About half way thought Ron Paul’s The Revolution: A Manifesto, I found myself thinking that he should have written this book before he ran for President, not afterwards, and that his campaign should have handed out as many copies of the book as they could, because it does a far better job of explaining and defending libertarian values and ideas than the candidate himself ever did on the campaign trail.
There’s not really anything original in the book itself; as other reviewers have pointed out, these are ideas that others have written about before and they are, in fact, older than the American Republic itself. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t important or worth reading, however; as Paul’s campaign and recent polls independent of the Presidential race have demonstrated, there still exists an audience that is quite receptive to the ideas like individual liberty, economic freedom, and the idea that things have gone terribly wrong in this country.
In seven relatively short easy to read chapters, Paul touches on issues ranging from economic freedom, to the assaults on civil liberties and personal property that we’ve seen over the past two decades, to monetary policy, and, of course, foreign policy. If you’re looking for a discussion of what’s wrong in America today from a philosophy that focuses on individual liberty, The Revolution is an excellent place to start.
For someone such as myself who has been immersed in libertarian ideas from the day I picked up a copy of Capitalism & Freedom and then moved on to spend the summer after my freshman year in college digesting everything from Atlas Shrugged to John Locke’s Second Treatise Of Government, the ideas that Paul talks about will be entirely familiar, and there will be more than one moment of head-nodding in agreement as you read along. The sad truth, though, is that we don’t live in a country where the majority of the public can really be said to be familiar with the ideas that our nation was founded upon and our Constitution was based upon. And the political leadership isn’t any better; beyond parroting the words of the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July or saluting the flag, politicians on both sides of the political aisle pay little more than lip service to the ideas of the Founding Fathers, especially when they inconveniently interfere with whatever it is they want to achieve, whether that’s health care “reform” or campaign finance “reform.”
But that, I think, is what makes Paul’s book so good. I don’t necessarily think that the American people have given up on the ideals of the Founders, it’s just that they haven’t been presented with a political leaders who even come close to living up to them. That, I think, is why Ron Paul, his faults notwithstanding, attracted the vocal, if small, following that he did during the campaign.
There are some disagreements, of course.
I agree with Paul that our foreign policy has gotten too far out of whack, and that the interventionist and pre-emptive war ideas advocated by the intellectuals who got us into Iraq is both unwise and dangerous. That doesn’t mean, however, that I agree with his suggestion that we merely need to look to the foreign policy advocated by the Founding Fathers in the early years of the Republic to tell us how to manage the affairs of a continent-wide nation existing in a world where destruction can come from the skies in a matter of minutes.
The early Founders, and specifically Presidents Washington, Adams, and Jefferson were concerned primarily with the survival of a small, weak nation on the coast of a continent that sat across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, where the two most powerful nations on the planet were engaged in a seemingly endless struggle that dated back to the French and Indian Wars. That conflict didn’t end until Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, and America was constantly under pressure to take sides, especially in the years after the French Revolution. Keeping America neutral was in our interests because either nation, England or France, could have destroyed the new Republic merely by imposing a blockade on shipping. We simply don’t know what policy Washington, Jefferson, or Adams would advocate in today’s world; they clearly wouldn’t support foolhardly adventures to make the Middle East “safe for democracy”, but I doubt that they’d also adopt the idea that America’s vital national interests end at the shoreline, which often seems to be what Paul suggests.
The other weakness in the book is also one that existed in the campaign itself; a lack of specifics. Paul admits that most of the changes he proposes, many of which are clearly necessary, can only be achieved if Congress supports them. That isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, and it would have been nice if the book had touched even a little on how to get there from here.
On the whole, though, this is a solid introduction to the philosophy of freedom, and far better reading than yet another devotional to “hope” and “change.”