Louisville, Kentucky. If Rand Paul becomes Kentucky’s next junior senator next Tuesday, he will make history in various ways.  Among other things this will mean that for the first time since 1853, both of Kentucky’s senators will have been born out of state.

I don’t want to make too much of this in either direction. Senators Archibald Dixon and Joseph R. Underwood both moved to Kentucky as children.  And though our current senior senator Mitch McConnell was born in Alabama, he too came to Kentucky as a child, went to high school and college in Louisville, and can claim real roots here (he maintains strong ties to the University of Louisville, in particular).

Still, if elected Dr. Paul would be the first senator since 1930 to have been both reared and educated out of state, and one of the very few not born or educated in Kentucky or Virginia, whose western edge we originally were.  Whatever his merits as a man or a politician, I think that means something.

We are in the midst, even here in my blessedly and in many ways admirably unprogressive state, of a sea change in American thinking that has everything to do with the incredible mobility of our population.  Our general assumption seems to be that the Kentucky point of view, Kentuckianness, if you will, is either something one acquires quickly upon entry and residence, or just doesn’t matter very much.  Here this really does signify an important cultural change, for this has always been a state terribly proud of its rough childhood, its Indian wars and Long Hunters, its veterans from both sides of the Civil War and from all previous and subsequent conflicts, its burgoo and horses and coal, its songs and storytelling, and its writers, who are second only to Mississippi’s–perhaps.  Yes, we have had, on occasion, a senator who was born a Rhode Islander, or a West Virginian, or a New Yorker.  But over the years most Kentucky senators have been men from small towns out in the state, and many of them were self-made.

It appears to me that the Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway, a native son, has tried to make some coded hay of Dr. Paul’s newness to the state by repeating that Dr. Paul is “out of touch with Kentucky.”  I should mention that Attorney General Conway is a native of Louisville, which is never an advantage statewide and often a liability, since the state typically regards the big city as out of touch.  In any case, for whatever reason, this implied criticism has not dented Dr. Paul, and certainly not dented him nearly as much as what is now called “The Ad” (the Aqua Buddha ad) has ricocheted back to dent Mr. Conway.  With just a weekend to go, the Courier-Journal poll published October 29 shows Dr. Paul’s lead lengthening, 52 percent to 43.

Dr. Paul moved here for the best of reasons; he married a woman from Russellville, and in 1993 he settled in nearby Bowling Green.  He has been active here, charitably and politically as well as professionally.  He would say, no doubt, that he has put down roots, and surely he has.   But is a grown man’s character really stamped by a place where he has lived even seventeen years?  Does this matter, in the country as it is now, and with the Senate shackled by the necessities of constant fundraising and its current preference for gridlock?  Perhaps not.  I do think Dr. Paul’s background out of state has influenced his thinking and his politicking.  Not one to do too much homework, Dr. Paul has given Mr. Conway ammunition for being called out of touch with this state, and I think even Dr. Paul’s greatest admirers would say that what they like about him is his national and not his state agenda.

But whatever we may think of a man or his desired office, however cynically or hopefully we may view the job of United States senator, Kentucky’s two senators are (in politics and power at least) our two First Kentuckians.  And if we elect Dr. Paul to office, our junior First Kentuckian will be Pennsylvania-born and Texas-reared.  Maybe that will be a good thing, and maybe it will be a bad thing, and maybe it doesn’t much matter; so much good in this world depends on character and luck.  Also, politcians win their seats for many and varied reasons, and I don’t wish to oversimplify.  But in a state that has for so long stressed its roots and its rootedness, it is notable that Dr. Paul’s campaign stresses neither.  For the locally-minded, what Dr. Paul’s election may show is that Kentucky’s place- and history-specific parochialism, which was once a source of pride here, now only raises charges of provincialism, or—worse–meets with blank indifference.  Even from within our Kentucky selves.

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  1. I agree with you here, but I feel compelled to comment on this:

    “And if we elect Dr. Paul to office, our junior First Kentuckian will be Pennsylvania-born…”

    So was Daniel Boone. And he turned out alright.

  2. These are cogent observations and musings. It is well worth pondering that localists and decentralists have Ron Paul, at least in an implicit sense, as our most high-profile advocate, as he stresses the Constitution’s decentralist provisions for decision-making and locus of power. Of course it is unclear how much Paul the younger really shares the worldview of his father, but there will be many in his camp urging the likely new Senator to hew to the Founders’ vision, and who will react with dismay (or a hue and cry) if he is succumbs to the blandishments of the obese Leviathan who sitteth on the Potomac.

    We might consider a more strategic question for a moment: how should those of us who identify as traditionalists relate to the ongoing and probably growing mass phenomenon associated with the Pauls? Unless Wendell Berry runs for President with Alasdair Macintyre as VP and Bill Kauffmann as Secretary of State (say Amen somebody!) we will likely not get statesmen more congenial to traditionalism, anti-imperialism, and decentralism commanding the national stage. The biggest fissure between the trads and the Paulistinians (Ronulans?) is probably the free-trade issue. Yet even there, I wonder how many trads and libertarians might make the connection between Austrian Economics and Distributism via the seminal influence of Scholasticism on the Austrians, and perhaps forge a yet newer fusionism?

  3. Rand (and Ron) Paul are typical of another kind of rootlessness, namely a tendency towards abstraction which leads to the absolutizing of contingent theories. All statements about human relationships (including politics and economics) are contingent statements because we live in a contingent world. So a given theory is true under certain conditions. Thus, for example, the market is self-regulating under some specific conditions, for free trade is good, under certain conditions. In both cases, the real world conditions rarely meet the theoretical requirements. Rooted people understand this implicitly; they know the conditions in Kentucky are not like those in Beijing. The Paulians do not. Those contingent truths are asserted absolutely and are therefore no longer truths, but ideologies.

    • Dr. Medaille, you aptly give voice here to what for me have been rather inchoate and ill-defined misgivings about epistemological aspects of the libertarian project. For instance, I find quite convincing the critique of statism and socialism offered by von Hayek in “The Road to Serfdom”, but libertarians tend to elevate that worthy effort into the status of a universally principle, which then easily becomes a non-negotiable, true concept about human nature. As far as I can tell, that von Hayek himself voiced caution about such absolutist and rigid interpretations regarding his magnum opus is largely ignored by libertarians, or perhaps regarded as regrettable apostasy….

      Having said that, Ron Paul should be properly regarded as a localist/decentralist, and some in his burgeoning movement as well. Relative to the existing political options, their version of libertarianism offers more space for local decision-making, and for the self-organizing associations and bottom-up ordered civil society Americans were known for, as noted by de Tocqueville and many others. Now trads have reason to regard uncritical free-market zealots with a wary eye, as libertarianism can easily degenerate into Wal-Martism, libertinism of the Hunter Thompson variety, and worse. Still, one might note with hope the crossover of sensibility between the volunteer-driven Paul “Revolution”, passion-driven techie special-interest groups such as the Linux movement, DIY craftspeople/Maker Fairs, local beer-making cooperatives, and so forth. The intellectual leap between wanting less state intervention in the economy, opposing corporatism, pouring energy into affinity groups, and identifying with small business culture on the one hand, and re-visioning economics along pre-liberal, pre-Enlightenment, localist, and distributist lines with the household and family as the foundation on the other may not be so huge after all.

  4. If delicate tea roses grow best on root stock that isn’t renowned for its beautiful inflorescence (that’s why horticulturists graft parts with the perfumed petals to it, duh) but for its capacity for sustaining sound growth in uncertain climates, then Kentucky’s influence can be quite far flung, but not immediately visible, no ? Consider:


    Kentucky transplanted to China … aroma refulgent in rootedness … a shelf adorned in “locals” from a veritable global root stock.
    Have no fear, the ghost of Daniel Boone will hold Rand Paul accountable… most particularly in the home of tea aka chai ceremony culture (China)

    The Chinese hold most of our “local” debts in the form of treasury bonds… and they have the corner on the Rare Earth market (their mines are the only ones producing that’s why the Ambrose’s live and work there not here … we “locals” didn’t like getting our hands dirty so we passed “conservation edicts” to preserve the pristine wildernesses of the rare earths beneath our feet in order import the technical know-how we exported in favor of … rootedness?
    Is a gerontocracy elite Kentucky nostalgia what the author pines after, or a fecund developing locality rooted in natural resources limited to that time and place? Then End the Fed! The FIAT creation of credit via QE pulls the rug from under every carpet in every home in America. While Disney makes movies of Alladin’s imaginary magic carpet, real-life citizens can’t conjure up fantasy worlds – we have to live with the consequences of expropriation of our savings by the Washington “financial experts” – Wall Street wizards couldn’t mess up as much as they’ve been able to without first the central planners washing the funds (as electronic fiduciary media credited by buying toxic assets) down the speculation spigot.

    If our currency were liquor, then the dollars in our bank accounts would resemble that almost drained bottle of Blanton’s BUT topped up with faucet water. Bar patrons served the diluted beverage on ice would soon recognize that the aroma and punch they’d purchased in the shot of bourbon weren’t efficacious. Ask yourself why…

  5. The deliciously piquant taste of our current garbage smorgasbord of political “solutions” is the perfect rebuke of the slippery thing the Framers left us. Presented with a discursive form of government and the checks and balances required to maintain a structure of discourse, we have done everything in our power to elevate ideology over idea while Federalizing ourselves beyond prudent levels.

    Expect extremity. Screaming, yammering extremity. Perhaps we can peg the dollar to hubris. Any political movement is only as strong as its opposition. Once attaining strength, only humility will insure its continuance. It is fashionable to damn the libertarians as dangerous ideologues but the libertarians have been virtually alone in decrying the federal hegemony and its deleteriously bankrupting effects upon the eroding Republic. They have stood alone against the continuing excesses of the Security State. So too do the libertarians damn any notion of ameliorative self-regulation, ie prudent abnegation and so are prone to co-option by the plundering classes that benefit from excessive Federalism.

    We need all of our traditional seams of political philosophy and a quality of Representative who is capable of carrying out the conversation of the Republic. Now, all we have is recrimination .
    The milk is sour, colic ensues.

  6. Thanks, Owen, though I’ll only take Secretary of State if I don’t have to travel abroad. As Bernard DeVoto asked, “Why see Paris, France, if you haven’t seen Paris, Illinois?”

  7. Ah, yes … Kentucky, the land of beautiful horses and fast women.

    But isn’t it possible to feel rooted in Kentucky without having been born and reared there? Perhaps to be rooted in Kentucky as a state of mind, and by ties of blood, family reunions, deep history, and culture?

    My great-great aunt was, like Dr. Rand Paul, a physician in Bowling Green. Our ancestors came into Kentucky with Squire Boone; some stayed, and their many descendants live there to this day. But by the mid-1800s, my branch, like many other Kentuckians, were G.T.T. (gone-to-Texas). And although I wasn’t born in Kentucky, and don’t live there, I still subscribe to the local paper, and so stay in touch with distant cousins, most of whom I’ve never met. But when I do meet a Kentuckian, there’s often a sense of kinship, and stories to swap and hospitality given and received, and a bond of local pride, shared interests, and family history to discuss.

    Consider also that those early Kentuckians were, after all, a pioneer race. They all came from someplace else, from Virginia through the Cumberland Gap, or perhaps they took to the water at Redstone, just below Pittsburgh, where Rand Paul was born. Even Daniel Boone, the great pioneer himself, moved on to Missouri. And last time I checked he had a Boone descendant living in Eagle, Alaska (John McPhee, “Coming Into the Country” 1976).

    This year we made a substantial donation to Dr. Rand Paul in Kentucky. May God bless his efforts with victory.

  8. I honestly don’t understand why every small “c” conservative is seemingly enamored with the Pauls. Yes, the elder Paul has been an outspoken critic of the American empire and its foreign adventures, and for this he should be applauded. The younger Paul, on the other hand, appears to be nothing more than a toned down neo-conservative. One need only look to the speech he gave after his primary win to find evidence of this. In the speech he rambled on about how president Obama had been on a two year long worldwide tour during which he was, “apologizing for America’s greatness.”

    When it comes to economics, I find even fewer reasons for conservatives to align themselves with the Pauls. If one spends any amount of time analyzing the economic philosophies of the Pauls and their associates in the Libertarian circles, one has no choice but to conclude such philosophies, if put into practice, would result in more centralization and concentration of power and wealth. How could any other outcome possibly result when Libertarian economic philosophy is underpinned by the same flawed assumptions about mankind and the world that have laid waste to the other major economic philosophies. What are these assumptions you might ask? They are: 1) that growth is always possible and desirable, 2) progress for the sake of progress improves the human condition, and 3) the nonsensical belief that all limits, whether ecological, societal, or political, can and should be overcome.

    The fact that neither of the Pauls has ever acknowledged that their ideas and philosophies could conceivably be as flawed as the ones they have spent years criticizing, should, in my opinion, be enough to give most conservatives and localists a reason to pause, if not run screaming for the exits of the Paul tent. For isn’t the quintessential conservative a person who constantly questions the prevailing paradigms, and when the need arises, stands in the middle of the road and yells, “stop, slow down, lets think about this?”

    • Robert wrote: “I honestly don’t understand why every small “c” conservative is seemingly enamored with the Pauls.”

      Well, I think the indefatigable gasbag of Right-Wingery, Rush Limbaugh, branded the elder Dr. Paul “not a conservative”. Nor would the apparatchiks at the Weekly Standard bestow such a label on the good doctor, and I have my doubts about Hannity, O’Reilly, and the rest. The smug incredulity on the faces of McCain, Giuliani, and Romney while Dr. Paul urged caution about military adventures against Iran in a 2004 debate speak volumes about who is and who is not let in the mahogany-walled club of the movement conservatives.

      But you are onto something here, Robert. The son may indeed regress to the neo-con approved mean. More generally, there is a lack of doubt among the Paul camp that I find unnerving. I wish they would mix more Burke and Kirk in to their readings (and a bit less Rothbard and much less Rand). I think your pointing out the flawed assumptions Libertarians share with other economic philosophies is basically correct. Yet the small-state approach of the Austrians “bakes in” a certain epistemological modesty: they grasp that trying to drive and engineer economic output via macroeconomic twiddling of fiscal and monetary dials tends to run afoul of limits of knowledge and predictive power.

      For what it’s worth: on the subject of economic philosophies that do not share the assumptions you list above, note the Thomist roots of the Austrian school: see http://explorersfoundation.org/glyphery/28.html

  9. The Edgar County Courthouse is a damned fine thing out in Paris on the Plains but I doubt you can get a decent tres fromage panini there. Not that this might have put a dent in Bennie’s assertion but it does qualify it a tad.

  10. Here in New York State senators comes and go, and a number of them have come from out of state. Jim Buckley at least came in from Connecticut, so he wasn’t from too far away. Robert Kennedy came from Camelot and didn’t know anything about New York. Hilary Rodham Clinton came from Illinois by way of Yale by way of Washington DC by way of Arkansas by way of Washington DC. She did keep her promise to serve at least one full term, but she was never really a New Yorker and we all knew she’d bolt once the presidential nomination came into view.

    Right now we have Charles “Chuck” Shumer whose New York State seems to end somewhere around Poughkeepsie, about 80 miles north of New York City. What he might know about New York State north and west of there is anyone’s guess, but if you guess it’s not a lot, chances are you’re right.

    Our junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, was appointed to fill Hilary’s term and just one re-election on her own. She may know a little about New York, but what isn’t clear.

    The point is that Daniel Patrick Moynihan might have been the last New York Senator to care deeply about New York. But even he spent a fair bit of time “away from home”.

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