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June 1996
Volume 14, Number 6

The Statesman
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

"Every great statesman must necessarily fail," wrote Andrew Lytle in a moving tribute to John C. Calhoun. The reason: the statesman is driven by high ideals like freedom, self-government, justice, and constitutionalism, which will never be perfectly realized. Yet even in failure, the statesman preserves civilization, and keeps tyranny at bay.

Adds Lytle, "only the politician succeeds." That's because the politician sees his job as serving interest groups and constituents, an easy task. Of course, dishing out private property through pressure-group politics will doom us in the long run. That's why we need an educated people who will, in turn, give us fewer politicians and more statesmen.

One school of thought--Public Choice--says that statesmen can't exist in a democracy. Politics consists of vote trading, logrolling, rent seeking, and legislated looting. Politicians buy and sell favors, lobbyists act as middlemen, and the public gets fleeced. It can be no other way, say these theorists.

A gloomy picture. And looking at D.C., the Public Choice School would appear to be on target. How else can we account for the Republican leadership's betrayal? These birds view their "principles" as just a rhetorical cover for their power grabs. They build their careers by promising to torch Washington, then panic at the smell of smoke.

But there are several problems with Public Choice theory in this context. Its determinism can't explain the thirst for justice that sometimes trumps financial self-interest among the voters, nor can it account for the occasional exception to the rule of politicians.

Consider, for example, the career of Ron Paul, who served in the House of Representatives for four terms in the 1970s and 1980s. He is living proof that statesmen are not entirely extinct.

A statesman must be implacable in his commitment to principle. Thus Ron Paul never sold out, not once. He holds the all-time record from the National Taxpayers Union for voting against nearly all spending. Never did he vote for a tax increase, a regulatory increase, foreign aid, foreign wars, military pork, or domestic pork, not even for his own district.

The behind-the-scenes drama of his years in office is extraordinary. The pressures to go along to get along were immense. It took great courage to say no to the entire Washington culture. The media attacked him. The lobbyists said he was foolish to look a gift horse in the mouth. Most of his colleagues pooh-poohed his ideals.

Indeed, his principles brought him into conflict with his own party. Vote for this Reagan debt increase, the Republican leadership would tell him, and next year, spending will go down. He refused to go along, and--of course--spending always went up, along with the debt. President Reagan would personally put the squeeze on him for some IMF or imperialist boondoggle. Nothing doing, he would politely answer.

Ron Paul was more than a "Dr. No," however, as important as that is. He also worked hard to bring accountability to the Federal Reserve and the tax police. He called for a gold standard and introduced legislation to bring it about. Moreover, he was not difficult to please. He would support anything that shrunk the government, no matter how incrementally, and he was glad to work with anyone on anything that would slow the government's growth.

In Washington, there came to be grudging respect for him. Inebriated colleagues would confide how much they wished they could vote as he did. And outside the beltway, Ron Paul became a folk hero. Most of his constituents loved him (pork is overrated as a reelection device, since it is inevitably a special-interest payoff) and he won a national and international following. For him--as for John Randolph of Roanoke in the 19th century--office was an opportunity not to make corrupt deals, but to educate the people in the glories and responsibilities of freedom.

What especially distinguishes Dr. Paul today is his broad vision. With every decision, he would ask: how does this affect the place of government in society? He tirelessly reminds audiences that this is the real issue. It's why he never got sidetracked by Washington gimmickry like the line-item veto or the balanced-budget amendment.

Dr. Paul also understands that it's not enough to swear fealty to political principle if you don't understand economics. Though a practicing physician, he was driven to study economics when Richard Nixon abolished the remnants of the gold standard, and imposed wage and price controls. Although he had started reading Mises in medical school, Dr. Paul began to read everything he could get his hands on, becoming one of the most eloquent exponents of the Austrian School.

It was the Austrian School, in fact, that led him to public life. And he knows the School's major thinkers so well--Mises, Hayek, Hazlitt, Rothbard--that their voices have become his political conscience, far overriding any desire for short-term political gain. Like his intellectual heroes, Dr. Paul is intransigent in his belief that only the truth can make us free.

As Dr. Paul would be the first to say, the statesman is not born but made by a great body of ideas, transmitted in the classroom and in public affairs. That's why he has so strongly supported the Mises Institute from its founding, and served as our Distinguished Counsellor for 14 years.

Yes, government grew while he was in office. He "failed," as Lytle would say he must. But he did something much more important than attaching his name to a sheaf of state-enhancing laws: he became a standard-bearer for liberty when the whole world seemed to be lurching towards socialism, national or international.

There are politicians the media like to trumpet as principled: New Gingrich, for example, although he never lived up to their vilification. And now the entire leadership is perspiring in their Oxxford suits at the possibility that Ron Paul is going back to Congress.

Setting aside his medical practice, Ron Paul is running for a House seat in the 14th district of Texas, and despite the opposition of the entire Republican establishment, he won the primary handily. The people recognize an eloquent public voice for the Austrian School, and a statesman even Mises could respect.


Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. is president and founder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute


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