At 31 years old and entering my super-super senior year of college, I am privy to campus organizations for young people (though sometimes I forget how young they are) that claim the mantle of disseminating the ideas of classical liberalism/liberty. I would most definitely consider myself more of an autodidact rather than a perpetual student, although I decided to go back to school only a few years ago. Prior to my decision, I’ve done extensive research on the American founding and the origins of the principles enshrined in our Constitution. From Locke and Montesquieu to Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, you name it and chances are I have either read it or own it and plan on reading it. I have been blessed enough to find my muse at a relatively young age, and through sacrifice and determination, pursue it with a passion and a vigor I never knew I was capable of.
I attended the YAL state convention in California this spring, and much to my dismay, I found a large segment of the YAL student participants and speakers were anarcho-capitalists. Jeffery Tucker (A very nice man by the way) was the keynote speaker, a well known anarchist among the Rothbardian “libertarian” movement. I found it contradictory that an organization that hands out pocket Constitutions with their brand on it, had as a keynote speaker someone that despises the Constitution just as much as the socialist does. I have no problem with Mr. Tucker and his views, but if YAL is going to promote the ancap (anarcho-capitalist) viewpoint, at least be honest about it. As a classical liberal/constitutional conservative, I have very little in common with the a priori utopian vision of the Rothbardian anarchist. I find it a threat to liberty as anarchy always has been throughout human history. If you’d like some empirical verification on the success of the American constitutional republic, take a look at the progress of this nation from it’s inception to present day. Why weren’t trains, automobiles, light bulbs, computers, airplanes etc. created in any other type of system prior to the ratification of the Constitution in America? Why didn’t de Tocqueville chronicle the success of anarchy rather than the successes of our young constitutional republic? All the empirical verification is contained in the two volumes of de Tocqueville’s magnum opus, “Democracy in America.” Moreover, the steady and piecemeal disintegration of our republic can be better understood by comprehending its success as intended, rather than the Fabian socialist perversion thereof we are subjected to today. John Locke, considered the father of classical liberalism, in his Two Treatise of Government, uses a posteriori reasoning to propose the most prudent course for liberty. Montesquieu does the same, as do many of our founding fathers and framers of the Constitution. They understood despotism as well as anarchy leads to tyranny, and both were considered when forming the new government. Many of the young students may have heard these names, but have never considered the arguments they so eloquently espouse and have been promulgated into the American founding documents. In fact, so few of the participants know anything about the American founding or the Constitution, that I considered leaving YAL altogether.
Then came the YAL national convention in mid-summer, which I had planned to not attend. It just so happened that the same weekend CATO University was in San Diego, just a short drive away from me in Long Beach. The price for CATO was too high compared to the free room and food that YAL had offered. Also, the speakers lined up on the first night of the convention were extremely appealing and some of my favorites. Among them were Justin Amash, Walter Jones, Tom McClintock, Raul labrador, Thomas Masse, Mark Sanford, and Rand Paul, so I chose YAL. I was excited to say the least. There were roughly 300 attendees at the event including me and a couple of friends that I had invited from BCL (Being classically liberal). Rand Paul, the fan favorite, likely due to the association to his father, Ron Paul, received largest applause along with Justin Amash. He lightly pandered to the crowd of young YALers, but nothing egregious to speak of (the issue of marijuana is always at the forefront of these conventions, which is fine, but we have a constitutional crisis on our hands so let’s get our priorities straightened out).
Then, the congressmen took the floor. All it took to get a raucous applause out of the crowd was to mention Ron Paul’s name or anything associated with Ron Paul. It became so obvious that when Raul Labrador took the mic, he playfully uttered “Ron Paul!,” and the clapping seals erupted in applause. This, mind you, was the week Ron Paul claimed Israel created Hamas so they have “carte blanche” to destroy the Palestinians in the Gaza strip (how does he get away with this stuff?). Only one of the many the baseless claims made by Ron Paul on foreign policy over the years. When Labrador declared he is a “Reagan Republican” the only one in the crowd to clap was me (Not surprisingly. I was the only one that knew anything about Reagan). Ron Paul opposed Reagan’s strategy to defeat the USSR which ultimately liberated millions of Eastern Europeans and Russians alike, while collapsing one of the most evil empires and national security threats our young country has ever known. Ron Paul’s voting record under Reagan mirrors Joe Biden’s voting record, and now we see first hand how well Biden’s maladroit foreign policy vision is working in reality. Tell me again about Ron Paul’s appeal to the liberty movement? He denounced Reagan in ’87 and embraced him in the 1988 elections. No one questions the man’s actual record, rather they adhere to his demagoguery and rhetoric. That’s when I realized there is an epidemic of group think in the YAL ranks. Their methodology is flawed and they lack any philosophical foundation. For example, Walter Jones discussed how he had just visited wounded soldiers from Afghanistan, and for him, this was enough justification to pull out our troops. This proposition was met with a huge applause. If we had used the same logic in World War II we wouldn’t have made it very far past Pearl Harbor. I may agree with Walter Jones that we need to pull out, but what kind of justification is that? When Thomas Masse was asked why he was a libertarian, he responded “Waco.” I don’t know what he meant by that, but what I did know is that this event, and these young adults are not thinking beyond the headlines and the pandering. YAL lacks critical thinkers. Many call themselves Austrian, but have never read Hayek. Clearly, many have never read Ron Paul. They are all aware of Rothbard, but not aware of his views on parents obligation to their children (or lack thereof). Many are anarchists, yet they chose to participate in a group that has invited Mike Lee and Ted Cruz to speak at prior events, two constitutional originalists that see anarchy as a threat to liberty.
To back up my above claims, many of the aforementioned questions in this piece I had posed–in person–to the myriad think tanks and political organizations that had tabled at the YAL event. They were shocked at my apprehension towards Ron Paul’s bogus foreign policy assertions. Some, like Americans For Prosperity and Heritage, acknowledged my angst for the ancap contingency within YAL, but hesitated to be as verbally explicit as I was. Moreover, many were unable to define exactly what anarchy is, when it has ever produced a flourishing society or made clear that they had ever given the topic and critical thought. My BCL friend would most certainly attest to that. He was doubled over laughing so hard at my forthrightness and their extremely perplexed reactions. If I wasn’t so frustrated, I would’ve been laughing just as hard.
What I did get out of that first night event was that Justin Amash–a noted libertarian and a fan favorite–didn’t use the opportunity to pander, like some of his colleagues. He spoke of the Constitution and the Rule of Law which elucidates classical liberal principles much better than Ron Paul ever could. Tom McClintock also mentioned the Constitution as a means of espousing liberty along with Labrador. Needless to say, none of their comments elicited an applause. YAL needs to decide just what principles they want to espouse: the utopian a priori propositions and mantras of the anarchist, or the a posteriori reasoning of the classical liberal founders who, in our founding documents, created the most free and prosperous country the world has ever known. What say you, YAL?
– Will Ricciardella