There’s a brilliant episode of South Park called “Go God Go” where Cartman, unable to contain himself waiting for the release of the Nintendo Wii, freezes himself and accidentally wakes up in the year 2546 where atheism is the only belief system, and several denominations dedicated to the teachings of Richard Dawkins are at war with each other. The factions are unable to agree on the answer to ‘The Great Question’ as determined by Dawkins, highlighting the inherent problem with ideological certainty and leader worship.
This is a problem all religions have suffered from and atheism is not immune to either. Matt Stone and Trey Parker make the point that while there may be a perfect understanding of the universe out there, no one is intelligent enough to interpret it 100% correctly.
Ron Paul supporters and Libertarians might learn a thing or two from watching the two part episode, particularly after Paul announced he was suing the owners of RonPaul.com to get the rights over the domain name. The legal spat is causing a rift in the Libertarian community for a number of reasons. Firstly, and much to the amusement of non Libertarians, Paul is using a UN agency (the World Intellectual Property Organization) to file his complaint. Secondly, many Libertarians do not agree with the concept of intellectual property and are outraged that Paul is infringing on people’s right to free speech. And thirdly, as I argued in a post that managed to attract thousands of Paul supporters, the retired congressman is being, well, kind of a dick given the creators of the site have worked relentlessly to promote Paul and his cause. Ultimately, the nasty spat asks the age old question: What is more important, the man or the message?
I’m not too familiar with the internecine rivalries in the Libertarian community as I gave up engaging with them several years ago (far too much mental energy for my liking – Libertarians are well known for their debating prowess), but the latest Ron Paul story piqued my interest again because I must admit to finding it pretty funny that a man vehemently opposed to the existence and authority of the United Nations was using the organization when it was beneficial to him. It reminded me of Tea Party members shouting at Obama to “Keep your goddam hands off my medicare” – a brilliant reminder that everyone hates the government until they actually need it.
To get a better idea of how the Libertarian community felt about Ron Paul’s ‘betrayal’, I spoke to Brian Doherty, a Senior Editor at the Libertarian Reason magazine, and author of Ron Paul’s Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired . I asked Doherty about Paul’s decision to use a UN organization to file his claim, an issue he believes people are blowing out of proportion.
“ICAN, the organization that controls domain name registration, they have a system for dispute resolution and they happen to use the WIPO which happens to be a UN organization,” said Doherty. “So the only recourse Paul to challenge what he claims were people squatting on his property happens to be a UN organization.”
“The question as to whether it’s wrong to use a UN agency to do it I think is misguided. It is the only disputes procedure available to him and there’s nothing un libertarian about using them.”
But on the larger question as to whether he should be claiming any property in his name at all, Doherty believes there is room for criticism.
“There are some Libertarian purists who do not believe there is such a thing as intellectual property,” said Doherty. “And they think the only thing you can own are physical things, and thus Ron Paul is mistaken for believing he owns his name in such a manner, that he should be able to claim this website because of course the people running this website have put their labor into it, they did the thing that they were supposed to do to get the property, and it’s almost analagous to squatters in how they occupy land. OK, no one owns this land, I’m going to chop down the trees and build a house and now it’s my land. You could say that people running Ron Paul.com discovered this unused resource, this name ‘RonPaul.com’, they occupied it, they used it, they did things with it, and there is an argument to make that Paul was mistaken in believing he had more of a right to the name than they do.”
I asked Doherty whether he believed the dispute uncovers some more worrying trends within the Libertarian community, particularly surrounding leader worship.
“I would say it would be dangerous if he were still the guy leading it as a public and political figure. If I believed it were likely that he would run for President again in 4 years, then people being mad at him would be important,” he answered. “I mean he’s not running for office any more, so it’s not like it matters that, “Oh, no one’s gonna vote for him anymore, so that’s bad”. I would like to think that if he’s convinced a lot of people to believe in Libertarianism to the degree that they are mad at him about this, it’s totally cool that they are mad at him.”
For Doherty, is is more about the cause than the man, and regardless of Paul’s actions, it it his philosophy that his followers should be more concerned with.
“For those of us who are concerned about ‘the cause’ and who aren’t about protecting Ron Paul the person, it doesn’t matter,” said Doherty. “Ron Paul could stand up tomorrow and say “I never believed in any of this Libertarianism crap, thanks for the donations suckers, hahaha” or whatever, and that doesn’t really affect the validity of his ideas or whether he’s inspired lots of other people to be advocates of these ideas in the future.”
It’s an unfortunate episode for the Libertarian movement, but one Doherty believes actually highlights Paul’s achievements in promoting the purity of Libertarian ideology.
“It’s almost encouraging that he’s made this audience of such libertarian purists that they are mad at him about this,” said Doherty. “It’s almost to his credit.”
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.