Friday, July 23, 2004

Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy, Revisited


I posted "Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy on June 29. In that post I said
I've noticed that most "professional libertarians" -- those affiliated with places like Cato Institute and Reason Foundation -- have an isolationist (or "hands off") view of foreign policy and military ventures....

It's wise to be skeptical about the emanations from Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. But knee-jerk isolationism is unwise -- and unbecoming a libertarian. Libertarians generally take the view that defense is a legitimate function of government. Waiting until the enemy is at our shores or hidden among us isn't an effective defense strategy....

Libertarian specialists in foreign and defense affairs would be more credible if they would spend more time saying what's worthwhile and suitable, and less time saying "no" to whatever comes out of Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon.

In sum, libertarian think-tankers should be innovators, and not mere reactionaries, when it comes to foreign and defense policy. A detailed, coherent libertarian statement with a positive vision of foreign policy and military posture could be a compelling document....

P.S. A nutty, Mises Institute-type position paper that tries to explain why defense isn't a public good will get you laughed out of town and might even cost you some big
I went on vacation the next day, and so I missed Randy Barnett's June 30 post at The Volokh Conspiracy, in which Barnett says
the time may be ripe for a full fledged debate on the relationship between libertarianism and foreign policy. It appears that there is an assumption on the part of many libertarian intellectuals that libertarian principles entail a very specific version of "noninterventionism" in foreign policy....

I do fear that the recent anti war vociferousness of some libertarian intellectuals, of whom I have the highest regard and respect, may unfairly tag all libertarians with a very particular set of foreign policy positions about which even radical libertarians actually differ....

I confess that my instincts here are driven by the fact that I disagree sharply with the anti war stance of these libertarians, and they with me, but I do not believe my libertarian principles, or my commitment to them, have changed in the slightest....
Today Barnett writes
I was pleased to see that my suggestion a while back that there should be a debate on the relationship between Libertarianism and foreign policy was taken up by some bloggers. Most recently by Brian Doss at the always thoughtful Catallarchy ("The Problem with Libertarians Today"). Some...considered this an invitation to debate the merits of the war in Iraq, but I was more concerned with the degree to which Libertarianism qua Libertarianism says anything about foreign policy. Because Libertarianism is essentially a philosophy of individual rights, I doubt it says much about what policies either individuals or collective institutions ought to pursue other than that they should not violate the rights of individuals in pursuing them.

Even if, as many Libertarians believe, governments themselves inherently violate rights, it does not follow (as some Libertarians appear to assume) that everything such an unjust institution does is a rights violation....One of the biggest errors made by Libertarian anarchists is assuming that because an institution is an unjust monopoly (because it confiscates its income by force and puts its competitors out of business by force), this makes everything such institutions do also unjust. The latter proposition simply does not follow from the former.

As for Iraq, there were a number of valid legal justifications for initiating the latest hostilities, but if I start to describe them here I will provoke a different discussion than I intend. Any such discussion would inevitably implicate international law or The Law of Nations, which I also do not believe follows from Libertarian first principles. Sometimes it appears to me that the governments of "nations" are simply assumed by Libertarians to have the same sorts of rights in the international sphere that Libertarians specifies for individual persons....Other times even these same Libertarians know better.

However legal or justified the war in Iraq may have been, though, this does not make its initiation good foreign policy (though I think it was). And this is my point. I do not think Libertarianism qua Libertarianism tells us much about what good foreign policy may be, any more than it tells us what good business or personal policies may be. As was well-expressed by Duncan Frissell at Technoptimist (in a post with which I have some disagreement):
Libertarianism qua libertarianism is only a political philosophy and lacks theories of esthetics, ethics, theology, epistemology, and personal behavior. Libertarians as individuals are perfectly free within their political philosophy to espouse white supremacy, pacifism, private ownership of nuclear weapons, Anglo-Catholicism, atheism, the worship of Shiva, vegetarianism, the Atkins' Diet, grammatical prescriptivism, progressive education, etc.
This claim is central to my recent paper "The Moral Foundations of Modern Libertarianism"....
And what does Catallarchy's Brian Doss have to say?
[S]ince the advent of 9/11 and the War(s), the current Libertarian party and large swathes of fellow small-L ideological libertarians have also seemed to abandon reason and have adopted a single-issue litmus test by which to separate the Elect from the Damned. That issue is whether or not you are against The War, in all of its guises, completely and without reservation, exception, or caveat. If you are, you are a True...Libertarian. If you deviate in the slightest from the orthodoxy / received wisdom on The War, then you are Damned....
There's a lot more in that vein -- and it's enjoyable reading for a pro-war libertarian like me -- but it doesn't really go beyond what Barnett and I have said about the reasonableness of being a pro-war libertarian.

I'm still waiting for a libertarian who specializes in foreign and defense policy to offer a policy paper that advocates something other than an isolationist foreign policy and a "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" defense policy. Perhaps this is all there is to say: A legitimate function of the state is to preserve the life, liberty, and property of its citizens. Sometimes the state will be more effective in that respect if it seeks out and destroys its citizens' enemies before those enemies strike. But I think that the proposition can be elaborated and supported by facts as well as logic. Is there a libertarian foreign-defense policy specialist in the house?

P.S. This, from the LCD, certainly isn't what I'm looking for, but it's a good sample of the shallowness of intransigent antiwar libertarians. Jeremy says:
If we follow Rothbard, all libertarian theory must be built up from this axiom: "no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else." And if we add in Jefferson's statement that governments "deriv[e] their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed," then Rothbard's statement applies equally to states. Individuals can only delegate rights that they already possess. If no individual can use force (other than in clear cases of self defense), then no government can do so either. If you have a problem with this, than libertarianism might not be for you.
It is not aggression to seek out and destroy the aggressor before he attacks you, it is self-defense. If you were armed and you knew that another armed person meant you harm, why would you not shoot first? This isn't just about Iraq, where there seems to be some nit-picking debate about what weapons Saddam might or might not have been making or intending to use, and about what sort of relationship Saddam might or might not have had with al Qaeda. This is a matter of principle. Let's get the principle right, then argue about the facts.