What Now?

Looking beyond the next election

by , February 13, 2012

The forces of peace and liberty have made great strides in the past few years: most ordinary Americans have turned against the War Party. The truth about how and why we invaded Iraq has turned even formerly staunch interventionists into skeptics of American power, on the right as well as the left. In the battle of ideas, the interventionists are in retreat, as the assumptions of a frankly imperial foreign policy are knocked out from under them one by one. While Congress passes economic sanctions on Iran, and the War Party whoops it up for another round of “shock and awe,” the American people are wondering when Congress is going to lift the economic sanctions they’ve imposed on us by spending the nation into penury and giving what remains of our wealth to the banks.

On the other hand, our elites – the political class, and its sycophantic periphery in the media and the academy – are wholly and emotionally committed to a vision of empire, one that places Washington, D.C. at the epicenter of what George Herbert Walker Bush referred to as a “New World Order.” With the demise of the Soviet Union, and the end of the cold war, the American elites embarked on a crusade to inherit the earth from their British – and Roman– forebears. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, every American President has gone a little farther down that road. Yet there are voices of alarm, questioning our course, and they are getting louder and more insistent.

The internationalist argument is an old one: they have been making it for half a century and more. Garet Garrett, that exiled prophet of the Old Right, summed it up in 1952 [.pdf], the year American troops barely fought off a Communist offensive in Korea and President Truman announced he would not seek reelection:

“A Republic is not obliged to act upon the world, either to change it or instruct it. Empire, on the other hand, must put forth its power.

“What is it that now obliges the American people to act upon the world? …

“It is not only our security that we are thinking of – our collective security. Beyond that is a greater thought.

“It is our turn.

“Our turn to do what?

“Our turn to assume the responsibilities of moral leadership in the world.

“Our turn to maintain a balance of power against the forces of evil everywhere – in Europe and Asia and Africa, in the Atlantic and Pacific, by air and by sea. …

“It is our turn to keep the peace of the world. …

“But this is the language of Empire. The Roman Empire never doubted that it was the defender of civilization. Its good intentions were peace, law and order. The Spanish Empire added salvation. The British Empire added the noble myth of the white man’s burden. We have added freedom and democracy. Yet the more that may be added to it the more it is the same language still. A language of power.”

Yes, but what kind of power? Surely Garrett was speaking of military power, but he, more than anyone – he was a financial writer, after all – knew the real source of American power was economic. Without the peerless ability of the American system to produce heretofore unimagined wealth, our matchless military machine would soon run out of gas. And so it is coming to pass: at the end of the “American Century,” we had built an empire of debt so enormous that the sum total of what we owe threatened to surpass the gross national product.

That this policy is not sustainable a child could see, yet our rulers are blind to it. They think they can go on printing money and paying off their debts with increasingly worthless paper. It was inevitable that at least one major politician would answer the call Garrett made at the end of his essay on the Rise of Empire:

“No doubt the people know they can have their Republic back if they want it enough to fight for it and to pay the price. The only point is that no leader has yet appeared with the courage to make them choose.”

Certainly no one can accuse Ron Paul of lacking courage. We all remember how he stood up to the thuggish Rudy Giuliani, and carried the banner of a rational foreign policy when no one else in public life dared. Paul saw clearly back then what is now taken for granted by foreign policy analysts outside the neoconservative orbit: if not for the history of US incursions into the Middle East and the Muslim world, Osama bin Laden would never have been able to create a viable international movement. He would have remained in his cave virtually alone.

If Paul’s first campaign set an important precedent – for the first time, someone was talking sense about foreign policy at a Republican debate! – his second attempt to win the Republican presidential nomination has consolidated the gains of the past and doubled his support. The movement he has created almost single-handedly is active, dedicated, and highly informed: in terms of organization and sheer enthusiasm, the Paul campaign surpasses them all. Although outspent by Mitt Romney, and by a large margin, compared to the rest of the Anyone-but-Romney factions the Paul campaign is relatively well-funded.

What the Paul movement lacks is numbers: if we are to take the lesson of the campaign up until this point, we have to admit there just aren’t enough libertarians to win a single primary. Yes, I know, there were some shenanigans up in Maine: some caucuses were cancelled “due to weather,” although I think what they meant was the political weather in those counties may have proved fatal to the Romneyites.

Paul’s decision to take the fight for peace and liberty into the GOP was the correct one. By challenging the War Party on their “home turf,” so to speak, Paul and his movement have dealt them a major blow – and made them exceedingly nervous. The neocons hate and fear him because he’s challenging their claim to the Republican trademark, and he’s winning the intellectual debate inside the conservative movement. Legions of college students aren’t traveling all over the country campaigning for Romney, Santorum, or Newt: they are rallying in the thousands for Ron, a fact Paul’s detractors note with alarm. Paul’s “isolationist” (i.e. pro-peace) and libertarian (i.e. constitutionalist) views may not be the present of the Republican party, but they are its future.

Ron Paul’s achievement is undeniable and unassailable. The question is: where does his movement go from here?

We don’t endorse political candidates, here at Antiwar.com, but there can be no doubt that Paul has performed a service to all of us who abhor the very idea of an American empire and fear for the future of our constitutional order. It is often remarked that he doesn’t come across as any kind of politician we’ve ever seen before: he’s a pedagogue, not a partisan. The man is a natural born teacher, and while there’s no doubt he’s seriously running for President, this doesn’t preclude him from emphasizing – and visibly enjoying – the educational aspects of his campaign.

The problem for Paul, politically, is that he has run up against the limitations of working within the GOP: give or take regional variations, Paulians make up somewhere around 20 percent of the Republican primary electorate. If we look at the demographics of his support, we see that his voters are overwhelming young (under 40), politically independent, and make under $50,000 a year – not your typical Republican voter by any means, except for the fact that they are also overwhelmingly male and white.

One of the most important gains of the Paul campaign is the way it has attracted support from unexpected quarters: several prominent liberal-left writers and activists – and even celebrities, such as Bill Maher and Jon Stewart – have either endorsed Paul or else defended him against his “progressive” and neoconservative critics. That not many of these people feel comfortable voting in a Republican primary is a problem the Paulians will have to overcome.

This, however, is just one aspect of a larger problem: how to build a broader, more inclusive movement, one that has the makings of a national coalition that will run the War Party out of Washington on a rail. Paul has already set the terms for such a coalition: he points out at every opportunity that the only way to avoid the draconian austerity measures that are coming is to “get rid of the Empire and bring that money home.”

Paul gets it: unlike all too many alleged libertarians, he understands that the foreign policy issue isn’t tangential, it is central to the libertarian idea. He knows what all too many of the Washington policy wonk crowd find it convenient to forget, especially when they’re trying to sound “respectable” to their conservative allies. He knows what Garrett knew, and predicted with preternatural certitude:

“Between government in the republican meaning, that is, Constitutional, representative, limited government, on the one hand, and Empire on the other hand, there is mortal enmity. Either one must forbid the other or one will destroy the other.”

What course Paul’s movement takes at this critical juncture will shape the future of the anti-interventionist movement in America for years to come. There has been ample speculation he will take the third party route, and lead his substantial and devoted following out of the GOP. Whether that will – or ought to – occur is beyond my pay grade. Yet the fact remains that the natural ceiling of Paul’s support, at this conjuncture, has been reached: his movement must break out of its partisan cul de sac in order to grow and succeed.

Rather than surrendering to despair, libertarians, and anti-interventionists in general, must redouble their educational efforts: they have already proven they can excel in matters of organization. Now let them concentrate their efforts on increasing their numbers.

The only way to do that is to launch an educational campaign. The many activists recruited through the Paul campaign must be drawn into the larger movement – and if there is to be a larger movement, then a renewed effort to reach beyond the Republican ranks and bring in independents, Democrats, and unaffiliated leftists will have to be made.

Political institutions and campaigns are essential if the movement is to grow and win: however, we cannot jump over the necessary preliminary steps, which in this case involve an extensive educational and outreach campaign directed at heretofore neglected sectors of the population. That’s why Antiwar.com is so important to the future of this movement: we are educating people every day on the most important aspect of the philosophy of liberty, which is the necessity of a peaceful foreign policy as an absolute prerequisite for restoring our Old Republic.

This was the alleged “weakness” of the Paul campaign, underscored by every news article and commentary: the candidate’s foreign policy views were disdained as “radical,” “isolationist,” and temperamentally unsuited to a Republican audience. These shibboleths have been refuted many times, not least of all by Paul’s respectable if not entirely successful showing in the primaries. Yet it cannot be denied that anti-interventionist libertarians have a lot more work to do in this area.

I cannot fault either the candidate or the campaign. They are running up against objective factors over which they have little if any control: the hostility of the GOP Establishment, a derisive media, and a dedicated smear campaign designed to isolate them on the fringes of the national discourse.

Paul beat the smear-mongers, he beat all expectations, and he proved the naysayers – including the “libertarians” among them – utterly wrong. Now he and his supporters must survey the political landscape, and determine what course to take.

Wherever that road may lead them, one thing is for sure: they must build the institutions of a much broader movement, one they can influence, shape – and lead. One key component of this broader movement is the antiwar movement, which presently has no leadership, and no direction. The Paul brigades can give it both.

A movement to restore our civil liberties is also taking shape in tandem with the new wave of anti-interventionist sentiment: this, too, is a promising field for the Paulians. What this strategic turn entails is a sustained effort to build long-term institutions that can amplify the Paulian vision of a peaceful, freer society, and project the message of liberty onto a much wider screen. It means that institutions such as this web site, with its many thousands of readers, must be supported alongside the political campaign that gave birth to the Paul movement. If the blood, sweat, and tears of so many dedicated activists is not to go to waste, once the electoral ritual is concluded, then we must have something that remains standing after the votes are counted and the confetti stops falling.

That’s why this fundraising campaign is such an important milestone for Antiwar.com – and for the anti-interventionist movement, of which the Paulians are an important part. Its success will prove that we aren’t an ephemeral phenomenon, a fly-by-night operation fated to dissipate as soon as the shouting dies down.

What this movement of libertarians and dissidents in rebellion against Imperial America needs is continuity – and a strategy for the long haul. We must look beyond the next election and figure out how to appeal to the American people in their majority – before it’s too late.

Because we don’t have a lot of time. Of course, no one can know the future: we cannot know when the terminal crisis of American imperialism will be visited upon our heads. We do know, however, what is causing it – and that it is coming. Economic collapse, a major war in the Middle East, a crackdown on the home front that will make the social tumult of the Sixties look like a Sunday school picnic: we can’t know what will set off such a chain of events, nor in what order they will occur. What we do know, however, is that we must work to prevent it from happening – assuming, of course, that it isn’t already too late.

Garrett was a pessimist, who once wrote an essay entitled “The Revolution Was,” in which he observed:

There are those who still think they are holding the pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the Night of Depression, singing songs to freedom.”

Garrett, a sometime novelist and editor of the Saturday Evening Post, wrote his elegies to the Old Republic in the hope that, some day, they might be read by a new generation of Americans who remembered their heritage and sought to reclaim it. We are that generation, and we have our work cut out for us. I know I have my work cut out for me: helping to maintain and support a web site that has held the banner of peace and liberty aloft through the Clinton era, the dark years of the Bush interregnum, and carried it into battle – tattered but unbowed – in the age of Obama.

Please join me in making this fundraising campaign a success. We have to have something to show for all this tremendous outlay of energy and resources, something that lasts. So far Antiwar.com has lasted fifteen years, and counting: please help us make sure we’re around for another fifteen, at least. Please make your tax-deductible donation today.

Read more by Justin Raimondo