The Mises Institute monthly, free with membership
Volume 14, Number 6
"Every great statesman must necessarily fail," wrote Andrew Lytle in a moving tribute to
Calhoun. The reason: the statesman is driven by high ideals like freedom, self-government,
justice, and constitutionalism, which will never be perfectly realized. Yet even in failure, the
statesman preserves civilization, and keeps tyranny at bay.
Adds Lytle, "only the politician succeeds." That's because the politician sees his job as
interest groups and constituents, an easy task. Of course, dishing out private property through
pressure-group politics will doom us in the long run. That's why we need an educated people
will, in turn, give us fewer politicians and more statesmen.
One school of thought--Public Choice--says that statesmen can't exist in a democracy.
consists of vote trading, logrolling, rent seeking, and legislated looting. Politicians buy and sell
favors, lobbyists act as middlemen, and the public gets fleeced. It can be no other way, say these
A gloomy picture. And looking at D.C., the Public Choice School would appear to be on
How else can we account for the Republican leadership's betrayal? These birds view their
"principles" as just a rhetorical cover for their power grabs. They build their careers by promising
to torch Washington, then panic at the smell of smoke.
But there are several problems with Public Choice theory in this context. Its determinism
explain the thirst for justice that sometimes trumps financial self-interest among the voters, nor
can it account for the occasional exception to the rule of politicians.
Consider, for example, the career of Ron Paul, who served in the House of Representatives
four terms in the 1970s and 1980s. He is living proof that statesmen are not entirely extinct.
A statesman must be implacable in his commitment to principle. Thus Ron Paul never sold
not once. He holds the all-time record from the National Taxpayers Union for voting against
nearly all spending. Never did he vote for a tax increase, a regulatory increase, foreign aid,
foreign wars, military pork, or domestic pork, not even for his own district.
The behind-the-scenes drama of his years in office is extraordinary. The pressures to go
get along were immense. It took great courage to say no to the entire Washington culture. The
media attacked him. The lobbyists said he was foolish to look a gift horse in the mouth. Most of
his colleagues pooh-poohed his ideals.
Indeed, his principles brought him into conflict with his own party. Vote for this Reagan debt
increase, the Republican leadership would tell him, and next year, spending will go down. He
refused to go along, and--of course--spending always went up, along with the debt. President
Reagan would personally put the squeeze on him for some IMF or imperialist boondoggle.
Nothing doing, he would politely answer.
Ron Paul was more than a "Dr. No," however, as important as that is. He also worked hard to
bring accountability to the Federal Reserve and the tax police. He called for a gold standard and
introduced legislation to bring it about. Moreover, he was not difficult to please. He would
support anything that shrunk the government, no matter how incrementally, and he was glad to
work with anyone on anything that would slow the government's growth.
In Washington, there came to be grudging respect for him. Inebriated colleagues would
how much they wished they could vote as he did. And outside the beltway, Ron Paul became a
folk hero. Most of his constituents loved him (pork is overrated as a reelection device, since it is
inevitably a special-interest payoff) and he won a national and international following. For
him--as for John Randolph of Roanoke in the 19th century--office was an opportunity not to
make corrupt deals, but to educate the people in the glories and responsibilities of freedom.
What especially distinguishes Dr. Paul today is his broad vision. With every decision, he
ask: how does this affect the place of government in society? He tirelessly reminds audiences
this is the real issue. It's why he never got sidetracked by Washington gimmickry like the
line-item veto or the balanced-budget amendment.
Dr. Paul also understands that it's not enough to swear fealty to political principle if you don't
understand economics. Though a practicing physician, he was driven to study economics when
Richard Nixon abolished the remnants of the gold standard, and imposed wage and price
controls. Although he had started reading Mises in medical school, Dr. Paul began to read
everything he could get his hands on, becoming one of the most eloquent exponents of the
It was the Austrian School, in fact, that led him to public life. And he knows the School's
thinkers so well--Mises, Hayek, Hazlitt, Rothbard--that their voices have become his political
conscience, far overriding any desire for short-term political gain. Like his intellectual heroes,
Dr. Paul is intransigent in his belief that only the truth can make us free.
As Dr. Paul would be the first to say, the statesman is not born but made by a great body of
transmitted in the classroom and in public affairs. That's why he has so strongly supported the
Mises Institute from its founding, and served as our Distinguished Counsellor for 14 years.
Yes, government grew while he was in office. He "failed," as Lytle would say he must. But
did something much more important than attaching his name to a sheaf of state-enhancing laws:
he became a standard-bearer for liberty when the whole world seemed to be lurching towards
socialism, national or international.
There are politicians the media like to trumpet as principled: New Gingrich, for example,
although he never lived up to their vilification. And now the entire leadership is perspiring in
their Oxxford suits at the possibility that Ron Paul is going back to Congress.
Setting aside his medical practice, Ron Paul is running for a House seat in the 14th district of
Texas, and despite the opposition of the entire Republican establishment, he won the primary
handily. The people recognize an eloquent public voice for the Austrian School, and a statesman
even Mises could respect.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. is president and founder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute