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Ron Paul's Legacy


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Photo by Jayel Aheram; some rights reserved.

This year will be Ron Paul's last in Congress. Adding together Ron Paul's years in Congress from 1976-1985 and 1997-2012, he has spent over 24 years in Congress, often as a lone vote on several pieces of legislation. He has been a rare and consistent advocate of free market liberalism, drug legalization, returning to the gold standard, auditing the Federal Reserve, reducing spending across the board, strict construction of the U.S. Constitution, federalism, opposition to war, and opposition to Roe v. Wade. While Ron Paul's movement and legacy is often discussed in terms of advancing libertarian philosophy, the effect Ron Paul has had on advancing the consistent life ethic should also be noted.

The consistent life ethic and libertarianism are two distinct philosophies. The consistent life ethic's main claim is opposition to legalized homicide and the dehumanizing effects that surround it, such as racism and poverty. Libertarianism's main claim is opposition to the coercive violence of the State. While it seems as though these two groups' axioms could overlap, many consistent lifers see federal welfare programs as essential to ending poverty, whereas libertarians see such programs as coercive violations of economic freedom. In addition, consistent lifers are pro-life, seeing abortion as an unjust form of legalized homicide. Libertarians are at best divided on the issue of abortion. Some argue that killing the unborn is an unjust act of homicide and thus violates the non-aggression principle. Others argue that the child is either a) not a person or b) an intruder. Ron Paul, however, was able, to a certain extent, to reconcile these two philosophies. After the death of Pope John Paul II, when Democrats and Republicans were selectively praising the deceased pope for certain causes while downplaying others, Ron Paul stood before the House of Representatives and praised Pope John Paul II for advocating a consistent ethic of life. He stated:

"The Pope's commitment to human dignity, grounded in the teachings of Christ, led him to become one of the most eloquent spokesmen for the consistent ethic of life, exemplified by his struggles against abortion, war, euthanasia, and the death penalty.

Unfortunately, few in American politics today adhere to the consistent ethic of life, thus we see some who cheered the Pope's stand against the war and the death penalty while downplaying or even openly defying his teachings against abortion and euthanasia . . . I would encourage those who wish to honor his memory to reflect on his teachings regarding war and the sanctity of life, and consider the inconsistencies in claiming to be pro-life but supporting the senseless killing of innocent people that inevitably accompanies militarism, or in claiming to be pro-peace and pro-compassion but supporting the legal killing of the unborn." [1]

Ron Paul was willing to connect his opposition to war and a general libertarian belief in peace with opposition to abortion and vice versa. He incorporated the core of the consistent life ethic -- opposition to legalized homicide -- into his libertarian vision of peace, stating in his book Liberty Defined:

"[T]he consistent right-to-life position should be to protect the unborn and oppose abortion, to reject the death penalty, and to firmly oppose our foreign policy that promotes an empire requiring aggressive wars that involve thousands of innocent people being killed. We would all be better off for it, and a society dedicated to peace, human life, and prosperity would more likely be achieved." [2]

For the longest time, Ron Paul and his philosophy were seen as a lonely and insignificant faction within the GOP. The Republican Party of the Bush era was seen as the party of war, the party of torture, the party of the electric chair, and -- awkwardly -- the party of life. This made it hard for mainstream pro-lifers to maintain their credibility. It was also hard for consistent lifers due to the Democratic Party's endorsement of legalized abortion and the Republican Party's endorsement of continual warfare. It was also difficult for fiscal conservatives to maintain their credibility as opponents of big spending while paradoxically supporting an incredibly expensive war. When Ron Paul ran for president in 2008, he was booed by the hawkish audience at the debates for offering the CIA theory of "blowback" as an explanation for 9/11 rather than claim that foreigners simply hate us for how awesome the United States is. The 2008 Republican National Convention was very much a celebration of the Bush-era foreign policy. Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat who had a liberal voting record on every issue except the war in Iraq, was allowed to speak at the convention. Ron Paul was not. Support for war trumped all other issues for Republicans, including the sanctity of human life and limited government.

While Ron Paul will not be president in 2012, his movement has still gained influence in the Republican Party. The GOP platform now calls for an audit of the Federal Reserve, a central cause among Austrian economists. Paulian supporters were able to gain more power in state-level parties, and more and more Republicans are willing to rethink and even outright criticize American militarism overseas. This change was most evident during the debt-ceiling debate. As conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat put it:

"From Rand Paul to Grover Norquist, there's a broad constituency within the conservative movement for shrinking the national security state, either as a compromise necessary to keep domestic spending low or as an end unto itself." [3]

Ron Paul has planted within the Republican Party his own wing of libertarian conservatives, who see war and civil liberties violations as manifestations of big government. Most of these Paulian Republicans are also pro-life, as Ron Paul is, and even the Paulians who are pro-choice typically oppose Roe v. Wade for its centralizing effect, which harms states' rights.

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Photo by Tyler Merbler; some rights reserved.

What is significant for consistent lifers about this is that there is a small but growing number of anti-war Republicans. There are now Republicans who oppose killing both the unborn and foreigners. These Republicans will have an uphill battle within the party, just as pro-life Democrats have had for years. However, if they succeed, they could work to challenge the very political spectrum itself, thus breaking the political separation between anti-homicide forces.

It would still be hard to reconcile some of the differences between the consistent life ethic and libertarianism. Though he likely did not do this consciously, a way in which Ron Paul bridged the gap between the two camps on the issue of poverty was to emphasize opposition to state privilege for the rich such as bail-outs, farm subsidies, the military-industrial complex, etc. In addition to that, Paul persuasively argued that the Federal Reserve was a poverty issue. When a currency is devalued it causes prices to rise, thus causing a "hidden tax" that transfers money from the poor to the rich. This is why even the hard-core progressive Dennis Kucinich was willing to vote for the Audit the Fed bill.

The consistent life ethic's concern for poverty does not necessarily call for government social programs as a solution. It just calls for a substantive response to poverty, and Paul's Left-libertarian approach of opposing state privilege for the rich and the Fed's inflationary theft from the poor is a substantive response.

Ron Paul will likely not enter politics again. However, he has made a mark on the political process that could cause people to rethink, if not reject, the political spectrum. From a consistent-lifer point of view, anything separating pro-lifers from neoconservative hawks is a good thing. Thus, Ron Paul should be commended for showing that you could be a pro-life conservative Christian while still opposing militarism.

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Photo by johnofhammond on flickr; some rights reserved.


[1] Paul, Ron, “Honoring Pope John Paul II: A Consistent Pro-Life Figure.” Statement delivered before the House of Representatives on April 6, 2005.

[2] Paul, Ron, Liberty Defined (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2011).

[3] Douthat, Ross, “The Hawks' Dilemma,” New York Times blogs.


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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