Ron Paul has two problems: one is his, the other is ours.

Ron Paul has two problems.  One is his and the larger conservative movement of which he is a part.  The other is ours—by which I mean a left that is committed to both economic democracy and anti-imperialism.

Ron Paul’s problem is not merely the racist newsletters, the close ties with Lew Rockwell, his views on abortion, or even his stance on the 1964 Civil Rights Act—though these automatically disqualify him from my support.  His real problem is his fundamentalist commitment to federalism, which would make any notion of human progress in this country impossible.

Federalism has a long and problematic history in this country—it lies at the core of the maintenance of slavery and white supremacy; it was consistently invoked as the basis for opposition to the welfare state; it has been, contrary to many of its defenders, one of the cornerstones of some of the most repressive moments in our nation’s history[pdf]—and though liberals used to be clear about its regressive tendencies, they’ve grown soft on it in recent years.  As the liberal Yale constitutional law scholar Akhil Reed Amar put it not so long ago:

Once again, populism and federalism—liberty and localism—work together; We the People conquer government power by dividing it between the two rival governments, state and federal.

As I’ve argued repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, the path forward for the left lies in the alliance between active social movements on the ground and a strong national state.  There is simply no other way, at least not that I  am aware of, to break the back of the private autocracies that oppress us all.

Even people, no, especially people who focus on Paul’s position on the drug war should think about the perils of his federalism. There are 2 million people in prison in this country. At most 10 percent of them are in federal prisons; the rest are in state and local prisons. If Paul ended the drug war, maybe 1/2 of those in federal prison would be released. Definitely a step, but it has to be weighed against his radical embrace of whatever it is that states and local governments do.

Paul is a distinctively American type of libertarian: one that doesn’t have a critique of the state so much as a critique of the federal government. That’s a very different kettle of fish. I think libertarianism is problematic enough—in that it ignores the whole realm of social domination (or thinks that realm is entirely dependent upon or a function of the existence of the state or thinks that it can be remedied by the persuasive and individual actions of a few good souls)—but a states-rights-based libertarianism is a social disaster.

So that’s his problem.

Our problem—and again by “our” I mean a left that’s social democratic (or welfare state liberal or economically progressive or whatever the hell you want to call it) and anti-imperial—is that we don’t really have a vigorous national spokesperson for the issues of war and peace, an end to empire, a challenge to Israel, and so forth, that Paul has in fact been articulating.  The source of Paul’s positions on these issues are not the same as ours (again more reason not to give him our support).  But he is talking about these issues, often in surprisingly blunt and challenging terms. Would that we had someone on our side who could make the case against an American empire, or American supremacy, in such a pungent way.

This, it’s clear, is why people like Glenn Greenwald say that Paul’s voice needs to be heard.  Not, Greenwald makes clear, because he supports Paul, but because it is a terrible comment—a shanda for the left—that we don’t have anyone on our side of comparable visibility launching an attack on American imperialism and warfare. (Recalling what I said in the context of the death of Christopher Hitchens, I suspect this has something to do with our normalization and acceptance of war as a way of life.) In other words, we need to listen to Paul, not because he’s worthy of our support, and certainly not because the reasons that underlie his positions on foreign policy are ours, but because he reveals what’s not being said, or not being said enough, on our side.

There is a long history in this country of the left not paying too much attention to the ways in which our leaders do things that set the stage for worse things to come.  J. Edgar Hoover got a tremendous amount of traction under FDR and the New Deal because he was perceived to be a spit-and-polish, professional crime fighter.  So trusted and hailed was he by liberals and progressives—when he worked for their leaders—that it was none other than Arthur Schlesinger, in The Vital Center (1949), who urged Americans to put their trust in Hoover rather than in the Red hunters of the far right:

All Americans must bear in mind J. Edgar Hoover’s warning that counter-espionage is no field for amateurs. We need the best professional counterespionage agency we can get to protect our national security.

In 1950, William Keller reports in his essential The Liberals and J. Edgar Hoover, while Truman was still president, Hubert Humphrey took to the floor of the Senate to declare:

If the FBI does not have enough trained manpower to do this job, then, for goodness sake, let us give the FBI the necessary funds for recruiting the manpower it needs….This is a job that must be done by experts.

Yet, as Ellen Schrecker rightly argued in Many Are the Crimes, her definitive account of McCarthyism:

Had observers known in the 1950s what they have learned since the 1970s, when the Freedom of Information Act opened the Bureau’s files, “McCarthyism” would probably be called “Hooverism.” For the FBI was the bureaucratic heart of the McCarthy era.

In the last week, liberals and progressives have been arguing about these issues; Digby has been especially cogent and worth listening to. The only thing I have to add to that debate is this: both sides are right. Not in a the-truth-lies-somewhere-in-between sort of way. Nor in a can’t-we-all-get-along sort of way.  No, both sides are right in the sense that I laid out above: Ron Paul is unacceptable, and it’s unacceptable that we don’t have someone on the left who is raising the issues of imperialism, war and peace, and civil liberties in as visible and forceful a way.


  1. John Emerson January 3, 2012 at 6:58 pm | #

    Humphrey got his start purging the DFL Party of its left, i.e., of most of its FL (Farmer-Labor) members. He was the first Democratic Senator elected in Minnesota; just when the Confederate stigma had started to run down, the Farmer Labor Party came into being. The Democrats were a third party much of the time 1920-1940.

    I trace the decline of the Democratic Party to the 1948 purges. The dominant Democratic ideologues (Schlesinger, Bell, Hofstadter, Galbraith, Shils, et al) were anti-conflict, anti-left, anti-populist, pro-corporate, and pro-war.

    That tendency has had absolute dominance since then. Eugene McCarthy, Jesse Jackson, and a few others challenged the consensus, but unsuccessfully.

    I have enormous trouble convincing people that that’s the way it is. Almost all left Democrats believe that the party is basically OK, but that it’s been temporarily usurped. It’s only temporary in cosmic time. It’s been 63 years.

    Wellstone said he was from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, but actually he was from the FL wing of the DFL Party, and he knew that.

  2. CK MacLeod January 3, 2012 at 6:58 pm | #

    What’s “imperialism”? What does it mean to “raise it as an issue”? To what end?

    I’m confident that the blogger is very well aware of the long and complicated history of that term. Seems to me that a lot of people are using it, and variations, without a lot of consideration. Could be that what we mean when we use it, or what we expect others to understand by it, or what we are consciously or not implying by it, would say quite a bit about where the left and Paul diverge, but also where one leftist, liberal, left-liberal differs from another.

  3. Rick Desper January 3, 2012 at 7:07 pm | #

    “No, both sides are right in the sense that I laid out above: Ron Paul is unacceptable, and it’s unacceptable that we don’t have someone on the left who is raising the issues of imperialism, war and peace, and civil liberties in as visible and forceful a way.”

    I agree completely. Sadly, when Glenn Greenwald raises these issues, he’s subjected to endless personal attacks by people who think that criticism of the President must not be tolerated.

    • Bart January 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm | #

      Especially troubling were the authors and comments at LGM.

      • T. Paine January 6, 2012 at 10:58 pm | #

        I look forward to someone quoting these “personal attacks” that are so perfidious.

      • Bijan Parsia January 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm | #

        How so? (Speaking as one.)

  4. John Emerson January 3, 2012 at 7:19 pm | #

    I agree with McLeod. Let’s establish a Left Commission on Imperialism and have them report back in 2021.

    • CK MacLeod January 3, 2012 at 7:40 pm | #

      “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
      “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
      “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”
      (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)

  5. Ron Paul not perfect but better than the rest January 3, 2012 at 7:56 pm | #

    The Left is a ineffective joke, holding hands and singing kumbaya isnt going to stop the war machine,
    i’m been very unimpressed ever since these so-called progressives refused to push for a real investigation into 911 and giving warpig banker Obama a pass for continuing Bush policys and protecting his administration from prosecution.
    Ron Paul has the support of many black people including the head of the NAACP in Texas so i’m not buying the racism smears, its unfortunate that he continues to run as a republican and not an independent or libertarian.
    Although far from perfect, Ron Paul is the best candidate and the only one not bought and paid for.

  6. John Henry Mackay January 3, 2012 at 8:26 pm | #

    “Paul is a distinctively American type of libertarian: one that doesn’t have a critique of the state so much as a critique of the federal government.”

    That’s just not true. Paul had and has deep connections Rothbardian anarchists. The ones who produce analyses of the state like this:

    Paul just takes the paleo position, which I think is correct, that further centralization of State power is inherently more dangerous than decentralized power. But that does not mean that Paul is not critical of all governmental power itself, whether state or federal.

    • Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 9:43 pm | #

      “States’ rights simply means the individual states should retain authority over all matters not expressly delegated to the federal government in Article I of the Constitution.” Those are Paul’s words, not Murray Rothbard’s. That means that Section 5 of the 14th Amendment is essentially null and void. Which basically means that the 14th Amendment is null and void. That’s a dramatic restriction on federal power — over vital questions of racial and and other forms of equality — in favor of the states. Not to mention that he would beat back most twentieth-century interpretations of the Commerce Clause, which is the basis upon which workers were granted the right to organize, segregation in private establishments was brought to an end, and much more. So, sorry, I stand by what I wrote.

      • Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) June 6, 2012 at 5:51 am | #

        The more I examine this, the more it appears to me that after the Civil War what was called for was a whole new Constitution. It’s a scandal in a way that one amendment — more specifically, one section of one amendment — has been relied on to totally recast the vision of ‘federalism’ that the framers had. But it has interesting implications. On the one hand, it makes all appeals to original intent totally moot: the system we have today is totally different than what they envisioned and intended. On the other hand, it does rather bolster the argument that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights since perhaps even more than the abolition of slavery, the largest consequence of the Civil War was the dramatic transformation from one kind of federalism into another. From a moral or cultural point of view, slavery is the overwhelming issue. But from a legal or constitutional point of view, the states’ rights issue was clearly the most relevant since this is where the most decisive change took place.

        Suddenly, also, the comments of Ginsburg and Scalia about how the constitutions of Russia, Canada, et al., are better than the U.S. Constitution appear in a new light. Rather than being the nihilistic comments of a dispirited political elite, they might (gasp!) reflect some actual knowledge and understanding: since 1868 the U.S. constitutional system has been without organic unity. It is like a broken mirror glued back together thanks only to judicial activism.

  7. Zoe January 3, 2012 at 8:35 pm | #

    Mr. Robin, I just think you have a problem in your logic. These are the same people–those that want to grow government welfare and those that want to grow government warfare. There is no separation. Some may call what they see in this country ‘socialism,’ but it’s really fascism. We have two fascistic regimes that swap places for power, but never really leave power. They feed the banks, the military contractors, big unions, big ag, pharmaceutical corporations, ect. This is true of both Democrats and Republicans. It’s all a big funnel of money and favors from regular people to well connected people. Libertarians don’t want everyone to be uneducated poor survivalists. We just believe our economic system is much better than anything the government could direct (socialism) and better than keeping huge corporations at the troth of the government for big contracts, juicy legislation, whatever K street happens to want that day (fascism).

    So I’m voting for Ron Paul. Not everyone believes in Keynesianism and stimulus.

    • Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 9:50 pm | #

      There’s a long tradition in America that says otherwise. Martin Luther King opposed the warfare state but believed in the welfare state. Eugene Debs wanted a socialist state that wouldn’t make war. And I think fascism entails something more than “keeping huge corporations at the troth of the government.”

      • Timothy Shortell January 4, 2012 at 11:00 am | #

        A problem in Corey’s logic? How about this, Zoe: Replacing the domination of the 1% via a corrupt political system with direct corporate domination is hardly a step forward for human liberty.

  8. miles January 3, 2012 at 8:37 pm | #

    Well said, although it should be noted that the newsletter incident has hardly reflected his public stance on race to date. His opinion on the 1964 Civil Rights Act is less about race than an extreme upholding of his stance that such restrictions violate the constitutional rights of individuals (an absurd upholding of his principle and an unnecessarily antagonistic statement yet it does deserve a bit of qualifying). And Christopher Hitchens had deep reservations about abortion, so if he was, as you infer, the liberal version of Paul, he may not have necessarily satisfied that aspect of your preferences either.

    Thanks for the post

    • Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 9:51 pm | #

      You do know that slaveholders also defended their position on the grounds that abolition would violated constitutional rights of both individuals and states, yes? I don’t know what’s in Paul’s heart or what motivates him to take the positions he takes; I do know that the history of federalism and states rights in this country is inseparable from the history of slavery and white supremacy.

      • d January 4, 2012 at 12:28 am | #

        federalism and states rights is also inseparable from wage-slavery and it’s distant cousin, globalism.

      • H.D. Lynn January 6, 2012 at 6:13 pm | #

        Thanks for pointing this out. I can see the appeal with Ron Paul because he’s anti-war. Those of us, the young people of American under 30, have carried the decade of warfare and the economic collapse. My friends have gone to war, and those of us who haven’t can’t get jobs, and if we do have jobs, they don’t pay nearly enough or pay what we expected. But the state’s right argument is the same one use to justify slavery, and with the current group of politicians, Paul would only have success implementing social conservative and regressive policies. Presidents aren’t kings. They can’t just do whatever they please.

  9. Tyler Watts January 3, 2012 at 8:39 pm | #

    In reference to the “our problem” section, you state that “The source of Paul’s positions on these issues are not the same as ours.”

    I’m wondering if you could clarify what the substantial differences between Ron Paul’s sources and progressive sources are?

    As a follow-up, I’m wondering if it is all that important regarding said sources if the final position achieved is the same? If you and Ron Paul both disagree fundamentally on why war should be ended in Afghanistan (for example), but both vehemently agree that it should indeed be ended, is there a problem?

    • Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm | #

      Progressives are internationalists, believe in open orders, support international institutions (though we push for their being more democratic), and international social movements, and generally seek to bring US laws and practices in line with what we deem to be more progressive norms elsewhere. We see war as destroying that kind of order. Paul does not come from that position.

  10. Dan McCleary (@dan_mccleary) January 3, 2012 at 9:08 pm | #

    I think this is a solid and fair essay, but no implications are drawn. From what I can see, Ron Paul, a retiring 76-year-old Congressman making a final quixotic tilt at the windmills, will be effectively gone after 2012. So, “his” problem solved! But “our” problem only become more deeply entrenched by a 2012 Obama victory. In other words, the first of these is a short-term problem that solves itself, and the second is a long term rapidly getting worse. It seems like progressives are expending an awful lot of energy on the easy short-term problem (Ron Paul) simply because they don’t know what to do about hard long-term problem (no anti-war, pro-civil-liberties, anti-drug war voice on the left).

    • Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm | #

      Paul’s position on economics and relation of national and state power is only a more extreme version of the GOP mainstream position. So his problem is not peculiar to him.

    • Bart January 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm | #

      Yes, it will be a sad day if Obama wins a second term and does nothing to roll back what Greenwald has enumerated about civil liberties, etc.

  11. karrsic January 3, 2012 at 9:14 pm | #

    I fear progressives are looking for a messiah. Kucinich? Feingold? Is that they’re not the leaders we seek the left’s fault? Seems reasonable to me to attempt and predict where Paul might have impact and where not. Dismantling the imperial presidency requires a non-imperial president. Actually implementing full-blown federalism can’t be done by any president alone. Also, do anti-racist, pro-abortion, anti-federalism mean anything in a imperial President who can lock up indefinitely or assassinate US citizens? The left will never be able to agree on priorities. But in my view, Paul’s downside is irrelevant in the face of an abandoned US Constitution anyway. Seems to me top priority should be to save that. Ergo, I’d take Paul over Obama for the next 4 yrs.

    • Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 9:59 pm | #

      I’m not sure where you’re coming from, but Paul doesn’t want to restore the Constitution as I understand it. He wants to restore a Constitution that was favored by a lot of unsavory people ca. 1900.

      • karrsic January 3, 2012 at 10:25 pm | #

        w/r/t imperial presidency…

    • meegan January 3, 2012 at 10:12 pm | #

      The thing is, Paul can’t actually dismantle the imperial presidency. The best argument I’ve seen for real positive impacts he could make is that he could pull us out of the wars we’re in now, but without institutional changes any future president can and will bring us right back to where we are now. Ron Paul is at best a temporary fix. The larger problem is that congress is not providing the check on presidential power that the founders envisioned (case in point: NDAA passed with a veto proof majority). No individual president is going to change that.

      An abandoned constitution can only happen if the courts allow it (which is why I tend to put the type of justices a candidate is likely to put on the supreme court pretty high on my list when considering the options). I’m not sure what the solution to these problems would be (a constitutional amendment with new limits on presidential power?), but if you’re going to weigh Paul’s potential impact it’s important to be clear that Paul choosing not to exercise certain presidential powers isn’t the same as preventing future presidents form exercising them.

      • karrsic January 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm | #

        While what you say is true, the tilt turned toward the imperial presidency happened w/o Congress and was led by an executive-branch-charge via the MSM. The courts are the last resort. The first resort, it seems to me, is to change direction and the discussion, led by the same branch. That was the hope w/ Obama, after all. Because he failed us, we should give up that approach?

  12. Pete Guither (@DrugWarRant) January 3, 2012 at 9:21 pm | #

    The Drug War comment is baffling. In what possible way has the federal government provided any protection from the states “radical” drug war enforcement?

    And how does a strong federal government lead us out of the drug war? All the strong federal government has done is obstructed any and all efforts for serious reform from any direction. Congress has even directed the ONDCP specifically to oppose any efforts for reform.

    Assuming that any Congress or President actually grew a spine to do something about this international crisis (something that seems wildly unlikely), what could they do except get out of the way and let us start working on the long and grueling process of getting this problem out of the states and countries one at a time.

    But you’re absolutely right: it’s unacceptable that we don’t have someone on the left who is raising the issues of imperialism, war and peace, and civil liberties in as visible and forceful a way. Unfortunately, until we do, many of us will have no choice but to support a wildly unattractive candidate rather than give tacit acceptance to such continued outrage to our basic principles.

    • Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 10:07 pm | #

      My point re the drug war and the prison industrial complex is that so many people focus on it as a reason to support Paul. But if you look at the statistics, the vast number of prisoners are in state and local jails. Our crime and punishment mania is not primarily a federal problem, though the feds obviously contribute to it. It’s a state and local problem — not only are 90 percent of the prisoners in state and local prisons, but, I believe, something like 75 percent of all expenditures on crime and punishment stuff are by states and local governments.

      • Pete Guither (@DrugWarRant) January 4, 2012 at 10:31 am | #

        True, and the federal government keeps interfering in our efforts to try reform at the state level. If someone could get the federal government to stop meddling, then a state could actually try legalized regulation and we could learn from it.

        The federal government also coerces the states and municipalities through grants and profit-sharing schemes (forfeiture) to play the game with them (regardless of the will of the people).

        It may be primarily a state and local problem, but its being fueled and sustained by federal policy and dollars.

      • Richard Fantin (@RichardFantin) January 7, 2012 at 10:44 am | #

        Michael C. Ruppert has exposed the fact that the drugs are being run by the CIA. Thats federal.

        I’m sure Paul can do something about that as he is fully aware of it.

  13. Nonny January 3, 2012 at 9:33 pm | #

    Not really sure what you mean here. I also have a problem like CK MacLeod except it’s with “economic democracy.” It should be clear that “progressives” (a label as meaningless as liberal and conservative) don’t support economic democracy–whatever you mean by that–which would be a lot different than what a DLCer supports or even those pitiful fools called the Progressive Caucus who are merely tools used for dispersing opposition. (Go Bernie Sanders! You won’t do anything but we can feel good when you talk about it.)

    I’d say imperialism can be more easily defined as the US’ expectation that the world will cow to their standards and demands and will use economic, social and military methods to enforce those demands. It’s not a reciprocal relationship. However, the end of imperialism would also mean the extrication of war profit from the moneyed class.

  14. JustinP January 3, 2012 at 10:21 pm | #


    After condemning federalism for its clear link to the most toxic forms of racism, you say that “the path forward for the left lies in the alliance between active social movements on the ground and a strong national state.”

    This claim strikes me as problematic for two inter-related reasons.

    First, it suggests the link between racism and federalism necessarily renders federalism invalid as a political principle. While it is certainly true that the “states rights” philosophy empowered white supremacists through much of American history, there is nothing to prevent liberals from turning it to their own ends. Indeed, Stephen Skowronek’s fantastic article in the August 2006 American Political Science Review makes clear that “shifting the context of an idea can alter substantially its political associations and practical appeal.” What if, for example, liberal environmentalists used federalist arguments to make clear the benefits of a “decentralized energy policy” as described by environmentalist and activist Bill McKibben? What if liberals organized for the passage of state laws – similar to the one just restored by the Montana Supreme Court – which ban direct spending by corporations on political campaigns instead of waiting on the “strong national state” to do this? These are obviously just two examples but they seem to cut against your claim that federalism necessarily means “conservative outcome.” There is nothing inherently conservative or reactionary about federalism.

    The flip-side of this point is your claim that a strong national state and active social movements stand the best chance of bringing about liberal policy. Policy outcomes over the last 30 years seem to belie this claim. We have watched as the “strong national state” (strong enough even to withstand 8 years of Reagan) has aided in redistribution of wealth upwards, enabled and then protected the largest financial institutions after they destroyed the economy, built a national security complex responsible for warrantless eavesdropping, torture, etc. There is simply no reason to believe that a “strong national state” will ensure liberal outcomes. This is especially true when that national state is run by the rich and powerful.

    Finally, it’s worth noting that those issues that you believe the left is derelict for not discussing more – “imperialism, war and peace, and civil liberties” – are all matters directly related to the strength of the national state. How, other than through a small government/federalist/states rights position, can liberals make a cogent argument against the erosion of civil liberties, the capacity for the president to send troops wherever he chooses, etc.?

    • Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 10:35 pm | #

      It’s not just the alliance with slavery and white supremacy that render federalism suspect — though if you’re a political scientist (I assume you are if you’re reading Steve Skowronek, perhaps even an APD-ish political scientist), you’ll know that slavery and white supremacy are hardly incidental issues in American state development; they’re foundational — but, as I say in my post, a whole range of fundamental coercions: from the workplace (as Karen Orren argues in Belated Feudalism, it’s not till you get the Wagner Act and NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel that you overturn the massive coercion of the American workplace) to episodes of repression like McCarthyism (federalism actually augments rather than diminishes the repression there) and more. So while it’s true that some state experiments further the causes about which I care, on balance, I’d have to say it’s been a disaster. As for the last 30 years — where’s the strong social movement that I was talking about? I’m not in favor of a strong national state but a strong national state in alliance with a democratic social movements. My models here are the movements for black freedom, workers’ rights, and women’s rights.

      • JustinP January 3, 2012 at 10:56 pm | #

        Yes, it is clear that slavery and white supremacy have played a central role in the development of American political institutions. Your points about labor, McCarthyism, etc. are also well-taken. I just don’t think that rules out federalism as a potential political idea that can serve the interests of liberals who, like me, have come to see a strong national state as the primary mechanism of defense for those who pursue policies opposed by most liberals. My point is that federalism is just a vehicle for promoting particular policies. The policies themselves – not federalism – are either racist or not, anti-labor or not, etc. Also, when considering the persuasive power of public appeals to “small government,” liberals might do well to consider how they can harness its power to pursue their own ends.

        Yes, I forgot to address your point about social movements. I think that this is an important point but it’s one that I think needs to be considered carefully. Your claim suggests the potential for a cooperative relationship between the national state and emancipatory political movements. There is certainly substantial evidence to suggest that this is possible. At the same time, it seems clear that the reforms pushed by many emancipatory social movements are often substantially narrowed when they rise to the level of the “national state” in order to make them through the various veto points built into national state apparatus. “Narrowed” reform movements (described by Risa Goluboff in The Lost Promise of Civil Rights, for example) are certainly better than no reform movements. That said, it’s worth considering how localized movement activity fighting for “liberal” state laws might stand a chance of preventing this kind of narrowing.

        Also, I am an APD-ish political science grad student so I’m hoping to one day become a APD-ish political scientist. It’s nice to see political scientists playing a role in contemporary political debate. I don’t always agree with you but I do appreciate the work you are doing.

    • ceti January 3, 2012 at 10:44 pm | #

      It’s also worth noting that other countries have different models. Right now, it is the provinces of Canada standing up to the draconian right-wing policies of the federal government, and the Canadian health system began and remains at the provincial level, a model Vermont could be following to get single-payer health care.

      Also a strong national state is the prerequisite for the modern war machine as well as a fascism and the oppression of national minorities. It can go the other way as well.

      • Rosa Luxembourgeoise January 4, 2012 at 12:20 am | #

        Canadian health care–introduced by the efforts of Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas (of the CCF–the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, farmer-labor-socialist–predecessor of the NDP, the New Democratic Party, social democrat)–though started and indeed to an important extent “remaining at the provincial level” is fully framed, guided and guaranteed by federal law. Provinces and territories must respect federally established conditions and criteria to receive the transfer payments required to fund their social programs (beyond just health), pursuant to the Canada Health Act, a federal law.

  15. meegan January 3, 2012 at 10:23 pm | #

    If you haven’t read it yet, Ta-Nehisi has a great piece up today that speaks to some of the same issues you bring up here.

  16. d January 3, 2012 at 11:33 pm | #

    dont forget Nader!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Jim January 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm | #

    Actually Libertarians are the opposite of Federalist. Washington, Hamilton, Adams were Federalists. Jefferson lead the Democratic Republicans who were for state rights and slavery.

    • Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 11:37 pm | #

      That’s why I didn’t use the capital “F” in federalist.

  18. Corey Robin January 3, 2012 at 11:44 pm | #

    Justin: I agree re the veto points at national level. That’s the price that’s paid for achieving equity throughout the country. It’s also of course the fate of almost any social movement once it seeks to implement its goals as policy, at whatever level. At least in a democratic society. Don’t see any way around it. But I think federalism is more than a tool that takes on its cast depending on the ends it serves. In this post here, I get at why I think any hope for an emancipatory movement has to be national in scope (and ultimately international). Particularly any movement hoping to tame capital. You just cannot create an island of progress and expect it to remain intact for long without creating a pattern around it. If it’s a genuinely emancipatory movement, the forces opposing it will seek to crush it for fear that it will spread. It’s a Trotskyist insight, but it actually applies with remarkable force in the US. That’s why every social movement worth its salt has ultimately realized it has to look beyond the confines of the local or the state. Here’s the piece:

  19. Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 4, 2012 at 9:07 am | #

    There is something fundamentally wrong with this article. It is in its own way nonsensical.

    The reason is two-fold: for one, the “states’ rights” concept — or “federalism” as the author calls it is simply the basis for a constitutional system. Period. We have a “federal” government and a “federal” system — not a “national” government. To continue to ignore this fact leads to a view according to which our Constitution is not really important to our realpolitik. It is symbolic only. In which case, why not torture?

    Second, the states’ rights concept that Ron Paul promotes is FULLY CONSISTENT with the progressive principle of localized democracy. All the “buy local” campaigns and the visions of decentralized power and citizen democracy that progressives promote — the states’ rights concept is one and the same with all this, and is in fact only the first step toward this.

    The joke here is that this article — and so many others with it — actually pretend there’s a reality to the libertarian/progressive distinction. When instead, if you simply take the thinking that went into the Constitution and our country’s founding as axiomatic, a political ideology appears that is perfectly appropriate for our times: constitutionalism. It reconciles personal liberty with social progress when social progress is defined as ever-increasing personal liberty.

    • Corey Robin January 4, 2012 at 9:22 am | #

      You might want to read some history. I suggest Jack Rakove’s Original Meanings as a starting point. The leading figures at the Constitutional Convention — Madison, Hamilton, Wilson — wanted a much stronger national government (for a variety of reasons). Madison’s Virginia Plan so sought to empower a national government that many thought it effectively eliminated the states altogether. And in many ways the Framers got that national government (the supremacy clause, for example). What ultimately stopped it from becoming what Madison and Hamilton and Wilson wanted was the slowly dawning awareness, especially on Madison’s and other Southerners’ part, that if the national government were truly empowered in the way they wanted — i.e., by strengthening the position of the big states at the expense of the little states, on the assumption, as Madison put it very clearly, that states have no real interest, only individuals and classes do (Franklin also was very strong on this point) — it could lead to the abolition of slavery. That awareness is what ultimately leads those like Madison to support the Connecticut Compromise, which empowered states at the expense of the national government. That’s the founding. Then, of course, with the Civil War and Reconstruction, there’s a completely new conception of the power of the national government, which is embodied in the Reconstruction amendments. The nationalist dimensions of those amendments was ultimately beaten back, again by the interests of the South, i.e., the ex-slaveholders. And so on. The push toward more national power is a constant in US history — as is the resistance to it. And the resistance to it, when it’s most successful, is always b/c of the alliance between localism/states and slavery/white supremacy.

  20. Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 4, 2012 at 9:34 am | #

    The more I read this article, the more fundamentally confused it seems. Especially as regards American federalism.

    The author seems to take the examples of the civil rights movement and other social progress events as proof that a “federal” system is inadequate when it comes to social justice. But what we saw with the repeal of slavery during the Civil War, and the civil rights struggle in the 1960s especially, are instances of federalism working as it should.

    A *federal* system in both cases, authorized by the Constitution to safeguard and protect agreed upon freedoms, i.e. the Bill of Rights, took action to see that those rights were not infringed by state governments. The idea, of course, here is a quid pro quo: as condition of your joining the Union, you must agree to the legimacy of certain rights that are to be universally accepted within that Union (e.g. right to free speech, etc.) When you deny or interfere with those axiomatic principles and contractually agreed upon rights, it is up to the federal government to step in.

    So understood, the federal government’s primary role is to enforce the terms of an agreement to which the states pledged themselves: the states, of course, ratified the Constitution. And those terms are primarily about personal liberty: in exchange for, say, a common defense, you must agree to protect the right to free speech or the press. So, Alabama, if you insist on depriving certain of your citizens their constitutional rights, the federal government is entitled to take action.

    The problem comes when the federal government gains powers not strictly accorded to it by the Constitution. When it gains those powers, it becomes the target for powerful interests that, of course, want to leverage those powers. This is the genesis of imperialism. American imperialism is not simply some nationalist redneck outward expression — that is simply the ideological cover given to it. As nearly everyone knows, American imperialism today is about big money more than anything else.

    Well, if power (and therefore wealth) were sufficiently decentralized to the states and to localities — the awful machinery for imperalism and for a host of other crimes would be lacking. And a federal system would still remain that could step in and guarantee personal liberties when the states fail to keep their part of the bargain and protect them themselves. Of course, the great fear is that the states would be unable to govern themselves, that there is only one national spotlight by which to expose injustice, not 50, etc. But at some point you have to let people govern themselves in a democracy. Liberalism (such as the kind apparently motivating the author of this article) that is reluctant to trust the people with their own self-governing power is by definition anti-democratic.

    • Corey Robin January 4, 2012 at 9:45 am | #

      I don’t mean to be sharp, but you really need to read some American history. I can’t tell if you’re simply projecting a theory of federalism, perhaps drawn from the experience of another country onto the US, or you’re actually trying to provide a rendition of federalism in the US and how it has historically worked. In either event, you’ve got it all wrong. The original Constitution was actually not as you describe: “A *federal* system in both cases, authorized by the Constitution to safeguard and protect agreed upon freedoms, i.e. the Bill of Rights, took action to see that those rights were not infringed by state governments.” If you’ve actually read the Bill of Rights, you’ll see that they are restrictions on the national government. Originally, they did not apply to the states at all. That came much much later through something called the “incorporation” doctrine. And it was a function of having fought a Civil War, attempted a Reconstruction, adopted the Reconstruction amendments, which absolutely changed the meaning of the original Constitution. For the better. But it required a major struggle — more than one social movement, a cataclysmic war, an equally cataclysmic occupation that ultimately failed to achieve its ends — and more. The rosy picture you describe was the product of more than a century of very militant and violent social struggle. And always it was beaten back by the forces of white supremacy. That is why those of us who have some knowledge of American history, and some concern for these issues, are very very skeptical of the claims of states rights, which is actually what “federalism” has often meant in practice in this country. Again, before you start making grand pronouncements about the meaning of federalism and its virtues, I really suggest you read some American history. And, again, my apologies for being sharp, but I get impatient with abstract theorizing and proclamation that is so divorced from the facts of US history.

      • Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 4, 2012 at 10:14 am | #

        Your comment is very cute. But there is a clear difference between the thinking behind both the Constitution and the federal system — that is, the historical AND logical context in which its key ideas actually make sense — and their implementation, which has always lagged behind. Slavery is conclusive proof of this. The incorporation doctrine to which you refer — the need for it — shows how much states’ rights as a nationalist ideology permeated the popular understanding of federalism, penetrating even into the judiciary. But show me where — in the Federalist Papers, for example, or in correspondence somewhere — that the original thinking behind the Constitution actually conceived of the right to free speech existing only on an abstract federal level but nowhere in actual fact. After all, the “United States of America” minus the physical territory of the states is exactly nowhere.

  21. Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 4, 2012 at 10:03 am | #

    One final blast. The author of the above piece, Corey Robin, seems to me to be more an ideologue than an earnest political thinker. Consider the following:

    1. ““States’ rights simply means the individual states should retain authority over all matters not expressly delegated to the federal government in Article I of the Constitution.” Those are Paul’s words, not Murray Rothbard’s. That means that Section 5 of the 14th Amendment is essentially null and void. Which basically means that the 14th Amendment is null and void. That’s a dramatic restriction on federal power — over vital questions of racial and and other forms of equality — in favor of the states. Not to mention that he would beat back most twentieth-century interpretations of the Commerce Clause, which is the basis upon which workers were granted the right to organize, segregation in private establishments was brought to an end, and much more. So, sorry, I stand by what I wrote.”

    A few points. He has rather breathtakingly misunderstood the “not expressly delegated” language above and the only sensible way in which it could operate. In short, the phrase quoted is an echo of the Tenth Amendment:

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    The idea here is obvious: Of central concern to those helping shape the document was leaving as much freedom as possible to the people. Knowing that the Constitution could not be exhaustive of every possible issue, and knowing that new issues would emerge over time, the language of the Tenth Amendment establishes a vector along which the rest of the document could be read: Rather than no rights existing for the people beyond those stated in the document, any or all rights could be *assumed* since the nature of the document was as much restrictive (of government power in general) as prescriptive (positive rights granted by compact).

    Neither Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, nor the 14th Amendment as a whole, are in any way threatened by a states’ rights concept. In fact, Section 1 and Section 5 are to some extent redundant. The meaning in Section 1 overlaps with the language of other rights elsewhere; Section 5 simply re-iterates the capacity and the duty of the federal government to enforce its side of the contract between it and the states.

    As for the commerce clause, it simply has been abused. Whether for good or ill makes no difference. In fact, abuse of the commerce clause has (as the author indirectly notes) been the basis of the quasi-national government we have now. But the fact that this tiny clause has been so leveraged — the fact that it alone provides the bare shred of basis for the federal government excesses we have today — proves that the spirit and the thinking behind the Consitution were not “national” but “federal”.

    2. “There’s a long tradition in America that says otherwise. Martin Luther King opposed the warfare state but believed in the welfare state. Eugene Debs wanted a socialist state that wouldn’t make war. And I think fascism entails something more than “keeping huge corporations at the troth of the government.”

    The fact that MLK or Eugene Debs were champions of social justice does not make them authorities on federalism. At issue is whether or not (as the commenter suggested) the warfare state and the welfare state go hand-in-hand. One could argue from a constitutionalist perspective that both stem from the sort of national government concept C. Robin seems to advocate. As soon as you begin thinking of the federal government AS IF it were a national government, all sorts of things become possible — even reasonable for it to do. For example, creating social programs with a national scope. Or waging unprovoked wars in the name of democracy overseas.

    3. “You do know that slaveholders also defended their position on the grounds that abolition would violated constitutional rights of both individuals and states, yes?” Again, the appeal to authority argument but in reverse. Slavery meant the denial of constitutional rights to people called “slaves”. Therefore it was unconstitutional whether or not the short-sighted politicians of the time saw that. There is no stipulation in the Bill of Rights that those rights are only guaranteed for a certain few. So the fact that evil and misguided people argued for a superficially similar position is not convincing.

    • Corey Robin January 4, 2012 at 10:14 am | #

      Okay, I’m going to take one last crack at this b/c I can’t spend all day teaching you the basic facts of American constitutional history. You write, “Slavery meant the denial of constitutional rights to people called ‘slaves’. Therefore it was unconstitutional whether or not the short-sighted politicians of the time saw that. There is no stipulation in the Bill of Rights that those rights are only guaranteed for a certain few.” A few things. The actual language of the original Constitution establishes that slavery is constitutional. There are several clauses that stipulate that. So it’s not just a question of a few “short-sighted politicians” — which happened to include such nobodies as James Madison — thinking slavery is constitutional; even abolitionists believed it was constitutional (that’s why they burned the Constitution). It wasn’t until the 13th Amendment that slavery actually became unconstitutional. As for the Bill of Rights, here’s a radical suggestion: read them. You tell me if there is anything in the First Amendment that protects the rights of individuals. There isn’t. It’s a prohibition placed on Congress on things IT cannot do. It says nothing about whether states can’t do that. And until the incorporation doctrine was adopted — i.e., more than a century after the Constitution was ratified — it was understood by everyone — not just a few shortsighted politicians — that the Bill of Rights in fact did in fact not apply to the states and thus did not guarantee everyone’s rights. Okay, that’s it, I’m done. Feel free to keep commenting and debating with other folks.

      • Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 4, 2012 at 10:39 am | #

        Sorry you feel impatient! But if you must, take your ball and go home. At issue here, it seems to me, is whether there is a concept of federalism that is consistent with both a constitutional system of decentralized power and the goal of social progress. Your own thinking on the matter, to the extent that I glean it from the article, seems opposed to the principle of decentralized power. Liberal-progressive thinking is vulnerable to charges of elitism to the extent that it is so opposed. Yes, historically speaking, the federal government has been used against recalcitrant states, and yes, for the cause of good. But there are costs to that. To the extent that the Constitution is the basis of the social contract in the U.S., every time realpolitik stretches a few points and abuses a few powers, that contract is broken.

        I happily concede your point about the original constitutional legitimacy of slavery, and am intrigued by the notion that the Bill of Rights did not apply originally to the states. Again, I wonder how — if this is strictly speaking the whole story — a Constitution could have been promoted or accepted at all when its provisions need not ever exist anywhere in actual fact.

      • Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 4, 2012 at 11:19 am | #

        I’ve been researching the matter of “incorporation” — and it is quite fascinating. I also think I understand your point better now, taking the Bill of Rights specifically as a set of limitations upon Congress. It still remains (for me to discover) whether the non-applicability of these principles to the states was simply an artifact of their implementation, i.e. the quasi-nationalism of the states OR was intrinsic to the thinking behind the Constitution. But that’s a matter for more research.

        Anyway, I owe you a debt of gratitude for bringing this dimension of the U.S. Constitution to light. I think it is not so simple a matter as “Read a little American history”. I have read a good deal of American history and never encountered the notion that the Bill of Rights never applied (necessarily) to the states. Indeed, even the name “Bill of Rights” rather suggests that what is at issue are “rights”. Without a universally binding dimension, the U.S. Constitution suddenly seems to have been little more than a kind of absurd compromise, the federal government being almost a sub-department of the collective states.

  22. Corey Robin January 4, 2012 at 11:29 am | #

    I’m sorry for being so short with you before. These are fair questions, and I recognize it’s not knowledge that’s universally known. I’m happy, to the extent that I’m able, to continue the discussion. For now, though, I’m afraid I really can’t; just have too much on my plate. I appreciate your taking the time to read the blog and do the follow-up research. Like I said in one of my earlier comments, Rakove’s book is a very good place to start. You should also check out Rogers Smith’s massive *Civic Ideals*.

    • Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 4, 2012 at 12:47 pm | #

      No, the heads-up on this (substantial) aspect of Consitutional law and history is quite enough. You should consider doing a piece on precisely this point because it renders all arguments that we should “return to the Founders’ intent” quite preposterous and even moot.

      The more I read on this, the more it appears that what was called for after the Civil War was quite simply another Constitution. The process of “incorporating” rights against the states seems to me quite dubious. The 14th Amendment — one would think — would be enough to universalize the Bill of Rights among citizens no matter the State. However, if as you say, the Bill of Rights was simply a set of limitations upon Congress primarily, then the 14th Amendment and the incorporations that followed for decades after seem quite clearly contrary to the “Founders’ intent”. The whole nature of the system was changed.

      I think this change mid-stream in the underlying concept of organization — while still retaining the language of the Constitution and its institutions — has resulted in a constitutional system and legal tradition that is quite byzantine. It is far from the new system from scratch based on philosophical principles that I had imagined. It now more resembles (perhaps appropriately) the ad hoc character of English law and earlier historical legal frameworks.

      People today read or “project”, to use your term, a certain basic understanding of the Constitution back into the past. In this respect, the Constitution is treated perhaps too much as a philosophical document, instead of as a legal document with all the limitations that implies. If the Bill of Rights was never intended to apply universally and necessarily to all American citizens, then it is not a set of first principles. It is an ancillary document that has only been given its importance by legal construals in later years.

    • Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 5, 2012 at 4:46 am | #

      [This is a general comment, and is not asking for a reply. However, anyone may feel free.]

      I am quite happy to beat my virtual sword into a plowshare when circumstances demand it. In this case, the possibility that the Bill of Rights was not a statement of first principles is strong enough that I feel flattened. I can’t take the destruction of any more historical myths.

      The Bill of Rights and the Constitution are routinely presented as examples of human achievement. We are encouraged to believe that they are statements of first principles — established de novo — and that they can be viewed as having a dual legal and philosophical dimension.

      The fact that the “rights” guaranteed by the Bill of Rights are not guaranteed at all suggests that the “rights” dimension of the Bill of Rights belongs more to the level of rhetorical flourish, and that the document as a whole is merely a procedural and legal limitation on the workings of the “federal” government.

      In that regard, the federal government is even less of a national government in its original implementation than commonly thought. It is almost an agency, an appendage. It might be better called a “common” government for only those cases when the states have something “in common”. Even the supremacy clause — which an ordinary person might read and take as proof that the Bill of Rights extends to all people universally within the United States — really only appears to be a statement to the effect that when state law conflicts with federal law within its very narrowly prescribed purview (e.g. treaty law), the federal law necessarily wins out.

      How does all this relate to the article above? Two points:

      1. I believe that a number of Ron Paul supporters advocate for the “states’ rights” concept only to the extent that it suggests a structural remedy for imperialism. With more money and more power going to the states, the federal government is robbed of the massive resources needed to maintain the ever-emerging high-tech police state. Moreover, by bringing power to the states, it comes one step closer to the people. This is consistent with, in my opinion, the progressive concept of citizen democracy. For a democratic republic to be democratic, it simply must retain the dimension of “experiment”. The people must be allowed to learn how to govern themselves. Take that power away and what you are left with is a political class — a separate governing sub-culture — that over time develops motives and interests contrary to those of the multitude. And incidentally, when you disempower people and take away their control of their own affairs, they return to purely mindless pursuits as in today’s American Idol culture.

      2. Second, to the extent that social agitation has been responsible for securing rights for groups in the American system (as the Bill of Rights apparently did), I think the argument for a place for progressive movements in our constitutional system can be made even MORE strongly and forcefully than the author has done above. The fact becomes irrefutable that if the Bill of Rights never had a universal scope, and that even up to today through the legal act of “incorporation” those rights are only retroactively given to the people (ultimately not by any act of legislature or “will of the people” but by judicial fiat), then the procurement of rights has only ever been done in the context of political struggle. The Consitution goes from being a document whose first principles guarantee individual liberty (the right-leaning fantasy) to a framework whose very inadequacies and even gross structural defects (courtesy of the great turning inside-out post-14th Amendment) CALL FOR a progressive movement since rights are never laid down, but achieved mainly through legal contest.

      These are challenging times, and I hope that self-styled “libertarians” and “progressives” continue to challenge each other to find common ground.

  23. Nigel January 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm | #

    “…both sides are right in the sense that I laid out above: Ron Paul is unacceptable, and it’s unacceptable that we don’t have someone on the left who is raising the issues of imperialism, war and peace, and civil liberties in as visible and forceful a way…”

    Nicely put – the only bit I would argue with is “on the left”, though I guess that’s because I’m from the UK, and a goodly percentage of those who describe themselves as ‘Conservative” over here would be called socialists by today’s GOP.

    Couple more books to recommend for Anarias:
    Robert Whitaker’s “On the Laps of Gods”, and Robert Caro’s “Master of the Senate”.

    Both give a fascinating instruction on the interplay between US constitutional law, raw politics, and history.

  24. George January 4, 2012 at 7:40 pm | #

    Some criticisms I hope are constructive:

    1) Does it really matter what side of an event like the 1964 civil rights act you are on 50 years after it made any difference what side you were on?

    2) “At most 10 percent of them are in federal prisons; the rest are in state and local prisons… ”

    This is nonsense. Prohibition was a federal initiative and it was ended when the federal government stopped enforcing it. Sure there are still dry counties, in places heavy handed regulation of alcohol, and the ‘revenuers’ are still hunting down the Dukes of Hazard for selling alcohol without a stamp on the cap. But the fact is without federal support the local police will not have the resources or the political back up to arrest millions for contraband crimes.

    3) “a challenge to Israel” You are repeating a slander. Ron Paul is not challenging Israel. His views are mainstream Israeli opinions if by main stream you mean the newspaper of record Ha’aretz. The hysteria is coming from the US not Israel.

    4) Even if through some fluke Ron Paul were elected President it is unlikely he would be able to accomplish much more as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive than end the wars. Everything else would require the consent of the congress and the bureaucracy, which he will not get. But guess what, that would free up piles of resources for other projects, perhaps even your left progressive whatever projects.

  25. Scotty Reid January 5, 2012 at 10:47 am | #

    mmmm…I’m wondering who the writer suggests we should support? What good has the 14 Amendment done for us when we have more black men and women in prison than their were African enslaved in America due to the drug war? What good has the 1964 Civil Rights legislation, passed by a racist from Texas, done when employment and housing discrimination runs rampant in this country and made legal due to the New Jim Crow implemented through the Drug War? I could go on but do not want to write an article in the comments section. Some politician once said all politics are local. The fact is we are impacted negatively more at the state and county level than we are at the federal level. We can blame Democrats for not really addressing our issues in a meaningful way or we can blame Republicans for legislation meant to impact negatively but when it is all said and done, we suffer because we fail to understand how the political machine works and the vast majority of us are apathetic.

    Take for example that in NC Democrats passed the Racial Justice Act meant to address the racist way the death penalty is handed down to blacks and allows to have their sentences commuted to life instead of death. Now the Racial Justice Act may be eliminated in NC or severely watered down if conservative democrats work with the Republicans in our state. How is this coming about, because Black people in the state did not pay attention to what the Republicans were campaigning on and failed to turn out to vote in 2010 when in 2008 they turned out in record numbers for Obama. We in NC can blame no one but ourselves for what is happening in our state which was making progress towards racial justice. BTW, only Ron Paul, not Obama, has said he no longer believes in the death penalty because of DNA evidence showing innocent people on death row and how it is racially handed out.

    So please tell me why Blacks are again going to sit on their hands when they have a chance to influence the GOP primaries by hijacking the party by registering if only temporarily as Republicans in the states that require it to vote on who their nominee is going to be. Perhaps secretly they wish for Obama to not be challenged on his support for these wars, Bush era policies that destroyed civil liberties and even those he just recently passed, the assassination with out charges of American citizens including a 16 yr old boy, his destruction of Libya and his blind support of Israel, his lack of addressing any issues at all that impact our communities the most. I’ve already written to much so I will stop here.

    • Corey Robin January 5, 2012 at 10:55 am | #

      Anyone who would claim — in the second sentence of his comment, no less – that there are more black men and women imprisoned in America today, due to the Drug War (or frankly anything), than there were enslaved in America, well, all I can say is, first get your facts straight, and then maybe we can have a conversation.

      • Scotty Reid January 5, 2012 at 11:18 am | #

        My information comes from Michelle Alexander,who did extensive research on the Drug War and its impact but perhaps I am misquoting her. There have been estimates of 4 million to 12 million Africans enslaved in America, I wonder how many millions have been incarcerated since the Emancipation Proclamation? I will not nit pick with you on this point but over 1 million people locked up today for non-violent drug crimes is no small thing not to mention the life long impact once you have a felony drug conviction which allows employers and landlords to legally discriminate against you. I am still want to know who we should support or why we should not be influencing who wins the GOP nomination. I do not expect an honest answer or conversation on any of these issues I have raised from people who will support Obama no matter what and want him to have the easiest path to re-election. I will never vote for man responsible for helping to destroy the Bill of Rights, destroying the most developed country in Africa plunging it into civil war, and directed the CIA to kill people with no regard for the loss of innocent lifes including children and in one case directly targeting a teenager. Obama is the perfect Manchurian candidate. He is all style and no substance but have at him if that is who you suggest we support.

      • George February 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm | #

        The experts at Wikipedia claim the Confederate States of America had 9 million people and 3.5 million slaves or say 40%. In the Statistics of incarcerated African-American males article the experts at Wikipedia claim that in 1991:
        A black male born in 1991 has a 29% chance of spending time in prison at some point in his life.
        Nearly 33% African American males aged 20–29 are under some form of criminal justice supervision whether imprisoned, jailed, on parole or probation.
        11% of African American men will be incarcerated between the ages of 20 and 34.

        So it would appear that for black males % wise comparing the CSA to the USA is not unreasonable. Overall the US prison population (everybody) is like 2.5 million (and 70 million Afghanis, kidding just kidding) so again USA and CSA have similar numbers.

        I agree in advance that slavery and incarceration are not the same and cannot be easily compared and contrasted using simple arithmetic. But is clear the incidence of slavery and incarceration are large numbers.

  26. dan karan January 5, 2012 at 11:20 am | #

    Mr. Robin, i just wanted to thank you for your piece on Ron Paul which i saw on the AlJazerra English site. A friend of mine recently responded to a piece in counterpunch saying how progressives should support Paul. My friend (and I) disagree strongly and have been at the very least frustrated with those on “the left” that have taken this “support Paul” position. I think you are right on when you say that “we” should say that we agree with Paul’s “anti-militarist” (or however you want to put it) and to be raising issues such as the need for 900 US military bases in 130+ countries but that doesn’t mean we have to support the guy (at the very least we also need to provide an analysis that shows that while we may agree with some of Paul’s conclusions on some issues it is often, if not always, for very different reasons and based on a very different sort of analysis). If we are going to convince those in the Paul or american libertarian (or Tea Party for that matter) or at least be able to reach out to them (instead of simply handing them all over to the right wing which is what unfortunately has happened i think in part because progressives have not known how to reach out to these folks and make common cause around issues where, in theory, we should be on the same side) then we need to provide analysis and not simply say we agree with his position/conclusion. Your piece was a real breath of fresh air and i wanted to thank and commend you for it. I had not heard of you before but after this piece i will sign up for your blog so that i can see your pieces in the future. Sincerely, Dan Karan

    • anon January 5, 2012 at 12:28 pm | #

      Not, Greenwald makes clear, because he supports Paul, but because it is a terrible comment—a shanda for the left—that we don’t have anyone on our side of comparable visibility launching an attack on American imperialism and warfare.

      I came here via Greenwald, and I have really nothing to say, except, based on what I believe is my correct interpretation of your beliefs and this sentence, shouldn’t it be a shanda for the right?

      The only time I have heard shanda used is the Yiddish phrase, a shanda fur die goy” meaning, something a Jew might do that is embarrassing to Jews should non-Jews can observe it. Jack Abramoff, Bernard Madoff might be examples.

  27. Greg January 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm | #

    Corey, great article, and I basically agree, although a rebuttal suggests itself along the following lines. One could argue that the “left” (if such a thing makes sense to talk about) has no access to the media. Ron Paul only has access because, on everything else, he’s uber-pro-business. Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, and a handful of others (in the House) DO actually make such critiques (well, perhaps not about Israel). Nader did, as well. Ron Paul has only sneaked through the filter because he’s the odd, and very rare, specimen who holds a combination of far-right, pro-business, and (ostensibly) anti-imperialist views. It’s a fluke, in other words, that doesn’t have much to do with the left’s weakness or unwillingness to articulate these issues but, rather, its purposeful exclusion.

    • Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 5, 2012 at 2:29 pm | #

      I think this reply is a little too self-serving — a little too pat. It’s far more honest to say that in the US there *is* no Left than it is to say the Left is “excluded”. It’s by now almost conventional wisdom that the Left/Right contest is practically speaking just theater and the “center” — insofar as it occupies positions of power — is broadly corporatist and statist and not materially concerned with either leftist or rightist goals.

      Ron Paul has only slipped through the “filter” thanks to the fact that overt American statism (including a police state at home) has been shown because of Obama not to have been simply a one-off or a fluke of G. W. Bush’s. Ron Paul has run on the same ideas several times. This time he has gained notoriety in part because the Republican field is so fractured; in part because people are dimly beginning to sense that the country is changing into something morbidly authoritarian.

      It’s something I’d like to hear more progressive opinions on — the value or importance of individual liberty, so conceived. In the article above, Corey Robin makes a good case for a role for a progressive movement spanning a national government and social movements “on the ground”. But as with all leftist political thinking, the locus of political agency is the “group” or the “movement” and individual liberty is not a strong priority. (Or if the individual has liberty in a progressive-oriented system it is as if by accident, not because there is anything special about being an individual.)

      So as much as social agitation and movement politics have played a historical role in gaining rights in the U.S., progressive politics are nonetheless viewed with suspicion in this center-right country, in part because progressivism has never successfully reconciled itself with so-called American individualism.

  28. Eduard Grebe January 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm | #

    Reblogged this on Eduard Grebe and commented:
    Excellent as usual.

  29. Vitold January 6, 2012 at 12:05 am | #

    I apologise for my English, I hope you will forgive me since this is not my first language. This left/right paradigm is an absurdity developed by ruling elites to control and enslaved all of us including such intelligent individuals like the author. Long time ago, it seems to me in a different universe, I realized that such distinctions like “liberal”, “conservative”… “republican”, “democrat”… are simply ways for people who have no relation to reality to express their ideas under the umbrella of their representative groups of associations. I can assure you that “real” people (that is striking workers, fighting insurgence, demonstrating students) do not subscribe to such terminology until someone, usually someone like you, enforces that on them.
    Going back to the article, first of all an observation. If you write something that you would like to be taken seriously, try to do your research honestly. It really bothers me to see such intelligent person simply glancing through few “progressive” media reports on Ron Paul and base on that writing a socio-political review of the person. At least try honestly evaluate your points.
    So let’s start with “Federalism”… well explain to me Mr. Robin how is the “federalism” good when we help split USSR in to separate republics and it’s awfully wrong when we are talking about , not really splitting, but rather “emancipating” states of the union? Would you suggest that we will be better of helping USSR to maintain their hold on all its dominions and provide better social progress for all its inhabitants?
    You also suggesting the federalism was a corner stone of all “evil” things that US had gone through in its history, white supremacy, slavery, etc. Well, I can assure you Sir. that collectivism, and “strong” government usually turns out to be …not the best thing for it’s won people, and I have been on the receiving end of that side of the coin for half of my life, and it does not matter if such government is from the “left” or “right”, “liberal” or “conservative”, “communist” or “capitalistic”…it ALWAYES ends up in the WRONG.
    And I think that is where Ron Paul is coming from, he may be a bit too American in his views but he certainly understands the danger that US is facing right now, just take a look at your …”yes we can”/progressive president…I bet you did vote for him  I wonder how you feel about that now.
    The other thing that is really so dishonest in your article, that bothers me the most is the fact that simply glance over the political platform that Ron Paul is proposing, without properly evaluating it and just stating that “his reasons for all of that are different that …yours and all progressives”:
    Ending the Federal Reserve ( that was so clear to your left wing forefathers in the 30’s) that is instrumental in control process that big business and banking elite use for control of the economic process in USA, ending ALL the imperialistic wars (which even the 6 years old “Trocki” would understand is a good idea), stopping the fascist/communist state (Patriot Act, NDAA) from becoming unstoppable, and finally … (whatever the reasons you could think are different for you) stopping TORTURES!
    If you disregard a good idea just because it’s coming from the opposite campus, it tells me that you really do not care for that idea you only care for your ideology, and I have seen with my own eyes what people like you , ideologist, can do to the nation:
    Ron Paul platform, is the only one on the left or right or even …”progressive”…that I have heard clearly articulated, and if you can explained to me and your readers why that is, without crying over lack of leadership (which is basically saying we don’t have a guts to fight for these principles)…I would gladly listen, other than that it should be clear for you and your readers that this article is nothing but just empty indulgence over the your bankrupt ideology. As for the readings that your suggest freely to everybody on your blog let me suggest one book for you that you may over looked …. Chris Hedges “ death of the liberal class”…worth reading. Regards.

  30. Leeleann January 6, 2012 at 12:53 am | #

    When & where was the meeting-defining-“progressive” held & who appointed CR or GG or anyone else Chief-linguist or ProgPrez?
    Your definitions-& solutions- seem at best smug & at worst either disingenuous or Utopian.
    These are some of the very same problems that I have, & that you actually delineate quite well, with Paul.
    Words need definitions and movements need direction, but “internationalists” with “open borders” is where I get off the bus- since it’s about to roll right over me anyway.
    You seem well-versed on the problems of racial supremacy, but blase or unconcerned about the “women problem” that tends to crop up wherever “tolerance” (of sex-fascist religious or tribal rule for example) of “globalism” is touted.

  31. lberns1 January 6, 2012 at 6:21 am | #

    “As I’ve argued repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, the path forward for the left lies in the alliance between active social movements on the ground and a strong national state. There is simply no other way, at least not that I am aware of, to break the back of the private autocracies that oppress us all.”

    Sure there is another way. Stop legitimizing a broken system by trying to use it as the fix. Drop out, completely. Focus on the local. Quit thinking like a flag waving nationalist toad.

    I stopped participating in this farce you call a democracy, which is nothing more than two wolves and a sheep discussing lunch, a long time ago. It is time to try something different, because replacing one corporate shill with another sure as hell hasn’t been working.

  32. Chris January 6, 2012 at 8:21 am | #

    I think you might be miscalculating here. I’d be afraid that you’ll get the strong national government part, but not the social democratic part. At least in a decentralized system, liberalism might win somewhere.

    Look at education policy. The federal government now largely dictates the goals and measures of education to the states and local school boards. It was made into a winner-take-all federal battle, and liberals then utterly and completely lost that battle. I live in a county that is supposedly very liberal and votes heavily Democratic, yet my kids’ public school looks like it was designed by the most authoritarian elements of the right wing. (Arguably, it was.) Wouldn’t my kids be better off with genuine local control of education?

    Isn’t it cheaper and easier to buy 535 Congresspeople than to buy 1500 local school boards?

  33. st.just January 6, 2012 at 2:27 pm | #

    The degeneration of the American labor movement has proceeded in parallel with the decline of American capitalism. This is no accident. In no other country has the labor bureaucracy so directly and completely tied the fortunes of the organizations of the working class to the strategic and economic successes of the ruling class. If one were to compare the downward trajectory of union membership and strike activity with the decline of American industry, one would find a striking correspondence. It is as if history had conducted a vast-and, for the working class, tragic-experiment in the viability of labor organizations based on the defense of capitalist property and nationalism. The historical verdict is contained in the decline of union membership as a percentage of the private sector workforce to single digits, below the levels attained nearly a century ago by the old craft-dominated American Federation of Labor, and the devastating fall in the living standards and social position of the working class.

    The mass industrial unions that arose from the upsurge of the working class during the Great Depression against social misery and industrial despotism embodied a huge contradiction-between the militancy and solidarity of the powerful American working class and the conservatism and servility of the leadership, which subordinated the new organizations to the Democratic Party and the capitalist state. Less than two years after the Flint sit-down strike, Trotsky warned of the inevitable degeneration of the CIO on the basis of the bureaucracy’s political perspective. In The Transitional Program, he wrote: “The unprecedented wave of sit-down strikes and the amazingly rapid growth of industrial unionism in the United States (the CIO) is the most indisputable expression of the instinctive striving of the American workers to raise themselves to the level of the tasks posed on them by history. But here, too, the leading political organizations, including the newly created CIO, do everything possible to keep in check and paralyze the revolutionary pressure of the masses.”

    • Burticus January 6, 2012 at 5:43 pm | #

      “On every question of construction [of the Constitution] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” – Thomas Jefferson

      The concept of federalism (the balance of power between federal and state governments) is as important as the separation of powers between the branches of government. Just read the Federalist Papers and maybe Jefferson’s Resolutions on the Alien and Sedition Act. They also make it clear that firearms are the ultimate protection against domestic tyranny, led by clueless far left statists like the author. Maybe also read George Washington’s farewell address warning about usurpations. To really get an quick education, try watching “Overview of America” on YouTube to learn about “Americanism”, the political spectrum, political and economic systems and how they interact.

      It is easy to understand why Ron Paul is unacceptable by your standards, since he is the only presidential candidate who even believes in our founding documents and principles any more.

      Fortunately for us dumbed-down sheeple, our university professors living off the government-financed education Ponzi (and politicians-for-life they advise) know better than our founding fathers. Just add “and anything else we want to do” to the powers enumerated Article 1, Section 8, delete the 10th amendment and burn the Federalist Papers. Heck, why bother – CONgress already shreds and wipes with that antiquated relic every day with everything they do. The political and economic destruction of America observed all around us is the result. Congratulations!

      • Anarias Mendt (@heinrich66) January 7, 2012 at 5:34 am | #

        This used to match my way of thinking. But read the exchange I had with the author of the piece above.

        The fact is the Founding Fathers didn’t give you any rights. The prescriptions in the Bill of Rights applied exactly nowhere geographically speaking — except perhaps the District of Columbia.

        The Bill of Rights is a set of interdictions on the powers of the federal government included in order to assuage the fears of the states. They were not as they are now portrayed a set of first principles that formed a social contract and the basis of American society. Rights — to the extent that individuals had ‘rights’ — were given by the states in their respective state constitutions when it happened at all.

        Only after the Civil War — and more specifically, the 14th Amendment — did the federal government start the job of granting individuals any rights at all. And it has done so primarily through “judicial activism”. As recently as 2010 when the Supreme Court “incorporated” the 2nd Amendment against the states, rights from the Bill of Rights have been apportioned out — piecemeal — to individuals almost entirely through judicial fiat.

        Now let me tell you how I agree with you, and how I am wary of arguments like those of Prof. Robin above.

        There is a set of warnings given by the Founding Fathers as regards tyranny. These warnings amount to (in more academic language) a narrative or a problematic that is fairly unique to the American perspective. Whether you call it a tradition or a mythology does not matter. The American political experiment, if it is to have any continuity in concept, always takes place against a backdrop of “tyranny” and the fear of tyranny.

        This really isn’t so bad a yardstick for government since as Ron Paul points out, for most of human history “government” has been synonymous with “tyranny”.

        Calls for alliances between social movements and powerful national government, such as in the article above, pretty clearly run the risk of flying in the face of that tradition of thought in which tyranny is the chief danger that comes of having governments. And in this, I think you are absolutely right. There is a good deal of reason to believe that given enough time and without continued effort, governments themselves become not just a cause of social injustice, but the *main* cause. This is easy to see in country after country — today and in the past — when government is just a cover, a smokescreen for organized criminality. And in today’s America, thanks to its pretensions of empire, that criminality is extremely forceful and is even leading to a perception in government that the people are the enemy.

        From this point of view (within the problematic of tyranny), an exhortation like Prof. Robin’s is extremely dangerous, and some can be excused for seeing it as a call for a certain social agenda (called “progress” by some) to be introduced and enacted by force (using the mechanisms of the same corrupt government).

        This is a weakness of the progressive movement — it is practical as much as it is conceptual. As Prof. Robin points out, progressive movements are “internationalist”. But for progressive movements to make headway, they must situate themselves within concrete national traditions. There *is* a concrete national tradition in the U.S., a concept of “liberty vs. tyranny”, A faceless, machine-like progressive movement that agitates for agitation’s sake always toward a goal of “progress” has no position within that debate and even ignores it. This is in part why some people assess today’s liberalism and progressivism as broadly anti-American: because the same movement could exist in any country, whatever the traditions, viewing the legal framework as only that, a means towards the empowerment and social recognition of groups (“progress”).

        This is all the more telling when you consider that in American history, very few achievements that could be called “progress” have actually been the work of the so-called progressive movement. The agitation against slavery was not performed by “progressives”; it was done primarily by abolitionists and religious radicals. The women’s suffrage movement had a very different sociological makeup than that of today’s “progressive” movement. The civil rights movement was not populated by today’s progressives either. Rights for groups have primarily been fought for by members of those groups and people with overlapping beliefs from concrete traditions (e.g. religious).

        The only achievement that can be tallied under today’s “progressive” movement arguably is the recent repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”. Even so, the idea of “progress” for progressive as an abstract distillation of all these past accomplishments done by concrete political actors with narrow political goals — is just that: recent, abstract, and rooted only in those traditions it claims for itself.

        Nonetheless, Prof. Robin’s piece above signals a kind of way out — and a way for social progress movements to be seen as rooted in our constitutional (and national) tradition.

        Because individual rights were not granted by our Founding Fathers via the federal government, the social and political contest for individual rights can VERY APPROPRIATELY be seen as integral to our American — and constitutional — tradition. The national and historical basis for social progress movements is thus given greater weight and substance. Rather than social agitation being a lamentable accidental artifact of politicians’ and officials’ failure to recognize rights already granted by the Constitution, these movements have in fact been the only vessel by which rights we now consider American have been achieved.

  34. Ed January 7, 2012 at 8:39 am | #

    “Our problem—………….is that we don’t really have a vigorous national spokesperson for the issues of war and peace, an end to empire, a challenge to Israel, and so forth, that Paul has in fact been articulating.”

    That’s because you’re mostly frauds. If enough of you really cared about it, the problem would have been solved long ago.

  35. Ms. Daisy Cutter January 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm | #

    I agree with one of the comments on this feminist blogpost:

    I feel no affinity to anarchists, libertarians and leftists like Greenwald who view centralized government as a problem, preferring local and less control over citizens. For women, this has meant piecemeal justice over the years. I’ve spent my life in the South. Offhand, I can’t think of any federal law that restricted my life more than a local or state law would have.

  36. Bertha January 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm | #

    So, you support abortion? Do you realize that more babies have been killed through abortion than any number of people through the holocaust and the world war? We need to help ourselves before we ultimately destroy our race. Supporting something that involves killing innocent babies is participating in it whether you have had an abortion or not. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  37. Mak January 21, 2012 at 1:35 am | #

    I am not sure what you mean by anti-imperialism, when we have a democrat president and the war in Afghanistan wages on. Cheap mining labor…

    Also, you did not state a source for saying “His real problem is his fundamentalist commitment to federalism…” I did not want to continue reading because you’re stating everything on opinion and provided no supporting evidence to your argument.

    Also, I was entirely confused by this statement, “As I’ve argued repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, the path forward for the left lies in the alliance between active social movements on the ground and a strong national state.” Noting that strong national state implies a strong centralized government. Strong centralized government is the founding concept of federalism.

    This is from
    Definition of FEDERALISM
    a often capitalized : the distribution of power in an organization (as a government) between a central authority and the constituent units

    So what do you mean by strong national state? Does this mean do away with state governments? Or does this mean increase power to the central government?

    Because if that is the case then you are a federalist too…

    There is a good reason for separating powers between the state and federal systems, it is part of the checks and balances that is incorporated throughout our system.

    There are different forms of libertarianism, they are all a little weird and some seem crazy but none of the ideas of libertarianism have actually been implemented within our country. At least I am not aware of any.

    Strip away a lot of aspects of libertarianism and what you have left is small government, strong military, fiscal soundness and personal responsibility.

    Whoever wins this next election democrat or republican, it doesn’t matter, because we will end up in Iran, killing more people but not for imperialist reason, of course.

    Ron Paul if elected would prevent this and the only way he would go to war is if something like 911 happened all over again.

    This country was founded on war and in the last 30 years more than I have been alive, we have been at war for over half of those years.

    War brings peace? or war brings more war?

    So keep arguing right or left, it doesn’t matter, war is inevitable…

  38. Eben April 5, 2012 at 12:59 pm | #

    The argument in this article is a little odd. We already have a strong national state that’s getting stronger by the day. The author suggests the only problem with such a centralized power structure is that it’s being used for bad purposes and that if it were just taken over by nicer more progressive folks that everything would be right with the world. Many of the commenters have expressed support for a more decentralized system of power, the author’s position seems to be that a big powerful national gov’t is the only thing that can counteract major corporate power. I would suggest the the power centralized in DC in a nice small easily corrupted and cheaply bribed central gov’t is exactly what’s caused corporate power to grow. If power were decentralized the cost of corporate friendly legislation would become too high to afford. The individual citizen whose vote counts for no more than a fart in a windstorm at the national level might find that they have much more power over local issues that effect the quality of their lives. The federal gov’t has prevented states from enacting changes that are very much wanted by local citizens. Just think of all the pressure from the Feds to keep state Attourney Generals from bringing cases against big banks over mortgage fraud. There is a nearly endless list of such tampering. The author of this article seems to niavely argue that immense centralized power is a good thing and he wants a shot at having his ideology pull the power levers instead of the ideology currently in place. I think what I’d like to see is for that power structure dismantled and decentralized because while having it exist can magnify the positive gains to society (benevolent dictation) it also magnifies the evils (police state, increasing wealth disparity, endless war machine)

  39. kathy April 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm | #

    One thing this author does not mention is it was Republicans that abolished slavery. Democrats and their elitist attitude enslaved people again by taking their tax money and redistrubting it to them as they as all knowing see fit.
    Obama has increased the wars, Johnson a democrat increased the Vietnam war. It is the Democrats belief that only the really smart (rich) democrats have the answer and they must take care of their serfs.

    Give the people back their money and they will take care of their families and the poor without discouraging people from advancing.

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