Le Québécois Libre, January 15, 2012, No 296.
In his latest book The Better Angels of Our Nature, which grew out of an article he wrote in 2007, celebrated evolutionary psychologist Stephen Pinker goes to great lengths to show the many ways in which violence has declined. For a number of reasons—“if it bleeds, it leads” headlines, a fashionable anti-modern strain in our culture, activists who need to raise funds, and our ever more squeamish sensibilities—many people resist the idea that the world is less violent than it used to be. Which is why Pinker spends 700 pages marshalling the facts he needs to build his case.
To give you just the smallest sample and pre-emptively address one obvious rebuttal: Yes, the two World Wars were horribly violent and killed tens of millions of people. But had these conflicts killed the same proportion of the population as used to die in tribal conflicts, the 20th century death count from war and genocide would have hit two billion instead of one hundred million. In addition, the first half of the century represented an upward blip in a centuries-long downward trend that has only accelerated in the last sixty years. To be sure, there are still wars, but the numbers are clearly headed in the right direction overall.
Of course, trends are not destiny. The coming years could see a return to greater violence, even the return of wars that kill in the tens of millions or worse. If we want to continue down the more peaceable path we are on, we need to choose to do so. With this in mind, it is important to point out that only one of the candidates in the Republican primaries south of the border is in sync with our more peaceful times: Congressman Ron Paul.
External Peace: Commerce with All Nations
Ron Paul is “the premier advocate for liberty in politics today” and “the leading spokesman in Washington for limited constitutional government, low taxes, free markets, and a return to sound monetary policies based on commodity-backed currency,” according to his official campaign website. Liberty means the absence of coercion, which means that liberty is all about peace. Yet even if he were to beat the odds and not only secure the Republican nomination but actually win the Presidency, what could one lone liberty advocate do?
Well, he certainly couldn’t do everything he wants to do without getting at least some help from Congress. For one thing, he couldn’t end the Fed and return to the gold standard on his own, according to George Mason economist Bryan Caplan. But what about unilaterally recalling U.S. troops from war zones and military bases around the world? Caplan believes that he could and he would bring the troops home, “and despite the radicalism of this change,” he writes, “I’m confident that these orders, however unpopular, would be obeyed.”
This, of course, is a strike against Paul for many Republicans, who wonder aloud if the Congressman from Texas isn’t batting for the wrong team. But the current association of hawkishness with the GOP is historically anomalous. It was a Democrat who led America into WWI, a Democrat who led America into WWII, and a Democrat who led America into the Vietnam War. President Ron Paul would simply return the GOP to its more non-interventionist roots.
And as the Revolution Super Pac website points out, Paul is also in good company among the country’s fabled Founding Fathers on the question of national defence. In sum, Paul is proposing “the same foreign policy of peace and prosperity that Thomas Jefferson wisely suggested: ‘Commerce with all nations—entangling alliances with none.’”
Internal Peace: Scaling Back the Drug War
The biggest obstacle to peace within the borders of the United States is, appropriately enough, a metaphorical war: The War on Drugs. Our modern version of prohibition has made virtual war zones out of many inner cities and torn families apart by sending hundreds of thousands of young men to jail for a “crime” that involves no initiation of force. Whatever you may think about the issue, the fact is that people can buy, sell, grow, manufacture, or use drugs, and the first time they encounter force of any kind is when the SWAT team bashes down their front door and shoots their dog, if they’re lucky. (Check out Toronto-based musician Lindy’s song “No Knock Raid” on YouTube for a stirring condemnation of the militarization of the police.)
Could President Ron Paul end the Drug War on his own? Not exactly. While Paul has spoken out against prohibition for years, pointing out its many harms over and over again, as Caplan writes, “Paul could not abolish any law unless half of both houses of Congress went along with him.” At the very least, though, “he could probably stop federal prosecutions for the sale of medical marijuana.”
But on this issue, Paul really is swimming against the Republican current. While alcohol prohibition was instituted under a Democratic President in 1919, three Republican Presidents subsequently presided over its enforcement, and it was only repealed under the next Democrat in 1933. More to the point, it was Republican President Richard Nixon who declared in 1971 that America had to “wage total war” on “public enemy number one” and got the whole Drug War going.
Still, Paul himself doesn’t think his position alienates too many Republican voters. Asked by CNN following the Iowa caucuses (in which he placed a strong third) whether his position was a viable one for social conservatives, he responded, “I did pretty good in a very, very socially conservative state, so that tells you it’s a very popular position.”
Incidentally, Paul’s stance on prohibition gives the lie to the laughable notion that the Congressman from Texas is a racist. The War on Drugs, which leads to the arrest and imprisonment of black men out of all proportion with their numbers, is the single biggest obstacle to a post-racist America. Ron Paul would do everything in his power to bring this tragically misguided policy to an end.
The Peace Candidate: Ron Paul
In mid-January 2012, Ron Paul is still a long shot. Amazingly, at this point, it looks like the Republicans will nominate Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate. This speaks more to the weakness of the other contenders than it does to the strength of the man who gave the world Romneycare.
But there is still time for voters to change their minds and embrace the one candidate who is serious about cutting government spending, which should appeal to the fiscal conservatives at least. Retooling and refocusing the military on actual national defence and scaling back the disastrous War on Drugs would save a lot of money. Even more importantly, these two policy shifts would lead to reductions in lives lost to war and lives ruined by prohibition. It would thereby perpetuate the positive trends in violence reduction documented in Stephen Pinker’s latest book.
Liberty is all about the absence of coercion. And that means Ron Paul, the libertarian, is the clear choice for those who are looking for a peace candidate.
* Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is QL's English Editor.