The Ralph Nader Liberty Litmus Test

As an anti-state libertarian, who used to fancy himself a minarchist and, before that, a free-market conservative, I never had much use for Ralph Nader. I always considered him a paternalistic statist ' someone who saw himself as wise and prudent enough to tell us what kind of cars we should drive, with which countries we should trade, what kind of healthcare we could have, and what our employment contracts should include. Indeed, Nader always presented himself as not only omniscient enough to tell us what we should do, but also arrogant enough to petition the state to forcibly impose his choices upon us.

For years I called him Darth Nader, and debated his followers in public forums at UC Berkeley, always pointing out that he never upheld civil liberties as highly as they deserved to be upheld and that he didn't understand economics and the failings of central planning. I considered him worse than Al Gore in 2000, more statist than Bill Clinton in 1996, a cranky candidate whose socialism placed him left of the Democrats, and more statist than the statist quo politicians who ruled America . Whereas the Republicans and Democrats eroded our liberty, Ralph Nader always seemed, in my mind, to advocate its wholesale abolition and replacement with some sort of anti-corporate enviro-whacko utopian socialist bureaucracy.

A while back I was reading a Justin Raimondo column that favorably referred to and linked to Nader's attack on 'corporate socialism.' I wrote a piece for STR on 'corporate state socialism' back in June, and although I did not write it until about two years after Nader addressed the topic, I hadn't seen Nader's piece until Justin's column, which came out about one month after mine. I was stunned to see that, although Nader clearly latches onto some prejudices and misconceptions and fails to see the forest for the trees, he made some observations quite similar to those that any free market libertarian might make:

'Under capitalism, businesses are supposed to sink or swim, which is still very true for small business. But larger industries and companies often have become 'too big to fail' and demand that Uncle Sam serve as their all-purpose protector, providing a variety of public guarantees and emergency bailouts . . . .

''Corporate socialism' ' the privatization of profit and the socialization of risks and misconduct ' is displacing capitalist canons. This condition prevents an adaptable capitalism, served by equal justice under law, from delivering higher standards of living and enlarging its absorptive capacity for broader community and environmental values. Civic and political movements must call for a decent separation of corporation and state.'

This almost looks like the kind of stuff you'd read in a book by G. Edward Griffin or even Murray Rothbard, not in an article written by a shill for Big Government Leftism!

Now, unlike Raimondo, who has endorsed Nader for president, I would never recommend voting for him. Instead, I want to pose a question about some of Nader's anti-authoritarian tendencies, and what it means for America today.

Has Nader become more libertarian? Or was he always less statist than I gave him credit for? Or, to present a third and more viable possibility, is Nader just as paternalistic and socialist as ever, but America has declined so much in liberty over the last few years that Nader's vision appears libertarian by comparison?

A President Nader, assuming we take his word at face value, would further regulate trade, attack business in many unjust ways, stick his nose in our economic and personal decisions, raise taxes on gasoline, alcohol and the rich, raise the minimum wage, clamp down on immigration, close tax 'loopholes,' and do several other things that would expand state power.

On the other hand, he would ' again, assuming we take his word for it ' greatly tame down the war on terror, reduce corporate welfare, cut taxes for the poor and middle class, eliminate managed trade agreements such as NAFTA (even if for the wrong reasons), gut the Patriot Act, pull out of Iraq, and significantly temper the insanely draconian War on Drugs.

On balance, it could well be argued, an America with a President Nader would be freer than an America with a President Bush. To put it in more precise terms, an America with a President Nader would become more tyrannical at a much slower rate than it would during the next four years under Bush or Kerry.

Is this what our country's become? A man who believes the preposterous notions that healthcare is a 'right' and free trade is a scourge would be a less damaging president than the two major choices before us?

Indeed, in some ways, this is true of all the major minor parties. They all have extreme views, and they all, with the possible exception of the Libertarian candidate, want to expand the state in one area or another. And yet, taken as a whole, none of the third parties ' Constitution, Green, Reform of Libertarian ' advocate the massive warfare-surveillance state that we see today.

There was a time when third parties pressured the country to become more statist. The Prohibition Party, the Free Soil Party, the Socialist Party, the Progressive Party ' all of these organizations were on the fringes largely because they advocated more government than the two major parties seemed willing and able to provide.

We have come to a point when the fringe wannabe rulers ' including the paternalistic anti-trade Nanny Statist Ralph Nader '' actually appear to be less totalitarian than the mainstream. The entire radical fringe, left and right, is more moderate in its disrespect of liberty than the centrist authoritarian mainstream that votes, cheers on the wars and foolish spending, and watches reality television, CNN and Fox News every night to wind down after working all day as a complacent serf for the state. Compared to King George and Prince John, Ol' Darth Nader looks like Anakin Skywalker.

The Ralph Nader liberty litmus test saddens me. It is frightening that, if you were to take the more statist half of Americans and the less statist half, someone as oblivious to the wonders of the free market as Nader would probably be more skeptical of power than the median politically opinionated American.

It sends a chill up and down my spine. I wonder: Will we one day be so deprived of liberty, that we could justifiably make similar conclusions about a George W. Bush liberty litmus test?

Yuck. At the bottom of the list of things I hate about President Bush is the fact that he makes such people as Ralph Nader seem comparatively inoffensive and conscientious of human freedom.

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Anthony Gregory's picture
Columns on STR: 37

Anthony Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute, a Policy Advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a columnist at His website is