Monday, August 16, 2004

What Kind of Libertarian Am I?

How can a libertarian not only support the war in Iraq but also support pre-emptive war? How can a libertarian even contemplate the suspension of civil liberties in wartime? How can a libertarian oppose abortion? Those are reasonable questions. Here are the answers:

I am a libertarian, not an anarchist. A minimal state is necessary in order to preserve liberty, that is, the enjoyment of life to the extent that our mental and material means enable us to enjoy it. Because I am not an anarchist, I am not reflexively against all activities of the state. I am in favor of those activities that protect us from violence, theft, and fraud -- provided that such activities conform to the dictates of constitutional laws.

I am against any activity of the state that is not intended -- in fact as well as in word -- to protect us from violence, theft, and fraud. Such activities include, for example, censoring political speech for any reason, regulating business in any way, subsidizing any person or business for any reason, or providing services other than defense, policing, and courts. I am against such activities for two reasons: (1) they intrude on our ability to decide for ourselves how to enjoy our liberty, and (2) they make our liberty less enjoyable by robbing us of resources and eliminating incentives to work hard and make sound investments.

The activities I endorse and the activities I oppose have the same end: to maximize our enjoyment of life and the acquisition of the things that make it enjoyable, whether those are material or mental. In sum, the state should protect us from others -- including the state itself.

I admit that even within my fairly restrictive framework there are gray areas in which the scope of activity permitted to the state is open for debate. When it comes to fighting a determined and elusive enemy, I am willing to err on the side of too much activity by the state rather than too little. Thus, with respect to pre-emptive war and the temporary suspension of civil liberties as a possible necessity of war:

• Pre-emptive action against foreign enemies may well be the most effective way to defend ourselves from them. I think it is, as I will argue at length in a future post.

• The temporary suspension of civil liberties might also prove to be necessary for the protection of Americans' lives, liberty, and property -- though I certainly have nothing in particular in mind. I am confident that any such suspension would be short-lived and that civil liberties would be restored fully, if not expanded, as they were in the aftermath of the Civil War and World War II.

As for abortion, I see it as (1) the taking of innocent lives by force and (2) a step down the slippery slope to the taking of more innocent lives by force. When people acquire a taste for god-like behavior they seek new outlets for it; power corrupts absolutely. Look at the expansion of abortion rights to include the killing of babies at full term and the selective killing of fetuses to avoid carrying more than one to full term. The killing of babies will not stop short of birth. As for the killing of the aged and infirm, it took years to overturn a Virginia law that enabled physicians to allow patients to die against their wishes or the wishes of their families. Unfortunately, that may not be the end of it, in Virginia or elsewhere.

I conclude that my positions on these matters are absolutely consistent with my libertarian principles, which are absolutely within the mainstream of libertarianism.