04 February 2008

Machiavelli and Ron Paul

In American politics, one's persona is arguably more vital to a candidate's success as is his/her ideological platform. This is evident in the 2008 Republican presidential race as John McCain stands as the experienced public servant and war veteran, Mitt Romney exemplifies the successful American businessman, and Mike Huckabee represents the religious hometown hero. Unlike the other candidates though, Ron Paul's message is much more persuasive than his quirky persona. In fact, his persona probably hurts him more than it helps. In the Discourses, Machiavelli provides insight into why Ron Paul's message transcends his persona and has the capacity to resonate long after he loses the Republican ticket.

If one believes fragments of truth can be extracted even from flawed arguments, gleaning elements of truth from the Discourses is perfectly acceptable. If one rejects this premise, he/she quickly eliminates almost all sources of reference. Truths therefore will be drawn out from the Discourses without the need to rectify the flaws the truths may be housed in.

In reference to “collective bodies”, Machiavelli astutely asserts that “those changes are healthy that bring them back to their founding principles” since they “all...must have some good in them at the start”(Wooton 87-88). The “good” as defined by Machiavelli may be a looser interpretation of the word than the “good” used by the ancients, but his point is still valid. Bringing “collective bodies” back to their founding principles of why they became a “collective bod[y]”, is a healthy change for that “collective bod[y]”. This principle of getting back to “founding principles” applies regardless of the moral goodness of the “collective bod[y]”.

The process of returning to the founding is necessary because “that original goodness becomes corrupted, and, unless something happens that brings them back to first principles, corruption inevitably destroys the organization”(Wooton 88). Machiavelli then goes on to explain how this returning to first principles can come about by an “external accident or through domestic wisdom”(Wooton 88). In recent times we have seen how the “external accident” of the events of September 11, 2001 brought America together, united by a common love for freedom. This unity however did not last long. One can see from this and other examples that the longest lasting change comes from “domestic wisdom” rather than “external accidents” because the former comes from within. Unfortunately, there have been few leaders elected with the “domestic wisdom” to bring us back to our founding since the days of Ronald Reagan.

While Ron Paul is no Ronald Reagan, he has ignited a grassroots movement based on “domestic wisdom”. His platform is one of strict Constitutionalism, bringing our actions as a country in harmony with what the Founding Fathers outlined in the Constitution. This premise guides his views on the economy, war, education, abortion, and so on. Consequently, some of his views, like returning to the gold standard, appear archaic. Yet, this principle of strictly obeying the Constitution has spread across America in an unprecedented fashion.

How could a quirky, old man whose ideas are viewed by many as extreme be so popular? Quite simply, it is because Ron Paul hardwired his platform into the American ideal of freedom. The supporters of Ron Paul are so committed because they fully believe they are fighting to restore the America the revolutionaries died to create. They feel a connection to the Founding Fathers, they are inspired by the founding principle of freedom, and they can't help but show it. In contrast to the top-down approach, described by Machiavelli, of restoring a “collective bod[y]” to its founding principles, the Ron Paul Revolution has come from the bottom-up.

Machiavelli's wisdom that “those changes are healthy that bring them back to their founding principles” succinctly explains the power and longevity of Ron Paul's message(Wooton 87). The founding principle of freedom is what brought America into being. Despite the archaic feel to some of Ron Paul's ideas, multitudes of people still support him because his message taps into the founding principle of freedom. It is evident that supporters of Ron Paul are more excited about freedom than they are about Ron Paul as a person. His persona does not need to be attractive because he has based his campaign on the attractive founding principles of America. This is exactly why long after Ron Paul loses the Republican ticket, other politicians will stand up and tap into that same wellspring of founding principles. Quite simply, there is power in aligning one's platform with the founding principles of the “collective bod[y]” of people.

As one can see, fragments of Machiavelli's Discourses can be extracted to help explain the campaign of 2008 Republican candidate Ron Paul. Machiavelli's prescription of returning to our founding principles has fueled Ron Paul's campaign and the idea is not likely to go away.