Shmibertarianism

by Belle Waring on September 23, 2004

Jacob Levy, whose absence is deeply felt in the blogosphere, sent me an email containing the following, totally correct rebuke:

Libertarianism is incompatible with invading other countries and overthrowing their governments iff:

1) States are fundamental rights-bearers who cannot be aggressed against—which is a really weird thing for libertarians to think.
2) Libertarianism is incompatible with any use of force, e.g. it is a variant of pacifism. Some people think this, but I deny that only they count as libertarians.
3) Libertarianism is incompatible with any state action, e.g. it is a variant of anarchism. Lots of libertarians think this, but I also deny that only they count as libertarians.

I hang my flippant, snarky head in shame. Clearly, libertarians can support or not support foreign wars of choice depending on the ostensible goals of the war, empirical questions about the various options available, differing beliefs about international law, etc. etc. My vague sense that there is something…odd…about libertarians who are full-throated supporters of wars to export democratic government by force doesn’t amount to a reasoned critique of libertarianism. Nonetheless, I stand firm on my original “those Samizdatistas are kinda nuts” claim.

{ 44 comments }

1

MQ 09.23.04 at 7:26 am

I suppose there is a variant of libertarianism in which we should invade all countries in which individuals do not have the full range of private rights (including economic freedom rights) and forcibly institute civil and economic systems that guarantee such rights. After all, why is it any better to permit Iraq to violate peoples’ property rights than to permit the U.S. government to do it? As Levy points out, national sovereignty carries no special status in libertarianism (a flaw in libertarian thought IMO).

This libertarian ideal got an interesting test in Iraq, where one of the first things the occupation administrators did was “privatize” the entire state-owned sector of the economy.

2

John Quiggin 09.23.04 at 7:39 am

As you say, Belle, Levy is a big loss to the blogosphere, and always has a thoughtful contribution to make.

Still, I think he has failed to answer the obvious libertarian objection to wars of choice. Since by definition such wars are not necessary self-defence, they are not part of the legitimate sphere of a minimal government.

In particular, the best justification for the Iraq war is that it’s a kind of foreign aid, using US blood and treasure to bring democracy to the Middle East. As far as I know, all libertarians oppose (tax-funded) civil aid to foreign countries. The same arguments should apply, as strongly or more so, to military foreign aid.

3

Matthew2 09.23.04 at 9:40 am

Awww… I have a feeling it’s not really nice to pick on the samizdats. At least blogging keeps them off the streets, exercising their “rights” to use guns…
As for the rest, well you can twist and torture the word “libertarian” until it loses all meaning.

4

Simon 09.23.04 at 10:36 am

Libertarianism is not a form of quietism, nor does it require a rightist belief in minimal government.

For social libertarians, it is entirely possible to argue that the quantum of freedom is enhanced by welfare benefits, for instance. While those benefits might slightly restrict the freedom of the wealthy to act as they wish, they greatly increase the freedom of the poor.

Similarly, it is nonsense to argue that because you believe in freedom, you should not interfere in the affairs of despots. Of course you should. Surely freedom is enhanced by the removal of those who would deny freedom? Exporting liberal democracy by force is fine, as long as that democracy is genuinely free and liberal. That way people can choose to live in whatever way they wish.

If the Iraqis want to live in an Islamic caliphate, they can elect Islamic parties. The only people who genuinely fear democracy and freedom are the ones who know the people won’t vote for them.

5

Patri Friedman 09.23.04 at 10:45 am

Yeah, I’ve always found the Samizdat’s war position a bit strange too, especially how passionate they are about it. It seems somewhat…odd for libertarians to be so excited about a vast tax-funded boondoggle in which the government expropriates and spends hundreds of billions of dollars to send agents of coercion overseas.

Libertarians who felt reluctantly that even though it involves stealing money via taxation and spending it with horrible inefficiency that the war is still worth it because it does such good for the world…I could buy that. But I just don’t get the “very very evil but barely necessary” sense from Samizdata.

Of course, they seem quite reasonable compared to the Objectivists who want to rationally defend the rights of individuals by nuking them into oblivion.

6

bob mcmanus 09.23.04 at 12:13 pm

Well, libertarians can admit the possibility of war in the abstract, but often run into problems of principle in the implementation.

Examples: collateral damage in the target country (Does the lib claim the right to destroy the civilian’s grocery in the name of getting Saddam);

and the draft,taxation, and other infringements on individual sovereignty here at home.

7

Nick Simmonds 09.23.04 at 12:14 pm

“Schmibertarians” probably more correctly belongs to “libertarians” who vote for the party of increased government spend, reduced privacy rights, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and injecting religious scripture into laws and schools. War is much more compatible with libertarian philosophy than any of these.

8

bza 09.23.04 at 12:46 pm

Levy’s analysis is incomplete. The war brought the US into contact not just with the Iraqi state, but with Iraqi individuals. And a large number of them–the majority innocent civilians–died as a forseeable side effect of war. (Other rights violations of a lesser sort were of course even more widespread.) Unlike the Iraqi state, these agents were, on the libertarian conception, ultimate bearers of rights. But the most obvious justification for these rights violations–that they were necessary for a greater good–is consequentialist reasoning of a sort that is, let us say, not obviously compatible with rights-based libertarianism. The point generalizes: Civilian casulties are a foreseeable side effect of any war, and a libertarian does face a significant challenge to explain why a course of action that will predictably violate the most fundamental rights of these individuals is permissable.

I’m sure something like this line of thought is what you had in mind, Belle, so you shouldn’t feel like you’ve done libertarians of the world an injustice. Kind of more interesting is to wonder how the moral status of individual Iraqis could fail to enter into someone’s thinking about the war.

9

bza 09.23.04 at 12:49 pm

Unsurprisingly, McManus puts way more pithily than I could, and does it first.

10

Russell Arben Fox 09.23.04 at 1:05 pm

Over the many months he blogged (on his own and at Volokh), Jacob taught me–through both his arguments and his example–a great deal about what libertarianism was and what it wasn’t. I think Jacob would be the first to admit that the argument over the Iraq war has had a tremendous and divisive impact on American libertarian thinkers, with (as he puts it) the vaguely anarchist/pacifist/operationally-isolationaist wing disagreeing vociferously with those in the more clearly “univeralist” (classical liberal) camp. I don’t know of any serious libertarians (or liberals, for that matter) who take his first option; most of the contention seems to center on the subsequent two.

Libertarianism is, essentially, a philosophically rarefied (and, for that reason, more rigorous) spin-off of the ideological patchwork which is classical liberalism–the same way contemporary communitarianism is, fundamentally, a philosophical reworking of certain key concepts of the conservative reaction to liberalism. This makes both libertarianism and communitarianism excellent at philosophical explanation and justification, but less excellent at political prescription. Figuring out where any self-defined “libertarian” comes down on any given issue probably depends more on determining their basic ideological sympathies than anything internal to their belief system itself. Jacob, as his own research and comments make clear, has probably always been closer to the classical liberal tradition, with all its universalist implications, than any other.

11

rea 09.23.04 at 1:09 pm

while I can see how libertarians can reconcile themselves to a WAR, I’m not so sure how they can justify an OCCUPATION.

12

dsquared 09.23.04 at 1:53 pm

The official position of Samizdata appears to be that spending $80bn on improving the lot of foreigners by bombing them is a moral necessity, but if we had spent the same amount on helping foreigners with food or medicine, that would be truly evil.

13

Warthog 09.23.04 at 2:05 pm

Sounds like you’re all trying to define the world to fit your philosopy.

14

Zizka 09.23.04 at 2:13 pm

He might have mentioned the various coercive organizational forms required in order to carry on a war.

For example, even volunteer soldiers lose most of their liberties, and if a war gets serious (which I calculate will happen about Nov. 3, 2004) you always have a draft. Being drafted into the military is on a level with slavery as an infringement of liberty.

To say nothing of the formal and informal coercion of dissidents, pacifists, neutrals, and enemy sympathizers anf nationals. And propaganda campaigns. And restrictions of freedom of movement. And trade restrictions.

And worst of all, taxes! Yes, you heard me — wars are paid for with taxes!!!

Sure, in some alternative square-circle universe libertarians can wage war. Did I ever mention that I find academics really annoying in their willingness to take wild hypothetical ideas seriously?

15

abb1 09.23.04 at 2:48 pm

I listened to ultra-libertarian Piekoff once. He said that civilized people are perfectly justified in taking by force anything they want (oil, for example) from any bunch of savages who have no concept of individual property rights. And he was absolutely serious too.

So, there you are. Do you really need any other explanation?

16

Jacob T. Levy 09.23.04 at 4:04 pm

Hi guys– thanks for missing me!

For what it’s worth I wasn’t trying to offer a full defense of the Iraq War. I was reacting to Belle’s
Also, can we think of a new name for libertarians who think it’s a good idea to invade other countries and overthrow their governments, like maybe “shmibertarians”?
which seemed to me even to say that real libertarians couldn’t support the Afghan War– a position some real people hold.

17

pjs 09.23.04 at 4:17 pm

Jacob is absolutely right that there is not necessarily a philosophical contradiction between libertarianism and support for Bush’s “war on terror” (whatever that turns out to involve). But I think Belle’s point is that the Samizdatistas nonetheless represent a sociological oddity — passionate anti-statism combined with passionate militarism. I think the secret here is that, even though those positions may seem in tension, they are, in fact, in present context, *emotionally* compatible. The macho swagger that is so often behind libertarian celebration of economic self-reliance and libertarian fantasies about defending your freedom with your own gun resonate beautifully with Bush’s heavily masculinist understanding of what fighting terror demands.

I am not saying that all American libertarians are simply indulging in macho fantasies. (Jacob clearly isn’t.) But it’s really hard to read through, say, Instapundit’s idiosyncratic catalogue of hobby-horses and not think that just maybe that’s the glue that holds it all together.

18

pjs 09.23.04 at 4:20 pm

Jacob is absolutely right that there is not necessarily a philosophical contradiction between libertarianism and support for Bush’s “war on terror” (whatever that turns out to involve). But I think Belle’s point is that the Samizdatistas nonetheless represent a sociological oddity — passionate anti-statism combined with passionate militarism. I think the secret here is that, even though those positions may seem in tension, they are, in present context at least, *emotionally* compatible. The macho swagger that is so often behind libertarian celebrations of economic self-reliance and libertarian fantasies about defending your freedom with your own gun is the same swagger that’s behind Bush’s heavily masculinist understanding of what fighting terror demands. I am not saying that all American libertarians are simply indulging in macho fantasies. (Jacob clearly isn’t.) But it’s really hard to read through, say, Instapundit’s idiosyncratic catalogue of hobby-horses and not think that just maybe that’s the glue that holds it all together.

19

David T. Beito 09.23.04 at 4:44 pm

As a long-time libertarian who writes on an antiwar libertarian website at the History News Network (Liberty and Power), I must admit that Crescant Sententia has point by stressing the “macho swagger” of some my compatriots. Years ago, Michael Emerling called it the “libertarian macho flash.”

Having said this, too many folks here have exaggerated the influence of the “liberventionists.” I think that the evidence is compelling that most active libertarians have been, and continue to be, *more* consistently antiwar than either left or right. Nearly all that I know opposed the Kosovo War.

Though several prominent libertarians supported the Iraq War, I think it is still safe to say that a *majority* of the activists in self-identified leading libertarian organizations including the Libertarian Party, Cato, the Von Mises Institute, and the Independent Institute opposed the war from the outset.

20

Bruce Baugh 09.23.04 at 5:27 pm

I think it’s not so much that libertarian thought is necessarily opposed to war as that there’s a high burden of proof for it, given the death and damage it’ll do to people, the destruction and damage it’ll do to their stuff, and the general cost, including the inevitable waste and fraud. And it seems to me that the Iraq war just doesn’t get anywhere close to the threshold of obvious justification, what with actual attackers of US people and stuff being let off the hook, repeatedly dishonest claims, and all the tiresome rest of it.

The other thing is that libertarian thought generally places a high value on consistency of policy. That’s the nice version of it. In practice, it’s often a fetishistic insistence that every official action hew completely to a simple-minded standard with no room for exceptional circumstances ever. But setting the role of libertarianism as home for wayward Asperger’s patients aside, there’s still this matter of aiming at a general principle of neutrality: what you do, you endorse as fit for others to do, and no “but it’s okay because I’m right” special pleading.

This is where the Iraq war totally falls apart, in a libertarian context. The means used to justify it would be the subject of criminal and/or civil litigation if used on more routine matters. The standard of evidence used would require countries like the US and the UK to be at war all the time with a bunch of nations at once. But we simply don’t see the libertarian advocates of the Iraq war being anything like such enthusiastic boosters of sustained action against all the other targets, from Sudan to Myanmar and beyond, or do we see (many of) them being keen on the necessary costs of maintaining a military in perpetuity capable of fighting those wars.

So it boils down to “but I think it’s a really good idea”, and the traditional libertarian response to that should be the same when it comes to the overthrow of nations not threatening us as it is to public subsidy of the arts: if you think it’s a really good idea, you and the others who think so can pay for it, but you haven’t the right to demand that everyone else fund your taste. At least, I have yet to see a real argument about why that principle doesn’t apply to their pet project as well as those of the people they disapprove of.

21

Bruce Baugh 09.23.04 at 5:29 pm

I think it’s not so much that libertarian thought is necessarily opposed to war as that there’s a high burden of proof for it, given the death and damage it’ll do to people, the destruction and damage it’ll do to their stuff, and the general cost, including the inevitable waste and fraud. And it seems to me that the Iraq war just doesn’t get anywhere close to the threshold of obvious justification, what with actual attackers of US people and stuff being let off the hook, repeatedly dishonest claims, and all the tiresome rest of it.

The other thing is that libertarian thought generally places a high value on consistency of policy. That’s the nice version of it. In practice, it’s often a fetishistic insistence that every official action hew completely to a simple-minded standard with no room for exceptional circumstances ever. But setting the role of libertarianism as home for wayward Asperger’s patients aside, there’s still this matter of aiming at a general principle of neutrality: what you do, you endorse as fit for others to do, and no “but it’s okay because I’m right” special pleading.

This is where the Iraq war totally falls apart, in a libertarian context. The means used to justify it would be the subject of criminal and/or civil litigation if used on more routine matters. The standard of evidence used would require countries like the US and the UK to be at war all the time with a bunch of nations at once. But we simply don’t see the libertarian advocates of the Iraq war being anything like such enthusiastic boosters of sustained action against all the other targets, from Sudan to Myanmar and beyond, or do we see (many of) them being keen on the necessary costs of maintaining a military in perpetuity capable of fighting those wars.

So it boils down to “but I think it’s a really good idea”, and the traditional libertarian response to that should be the same when it comes to the overthrow of nations not threatening us as it is to public subsidy of the arts: if you think it’s a really good idea, you and the others who think so can pay for it, but you haven’t the right to demand that everyone else fund your taste. At least, I have yet to see a real argument about why that principle doesn’t apply to their pet project as well as those of the people they disapprove of.

22

BigMacAttack 09.23.04 at 6:39 pm

Yea it is all so confusing I mean how could any libertarian be in favor of using government power to stop mass violations of basic liberties like well like the right to live.

I mean how do such people call themselves libertarians? It really takes an e-mail from Jacob Levy to explain that one.

Too bad he didn’t send out an e-mail explaining how a rational person could vote for Bush. I will have to puzzle that one out myself.

I feel like I should post a recipe, unfortunatley I don’t know any good ones, maybe somebody can help?

23

Patri Friedman 09.23.04 at 7:42 pm

abb1 – *please* don’t judge libertarians by Peikoff. Many of us think he is neither sensible nor a libertarian.

24

roger 09.23.04 at 7:47 pm

Russell Fox,

I am wondering about your case for extrapolating universalist positions from classical liberalism. As I remember it, the classical liberal line, from Cobden to Gladstone, was pretty clearly non-interventionist. They weren’t called the “little Englanders” for nothing. Cobden made it his parliamentary specialty to call for radical cuts in arms. The response of classical liberals to, say, the Crimean War, was to unequivocally denounce it. It is true, John Stuart Mills hemmed and hawed until he came up with a justification for colonial rule in India — good thing, too, since that colonial rule paid his rent — but on the whole, classical liberals could be relied upon to denounce incursions into the sovereignty of other territories. It was classical conservatives, of the Palmerston/D’Israeli variety, who were all set on going into Egypt, Crimea, Africa, etc., etc.

25

roger 09.23.04 at 7:48 pm

Russell Fox,

I am wondering about your case for extrapolating universalist positions from classical liberalism. As I remember it, the classical liberal line, from Cobden to Gladstone, was pretty clearly non-interventionist. They weren’t called the “little Englanders” for nothing. Cobden made it his parliamentary specialty to call for radical cuts in arms. The response of classical liberals to, say, the Crimean War, was to unequivocally denounce it. It is true, John Stuart Mills hemmed and hawed until he came up with a justification for colonial rule in India — good thing, too, since that colonial rule paid his rent — but on the whole, classical liberals could be relied upon to denounce incursions into the sovereignty of other territories. It was classical conservatives, of the Palmerston/D’Israeli variety, who were all set on going into Egypt, Crimea, Africa, etc., etc.

26

Russell Arben Fox 09.23.04 at 8:20 pm

Roger,

You’re right that the historical case for classical liberals as universalists and possibly interventionists is iffy, at best. There’s always some difficulty with establishing exactly what the intellectual provenance of any given historical movement is, considering how such movements overlap with others and change. Were the original English liberals opposed to intervention? Yes. Were their immediate–second and third generation–descendents? Not necessarily. John Stuart Mill did a lot more than “hem and haw”–he recommended fairly explicit levels of education, civilization, and enlightenment which he saw as necessary to the maintenance of any liberal polity; if individuals are not empowered so as to be capable of self-protection and independence, then liberal principles fail. Kant in many ways synthesized this position with the classical liberal emphasis on natural rights; the quest for (democratic) enlightenment became both a universal capacity and a natural (moral) imperative.

As I see it, depending on where you say classical liberalism “ended,” or what historical point in that tradition it is that contemporary libertarians are looking back to, one can certainly make the case that libertarian isolationism is the true inheritor of the original ideology. But I’m doubtful many clear lines can be drawn in this case. If a libertarian understands her own ideas as essentially a working out of the implications of recognizing and promoting natural liberties, then she’ll likely be drawn, intellectually speaking, into addressing issues of universalism, just like the later classical liberals were. If, on the other hand, a libertarian understands her own ideas as a working out of much more anarchic principles, with fewer or a different kind of natural “obligations,” then the question of interventionism will probably never trouble her much.

27

Russell Arben Fox 09.23.04 at 8:22 pm

Roger,

You’re right that the historical case for classical liberals as universalists and possibly interventionists is iffy, at best. There’s always some difficulty with establishing exactly what the intellectual provenance of any given historical movement is, considering how such movements overlap with others and change. Were the original English liberals opposed to intervention? Yes. Were their immediate–second and third generation–descendents? Not necessarily. John Stuart Mill did a lot more than “hem and haw”–he recommended fairly explicit levels of education, civilization, and enlightenment which he saw as necessary to the maintenance of any liberal polity; if individuals are not empowered so as to be capable of self-protection and independence, then liberal principles fail. Kant in many ways synthesized this position with the classical liberal emphasis on natural rights; the quest for (democratic) enlightenment became both a universal capacity and a natural (moral) imperative.

As I see it, depending on where you say classical liberalism “ended,” or what historical point in that tradition it is that contemporary libertarians are looking back to, one can certainly make the case that libertarian isolationism is the true inheritor of the original ideology. But I’m doubtful many clear lines can be drawn in this case. If a libertarian understands her own ideas as essentially a working out of the implications of recognizing and promoting natural liberties, then she’ll likely be drawn, intellectually speaking, into addressing issues of universalism, just like the later classical liberals were. If, on the other hand, a libertarian understands her own ideas as a working out of much more anarchic principles, with fewer or a different kind of natural “obligations,” then the question of interventionism will probably never trouble her much.

28

abb1 09.23.04 at 9:03 pm

Patri,
clearly Peikoff is not sensible, but how is he not a libertarian?

Isn’t he The World’s Foremost Authority On Ayn Rand? Isn’t he Ayn Rand’s Most Dedicated Follower?

One can’t be more libertarian than that. You are bordering on blasphemy here.

29

Bill Woolsey 09.23.04 at 10:44 pm

Peikoff loudly denies that
he is a libertarian, as did
Rand in her later years.
Their denials were based upon
a strong rejection of the views of
others generally included as
libertarians. By most definitions of libertarian, both he and she would be
included. Peikoff’s support for
stealing from the foreigners (as
long as they are described as
“savages.”) is getting beyond
the pale, even if most of
his other views are libertarian.

30

washerdreyer 09.23.04 at 10:49 pm

As far as Peikoff being the prototypical liberterian, I don’t think so. In deciding whether or not a view counts as liberterian, my question is usually whether or not it’s consistent with Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia. Should I be checking whether or not it’s consistent with Atlas Shrugged instead?

31

MQ 09.24.04 at 12:39 am

great post by pjs above. I agree that it’s macho swagger that holds the whole set of pro-militarist, anti-state-redistribution beliefs together; emotional consistency is more important than intellectual.

Someone else wrote:

“For social libertarians, it is entirely possible to argue that the quantum of freedom is enhanced by welfare benefits, for instance. While those benefits might slightly restrict the freedom of the wealthy to act as they wish, they greatly increase the freedom of the poor.”

I don’t think that libertarianism is compatible with this kind of consequentialist thinking about freedom maximization…true libertarians are believers in property rights as rights, not as vehicles to maximize something else (like freedom). In that sense, libertarianism is not really about “liberty” at all, it’s about property.

32

David T. Beito 09.24.04 at 2:54 am

Mq:

Your argument fails in one respect. The militarist libertarians rarely display their “anti state” swagger anymore when it comes to opposing to Dubya’s pro-welfare state policies.

In my experience, they were remarkably complacent when Dubya signed the greatest expansion in socialized medicine since the introduction of Medicare.

If they were truly across the board in their swaggering, as you imply, they would be criticizing Dubya’s massive expansion of the welfare/regulatory/education state. But they are not.

A good example is Neal Boortz, a self described libertarian, who loves to swagger but hardly ever criticizes Dubya’s domestic policies.

Perhaps a better explanation is that the pro-war libertarians have moved in a more statist direction on domestic policy as well as foreign policy.

33

roger 09.24.04 at 4:07 am

Russell,
I’d agree that one can draw a lot of lines to a lot of different positions from the seminal liberal thinkers. Mill, who is the most philosophically complex of the classic liberals (Kant, I must say, I group with Enlightenment thinkers in another paradigm), had the genius not to be constrained by the bugbear of consistency. And he comes closest to providing a justification for imposing a system of governance from the top, while at the same time recognizing the seriousness of the Burkean objection to the overthrow of a traditional order.

However, from classical liberal principles, it does seem odd to talk, on the one hand, of universality, and on the other hand, of imposing that universality by way of military rule from an outside force — given that it is one of the axioms of liberalism that every force represents some form of self interest. There can’t, on this reading, be any force that represents the universal — onvr one concedes that there can be, it the structure of liberalism collapses.

This is just the thing that Cobden, Gladstone, and Benjamin Constant — to go to a liberal outside the Anglosphere — emphasized. In fact, Constant produced the classical liberal statement about the topic in the pamphlet he wrote against Napoleon (who foreshadowed Bush in the way he legitimated his wars as ways of spreading the universal principles of the French Revolution across Europe): The Spirit of Conquest and Usurpation.

34

Bruce Baugh 09.24.04 at 4:09 am

David Beito: I think your “Perhaps a better explanation is that the pro-war libertarians have moved in a more statist direction on domestic policy as well as foreign policy.” is right on. I know that something of the sort has happened to me in the context of being increasingly anti-Bush’s particular kind of corporate statism. Sorting through my priorities led me to look at things with more of an emphasis on relatively honest and accountable proceedings as a priority, which made me more sympathetic to a bunch of proposed Democratic policy – I’d like a small state, but I want the state at any size to be no more ridiculously fraudulent than any large enterprise will be, so an honest big-government advocate is much preferable to a dishonest and/or incompetent one. It’s also led me to rethink a bunch of my expectations about what’s feasible under various conditions; there’s nothing like the really naked display of corporate privilege to make one freshly appreciate a state with some significant opposition built in.

Anyway, yeah, I do think that drift on one issue leads to drift on others. Perhaps especially so when one will not admit (perhaps not even to oneself) that drift is going on, since uncontrolled, unacknowledged changes are likely to go wonkier than ones you take note of and respond to.

35

roger 09.24.04 at 4:14 am

Sorry about “There can’t, on this reading, be any force that represents the universal — onvr one concedes that there can be, it the structure of liberalism collapses.” Obviously, the last phrase should be “if one concedes there can be, the structure of liberalism collapses”

You know, posting comments on Crooked Timber is sort of a crap shoot — sometimes it posts your corrected posts, sometimes it says it couldn’t connect to post your post and you end up posting twice, and sometimes it just refuses to post your post at all.

I think it is some kind of experiment CT is running

36

Gus diZerega 09.24.04 at 3:46 pm

I am jumping in to this without reading every previous comment – of which there are a lot. So I apologize if I cover old ground. But two issues I brought up in a debate with a libertarian hawk on the Liberty and Power blog seem very relevant.

First, in many ways the strongest case for markets and classical liberal values comes from the Austrian School of economics, such as the work of F. A. Hayek. Mises and Hayek emphasized that economic and social planning was impossible to do well because of the enormous complexity of economies and societies. The effort to recreate Iraqi society by force is as Stalinist in its thinking as anything the Soviets attempted. Consider Rumsfeld’s observation that we can just keep killing them till they give up.

We will plan your future and kill you if you resist. THIS is libertarianism? THIS is classical liberalism? THIS is what the Declaration of Independence said? I think not.

The US has done it before. In the Philippines US troops killed about 100,000 people in our attampt to force our vision of society on them. Today the Philippines is a democracy or close to it – but they did it their own way, many decades after we gave them independence. When we left they got strongmen and dictators. We have frequently occupied and intervened in Haitian politics, playing favorites and making them the raw material of the plans of ambitious social planners. I see no democracy there now.

Those libertarian hawks who compare Iraq with Japan and Germany after WWII demonstrate their utter incomprehension of how societies work. Iraq is tribal, its borders drawn by arbitrary lines made without concern for the wishes of the people on the ground (hence the Kurdish problem), and its wealth comes almost solely from resource extraction. Japan and Germany were very cohesive societies, and no longer tribal. They had, and would again, been prosperous not because they had lots of oil but because they had the economic, social, and technical skills and capital to create prosperity even in the absence of many natural resources. Of course the Iraqis CAN do this – but they need to get there largely on their own. Halliburton is not helping.

My second major point is that none of these ‘libertarian’ hawks have apparently thought very deeply about what war does to the society initiating it. First, our own government grows enormously. Second, civil liberties are weakened. Third, the principle of respect for different views is undermined – consider what our government did to Japanese Americans during WWII and that now Michelle Malkin is making historically inaccurate arguments leading to a similar approach towards American Muslims. Malkin’s ravings would never have been printed by a major publisher in the absence of war. Zell Miller tells us at the Republican Convention that running against a wartime president is giving aid and comfort to the enemy. (I thought it was called democracy.) Cheney suggests voting for Kerry is voting for terror. Levels of political depravity not seen here for a very long time are raising their ugly heads – and mostly by the allies of the ‘libertarian’ right.

By forsaking their responsibility as advocates of classical liberal values of criticizing aggressive war, hawkish libertarians helped justify the climate leading to the unleashing and legitimation of these people. They came from an intellectual tradition with a deep awareness of the destruction war and imperial dreams wreck on the societies captivated by them as well as their victims. These ‘libertarian’ hawks rejected this tradition but continued to claim to support it.

I do not write these words as a pacifist. I supported taking out the Taliban because they were directly implicated in 9-11. In my view that was legitimate self-defense.

I supported intervening in the Balkans long before we ultimately did for two reasons. First, I believed it would be a very good thing to have Muslim democracies as examples to the Islamic world. Secondly, I believe that sovereignty is not sacrosanct when a government begins murdering its own people on an enormous scale it is legitimate to intervene. I would also support intervention to halt genocide in Africa. The troops involved could be volunteers. (Interestingly, most but happily not all libertarian hawks and their right wing Republican allies opposed intervention in the Balkans – so much for their present squeakings about democracy and free societies.)

There is another very worrying dimension to my second point. Ideologies change during the stress of war, and the changes are long term. Libertarians of the right, with few and honorable exceptions, have tended to support the Bush administration despite its being less sympathetic to classical liberal positions than moderate Democrats. Bill Clinton was more supportive of classical liberal policies than George W. Bush. Libertarian think tanks, with the exception of a small number such as the Independent Institute, have been remarkably quiet about issues of liberty that run at cross purposes to Republican radical right agendas. (War on drugs, anyone?)

Libertarians of the right have too often sold out their ideology in order to pursue the fantasy that because right wing Republicans wear Adam Smith ties, they are sympathetic to what Smith wrote. Because they praise Hayek they supposedly agree with what he said. Besides, the well funded events sponsored by the Republicans’ corporate allies to which they are invited allow them to talk and drink cheek to cheek with the current political elite.

In the absence of a direct need for self-defense or of ongoing genocide, the arguments in favor of war from a libertarian or classical liberal standpoint pretty much evidence the advocate’s incapacity to understand the ideology he or she claims to take seriously. It marks a move from equating libertarian views with a profound awareness of and respect for the complexity of societies, the desirability of leaving people alone except on mutually agreeable terms, and the need for people to deveop their own societies and their own lives by their own light.

It is replaced, increasingly, by acquiescence to the immoral ravings of a Piekoff (referred to by an earlier poster – I assume the reference was accurate because Ayn Rand said much the same) that we ‘civilized’ people can act like Huns when encountering those weaker than ourselves.

37

Gus diZerega 09.24.04 at 3:57 pm

I am jumping in to this without reading every previous comment – there are a lot. So I apologize if I cover old ground. But two issues I brought up in a debate with a libertarian hawk on the Liberty and Power blog seem very relevant. I send these points sequentially.

First, in many ways the strongest case for markets and classical liberal values comes from the Austrian School of economics, such as the work of F. A. Hayek. Mises and Hayek emphasized that economic and social planning was impossible to do well because of the enormous complexity of economies and societies. The effort to recreate Iraqi society by force is as Stalinist in its thinking as anything the Soviets attempted. Consider Rumsfeld’s observation that we can just keep killing them till they give up.

We will plan your future and kill you if you resist. THIS is libertarianism? THIS is classical liberalism? THIS is what the Declaration of Independence said? I think not.

The US has done it before. In the Philippines US troops killed about 100,000 people in our attempt to force our vision of society on them. Today the Philippines is a democracy or close to it – but they did it their own way, many decades after we gave them independence. When we left they got strongmen and dictators. We have frequently occupied and intervened in Haitian politics, playing favorites and making them the raw material of the plans of ambitious social planners. I see no democracy there now.

Those libertarian hawks who compare Iraq with Japan and Germany after WWII demonstrate their utter incomprehension of how societies work. Iraq is tribal, its borders drawn by arbitrary lines made without concern for the wishes of the people on the ground (hence the Kurdish problem), and its wealth comes almost solely from resource extraction. Japan and Germany were very cohesive societies, and no longer tribal. They had, and would again, been prosperous not because they had lots of oil but because they had the economic, social, and technical skills and capital to create prosperity even in the absence of many natural resources. Of course the Iraqis CAN do this – but they need to get there largely on their own. Halliburton is not helping.

38

Decnavda 09.25.04 at 1:42 am

1) States are fundamental rights-bearers who cannot be aggressed against — which is a really weird thing for libertarians to think.

Isn’t also a really weird thing for libertarians to think that corporations are fundamental rights-bearers who cannot be aggressed against?

39

Bill Woolsey 09.25.04 at 3:08 pm

The usual view of libertarians
regarding corporations is that
their rights derive from the
individuals who form them using
their freedom of contract. Most
libertarians believe that limited
liability for third party torts,
therefore, is illegitimate. On
the other hand, limited liability
regarding torts by those involved
by contract–employees, customers,
suppliers, creditors, are
justified. Given this situation,
the usual reform proposal is to
end limited liability for third
party torts.

By the way, libertarians generally
oppose separate taxation of corporations (calling it double
taxation, looking past the corporate veil to the owners.)

The minority position among libertarians is a rhetorical
attack on corporations in general
and a “reform” positions of abolishing all of them.
Presumably, limited liability
partnerships with tradable shares
of ownership would need to be
started anew, without any of this
business about legal persons,
state charters, and the like.

40

Bill Woolsey 09.25.04 at 6:23 pm

I very rarely listen to
Boortz. However, the few
times I have listened to
him in the last few years,
he has been very critical of
Bush’s domestic policies.
He said something like many
Libertarians critize his
pro-war position while Republicans
are upset with his harsh criticism
of Bush’s domestic policies.

Just now, I did a search on his
website and found:

http://boortz.com/nuze/200401/01302004.html

To greatly summarize, the islamic
terrorists are a greater threat than out of control government spending. At least that can be
reversed in the future.

41

Bill Woolsey 09.25.04 at 6:23 pm

I very rarely listen to
Boortz. However, the few
times I have listened to
him in the last few years,
he has been very critical of
Bush’s domestic policies.
He said something like many
Libertarians critize his
pro-war position while Republicans
are upset with his harsh criticism
of Bush’s domestic policies.

Just now, I did a search on his
website and found:

http://boortz.com/nuze/200401/01302004.html

To greatly summarize, the islamic
terrorists are a greater threat than out of control government spending. At least that can be
reversed in the future.

42

David T. Beito 09.26.04 at 12:05 am

We must be listening to Boortz at different times. Every now and then he critizes Bush (somewhat weakly), but in my experience he spends about 90 percent of his time attack Kerry and the Democrats. It is interesting that he has endorsed Bush, rather than the Libetarians as he did last time, arguing that the war on terrorism trumps all other considerations.

43

David T. Beito 09.26.04 at 12:06 am

We must be listening to Boortz at different times. Every now and then he critizes Bush (somewhat weakly), but in my experience he spends about 90 percent of his time attack Kerry and the Democrats. It is interesting that he has endorsed Bush, rather than the Libetarians as he did last time, arguing that the war on terrorism trumps all other considerations.

44

David T. Beito 09.26.04 at 12:06 am

We must be listening to Boortz at different times. Every now and then he critizes Bush (somewhat weakly), but in my experience he spends about 90 percent of his time attack Kerry and the Democrats. It is interesting that he has endorsed Bush, rather than the Libetarians as he did last time, arguing that the war on terrorism trumps all other considerations.

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