took the almost unprecedented step of disregarding his earlier time in Congress for purposes of seniority. Undaunted, Ron requested and received a seat on the Banking committee, considered a boring backwater. Little did they know that the Enron scandal and the Arthur Andersen collapse a few years later would make the newly christened "Financial Services" Committee one of the most sought after. (Why? Remember the Sarbanes-Oxley bill regulating public companies, and all the lobbying surrounding it? Imagine the postcongressional career riches!) And little did they know that the Greenspan-Bernanke economy would implode about a decade later, making monetary policy a hot issue and presenting Dr Paul with numerous chances to grill both men at committee hearings.
Ultimately, he was awarded his delayed but rightful chairmanship of an important monetary policy subcommittee in 2010. Not surprisingly, Ron immediately turned the opportunity into a teachable moment—inviting Austrian economists as witnesses and luncheon speakers, and creating a truly intellectual atmosphere for interested members and staffers who had started to question the status quo.
It was a brief but glorious time, where Mises finally had a voice in Congress.
Dr. Paul's other committee, Foreign Affairs, dovetailed perfectly with his warnings about monetary policy. Ron was able to make the connection between central banking and war finance, and also press Congress for a full-fledged declaration of war before invading Iraq in 2003. Here he built the foundation for a crossover antiwar coalition, and gave his most impassioned arguments against war, the ultimate form of expansionary state power. It was here he opposed American quagmires in the Middle East, setting the stage for his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. And it was in the Foreign Affairs Committee that he cemented his reputation as the greatest peace advocate in Congress for decades.
Despite his troubles with congressional leaders, Dr. Paul had many personal friends in Congress. He was well-liked and respected by most. His great friend, the late Walter Jones, stands out as someone who took Ron's antiwar message to heart. Jones's district contained the huge Army base Ft. Bragg, and in part due to Ron's influence, he came out strongly against the war in Iraq. He attended many military funerals and comforted many spouses, in some part thanks to the humility he saw in Ron. The great Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee also was a close friend, talking to Ron about reading antiwar.com articles by "Jus-tin Ray-mon-duh" in his distinct Southern drawl. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, chair of the Financial Services Committee during the crash of '07, told the entire House Republican caucus that "Ron Paul was right" in his predictions of housing and equity bubbles. Barney Franks of Massachusetts was always cordial and ready to collaborate, as was the great peace advocate Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
The outpouring of love and affection shown to Dr. Paul last week after his incident shows the degree to which his revolution lives on. Ideas matter, but they are worthless without good people to advance and personify them. Dr. Paul is loved because he is genuine, a quality in short supply today. A quality which cannot be bought, borrowed, summoned, or faked. It's a quality our dangerously politicized country needs, in spades.
Ron Paul seems unstoppable, but of course that is true of no mortal. He gave us, and continues to give us, a genuine alternative vision for a nonpolitical world.
But who will take his place?
1. Perversely, some libertarians of various stripes would turn on Dr. Paul later in his career. The Libertarian Party itself is today hostile to the Ron Paul revolution; its members seek to drive his influence and memory from party ranks. During Paul's 2008 presidential campaign, DC-based Reason magazine published a bizarre article based on a smear job from a discredited neoconservative hostile to Paul's noninterventionist foreign policy views. This article attempted to portray the doctor as "racist" based on decades-old newletters which contained untoward statements about blacks in Los Angeles following the Rodney King riots—despite members of Reason's staff knowing Paul personally as anything but a racist. Other DC organizations like the Cato Institute also pursued this puzzling line of inquiry.
Reprinted with permission from Mises.org.
I remember watching Walt Disney’s film Dumbo’s Feather as a kid. Released in 1941 the story is about a cute baby elephant born with huge ears and forced to perform as a Circus clown. Dumbo is befriended by a mouse who confidently proclaims Dumbo can use his big ears to fly if he will only hold a magic feather in his trunk.
Leaping off the high-dive platform with his magic feather Dumbo indeed flies! But he soon discovers the feather isn’t magic at all because he could fly without it.
So what does this have to do with the mobs obedient wearing of face mask to ward off the “deadly” Covid virus? You know, that deadly virus that is so incredibly virulent that according to the CDC 99.8% of those exposed to it survive?
It’s true, I’m not a psychiatrist, I don’t even play one on TV. I’m throwing this out there as a kind of thought experiment for your consideration. The mask mandates have been in force for about six months. Instead of giving ostensibly “free” people the option of choosing to wear face mask of their own volition (as in Sweden) the politicians totally ignored citizen’s rights and ordered lockdowns, social distancing, sheltering in place, and the public humiliation of worthless face masks.
Now you don’t have to be a psychiatrist to simply observe the behavior of the masses. At least in my neck of the woods virtually everyone in public places is obediently wearing a face mask. We were initially told this was to “flatten the curve” and would only be necessary for a few weeks.
But somehow, those few weeks have been extended and extended by power mad governors and mayors into six long months. Interestingly the CDC, WHO and other “experts” proclaimed people shouldn’t wear face masks early on, but then bizarrely changed their minds all of a sudden?
Back to Dumbo
So what does this have to do with Dumbo’s Feather? Well think about it. Human beings are a superstitious lot and made more so when the mainstream media pumps 24/7 fear porn about an invisible “deadly virus” that is all around us! “Millions will die if they don’t obey the expert’s guidance!”
It stands to reason that for many people who’ve obediently worn their face masks and haven’t gotten sick, they could easily assume the mask is their “magic feather” that’s protecting them and saving their very lives! “See, I’ve been wearing my mask and haven’t gotten sick; it must work!”
Just like a lucky rabbit’s foot, or a four leaf clover tucked in one’s pocket, I suspect face masks have become a psychological crutch for the masses. This is psychological terrorism by government criminals! Human’s forced to endure extended traumatic experiences are much easier to manage as was discovered by government scientist back in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Omnipresent, debilitating fear is the primary tool governments use to control the masses. The mask is a highly valuable tool in the fear arsenal as it’s a ubiquitous, visual reminder that death lurks all around us! “Don’t take any chances, wear your mask, obey the rules, do what you’re told and everything will be OK.”
That’s the message. After all, these government folks are only interested in what’s best for us, right? Well no, they do NOT have our best interests at heart, only their power, control and the wealth they can wring out of us.
H. L. Mencken, the witty American Journalist hit the nail on the head over half a century ago:
I suspect that even if by some miracle the “authorities” suddenly announced Covid was contained and we could return to normal life, millions would willingly continue wearing their mask. When humans have been deeply traumatized by fear of an untimely death they don’t get over it quickly.
The scars are deep and for many will never heal. How ironic that the mask is not only a visual cue to remain fearful but also a beacon of hope for those who equate it with their avoiding illness to date; their magic Dumbo’s Feather.
In a free country one gets to choose for themselves if they want to wear a mask, stay home, stop working, quit attending church or take baths in bleach water for that matter! So is the USA a free country; I think not! I will not comply!