As Ron Paul’s campaign quietly recedes into oblivion, I am astounded by how little direct engagement has been made with his ideas by the leading voices on the Right. The vast majority of conservative commentators have chosen the short-term strategy of derision and ad hominem. He has been scorned as a conspiracy nut, a “truther,” or “the fringe.” However effective that approach may have been in the near term, it has revealed a flaw in the present conservative mindset—a flaw which I suspect gnaws away at the psyche of our leading pundits.
Paul’s views on foreign policy are entirely consistent with his conservative understanding of American constitutional government and the ideas of individual liberty and free enterprise. His views are so consistent in fact, that taking them on directly requires a great deal of energy and consideration. More particularly, it is very, very hard to assert that the military-industrial complex is not itself a problem every bit as serious in its implications for liberty as the welfare state.
What has made Paul so troubling is that he has very carefully and logically pointed out that the economic principles which American conservatives supposedly affirm, apply as much to military bureaucracy and administration as they do to any of the interventions of which the left is so very fond. If there is to be a serious effort to reduce not only the nation’s debt, but also the individual’s dependence on government, it will surely need to engage not only domestic social spending, but America’s military-industrial commitments. That is not happening on the right of the political spectrum in anywhere near the degree that is necessary. Indeed, just the opposite is happening.
The more the threat of fiscal ruin confronts us, the more all things military are being wrapped in the flag and shielded from any serious analysis based on core conservative principles. That will have far-reaching implications not only for our fiscal and political well-being, but our culture.
Increasingly conservatives appear to be willing to pay deeper homage to values of martial valor and discipline, and a near limitless demand for personal sacrifice than to those of personal independence and liberty. The rhetorical appeal of these martial virtues is only too apparent when contrasted with an effete Left for which nothing seems too tawdry to subsidize.
But let us not kid ourselves. If the martial virtues ultimately replace the virtues of individual independence and personal responsibility, rather than merely supplementing them, we will no longer have liberty or limited constitutional government. Spartan predominance was not a good long-run outcome for Greece as a whole.
There is a good case to be made for a strong effective military force. There is a good case to be made for constrained but direct engagement with enemies abroad. But to make that case consistent with freedom, the argument must be grounded on the core traditional commitments of our constitutionally limited republic under law. We cannot simply harp on and on about foreign and domestic terrorists. Those who profess to be conservatives cannot blithely continue to ignore the questions of extended and extensive military engagements and the consequences which follow from them for expenditure and economic dependence (not to mention the Constitution) which Paul has raised.
Unfortunately, fear now drives the engines of both parties, whether it be the fear of economic uncertainty or the fear of hostile enemies everywhere, and this is why the short-term strategy to deal with Paul has been so effective. If we continue down this path, though, as many of our military leaders must certainly realize, that victory will ultimately prove Pyrrhic, even if it were to somehow win the White House.