Monday, December 20, 2010

Hero-worship is an ugly thing

If I ever defend a politician (as opposed to a policy or an idea) against the criticism of a private citizen writing in a newspaper, or if I ever write a love song to John Maynard Keynes, someone please refer me back to this post.

I did some searching on the blog... this seems to be the most I've ever fawned over a politician, and I'm still pretty comfortable with that post. I think its fine for people to admire politicians - it would be unfortunate if there were no politicians we could admire (unfortunately there are very few). I even admire some things about Ron Paul.


  1. There is one thing that amazes me about this American politician Ron Paul.

    See, the man hangs pictures of Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises in his office. Fine. He also refers to the Austrian School went talking about certain topics. Fine. But his positions...well...look least like what Austrian thinkers have ever espoused.

    Murray Rothbard's usage of praxeology was very clear. When Hutus were slaughtering Tutsis in Rwanda, he did not blame the Tutsis the way much of western media did. He did not attribute the causes of violence to poverty, the historical caste exploitation of Tutsis, or the colonial era legacy. He did not give any material motivation for the Hutu attacks. He simply said what was chillingly obvious. The Hutus killed Tutsis just because they could. In praxeology, human nature leads to human action, and if a man is just plain cruel and heartless, then he will kill whomsoever he wants without the material motivation of wanting his money or defending himself or his family.

    And then Ludwig von Mises was a defense hawk. The man believed in pre-emptive strikes, a strong military supported by a draft, and stationing troops abroad on other people's soil if it served "freedom" or "democracy". If a supposedly free democratic nation had its military bases on another country, it would be justified under von Mises' utilitarianism, because it prevents a dictatorship from coming there. On these grounds, von Mises called the British Empire the "greatest experiment in benevolent absolutism undertaken". All of this is there in Omnipotent Government, which may read like a neoconservative bible to some.

    Ron Paul's blame of the 9/11 attacks on US foreign policy in the Middle East (which is true) creates a giant chism between him and Austrians. For purely Austrian analysis would only succumb to the praxeological analysis that those youth attacked the twin towers just because. And purely Austrian analysis would come to the conclusion that such an attack would have happened even if there were no bases in Yemen, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia (which is also true).

    In a way Ron Paul has more in common with men like Congressman Howard Buffett (father of Warren Buffett), who said, "America can not call itself a Christian nation, if it believes it can police the world by military force." In short, Paul owes his views more to casuitry and a few Christian/religious ethics, just like every ordinary person, than to necessarilly libertarian or Austrian views. That's why I don't understand this PARTICULAR libertarian love of Paul.

  2. Oh, you clearly have no sense of humor (referring to the Hayek song).

    I don't know how well you sing, but I doubt anyone would fault you for writing a clever love song to JMK (although you may want to get a female to do the singing perhaps haha). I, for one, would welcome it. It would be just another silly video to waste time on from the internetz.

    Hero worship may be an ugly thing, but being a curmudgeon is even uglier.

  3. I'm sure John Maynard Keynes would NOT mind a male singer.

  4. Samuel -
    I'm not sure who's the curmudgeon here, me or you!

    I'm not trying to scold her - maybe I should have developed that idea a little more to make it clear... I've noticed lots of little hero-worshipping of Hayek. Politicians with framed pictures of him up, songs like this, statements to the effect of "if only Hayek were still around"/"people have forgotten the message of Hayek", etc., Glenn Beck playing Oprah Winfrey for him. It's no one thing - there's just a general degree of mesmerism around him that's a little weird and that you just don't see around other economists (Mises too, but the fan base is narrower). The hero-worship of Ron Paul is even weirder.

    Any given instance is obviously no big deal - I do think its a little weird that somebody would just want to sing the praise of Hayek, but whatever. Its not one instance that really bothers me - it's the extent of the hero-worship and the almost complete lack of self-awareness of it.

    Obama clearly has some emotional fans too, just like Ron Paul, but (1.) you just don't see it as much anymore, and (2.) it was almost a running joke how fervent the Obama campaign was. There was some self-awareness of it. Aside from Megan McArdle (who's kind of an odd case anyway), I really haven't seen anyone second-guess Paul in the libertarian community. That kind of blind allegiance should catch people's eye, I think.

  5. I know you weren't scolding her, but it did kind of come off that way.

    That someone would want to make a song about Hayek in the internet age is definitely not weird. You can find a song on just about every conceivable subject or person in this day and time(there's even a Keynes sing-along on Youtube).

    "Hero-worship" is an unnecessarily pejorative term to describe people's admiration for someone. People like Ron Paul because, well, they like him. As you stated, Obama had his fans, Bush once had his fans, and so forth. People gravitate towards figure heads like Ron Paul because of their beliefs, not simply for the hell of it.

    Plus, it's totally not true that Ron Paul was unanimously admired by libertarians. There were many disagreements, especially due to his stances on abortion, immigration, and foreign policy (I mean, just look up a few comments to see what I'm talking about). Their was much criticism of Paul during the 2008 campaign.

    I think one of the reasons Hayek and many Austrians are so popular amongst non-economists is because they were typically very political. They weren't just economists. Noneconomists like their economics because they first liked their politics. Lachmann, for example, rarely dealt with politics and I would imagine the majority of libertarians haven't the foggiest idea about who he was.

    I think we all get that you're not the biggest fan of Ron Paul. But you can't fault someone for liking the guy because they agree with his general worldview.

  6. Samuel Wonacott - Where were you when I was being accused of messianism a little while back :)

    I suppose I see the same people who accused me of things like that gushing more than I ever did, and it strikes me as more than a little ironic.

    I think we all get that you're not the biggest fan of Ron Paul. But you can't fault someone for liking the guy because they agree with his general worldview.

    Well, no. It's a little more complicated than that. The people who like him disproportionately lambast other people for any sign of admiration for politicians. Signs of admiration are dismissed as "statist" tendancies, politicians are implicitly assumed to be dirty, etc. Notice I have never written a post like this criticizing George Bush fans or even Sarah Palin fans, both of whom I like substantially less than I like Ron Paul. There's a reason why I point this out about Ron Paul fans - it's because in many of their cases its so hypocritical. I've had Sarah Palin fans ridicule the fact that I think Obama is a pretty decent president. I've never had Sarah Palin fans accuse me of being a statist, being taken in by political hustlers, etc. for my views on Obama. The irony I'm highlighting - and the BS I'm highlighting - is that the libertarians who are taken in by Ron Paul are more weak in the knees for this particular politician than I ever was for Obama.


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