In the 17th Century, fire was explained by the phlogiston theory. Phlogiston, a substance without color, odor, taste, or mass, was released when something burned. It took over a hundred years and many experiments to prove it was false because scientific method is careful and demands proof.
But proof is hard, perhaps impossible to come by in economics, which may be why it is called “the dismal science,” and even harder in politics, sometimes called the “art of the possible,” and no science at all.
Yet political theories, like religions, draw passionate believers. For a hundred years, many were drawn to communism, sticking with it even though nowhere did it produce one country where it worked to the benefit of its people. Populations starved, were imprisoned, and died, while theoreticians continued to expound theories of a “people’s government.”
Under Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward,” China persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered a whole generation of its most educated citizens. Under Pol Pot, Cambodia murdered 25% of its population in search of an “agrarian paradise.” To Pol Pot, a theory justified torture and death as merely a price to be paid. That a rational human being can ignore such horrors in favor of a theory demands a new definition of rationality, and makes it fearsomely clear that theories can seem more real than corporeal reality itself. So one must wonder about ardent proponents of other take-no-prisoners political theories.
Ron Paul seems like a rational man yet proposes a theory—Libertarianism—that would strip government of virtually all powers except the power to guard individual rights. Were such a hands-off government to allow the strong to overwhelm the weak, the dishonest to delude the honest, producing widespread misery, would a true believer take notice? Would the ruin of millions prompt him to interfere, admitting that his theory had flaws, or would Ron Paul, like Pol Pot, dismiss it as a necessary price to pay for a Libertarian paradise?