Ron Paul and the Distrust of Institutions

By John Stang

Both Luke and I have been pretty hard on Ron Paul over the last few weeks.  I think what both of us have tried to stress, despite our criticism, is that Ron Paul might have ideas that are admired by one side or the, such as limiting U.S. engagement abroad and limiting government intrusion into the personal lives of individuals.  However, there are also ugly parts to Paul’s candidacy, the conspiracy theories, subtle forms of racism and homophobia, and holding the mantle as a “libertarian” when much of his ideology has strong conservative elements (i.e. his ideas about abortion).

Ron Paul and his followers have a strong distrust of institutions, both national and international.  The video clip from the 2008 debates reflects that, which to my knowledge his positions have not change.  The conspiracy theories that come from the federal reserve, the U.N., and the Council on Foreign Relations all reflect this distrust.  To someone who does not follow politics 24 hours a day or does not monitor these organizations closely, getting them to buy into blaming these institutions as the scapegoat for all the world’s problems is not difficult, even if the idea does seem scary.  For instance, this is the level of trust of the U.N.

Trend: Is the United Nations Doing a Good Job or a Poor Job of Solving Problems It Has Had to Face?

Yes, there is a contradiction between saying “the U.N. does a poor job” and “the U.N. is evolving into a one world government.”  Nevermind that fact.   Both these criticisms seem valid to someone who has a distrust of the institution.  If anything, the U.N., has little autonomy and is controlled by the interest of nation states. It also is not well funded and does not coordinate well between missions.  Plus, most of the U.N.’s resolutions, especially for the General Assembly, are legally nonbinding.  This is only evident if you look closely at the institution instead of just seeing it as this dark, ominious force that could grab power at anytime.  The U.N. couldn’t take away your guns, even if it wanted to.

The same is true for the Federal Reserve, another favorite target of Ron Paul.  The institution only seems mysterious because most people don’t follow it closely and is not controlled by the federal government.  The solution that Paul advocates is a thorough audit of the federal reserve by congress or abolish it completely.  A few problems exist with this solution.  First, having an independent central bank allows for interest rates to be set without political ambitions getting in the way.  Second, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before congress all the time and all its documents are available online.  Finally, the Federal Reserve could broadcast its meetings on C-Span, but who would watch it.  Let’s face it, setting monetary policy is pretty boring.  Plus, markets react pretty harshly to anything the Federal Reserve chairman says.  Hence, why he did not start holding press conferences until this year.

I bring up both these examples to show that the fear people of these large institutions is overblown, if examined under the microscope.   However, the distrust of large institutions is all too real and if 2011 has shown us anything, it’s that people are really starting to question institutions.  The Arab Spring, the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, the protests in Russia, and Americans Elect are all examples of grassroots movements trying to break the mold of old and bring it back to the people.  As Felix Salmon of Reuters wrote:

Most fundamentally, what I’m seeing as I look around the world is a massive decrease of trust in the institutions of government. Where those institutions are oppressive and totalitarian, the ability of popular uprisings to bring them down is a joyous and welcome sight. But on the other side of the coin, when I look at rioters in England, I see a huge middle finger being waved at basic norms of lawfulness and civilized society, and an enthusiastic embrace of “going on the rob” as some kind of hugely enjoyable participation sport. The glue holding society together is dissolving, whether it’s made of fear or whether it’s made of enlightened self-interest.

If viewed through this lens, the new massive support for Ron Paul makes a lot more sense.  Paul is challenging the norms of institutional thinking and people have a hunger for that.  As evidence from 2011, that distrust is not a bad thing, but understanding the actual relative power of these institutions is helpful first.

More on Ron Paul:


- Part I and II questioning why liberals support Ron Paul

- Ron Paul’s foreign policy is not that liberal

- Ron Paul’s conspiracy theories


- Why Ron Paul attracts a cult following?

- Ron Paul’s states’ rights argument is problematic and how it excuses problems, like racism

1 Comment

Filed under 2012 Election, Ron Paul, Uncategorized

One response to “Ron Paul and the Distrust of Institutions

  1. ivykid

    I live in Indiana where the Highway that doesn’t exist has been fought by the farmers who’s property was split, and the people with houses that were taken by eminant domain. It is called I69 in Indiana but it comes in from Kentucky and goes north into Michigan.

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