Mises Daily Articles
Foreword to A Foreign Policy of Freedom by Ron Paul
Ron Paul has always believed that foreign and domestic policy should be conducted according to the same principles. Government should be restrained from intervening at home or abroad because its actions fail to achieve their stated aims, create more harm than good, shrink the liberty of the people, and violate rights.
Does that proposition seem radical? Outlandish or farflung? Once you hear it stated, it makes perfect sense that there is no sharp distinction between the principles of domestic and foreign policy. They are part of the same analytical fabric. What would be inconsistent would be to favor activist government at home but restraint abroad, or the reverse: restraint at home and activism abroad. Government unleashed behaves in its own interests, and will not restrict itself in any area of life. It must be curbed in all areas of life lest freedom suffer.
If you recognize the line of thinking in this set of beliefs, it might be because you have read the Federalist Papers, the writings of Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or James Madison, or examined the philosophical origins of the American Revolution. Or you might have followed the debates that took place in the presidential election of 1800, in which this view emerged triumphant. Or perhaps you read the writings of the free traders prior to the Civil War, or the opponents of the War on Spain, or those who warned of entering World War I.
Or perhaps you have read the speeches and books against FDR's New Deal: the same group warned of the devastating consequences of World War II. Or maybe, in more recent history, you understood the animating principles behind the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994: a generation had turned away from all forms of foreign and domestic "nation building."
Not only does this Paulian view have a precedent in American history; it sums up the very core of what is distinctive about the American contribution to political ideas. The proposition was and is that people are better able to manage their lives than government can manage them. Under conditions of liberty, the result is prosperity and orderly civilization. Under government control, the result is relative poverty and unpredictable chaos. The proof is in the news every day.
How unusual, how incredibly strange, that Ron Paul, who has stood for these principles his entire public life, is criticized by some as a radical, outside the mainstream, and influenced by experimental ideas that are marginal at best. And why is he treated this way? Because he takes the ideas of Washington and Jefferson seriously, just as seriously as he takes the idea of freedom itself, and he does so in times when faith in Leviathan remains the dominant political ideology.
Ideology is such a powerful force that it has propped up policy inconsistency for more than a century. The Left has a massive agenda for the state at home, and yet complains bitterly, with shock and dismay, that the same tools are used to start wars and build imperial structures abroad. The Right claims to want to restrain government at home (at least in some ways) while whooping it up for war and global reconstruction abroad.
It doesn't take a game-theory genius to predict how this conflict works itself out in the long run. The Left and the Right agree to disagree on intellectual grounds but otherwise engage in a dangerous quid pro quo. They turn a blind eye to the government they don't like so long as they get the government they do like.
It's one thing for the Left to grudgingly support international intervention. It makes some sense for a group that believes that government is omniscient enough to bring about fairness, justice, and equality at home to do the same for people abroad. In fact, I've never been able to make much sense out of left-wing antiwar activism, simply because it cuts so much against the idea of socialism, which itself can be summed up as perpetual war on the liberty and property of the people.
What strikes me as ridiculous is the right-wing view that the same government that is incompetent and dangerous domestically — at least in economic and social affairs — has some sort of Midas Touch internationally such that it can bring freedom, democracy, and justice to any land its troops deign to invade. Not that the right wing is principled enough to pursue its domestic views, but I'm speaking here of its campaign rhetoric and higher-level critique of government that you find in their periodicals and books. The precise critique of government that they offer for the welfare state and regulatory measures — that they are expensive, counterproductive, and hobble human energies — applies many times over to international interventions.
But the Right always seems to have an excuse for its inconsistency. In the early fifties, many on the Right said that the usual principle of nonintervention had to give way to the fight against communism because this was a uniquely evil threat facing the world. We have to put up with a "totalitarian bureaucracy" within our shores (words used by W.F. Buckley) for the duration in order to beat back the great threat abroad. And so Leviathan grew and grew, and never more than under Republican presidents. Then one day, communism went away, the regimes having collapsed from self-imposed deprivation and ideological change.
A few years went by after 1990 when the Right was inching toward a Paulian consistency. Then 9-11 happened, and the great excuse for Leviathan again entered the picture. Never mind that, as Congressman Paul pointed out, the crime of 9-11 was motivated by retribution against ten years of killer US sanctions against Iraq, US troops on Muslim holy lands, and US subsidies for Palestinian occupation. No, the American Right bought into the same farce that led them to support the Cold War: Islamic fanaticism is a unique evil unlike anything we've ever seen, so we have to put up with Leviathan (again!) for the duration.
Well, Ron Paul didn't buy into it. He is unique in this respect, and this is especially notable since he has been under pressure from his own party at a time when his party has ruled the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. He stuck by his principles, and not merely as a pious gesture. His critique of the post 9-11 warfare state has been spot on in speech after speech. He foresaw the failure of the US invasion of Afghanistan. He never believed the nonsense about how US bombs would transform Iraq into a modern democracy. He never went along with the propaganda lies about weapons of mass destruction. Nowadays, we often hear politicians say that they have changed their minds on the Iraq War and that if they had known then what they know now, they never would have gone along. Well, hindsight is child's play in politics. What takes guts and insight is the ability to spot a hoax even as it is being perpetrated. In any case, they have no excuse for not knowing: Ron Paul told them!
The freedom to trade internationally is an essential principle. It means that consumers should not be penalized for buying from anyone, or selling to anyone, regardless of their residence. Nor should domestic suppliers be granted anything like a monopoly or subsidized treatment. Nor should trade be used as a weapon in the form of sanctions. Ron Paul has upheld these principles as well, which makes him an old-fashioned liberal in the manner of Cobden and Bright and the American Southern tradition. He has also rejected the mistake of many free traders who believe that a military arm is necessary to back the invisible hand of the marketplace. For Ron Paul, freedom is all of a piece.
Ron Paul's singular voice on foreign affairs has done so much to keep the flame of a consistent liberty burning in times when it might otherwise have been extinguished. He has drawn public attention to the ideas of the founders. He has alerted people to the dangers of empire. He has linked domestic and foreign affairs through libertarian analytics, even when others have been bamboozled by the lies or too intimidated to contradict them. He has told the truth, always. For this, every American, every citizen of the world, is deeply in his debt. In fact, I'm willing to predict that a hundred years from now and more, when all the current office holders are all but forgotten, Ron Paul's name will be remembered as a bright light in dark times.
We can't but be deeply grateful that Ron Paul's prophetic words have been collected in this book. May it be widely distributed. May its lessons be absorbed by this and future generations. May this treatise stand as an example of how to fight for what is right even when everyone else is silent. May it always be regarded as proof that there were men of courage alive in the first decade of the third millennium. May public and intellectual opinion someday rise to its level of intellectual sophistication and moral valor.