Book Review: Liberty Defined

“Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom” by Ron Paul

In the run-up to any presidential election, it is not uncommon to see new books hit the market from the pens of those who are in the running. These books often take the form of memoirs, introducing readers to the candidates on a more personal level; at other times a politician will actually put in writing what he or she intends to do if elected. While I have nothing against biographies, I prefer the more policy-oriented texts from those who desire my vote.

Thankfully, Ron Paul’s books tend to fall into this latter category, and his latest is no exception. This book is quite different from his previous works, though. In it he writes more broadly, outlining his views on a wide variety of topics (arranged alphabetically from “Abortion” to “Zionism”) rather than focusing on a single topic à la End the Fed. This book will serve well as an introduction to Dr. Paul, whose message continues to gain popular support, though it has remained remarkably consistent through over 30 years of public service.

Rather than comment on the individual “essential issues”, I wanted to analyze Paul’s political philosophy as a whole, based on the arguments presented in this book. To do this, I asked three important questions that would help me (and perhaps others) decide whether this is a man I would support for President. The questions:

  1. Is his policy consistent?
  2. Are his objectives desirable?
  3. Can it work?

Consistency

Nobody likes a flip-flopper. Often a politician will hold a position on an issue so long as it is politically convenient, only to switch positions later. Sometimes this happens because he or she is too easily swayed by special interest groups or popular conventional wisdom (which is often no wisdom at all). Other times, it happens because a candidate’s political vision has no logical internal consistency. When politicians have supported positions that are mutually exclusive or policies that are working toward opposing ends, they eventually must backtrack.

One thing that struck me when reading this book was how consistent Paul’s logic is. On every issue his position is well thought out, clearly articulated, and organized around one central objective. His introduction says of this book and of his philosophy in general: “Above all, the theme is liberty. The goal is liberty.” Paul desires a government that exists solely to maximize personal liberty, and his commitment to his ideas has been unwaivering, even when they are very unpopular.

Love him or hate him, at least you know what you’re getting with Ron Paul.

Desirability

Of course, it’s possible for someone’s logic to be perfectly consistent yet still be based on undesirable objectives or false premises. So a reader (or voter) must ask: Do I want what Ron Paul wants?

On the surface, most everyone would agree that freedom is a good thing. Few would say that they desire less liberty. However, when it comes to personal responsibility — the flip side of the freedom coin — objections begin to be raised.

Ron Paul would have lovers of liberty realize that a government that allows its citizens the freedom to succeed must also allow them to be free to make poor choices and be responsible for their consequences. In business, this means letting companies fail (no matter how large or small) as the market regulates itself. Paul is an enthusiastic proponent of the “Austrian School” of economics. In his words, “the Austrian School champions private property, free markets, sound money, and the liberal society generally”.

What does the “liberal society” look like? Protecting individual freedom, according to this model, requires the federal government to be involved as little as possible in the lives of citizens, which necessitates a willingness to let individuals fail should their free choices result in harm to themselves. Thus, Paul is in favor of deregulating things like drugs and prostitution, while ending government welfare, unemployment, and a host of other programs that keep citizens reliant on the State.

Far from being a compassion-less society, this is a society that makes it easier for those in need to receive aid from family, friends, neighbors, religious organizations, and other local sources, which are far better suited to meet needs. Of course, this also leaves the responsibility for meeting those needs in the hands of compassionate individuals and communities, which is why our Founding Fathers were so insistent that a free society rested entirely on the morality of its people.

Two areas in which Paul encounters much resistance are products of his consistent approach to the size of the government. His philosophy of limited government requires ending the monopoly on education held by nationalized schools, and drastically scaling back the single largest hub of federal power and spending: the military. Strangely, many of the biggest proponents of free markets (who tend to support Paul’s economic policies) are also staunch supporters of public schooling and military empiricism — two things that inhibit market freedom more than nearly anything else. So people tend to look less favorably on Paul’s positions on competition for schooling and non-interventionist foreign policy.

Even in areas where people disagree with Paul, his arguments are compelling. Citizens from all points on the political spectrum owe it to themselves to consider Paul’s case. At the end of the day, though, your agreement with him will depend on how much freedom you really want (and want others to have). Real liberty, almost totally free from government regulation, can be a scary thing. Are we ready for that kind of responsibility?

Feasibility

Having considered his objectives, what about the premises on which Paul’s philosophy is based? One of the primary critiques of classical liberalism/libertarianism has long been that it is based on a Utopian fantasy; that it sounds good in theory, but can’t work in practice. Is this true?

In some senses, yes, it is true. The “Great American Experiment” (as Alexis de Toqueville called it) which sought to provide liberty for all was an imperfect system because it counted on the morality of sinful people. But the founders of that political system, which Paul seeks to reclaim for America, acknowledged its imperfection and made provision for compensating for Man’s inherent sinfulness by giving us a very limited government with many checks and balances, codified in the Constitution and protected by a Bill of Rights.

Besides, political systems are not to be judged against perfection, but against their competing alternatives (a point fleshed out by Jay Richards in Money, Greed, and God). There is no such thing as a “perfect” human government. So if one agrees that Ron Paul’s objectives are better than the alternatives, the proper question is whether it is achievable.

Paul’s book contains a mix of optimism and pragmatism. While he truly believes that his policies would work, he realizes that implementing them immediately would be too drastic a change from where we are now. Thus, he suggests several practical intermediate solutions that are steps in the right direction, which could be done upon his election (for instance, seeking to give public schools over to local control, rather than eliminating public schooling altogether).

Whether it could work may be moot, however. Unless more Americans come around to Ron Paul’s way of thinking, we may never get a chance to see whether his policies can work in 21st-century America. Even if he is never elected, though (and he is considered a long shot for the White House), Paul will not consider his endeavor a failure. He writes as a modern-day Cicero; hopeful to help save the Republic, but committed to passing on a legacy of ideas to educate future generations about the blessings of liberty and peace and a system of government that honors the rule of law. Should the United States prove to have passed the point of no return with regard to the loss of personal liberty, Paul hopes that his message will help preserve the vision of the founders of our nation to be revived again some day.

So, can Ron Paul’s policies work? I suppose that depends on whether or not one believes that America has crossed her Rubicon.

This is a book every politically interested citizen should read. Buy it here.

5 comments on “Book Review: Liberty Defined

  1. […] few weeks ago, I reviewed Ron Paul’s newest book, Liberty Defined. Today I’d like to add just a few further […]

  2. […] on Ron Paul. Be sure to also check out his latest book, Liberty Defined (here’s my review), in which Paul clearly articulates his position on many topics that are important to Christian […]

  3. […] bring a country out of a recession. In his chapter on Keynesianism in his book Liberty Defined (my review), Ron Paul pushes back strongly against this: Most conservatives in Congress don’t think of […]

  4. […] the contrary, claims Paul in his 2010 book Liberty Defined (my review here): I believe it is a state-level responsibility to restrain violence against any human being… […]

  5. […] Ron Paul is not naive. He understands that there is such a thing as evil in the world, but believes that peace and liberty are better tools for overcoming it than war and tyranny. ”The glory of victory in a senseless war should never replace the dignity of peace in a sane world.” (from Liberty Defined) […]

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