Ron Paul and Social Issues
I supported Ron Paul for the Republican Party nomination back in 2007-08—including with campaign contributions, time, and creative work (I designed a “Restore Our Constitution” t-shirt and sold shirts online and at events). Even then I received a few emails from Christians arguing that they could not support Ron Paul because of his stand on social issues. One person, for example, handed me an article entitled “Is homosexuality a sin? Ron Paul can’t say.”
The response is that of course he can. He says he is a Christian. Only he knows for sure, but I tend to believe him. He does not base any proposals for specific laws or policies on religious beliefs, though—his or anyone else’s—and this is what bothers many Christians. Let’s look more closely.
Numerous social issues have captivated GOP loyalists over the years: abortion, homosexuality and so-called gay rights, recreational drug use, etc. The official conservative Republican view of the first, of course, is that since human life begins at conception, abortion is murder and ought to be stopped, period. This would require reversing Roe v. Wade and criminalizing abortion. On the second: homosexual activity is condemned in both Old and New Testaments. Again, any attempt to decriminalize and normalize homosexual behavior ought to be opposed on these grounds alone; the same goes in double for “gay marriage.” Finally, Christians believe that since our bodies are “the temple of the Lord,” we are obligated not to abuse them by smoking marijuana or ingesting other harmful and illegal drugs.
All of this is unexceptionable—and based on my having read Ron Paul’s writings for over ten years now, permit me to assure you: he agrees. A one-time obstetrician who delivered thousands of babies before he went into politics, he respects the sanctity of life; of this we can be sure. He has had a stable marriage and extended family, with children and grandchildren, for several decades running.
Where he disagrees with probably the majority of Christians is whether the state—government—ought to be involved in simply repressing bad behavior. Dr. Paul does not believe that ending abortion, opposing homosexual conduct, or even preventing recreational drug use, is the Constitutionally-sanctioned business of the U.S. federal government. The mistake of many Christians boils down to: if x is immoral according to God’s word, then x ought to be forcibly eliminated from society (government being the organized monopoly on the use of force).
The idea that if x is immoral then x ought to be eliminated by force is the very premise we want to examine critically, because it won’t stand up to criticism—even aside from the libertarian view that the use of force to solve social problems is itself immoral and ought to be rejected.
Let’s consider the above issues in reverse order, beginning with recreational drug use. Libertarians such as Dr. Paul are routinely either condemned or held up to ridicule because they believe recreational drug use ought not to be illegal. We’re supposed to see even the idea of decriminalization as absurd. Decriminalize heroin use? You’ve got to be kidding!
There’s just one problem, and it’s an obvious one to anyone who knows their history. The plain truth is, prohibition doesn’t work. It never has, and it never will. This country tried criminalizing the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. We even wrote Prohibition into the Constitution (18th Amendment, 1919). Congress then passed the infamous Volstead Act. The result was that organized crime took over producing and distributing alcoholic beverages; likewise, ordinary people not otherwise involved in criminal activity broke the law to buy these products. The result was the biggest crime wave in history, which included violence as different groups fought over territory, or “turf.” The point is, the law was unenforceable. The public figured this out. A strong movement to repeal Prohibition developed. The 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st in 1933. The assumption remains, however, that government ought to control what adults put into their bodies—somehow.
Now one might argue: illegal recreational drugs such as cocaine are considerably more powerful than alcohol. Crack in particular is addictive, and its effects on people’s behavior and judgment are much more deleterious. All the more reason to identify what works in reducing the desire to use such drugs, and not employ policies that manifestly do not work. We’ve been fighting—supposedly—a “war on drugs” since the 1970s. The use of illegal drugs is as bad as it ever was, and probably worse. It is common knowledge that there are “meth labs” all over the place in rural areas. With the economy in the shape it’s in, there is definitely an incentive to engage in criminal behavior if this is the only way to put food on the table. Black markets are just regular ol’ free markets operating despite government—with all the hazards that go along with their having to operate in the underground economy. People today are no different than their counterparts were in the 1920s. They will break the law to obtain a blacklisted product. Others will break the law to manufacture it. Meanwhile, illegal drugs keep flowing across our porous borders. The “war on drugs” charade has damaged respect for the rule of law while doing nothing to diminish the use of illegal drugs in this country.
Moreover, and finally, there are plenty of substances available legally with a prescription that are equally if not more dangerous. Antidepressants have been associated with numerous highly visible violent crimes such as the Columbine killings and the Virginia Tech killing. These and other drugs—Ritalin, Prozac, Zoloft, etc.—are mood-altering and therefore affect a person’s judgment over time if not used correctly or if abused. They are legal, because they are enriching Big Pharma. Thus the argument that illegal drugs are illegal to protect public health and safety is dubious at best. Efforts to keep certain drugs illegal while allowing equally dangerous ones into pharmacies smacks of hypocrisy. Dr. Paul believes none of them should be illegal. If we believe people shouldn’t use them, it is up to us to reduce their use by legitimate means not involving the exercise of force.
These same problems apply to regulating and repressing immoral or socially undesirable behaviors, sexual or otherwise. There may very well be a genetic or inherited predisposition towards homosexuality. I don’t know, but the idea makes sense. We know this to be the case with alcoholism. Clearly, a small component of the population is more prone to these behaviors than the rest. But the point is the same with recreational drugs: does it accomplish anything to criminalize it other than to drive it underground?
As for abortion, the situation is worse. First, despite almost uniform opposition to “abortion on demand” within GOP ranks, what did the GOP-controlled Congress (1994 – 2006) actually do to stop abortions? The answer: zilch; zero; nada; zip. (I am not counting taking money from pro-life groups; I don’t dispute that mainstream Republicans have done plenty of that!)
But second: suppose they did. Again, would criminalizing abortion accomplish anything except driving it underground where it would be considerably less safe. The “pro-choice” argument that getting rid of Roe v. Wade would reinstate “back-alley abortions” is not without merit. The problem is that there will remain women who want the procedure and are willing to pay for it despite interference from government. To my mind the interesting questions are, Why are women willing to end the lives of their unborn babies; and why are some people so prone to giving into whatever sexual temptations exist regarding persons of the same sex? Are there larger questions here?
When we had an essentially Christian culture embracing a Christian worldview, none of these problems existed on a scale large enough to affect the body politic. Now that we have an essentially materialist culture, moral prohibitions against do-your-own-thing views of sex (and drug use, for that matter) have been largely dropped, even among churchgoers in some cases. In the former, the people take Scriptural prohibitions seriously; in the latter, the path of least resistance is toward some form of hedonism (personal or social). This can, perhaps, be slowed by legal prohibition and social sanction—as was homosexuality for years—but ultimately not stopped because, again, prohibition doesn’t work. Social sanction will only work when it has a firm basis in the view that morality transcends culture. Materialism—the idea that the physical universe alone exists and that human persons have just this life to live (there is no afterlife, no judgment, no Heaven or Hell)—effectively quashes any basis for a morality that transcends culture. Morality, for 20th century anthropologists working under materialist assumptions (cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict is an example, in her major work Patterns of Culture), just is that aggregation of habits that a culture approves. These are subject to change, since culture can be changed. In our culture, the changeover from Christianity to materialism has given rise to hedonistic utilitarianism: it is right to pursue the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest number.
If we are ever going to reverse drug use—including legal and dangerous as well as illegal and dangerous; if we are ever going to reverse our headlong rush into a complete normalizing and mainstreaming of homosexual conduct leading invariably to marriages between homosexuals as “no big deal” (as commentator Michael Kinsley once put it); if we are to reduce those circumstances in women’s lives which lead them to choose abortion over alternatives … we must work to restore the Christian worldview, and I would add: we must work from the bottom up instead of from the top down. There is no other way to do it. As the replacement of Christianity with materialism took decades—the restoration of Christianity will also occupy decades. No one should expect to accomplish it overnight. This is not a call for theocracy, which just reintroduces the use of force. Many Christians will not be happy with this. They seem to want government to enforce the Biblical view of the world instead of the secular materialist view. This will only invite a wave of anti-Christian reaction. If Christians believe I have overlooked something, they may feel free to comment or to email me about what they believe I have overlooked. Both the Fabian Society and the Frankfurt School transformed American culture from its fundamentally Christian base to the wasteland of hedonism and entitlements we have now. Their quiet efforts occupied decades. They realized both that brute force ultimately does not work and that therefore cultural transformation requires a long period of time—until an entire generation matures that is familiar with the new norms.
Ron Paul would not, of course, argue the case as I just have, and I am not saying he is right on every detail or in general emphasis. He does not emphasize worldviews as much as a trained philosopher such as myself would. He has a consistent freedom philosophy, which makes him more libertarian than conservative in the way those terms are bandied about in today’s GOP (which incorrectly conflates conservative with neoconservative, or neocon). Most libertarians—including those who consider themselves Christian—simply don’t see social issues as being as urgent as setting forth freedom principles as the bulwark of a free society. Among these is allowing people to make their own choices in life, rather than have those choices dictated by someone else. Libertarians thus see no reason to be concerned with what others are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms as long as they are not affecting others and not disrupting society. Of course, if these groups become disruptive, that changes. But the disruptions are usually caused by minorities within minorities. If you are not being disruptive, a libertarian views who you sleep with and what you put in your body as between you and your Maker, not between you and your government.
According to the Christian libertarian, this arrangement works best in cultures that have embraced a Christian worldview, of course. Cultures that have embraced materialism will tend to deteriorate. Hence the calls by the few genuine conservatives to reverse the tendencies that the materialist outlook on the world sets in motion. What they are up against is the unworkability of prohibition. Those who want a product, or to engage in a certain behavior, will break the law to obtain it, or do it. Society becomes still more anarchic.
If there are grounds to be concerned about certain personal and social behaviors based on what transcendent morality evidenced through Scripture tells us, then we must learn how to approach these matters in the right way—the way that will further discussion and bring about a voluntary adoption of what is right. We’ve been very good at identifying what doesn’t work, doing it, and then wondering why the problems are getting worse. Our culture—which eschews subjects like philosophy and philosophical theology as “impractical”—is not very good at identifying and examining first premises, such as what our basic worldview is and whether it is helping us or harming us. We are disadvantaged because of widespread indifference to intellectual matters and sometimes out-and-out anti-intellectualism in this culture. Yet examine first premises we must, because ours are harming us in a multitude of ways.
I would focus at this level, and not invoke what amounts to a social police force doing the very things Christians rightly condemn when leftists do them. The whole problem with a social police force is that invariably it involves government for enforcement—and if enforcement is not necessary, then you probably don’t have a social issue. But making nice with a social police force and the mindset behind it is like trying to make nice with a school of piranhas. Sooner or later, they are going to turn around and bite you. Social police could be employed today on behalf of Christianity to get rid of abortion or homosexual conduct or recreational drug use; then, tomorrow, with a different cadre of politicians in charge, its instruments of power could easily be turned against Christians once again.
About the Author
Steven Yates, Ph.D., earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Georgia. The author of three books and numerous articles in both academic journals and online, his most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (Brush Fire Press International, 2011—http://fourcardinalerrors.com). An expatriated U.S. citizen, he lives in Santiago, Chile, runs a small business editing and proofreading English for Chilean academics, and teaches philosophy at Universidad de Santiago de Chile. He has been blogging occasionally about the nature of philosophy and its role in civilization’s future, if it is to have one, at http://civilizationsfifthstage.blogspot.com. Beginning next month, he will be involving himself with an educational-entrepreneurial start-up based in Santiago known as Exosphere.
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Copyright © Steven Yates. Used with permission.