David Bahnsen has been a vocal critic of Ron Paul. Bahnsen has written several articles that have gotten a lot of attention, some of it bordering on hate-filled vitriol. The following article was written by Douglas Wilson, pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, faculty member at New Saint Andrews College, and prolific author and speaker. He is featured in the documentary film Collision documenting his debates with the late anti-theist Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011) on their promotional tour for the book “Is Christianity Good for the World?”
To help the heat die down a bit, I am taking the liberty to publish Pastor Wilson’s article that he wrote in response to an earlier article (“The Undiscerning and Dangerous Appreciation of Ron Paul”) that David Bahnsen wrote. It also applies to his most recent one (“The Attraction of Ron Paul to the Mediocre Among Us”). Since I am friends with both men, I hope that some good will come out of all of this for the sake of God’s kingdom and our nation. – The Godfather
Bright Lights and Big Bugs
By Douglas Wilson
David Bahnsen and I have a cordial relationship, and we have agreed that I will interact with his [first post] on Ron Paul. So here it is, but you should first go and read what he has to say about it here. [The second article by Bahnsen can be found here.]
I am writing as one who appreciates Ron Paul’s presence among us. I have voted for him in at least one primary, and depending on what else is going on, I could quite easily do so again. I do this thinking that he radically underestimates what is going on with Islamic radicalism. I do this thinking that his views on certain social policies are driven more by abstract libertarianism than by a biblical worldview. I do so despite some of his dubious associations, about which more in a minute.
I do all this because he is the kind of disreputable character who means what he says about the budget. All the responsible Republican types, by which I mean the big government conservatives, who are running for the highest office, have a platform that consists of trying to blow sunshine up my skirt. RomneyCare? Puhleeeze. CapnTax Pawlenty? Crikey. They will not do what they say, and it is absolutely necessary for some political pressure be brought to bear upon them. As someone once wisely said, politicians don’t see the light until they feel the heat.
Many so-called “purists” support Ron Paul, but as far as ‘purism” goes, Paul is as compromised as anybody else. When I have supported him, it is simply because I think that the establishment gargoyles need a good scare. I call them gargoyles (with all due affection) because they are ugly, high, and hard to knock off.
That said, let me respond to David’s argument about political associations.
First, to get into politics at all is to plunge immediately into associational difficulties. If you do anything right at all, there are a bunch of people out there looking for a horse to bet on. If you look like you might win a race, or actually get somewhere, you will garner support from a bunch of people who are supporting you for their own reasons, and their own reasons will always have baggage attached.
Take something as simple and clean as wanting to return to the gold standard (or any monetary backing that the government can’t print). What a noble ideal! What a fantastic notion! But I can assure you that if the idea is credibly put forward by a certifiably sane candidate, this will not prevent all the puppies and kittens from coming out to play. In the providence and kindly good humor of God, all the sane people in our polity govern by means of insane ideas, and all the insane people cluster around the sane ones. This keeps us off-balance, presenting grave difficulties for political theorists like myself.
In a democracy, there are no more than two degrees of separation from any candidate whatever and the ripest of nut jobs. The only way to prevent this is by means of Anabaptist separationism — and even that gets difficult when the commune gathers more than ten people.
Second, we have to take into account what sociologists call “plausibility structures.” Some ideas are fruitcake ideas because they are cakes crammed with fruit. But other ideas are fruitcake ideas simply and solely because they have been designated as such by the ideological gatekeepers. If the gatekeeper waves you through, you are in, and if he doesn’t, you have to explain yourself. If I line up (at times) with Lew Rockwell, who thinks the Constitution was statist from the beginning, I have to explain myself. If I throw my support behind (say) a Romney the way Hugh Hewitt has in the past, the associational argument evaporates.
But wait a minute. Patrick Henry thought the Constitution as first presented was a statist document. Is he the only one who gets to smell a rat? The first generation of our founders thought the objection potent enough to attach the Bill of Rights to the document, and what is the Bill of Rights? The Bill of Rights is the testimony of our founders that the Constitution as it was first presented created an opening for the erosion of all our rights. I think the Bill of Rights was an adequate firewall in principle (albeit not in practice), but what exactly about subsequent events has demonstrated that such concerns were misplaced? Without the Bill of Rights, we would have turned into the soft despotism we have now a generation or two earlier than we did.
I grant that in America we still have more freedoms than most places in the world, and I really am grateful for that. But our dwindling freedoms will not be maintained if we persist on kidding ourselves about how many of them we have already lost. What is the current price for a modern American to fly across the country? Right. Hundreds of dollars for the ticket, and one crotch check administered by a surly bureaucrat in uniform. The way plausibility structures work, the one who has violent objections to this is the marginal one, and the one who hems and haws about it is the thoughtful graybeard.
Plausibility structures explain why certain views of someone like Paul are beyond the pale, and deeply offensive, but the fact that Rudy Guiliani supports the murder of babies does not put him beyond that same pale. It explains why association with Ron Paul is a problem, but continued association with Pakistan isn’t. Say what you will about Ron Paul, he wasn’t hiding Osama in his basement all these years. In short, if the associational argument has any force at all, we have a multitude of alliances to get rid off before dealing with the likes of Paul.
And third, all these concerns come to a practical head when you think about the reconstructionist movement. Davids father, Greg Bahnsen (1948–1995), was one of the big three leaders of the recon movement. There was Rushdoony, there was North, and there was Bahnsen. If you started reading one of them in the eighties (as I did), you started reading them all. There were differences (and animosities) between them, to be sure, but if you were a guy out in the hinterlands learning from one of them, you had to answer for all of them. Of the three, Bahnsen came closest to establishment respectability, but that did not alter the general associations.
And as far as the rank and file were concerned, I can assure you that the recons offered a number of the fruit of the month club selections, with all the cherries. There were bright light, to be sure, but as Karen Grant once put it, bright lights attract big bugs. And no kidding.
Moreoever, a lot of the associational difficulties that attend Ron Paul’s crowd are exactly the same as those which attended the recons. We are talking in many cases about the very same people. I believe that if we were to cross check the subscription lists for the various newsletters concerned, the results would be informative and edifying. Gary North writes for Lew Rockwell, and Gary North also worked with Jim Jordan, who has worked with Gary DeMar, who worked with Peter Leithart, who works alongside me, who is friends with David Bahnsen, who works with Andrew Sandlin, who was a successor to Rushdoony, who was North’s father-in-law, who worked on Ron Paul’s staff, and on it goes.
In other words, in sum, I grant the associational argument does have a biblical base, and some force, but it cannot be applied quickly or without careful thought. David banished evil men from his court (Ps. 26:5), but was not quite able to deal with his association with Joab, at least not during his lifetime. Life is complicated.