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Review – Liberty Defined

Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom

by Ron Paul, published 2012

I have severely underestimated Ron Paul. When I was first learning about the philosophy of freedom over a decade ago, I jumped right into the enormous tomes on economic theory and moral philosophy and skipped the “practical politician” phase. It was only after I had immersed myself deeply in the theory that I became aware of Ron Paul and at that point I was such a purist intellectually that I felt affronted by a guy trying to get his hands dirty in politics. What was the point?

As I came to learn, the point, at least with Ron Paul, is simply to educate and better market liberty via a public platform. And while Ron Paul isn’t intellectually perfect, he’s pretty close. He writes readable and well-argued books on popular economic and political issues (I’ve read End the Fed and recommend it, I have not read The Revolution: A Manifesto) and since leaving public office he has started a Monday through Friday YouTube show, the Ron Paul Liberty Report, where he really pulls no punches in analyzing headline news issues and is even willing to delve into “conspiracy theories” and point out the activity of the Deep State. I’ve learned a lot in keeping up with the show not only in terms of what’s going on and how different events are connected but in how to better form arguments about the principles involved. My esteem for the man has risen, greatly.

I read Liberty Defined with interest. I have been working on my own “elevator pitch” delivery for basic economic and political ideas I consider important and I am always looking for resources which might provide examples of how to convey complex ideas in simple forms. I think this is where Liberty defined excels. The book is 328 pages long, with 50 topics covered, that is an average of 6.5 pages per topic in 12 point font in a medium sized paperback– these are not treatises, they’re more like brief essays. The topics are organized alphabetically and range from Abortion, Assassination and Austrian Economics, through Lobbying, Marriage and Medical Care and end with Trade Policies, Unionism and Zionism. It’s a mix of stuff Americans are always fighting about that they shouldn’t be (Abortion, Marriage), stuff Americans have been fighting about since the founding (Lobbying, Trade Policies), stuff Americans are super confused about (Medical Care, Unionism), stuff Ron Paul thinks its important people understand better (Austrian Economics) and stuff that people think it’s impolite to discuss (Zionism).

While I found many of Ron Paul’s views “predictable” simply because I am well-versed in them, I find his argumentation and simple explanations were always new and surprising to me and his ability to draw metaphors and analogies is outstanding (I particularly liked his discussion of medical insurance and car insurance and what we could expect to happen to car insurance if it was regulated the same way medical insurance is regulated). At the root of his approach is a desire to unmask political cliches — for example, insurance is no longer insurance when you force the providers to cover higher risk individuals at the same rate that they cover low risk individuals, which transforms it into a welfare policy that redistributes wealth — and then follow the inevitable logic and consequence of these policies laid bare. Through this method there turn out to be no real surprises in the economic and political arena, the problems we face are the end result of following flawed premises blindly. A unifying theme that runs through out is that the will to exercise power has historically been combined with the need to confuse and delude the powerless about how and why that power is being exercised because there is no logically defensible argument for exercising the power in the first place– all power concentrated in the hands of political representatives is power taken from the hands of individual people. The meta struggle of history in society is the attempt by individuals to resist the tyranny of political structures. This is the prism through which Ron Paul analyzes all of these issues.

By his definition,

Liberty means to exercise human rights in any manner a person chooses so long as it does not interfere with the exercise of the rights of others.

And so, “only liberty can ward off tyranny, the great and eternal foe of mankind.”

This is a hopeful book, also. While Ron Paul is forceful in his views and is not afraid to call a spade a spade, this is not a polemical work seeking to cast blame and aspersions at political enemies. Instead, Ron Paul says

I do hope that I can inspire serious, fundamental and independent-minded thinking and debate

To me, this is key and what is so lacking from political discourse in this country presently. The way things are, the spending, the wars, the massive social programs, are taken as given. There is no fundamental consideration of these issues, no attempt to forge a new society despite clearly being at a political dead-end. And not only are people not thinking creatively, they aren’t discussing it peaceably. Political discourse is about questioning motives and demagoguing the issues. Creating an environment of open discussion and debate would be a humongous step for social progress even if it leads to no immediate political change. This is a long-term project,

To love liberty requires an act of the intellect… Our job in this generation is to prepare the way.

We may not and likely will not see meaningful political reforms in our own lifetimes, but we could lay the seeds that will germinate in our children’s lifetimes by trying to change the context of the discourse today. That’s a goal worth fighting for in my mind.

I ended up highlighting many ideas and short passages throughout this book. I had hoped to capture a few here but I realize I will just be re-typing too much of the book. This work is not a classic, but it is worth reading, for the liberty-minded and the unfamiliar (or even skeptical!) alike, if only to further the discourse. I think this book will be one I’ll recommend to people asking for a place to start in understanding our topsy-turvy political environment and I plan to keep my copy in my library for future reference. Ron Paul has created a “popular”, everyman’s version of Murray Rothbard’s outstanding For A New Liberty. (I’m also now very excited to move Paul’s The School Revolution higher up on my reading list.)

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