Thursday, September 09, 2004

Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only


There's a devastating critique of libertarian doves at Tech Central Station:
Flying with Libertarian Hawks
By Max Borders
Published 09/09/2004

And covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all.

-- Thomas Hobbes

Is it possible for one to be libertarian about policies at home and neo-conservative about policies abroad? After all, isn't the principle of non-coercion incompatible with the interventionist policies of the current Administration? Simply put: is there such an animal as a libertarian hawk and if he exists, why do we so seldom hear from him?...

Most libertarians fall in line behind the superficial notion that domestic and foreign policies should be mirror images of each other, each reflecting classical liberal principles where self-defense is applied universally like some scriptural edict. Alas, were the threats of the twenty first century so simple to counter, the complexities of world so easily distilled....

I find it sad that so many otherwise bright libertarians seem so unreflective about war. Some of my favorite freedom-loving publications have steered their editorial styles into the hashish den of protest music and anti-Bush priggishness. Some of my favorite think tanks issue press releases almost daily, calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, calling for the US to extend Constitutional privileges to enemy combatants, and claiming that it will be impossible to bring democracy and the Rule of Law to the Middle East....

[O]f course, nation-building isn't an exact science. But I would have always preferred to hedge my bets that given enough of the appropriate initial conditions, Iraqis would find that -- in the absence of a dangerous dictator -- they would begin to form of the mutually beneficial relationships with one another that bring about prosperity and peace. I doubt they could've done this alone. I think the Coalition was right to help them towards a tipping point. And if we fail, the failure will have been a practical one, not a moral one....

I am one of those who doesn't fancy the idea of staring down the point of a chemical warhead before I decide to act. (Even if such warheads turn out to be a chimera today, they won't likely be tomorrow.) In the nuclear age, when the degree of certainty that you will be attacked is at fifty percent, you are as good as done for in terms of your ability to protect yourself. Thus, preventive action in a world of uncertainty is, unfortunately, the only reasonable course. In the meantime, it behooves us to try to make our enemies more like us... and then allow globalization to proceed apace. For the more like us they are, the more likely they are to enter into the tenuous human covenants that are our only means of having peace.

A blog by the name of verbum ipsum demurs at length. There's a lot of folderol about the source of rights. The key passage is this:
Borders doesn’t even address one of the chief libertarian arguments against foreign intervention, namely that it will inevitably result in the increased power, prestige, and influence of the State. Libertarian hawks want an all-powerful State that can preemptively crush its enemies abroad but will leave us in peace and freedom at home. The idea that foreign policy and domestic liberty can exist in hermetically sealed compartments seems willfully naïve given historical precedent.
I'm not sure about the historical precedent, but there's plenty of peace and freedom abroad in the U.S. today, in spite of the present emergency. Just look at what went on in New York City during the Republican convention and what goes on daily in the media and across the internet. The crushing of dissent is confined almost exclusively to liberal-run academia. Moreover, Lee, the perpetrator of the post at verbum ipsum chooses to overlook completely the strategic advantage of foreign intervention, which is to take the fight to the enemy and, in combination with other (clandestine) means, to distract him, to disrupt his plans, and to deny his access to resources. Perhaps Lee would rather fight it out in his living room.

Jeffrey Tucker at Mises Blog quotes F.A. Harper, the founder of the Institute for Human Studies, of which Max Borders is program director. Here's some of what Harper had to say in 1951:
The theme of this analysis has been that liberty and peace are to each other as cause and effect; that war is an evil; that good cannot be attained by evil means; that war is the cancerous growth of minor conflicts, which would remain small if dealt with as issues between the individual persons concerned but which grow into the larger conflict of war as a consequence of amassing forces by means of involuntary servitude; that a person has the right to protect his person and his property from aggression and trespass and to help others if asked and he wishes to do so; that liberty is lost under guise of its defense in “emergencies”; that in emergencies, of all times, the strength and vitality of liberty is needed; that concentrating power in wartime is as dangerous as at any other time; and that power corrupts those who acquire it.

Perhaps these are the reasons why war always seems to demoralize those who adopt its use; why human reason seems to go on furlough for the duration of serious conflict, and in many instances thereafter; why liberty seems always to come out the loser on both sides of war. Bentham’s definition of war as “mischief on the largest scale” then comes to have a deeper meaning.
Harper was naïve in the extreme if he believed that "war is the cancerous growth of minor conflicts, which would remain small if dealt with as issues between the individual persons concerned...." Where was he when Chamberlain gave the Sudetenland to Germany in an effort to avert Hitler's aggressive aims by resolving a particular issue? Harper died before implacable Islamofascists came on the scene, though he might have recognized them as the spiritual heirs of Hitler and Stalin.

As for the notion that "liberty comes out the loser" -- tell it to the slaves who were freed in the aftermath of the Civil War, tell it to the women who gained the right to vote after World War I, and tell it to black Americans whose contributions to victory in World War II helped pave the way for their full enfranchisement and equality under the law in the decades after the war. America has become increasingly more free with respect to civil liberties, in spite of a succession of wars. To the extent that America has become less free economically, the blame can be placed largely on the Progressive era of the early 1900s and the New Deal of the 1930s, both of which were instigated in peacetime. In sum, Harper was a deluded fool, which says something about those who quote him.