Rand Paul’s CPAC 2013 speech: a philosophical libertarian response

On March 14, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference. Video of the speech can be found below, and a transcript is available here. While much of his speech was sound from a philosophical libertarian perspective, there were some points of contention. Let us examine these philosophically.

“The message for the President is that no one person gets to decide the law, no one person gets to decide your guilt or innocence.”

The law is a collection of opinions enforced by the guns of the state. As law in a statist society depends upon the initiation of force, law is immoral in a statist society. As for guilt or innocence, it is impossible for any number of people to decide such a thing because truth is independent of belief, whether it is the belief of one person with absolute power, twelve people on a jury, or thousands of people in a lynch mob. A person is guilty or innocent based upon the truth and facts of a case, and anyone trying to determine guilt or innocence for the purpose of punishing criminals is, at best, using the facts which are available to make an educated guess. Thus, it is not just that no one person gets to decide the law and no one person gets to decide guilt or innocence, it is that making such a decision is logically impossible.

“The presidential oath of office states ‘I WILL protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution,’ NOT ‘I intend to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.’ Mr. President, good intentions are not enough. We want to know, will you or won’t you defend the Constitution? …We prize our Bill of Rights like no other country. Our Bill of Rights is what defines us and makes us exceptional. …Do we have a Bill of Rights or not? Do we have a Constitution or not and will we defend it? …The Constitution must be our guide.”

As Lysander Spooner once said, “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.” It is important to remember that our rights do not come from the Constitution. The Constitution merely claims that the government it purports to justify will not infringe upon the natural rights that have always existed for sentient beings. History has proven this claim made by the Constitution false beyond any reasonable doubt.

“If we allow one man to charge Americans as enemy combatants and indefinitely detain or drone them, then what exactly is it our brave young men and women are fighting for?”

This is an important question, but unfortunately Sen. Paul did not give the proper answer to the question. The answer is the same as it has always been; soldiers fight at the command and for the interests of the ruling class. This truth is independent of whatever beliefs the members of the general public or the soldiers themselves may hold concerning any more noble motives.

“Government cannot give us our liberty; our rights come from our Creator.”

An appeal to the divine in a logical context is the refuge of someone who has no rational arguments to make. Rights do not come from a Creator any more than they come from a Constitution. Rights exist because of logical proofs by contradiction. Such a proof assumes that a right does not exist, and uses logic and reason to find a contradiction. A contradiction in a logical argument is a sufficient condition for falsehood. Proving that the nonexistence of an entity is false is equivalent to proving that the existence of that entity is true, therefore rights can be shown to exist through the method of proof by contradiction.

“I’m here to tell you, what we need to do is leave more money in the pockets of those who earned it. …With my five-year budget, millions of jobs would be created by cutting the corporate income tax in half, by creating a flat personal income tax of 17%…”

All money should be left in the pockets of those who earned it. Taxation is armed robbery, possessing and receiving stolen goods, slavery, trespassing, communicating threats, and conspiracy to commit the aforementioned crimes. No utilitarian argument can make virtue out of this evil.

“I say, not a penny more to countries that burn our flag.”

Because foreign aid is ultimately paid for by taxation, inflation caused by legalized counterfeiting through the Federal Reserve System, or debt enslavement of the unborn, not a penny more should be given to any country, regardless of whether its citizens burn our flag. Again, no utilitarian argument can justify the means employed.

“This month, I will propose a five-year balanced budget.”

Even if one believes in the need for government, and therefore a government budget, why not propose a one-year balanced budget, as proposed by 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson? He did break the record for votes received by a Libertarian presidential candidate, even in an election with a fairly close popular vote. Fiscal conservatives who found Mitt Romney to be unconvincing had something to do with this.

“My budget eliminates the Department of Education, and devolves power and money back to the states where they belong.”

Power and money do not belong to states; they rightfully belong to individuals through the natural rights of self-ownership and property ownership.

“Our party is encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom.”

All statists are encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom, not just the members of the Republican Party.

“…God bless America.”

If there is a God, then Sen. Paul has no business telling Him what to do. If there is not a God, then this is a meaningless expression.

Book review: We Who Dared to Say No to War

We Who Dared to Say No to War is a collection of essays gathered by progressive Murray Polner and libertarian Thomas Woods. The book includes anti-war writings by prominent Americans from the War of 1812 to the Iraq War. Accordingly, the authors whose works are included range across the political spectrum from socialist Eugene V. Debs to anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard.

Highlights of the book begin with Daniel Webster’s speech before Congress in which he compared military conscription for the War of 1812 to slavery and murder, an argument which Vietnam-era politicians would have done well to remember.

The second section contains an admonition against the Mexican War by Henry Clay, as well as the speech in which then-Congressman Abraham Lincoln demanded to know the exact spot upon which American forces were attacked by Mexican forces (it was in Mexican territory, but this did not faze the war hawks of the time).

The Civil War section contains arguments that show how war was not necessary to end slavery in the South and that the primary motivation was economic domination of the southern states by northern banking interests, many of which are made most effectively by Lysander Spooner, better known for his essay No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority.

Next, the essays deal with U.S. imperialism around the turn of the century, focusing on the Spanish-American War and the occupation of the Phillippines, as well as how imperialism is contrary to the ideals of earlier generations of Americans.

The fifth section contains essays from such luminaries as Eugene V. Debs, Helen Keller, and Robert La Follette, and demonstrates how people of all walks of life opposed World War I. Most prominent among this group of essayists is Randolph Bourne, whose refrain “The state is the health of war” remains a key part of the anti-war lexicon.

An explanation by Jeanette Rankin of why she voted against the declarations of both world wars bridges the gap between the World War I section and the World War II section. The World War II section is a bit sparse, containing a few essays by draft resisters but lacking the multiple hard-hitting pieces of both the previous and following sections. Stuart Chase’s “Assumptions about War” does as good of a job as one essay can, but it needs more support from other pieces. There are many surviving arguments against the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the inclusion of only Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy’s brief quote on the matter is mystifying.

The Cold War section highlights the non-interventionist wing of the Republican Party that was driven underground in the 1950s and 1960s and has only recently resurfaced with the rise of Ron Paul. Here, the most prominent piece is by Murray Rothbard, who did an excellent job of explaining the foundations of libertarianism and the illegitimacy of the state apparatus.

The Vietnam War, while technically a part of the Cold War, gets its own section, due to the massive social unrest caused by it. In this section, Wayne Morse speaks against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, General David M. Shoup makes a solid case for non-interventionism, and 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern delivers one of the most potent verbal lashings ever given to Congress, telling them “this chamber reeks of blood.”

The lessons that current policy-makers should have learned from the preceding eras of American history are brought to bear in the Iraq War section, which also includes Barbara Lee’s rationale for her lone vote against the Afghanistan War. Particularly moving is the resignation letter of John Brady Kiesling, who resigned as a U.S. diplomat on February 25, 2003 in protest of the Iraq invasion.

The final section is devoted to various criticisms of war in general, from John Quincy Adams speaking about foreign policy to Harvey Wasserman’s insightful comparisons of the false pretenses that have started many wars. The best summary of the preceding chapters is given by Sheldon Richman with the title of his essay, “War is a Government Program.”

While the book does an excellent job of presenting the anti-war case, it could have been improved by the inclusion of speeches and essays against the brutality inflicted upon Native Americans in the 19th century, as well as more criticism of World War II and the many smaller interventions of the current era. Nonetheless, it is still a treasure trove of sound arguments against the worst government program of all.

Rating: 4/5