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Penn Political Review

Lew Rockwell: The Man Behind Ron Paul

admin January 21, 2012 National, Online Only Comments Off

By: Edoardo Saravalle

A series of intolerant newsletters have been plaguing Ron Paul’s campaign for most of his recent political career. The publications, with names like The Ron Paul Survival Report and The Ron Paul Investment Letter, first came to public attention during Paul’s 1996 Congressional campaign. His opponent Charles “Lefty” Morris divulged newsletters containing statements like “if you have ever been robbed by a black teen-aged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be” and supposed “opinion polls [that] consistently show only about 5% of blacks have sensible political opinions.” Paul won that race and for some time the controversy died down. However, during the 2008 Presidential primaries, James Kirchik from The New Republic unearthed a whole new set of these newsletters in the archives of the University of Kansas and the Wisconsin Historical Society. These publications contain even more explosive material such as assertions that after the L.A. riots “order was only restored […] when it came time for blacks to pick up their welfare checks” or that though “we are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, it is hardly irrational.”

The articles in these newsletters are unsigned, although often they are written in the first person to give the idea that Paul himself wrote them. Any casual follower of Paul, however, will notice that the incendiary language of the letter in no way resembles Paul’s avuncular campaign tone. Following the New Republic article, Julian Sanchez and David Weigel of the libertarian magazine Reason, wrote an in-depth expose about the authorship of these newsletters and they found that “a half-dozen longtime libertarian activists—including some still close to Paul—all named the same man as Paul’s chief ghostwriter: Ludwig von Mises Institute founder Llewellyn Rockwell, Jr.” Rockwell has confusedly denied the authorship and Paul has consistently refused to name him or anyone else as the author; however, understanding who Lew Rockwell is proves fundamental to gain a strong understanding of the real Ron Paul.

Rockwell first worked for Paul as his Congressional Chief of Staff from 1978 to 1982. That year, he left Washington to found the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the main proponent in the United States of Austrian economics. This school of thought falls outside the mainstream because of its rejection of both empirical evidence—Austrian economists do not use any econometric data—and of all government intervention in the economy. Ron Paul has consistently espoused this approach to the discipline; most recently, after his third-place finish in the Iowa primaries, Paul proclaimed that “We are all Austrians now.” Austrian economics also provide most of Paul’s intellectual firepower. All but a few of the books quoted in his best-selling End the Fed were published by the Mises Institute, which has also printed a few of his more academic books like The Case for Gold. Rockwell served as president of the institute until 2009, when he stepped down and became Chairman of the Board. Paul remains on board as a special counselor to the institute.

In addition to Mises himself, the other main influence on the Institute, on Paul and on Rockwell, has been that of economist Murray N. Rothbard, whom Rockwell brought in as academic vice chairman. In addition to writing Man, Economy and the State, a seminal work in Austrian thought, the late thinker was also the most prominent proponent of anarcho-capitalism, a philosophy that holds all governments to be inherently tyrannical and expects markets to administer everything from security to justice. Rothbard, in his long involvement in libertarian causes, began his career by forming a Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond group at Columbia University in 1948 admiring of the segregationist senator’s support for states’ rights and decentralized government. Then Rothbard joined the Republican Party, followed by the Libertarian Party, a miniscule movement which reached its apex of success when it won 1.06% of the vote in the 1980 elections.

In 1988, Paul ran as the Party’s presidential candidate and worked closely with Rockwell again bringing him in as a consultant for the campaign. Paul’s run, compared by Texas Monthly to “something out of Robert Altman’s movie ‘Nashville,’” failed to equal the “triumphs” of 1980 but allowed his name to spread beyond his district in Texas. However, after the defeat, the consistently heterogeneous party split along two very different lines. Libertarianism, the dedication to complete freedom, had always grouped together two different constituencies, the free-marketers concerned with limiting government regulation and intervention, and the civil rights libertarians concerned with fighting government control  of issues such as marriage, reproduction and drug use. Ron Paul had always been closer to the former side, protecting the free market while opposing abortion. When, after his campaign, this tension boiled over, the “purist” wing of free-marketers led by Rothbard, Rockwell and Paul split from the Party, and began to search for a new political vehicle.

Rockwell envisioned this vehicle in his 1990 article in Liberty magazine, “The Case for Paleo-Libertarianism.” Rejecting the “Woodstockian flavor” of the Libertarian Party, Rockwell argued that freedom was not enough and that paleolibertarians had to reach out to Christians and social conservatives. Rothbard built on this vision and argued that the new paleolibertarians should adopt a policy of “reaching out to rednecks.” This strategy led to some of the gravest missteps of the Rothbard/Rockwell/Paul libertarian faction. Their glee over former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s electoral success—who scared the nation by gaining 44% of the vote in a Senate primary campaign—was one of the most depressing results. While the approving statement in the Ron Paul Survival Report (possibly written by Rockwell himself) that Duke “scared the blazes out of the Establishment” and its understatement in noting that “Duke carried some baggage” may seem out of step with Paul’s new tone, it was completely attuned to other paleolibertarian statements. Rothbard, for example, noted that that while the Establishment “finally got David Duke […] he sure scared the bejesus out of them.” Both sources praised Duke’s advocacy of “tax cuts, no quotas, no affirmative action, no welfare, and no busing” without considering any of this taints. This attitude, while not per se racist, suggests at least a startling degree of moral blindness.

In 1990 Rothbard and Rockwell also began to publish their Rothbard-Rockwell Report (RRR), a monthly paleolibertarian newsletter. The publication’s tone strongly mimics that of Ron Paul’s newsletters. Both publications walk the fine line between disapproval of Israel’s policies and blatant anti-semitism. Both straddle the line between opposition to tyrannical political correctness and outright racism. Most questionable was the section at the end of RRR called P.C. Watch authored by Rockwell himself. Although it was meant to highlight bias in the mainstream media, the part of the newsletter showed a strange fascination with interracial relationships and the Old South plus an odd visceral hatred toward Maya Angelou.

The formation of the paleolibertarian faction coincided with the rise of the broader paleoconservative movement led by Pat Buchanan. Spurred by the fall of a Soviet Union, disaffected conservatives rose up in opposition to George H.W. Bush, to internationalism, to the perceived enslavement to Israeli interests and to the increasing multiculturalism and secularism of the United States. In 1992, Paul was considering a Republican primary challenge to Bush and appointed Rockwell as a vice-chair to the exploratory committee. Eventually he decided not to run and to support Buchanan in an effort to mold a new paleo-paleo coalition. While Buchanan did not unseat Bush, he was both responsible for introducing nasty elements of anti-semitism and racism in American political discourse and for popularizing the term “culture wars.”

After the failure of Buchanan’s second run in 1996 and his increasing support for protectionism, the paleo-paleo coalition fell apart. Rothbard had died back in 1995 and Gingrich’s Contract with American had reinvigorated more mainstream conservatism. Rockwell abandoned the plan, and formed a new website lewrockwell.com to promote his ideas. Paul writes for the website from time to time, as does Pat Buchanan, as do many Austrian economists and anarcho-capitalists. The project has slowly drifted away from the mainstream although Paul’s success on college campuses has attracted a new generation of voters to the site. The website’s tone is not as openly incendiary as the old newsletter but often maintains some of the same positions. For example, it published Paul’s dissent in Congress on a bill commemorating the 1964 Civil Rights Act. While Paul framed the stance as a principled opposition to governmental intervention, the baggage associated with the paleolibertarian phase makes this position much murkier.

In light of Paul’s newfound mainstream appeal, especially his second-place finish in New Hampshire, understanding his tortuous political path is fundamental and understanding Lew Rockwell—a man who has always travelled by his side—is one of the most important pieces in this puzzle.

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