Rep. Ron Paul, the iconic libertarian congressman from Texas, has delivered what will most likely be his final address to Congress.
In a sprawling, 52-minute speech to the House chamber, Paul lambasted U.S. government, politicians and special interests, declaring that the U.S. people must return to virtue before the government allows them to be free, and that the Constitution has failed to limit the scope of an authoritarian bureaucracy.
"Our Constitution, which was intended to limit government power and abuse, has failed," Paul said. "The Founders warned that a free society depends on a virtuous and moral people. The current crisis reflects that their concerns were justified."
For the retiring Republican, 77, the "current crisis" isn't quite what it is for other members of Congress, who routinely use that word to describe the economic recession that followed the 2008 financial crash. To the Texas Republican, that's part of it, but the causes are deeper, and it's also a crisis of governmental authoritarianism and the vanishing of personal liberty.
"If it's not accepted that big government, fiat money, ignoring liberty, central economic planning, welfarism, and warfarism caused our crisis, we can expect a continuous and dangerous march toward corporatism and even fascism with even more loss of our liberties," said Paul, an obstetrician-gynecologist by training.
The problem isn't just government's size, but its use of force, both in starting preemptive wars and as it coerces U.S. citizens with police power. To Paul, this is the fault of Americans who no longer prioritize liberty, and it will lead to the unraveling of orderly society unless people change.
"Restraining aggressive behavior is one thing, but legalizing a government monopoly for initiating aggression can only lead to exhausting liberty associated with chaos, anger and the breakdown of civil society," Paul said. "We now have a standing army of armed bureaucrats in the TSA, CIA, FBI, Fish and Wildlife, FEMA, IRS, Corp of Engineers, etc., numbering over 100,000 civil society."
More than coercive, to Paul the government is also corrupt: "All branches of our government today are controlled by individuals who use their power to undermine liberty and enhance the welfare/warfare state-and frequently their own wealth and power," he said.
Throughout his speech, Paul questioned not only the fundamental health of America's social compact, but specifics like fiat money, the power of the Federal Reserve, the PATRIOT Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act modifications, undeclared war, the illegalization of medical marijuana, mandatory sentencing requirements for drug crimes, the illegalization of hemp, TSA searches, federal debt and borrowing, the White House's authority to assassinate those it declares terrorists, the legalization of detaining U.S. citizens for national-security purposes, the political power of AIPAC, and the regulation of light bulbs and toilets in people's homes.
For Paul, the list of grievances is long, and he might not have accomplished much in Congress: "In many ways, according to conventional wisdom, my off-and-on career in Congress, from 1976 to 2012, accomplished very little," he said. "No named legislation, no named federal buildings or highways, thank goodness. In spite of my efforts, the government has grown exponentially, taxes remain excessive, and the prolific increase of incomprehensible regulations continues. Wars are constant and pursued without congressional declaration."
In thinking about the champions of liberty, his lesson is a bitter one: "History has shown that the masses have been quite receptive to the promises of authoritarians which are rarely if ever fulfilled," but his prescription is hopeful.
Paul left the podium, for the last time, offering an "answer" to all of these problems: that people should choose liberty and limit government, and seek change within themselves.
"The number one responsibility for each of us is to change ourselves with hope that others will follow," Paul said, urging an end to two motives that have hindered U.S. society: envy and intolerance.
"I have come to one firm conviction after these many years of trying to figure out the plain truth of things. The best chance for achieving peace and prosperity, for the maximum number of people worldwide, is to pursue the cause of liberty. If you find this to be a worthwhile message, spread it throughout the land."