Prior to one of my interviews, I failed to live up to the journalistic standards that the “real” media pretends to abide by. Specifically, I came into an interview with Cato Senior Scholar Tom Palmer several months back with negative preconceptions. I knew he had been a critic of Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute and an advocate of military intervention in Afghanistan. I also felt cynical about Cato’s commitment to libertarian principles.
In the last few months, I have gotten to know Dr. Palmer better, and realized my assumptions about him couldn’t have been more wrong.
Tom is a remarkable person. It is truly rare to meet someone who is not only brilliant, but genuinely kind and modest. In the months since the interview, he has been extremely generous in helping me with several projects of absolutely no benefit to him. He has proven to be very helpful in my intellectual development as a libertarian, and I feel lucky to count him as a friend.
I still completely reject his personal judgments of some of ex-“paleolibertarians,” and the logic he employs to make them. But I was wrong to assume that Palmer was some sort of pro-state sellout on the basis of a back-and-forth, public personal feud not pertaining to me in any way.
If someone who has opposed all but one of the wars in his lifetime, calls for the abolition of all “hate crime” and “anti-discrimination” laws, and condemns taxation as theft is unlibertarian, I don’t know the definition of the term. That Palmer’s record on liberty has a few warts — one of which he shares with Ron Paul — is absolutely no justification for condemning him personally and ignoring his insights. Indeed, it is all the more reason to try to persuade him to correct what we see as his “wrongs.”
My faulty assumption leads to a broader point: Young people in the liberty movement need to remember to think things through for themselves. You may think that expressing disagreement with Ron Paul on a few issues is sufficient for this, but we all have resorted to uncritically adopting the viewpoints — political or otherwise — of our hero, as well as other libertarian thinkers, at some point. This must be avoided at all costs.
Politics is important, but as Lew Rockwell says, education is the foundation of any sound activism. Young activists need to read more books — I know I can be lazy in this department — rather than looking at favorable secondary sources through rose-colored glasses. Thoroughly understanding an author’s ideas is the only way to make a sound judgment about their validity. If we do end up agreeing, this understanding is still necessary to effectively communicate the ideas, as well as truly thank said author for his or her efforts on behalf of liberty.
To be sure, the average libertarian already thinks more critically about political issues than the run-of-the-mill Republican or Democrat. That’s not an ad hominem attack, but an axiomatic truth for those with eyes to see. Credibly challenging the establishment requires more critical thinking than falling in line.
But “better than the establishment” is hardly a lofty goal to strive for. I want to be a part of a movement of truly free-thinking individuals. A movement of people who care about themselves enough to think for themselves. A movement of activists who hold their friends and intellectual heroes to the same pro-liberty standard as their enemies. A movement that knows no sacred cows or taboos, but only sober intellectual examination.
Given the type of man that Ron Paul is — a true leader who is completely disinterested in his own prestige, power, or social standing — we can safely assume that this is the path he would prefer, even if it involved criticizing him on occasion.
The difficulty of the task before us, and our intention to successfully achieving it, demands nothing less.Published in