Monday, August 02, 2004

An Aside about Libertarianism and War

Gene Healy has myopia when it comes to libertarianism and war. In his post on "Barnett on War and Liberty" he sees the trees -- the high cost of securing the rights of Iraqis -- and not the forest -- the strategic advantage of defeating an antagonistic regime and securing a stronger foothold in the Middle East, where Americans have vital interests. Here's some of what Healy has to say:
Does it violate libertarian principle for the U.S. government to wrest scores of billions of dollars from the American taxpayer (possibly as much as $3,000 per American family in the case of Iraq,) in order to address rights violations committed half a world away against people not under its protection?

I'd say it does. I have a right to come to the defense of others. I do not have the right to steal Randy Barnett's car in order to do so....

[Barnett] might say the argument above applies just as well to taxation for the defense of Americans -- it says the U.S. government can't come to the defense of Californians if it has to tax Kansans to do it. After all, none of us signed any kind of "social contract" or consented to a Constitution that pledges us to the "common defence" of Americans. But if even that limited justification of the state-as-common-defense-pact is problematic, how do you justify the state-as-world-liberator? Where does it get the authority to carry out these missions, however benevolent they might be?

In any event, I think it's odd to proceed as if the only rights in question are the rights of those who are to be liberated.
I think it's odd to ignore the broader question of how Americans might benefit from such ventures as the war in Iraq. To put it in Healy's terms, you can defend California on the Pacific Coast or you go sail across the Pacific and defend California on the enemy's coast. That's what we did in World War II. In my view, that's just what we're doing now, in the Middle East.