Whatever Paul's actual views and their proper interpretation, he is widely viewed as a libertarian. So, naturally, critics are crawling out of the woodwork to condemn his putative political philosophy. And, what's their major beef? It's 'utopian'.
True or not, one problem with that criticism is the utter hypocrisy of the Progressives (and, unfortunately, many conservatives who have jumped on the beat-down bandwagon) who utter it. Since when, among Progressives, did striving for an ideal (even one regarded as impossible to fully achieve) count as a mark against it?
If there is anything good about Progressivism at all, it is its idealistic orientation. (Never mind for now the nature of the ideals it espouses, or whether the closer one comes to them, the worse off everyone actually becomes.)
The more serious error than even the false imputation and erroneous interpretation, though, is the package deal put forth. Some aspects (according to critics) of the libertarian program are unachievable, therefore the entire orientation is mistaken. This is yet another in an endless line of false alternatives put forth by enemies of liberty to discredit even the attempt to expand it against the statist onslaught swallowing the country.
I've got my own beefs with aspects of libertarianism, particularly the anarchic strain as well as the more or less standard position on national defense. Even so, when someone criticizes it as 'utopian', my response is: "Umm, yeah, so?"
Unfortunately, even well-meaning conservatives are getting into this act in a serious way. Yuval Levin recently penned an essay discussing the need to defend capitalism morally and basically gave away the entire game to the Progressives.
Keying off Adam Smith's moral views, he wrote:
Smith began with a middling view of human nature, neither utopian nor cynical. He believed that even though human beings are fundamentally self-interested, we can be guided toward sympathy and benevolence.Mr. Levin could benefit from a few Objectivist lectures on ethics and the philosophy of history because these are exactly the moral views that allowed modern statism to overthrow 19th century liberalism and laissez-faire.
Our sentiments, he said, begin with a powerful self-regard that expresses itself in our desires for attention, praise, and recognition, and motivates a great deal of human behavior. Even our sympathy for others begins with ourselves: We feel compassion for someone in distress because we can imagine ourselves in his predicament.
But for Smith, the fact that our self-regard finds expression in a desire for approval offers an opening for moral education — for moderating both our passions and our animal appetites to make civilized life possible.
Our ability to step into someone else's shoes allows us to reflect on our own behavior, and to ask: "How would what I'm doing look to someone else observing me?" In that question — about that imaginary "impartial spectator," as Smith put it — is the beginning of social order and of self-restraint, and so the first impulse to moral conformity and common social norms.
This is how, in a well-functioning society, our sentimental tendencies to self-regard can become inclinations to sympathy and decency.
The view that self-interest is opposed to benevolence led inevitably to the idea that it must be restrained (or at least, redirected) in order to prevent 'the strong' preying on 'the weak'.
The Humean/Smithean idea that self-regard consists of, as Rand put it, being Keating-like second-handers who long above all for attention, praise, and recognition can have only one proper response: "Speak for yourself, pal."
Worst of all, the Comtean altruistic view that society should be organized according to a warped utilitarian principle of "the greatest good for the weakest members" is responsible for virtually all of the modern welfare state depredations conservatives claim to want to combat. I don't hold with Rand's dictum (as a universal principle) that a bad argument is worse than none. But it's definitely true here.
If for no other reasons than these, Randal Paul's critics deserve a vigorous eff-you.