It’s been eight years since Ron Paul first ran for president as a Republican. It’s worth remembering today just how monumental that decision was.
One million people voted for Paul in 2008 out of about 20 million primary votes cast. That number doubled to two million in 2012. The Libertarian Party’s all-time record is Gary Johnson winning 1 million votes in 2012 out of 118 million votes cast.
For some reason, libertarianism was really popular in 2012.
Arguably the most popular libertarian book ever is Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” published in 1957. It has sold over 7 million copies in its 58-year history.
But its strongest sales year ever wasn’t until 2009, when it sold 500,000 copies. It’s second strongest sales year was 2011, when it sold 445,000 copies. We can reasonably assume 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, and probably 2008, weren’t too shabby either.
For some reason, libertarianism was really popular during those years.
The Ayn Rand Institute’s executive director Yaron Brook said in 2012, “This is unheard of in the publishing industry, for a 55-year-old novel to register sales of this magnitude. And what’s even more remarkable is that this is even more than the book sold in 1957… when it was a best seller!”
Brook added, “Since Obama was elected, ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has sold more than 1.5 million copies.”
Obama was elected in 2008. The same year Ron Paul first ran for president as a Republican creating his “liberty movement.”
There was a libertarian movement before the liberty movement, in the same way there was a conservative movement before Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. The conservative movement just mattered much less before Goldwater and Reagan. These men helped popularize conservatism. Particularly Reagan. Few conservatives would disagree.
Libertarianism mattered less before Ron Paul. He helped popularize it. He made it mainstream.
The reason the Libertarian Party is receiving more attention than it ever has before, however marginal, is because of Ron Paul. The reason there is more interest in libertarian books, figures, philosophers, institutions, and ideas is because of Paul. Most of those books, figures, philosophers, institutions, and ideas were influential and valuable before Paul’s presidential campaigns. But Paul made them all significantly more popular.
The liberty movement itself is a broad coalition of people who would not share ideas or a political identity, or even know each other in any meaningful way, if not for Ron Paul.
Most would not even be libertarians if not for Paul.
Their libertarian ideas would certainly have no popular context if not for Paul. Current national discussions about economic and monetary policy, foreign policy, education policy, civil and individual liberties, and privacy rights are now different than the conversations that would have been had before Paul’s two presidential campaigns.
These conversations are often led by Paul’s son Senator Rand Paul and other libertarian Republicans like Congressmen Justin Amash and Thomas Massie. Ron Paul’s movement helped elect these men to high office and one is even considered a serious contender for the White House in 2016.
The reason more Americans might understand what “libertarianism” means better than before is because of Ron Paul. Not every American knew what National Review or who Russell Kirk was, but they learned who Reagan was.
Not every American knows who Ayn Rand is. Ron Paul is something closer to a household name. There might be others in his wake who become even more so.
Ron Paul is not always right. I do not necessarily agree with everything he says, nor should every libertarian. He should be challenged, even by his own movement. I think he would agree. But it should always be done with respect and appreciation for what he’s done. He deserves that.
And it is thanks to Ron Paul.