Back in May, I attended a Cato book forum on Ron Paul’s Revolution featuring Cato VP David Boaz, author Brian Doherty, and Senator Rand Paul. It was a very entertaining event, but only while on vacation this past week did I get a chance to sit down an read the book, which was so good I feel compelled to provide what commentary I can. This should come as no surprise since Doherty’s previous works such as Gun Control on Trial and Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern Libertarian Movement were both excellent and highly recommended. Please pardon the rather self-serving first person tone I will slip into here. It is rather unavoidable as my reading of the book is bound up in my experience of the past five years.
I find the book particularly compelling because, as Brian says of himself in the first chapter, “I was into Ron Paul before it was cool.” Having been drawn to libertarianism via Ayn Rand in 2004, I became aware of this libertarian oddity in Congress soon after, reading about his lonely opposition votes and reading his various newsletters when I came by them. Somewhere in the bowels of the Internet there is a blog post I wrote in early 2007 expressing thanks that he was running for president but skepticism that it would amount to more than a short lived distraction. Boy was I happy to be wrong.
Doherty traces the history of Ron Paul and the movement he inspired. He starts with the famous debate showdown with Rudi Gulliani regarding “blowback,” then flashes back through a brief biography of Ron’s early life, education, military service, medical practice, adoption of libertarianism, and entry into political life as an early advocate of the Reagan revolution. The book then goes into further detail about Ron’s early congressional years, his departure from Congress and subsequent Libertarian Party presidential run, return to Congress again, and so on. I’ll spare the details. If you are interested, read the book.
The primary focus of the book from there is a study of this modern political phenomenon that is the Ron Paul movement. What is it, who are the people in it, what are their motivations, and where is it going? Doherty chose to answer these questions largely through anecdotes. He interviewed Ron’s longtime friends and opponents, traveled with the campaign, talked to grassroots activists, and observed and reported on what he found. He touches on the good and the bad, the frustrating and the encouraging.
While reading the book I got the sense that the book was not really written for me as a hardcore libertarian activist, which might frustrate some readers. I got the sense that Brian was trying to talk those who are politically literate but still confused about what exactly this Ron Paul phenomenon is, which at this point probably describes a large part of the American electorate. It reads as if Brian is making a case to Americans for Ron Paul and libertarianism broadly. Doherty often interrupts the narrative flow to make basic libertarian 101 arguments and critiques of the status quo. He goes out of his way to take jabs at and point out the utter lunacy of our modern political system and the actors that perpetuate it. The underlying message for the average reader is that it is not Ron Paul and libertarianism that is crazy but rather our absurd political system. Peace, liberty, and humility are reasonable. Unrestrained government spending and endless wars are what’s crazy.
That brings me back to the most essential point of the book, the parallel observation and argument present in it. There is a fundamental difference between American political cultures before and after Ron Paul spared with Rudi Gulliani in the summer of 2007. There are radically more libertarians today and we are far better organized than ever before. It is hard to explain to someone converted by or after Ron Paul’s stardom how lonely and isolated our existence was in the pre-revolution days. It was a true rarity be a student and know a libertarian on another campus. I sure didn’t, and thousands of others did not either. Now we are larger, smarter, and better organized than ever before. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Ron Paul and the movement he inspired are the most impactful (in the long term) and important forces in American politics today.
In short, I strongly suggest reading Ron Paul’s Revolution for both the casual observer and the dedicated libertarian. Strangers will gain a great deal of knowledge about Ron Paul and appreciation for his cause. The hardcore follower will gain a greater appreciation for where the revolution came from, its history, birth, growth, and direction. It is incredibly healthy in times of struggle and frustration (which I know many deal with every day) to step back, look at the big picture, and realize how much better things are today.
Well, looks like this post turned into less of an objective book review and more of a first person reflection on my experience reading it. Hard to avoid when the topic is so close to our passion. Cheers to Brian for writing a book that comes off as so equally personal and objective reporting. Very well done.