Friday, April 22, 2005

Fundamentalist Libertarians, Anarcho-Capitalists, and Self-Defense

I recently chided another blogger for getting all hot and bothered about neolibertarianism. That blogger, you see, is a member of a strange sect that I call the fundamentalist branch of libertarianism. Fundamentalists -- who tend to be anarcho-capitalists -- believe that rights are somehow innate to humans. Those mysterious "natural rights" give us "self-ownership," which is just another way of saying that rights are innate to us. Fundamentalists never explain -- to my satisfaction -- how rights invade our being, who decides precisely what those rights are, and why they are negative (e.g., the right to be left alone) and not positive (e.g., the right to be fed at the expense of others). (I agree that rights ought to be negative, but that's the extent of my agreement with fundamentalists. For an exposition of my views on the origin and essence of rights, go here.)

In any event, fundamentalists derive from innate rights and self-ownership the principles of non-coercion and non-aggression: If everyone has innate rights and self-ownership, no one has the right to coerce or commit aggression against anyone else. (The fact that coerciveness and aggressiveness seem to be innate human behaviors doesn't faze fundamentalists.)

The principles of non-coercion and non-aggression lead fundamentalists -- anarcho-capitalists, in particular -- to the position that the state shouldn't exist, even if solely for the purpose of collective self-defense. Further, state or no state, it's wrong to act aggressively against anyone, anywhere, until that someone already has acted against you. Wikipedia explains:

Anarcho-capitalists hold that a modern territorial state by its nature initiates coercion (for example, by implementing taxation), and therefore oppose the existence of such a state and argue that markets and individuals should operate free from this type of interference. If individual liberty is to be defended by an organization, they insist that it be in the form of a private business who [sic] sells its services to private individuals rather than a public institution that relies on taxation to fund its operations. Individuals unable to pay for their protection in such a system are left to the auspices of charity. Anarcho-capitalists reject all coercive aggressions of the state, from initiatory war to government monopolies....

[S]ome also oppose the use of retaliatory or punitive force, asserting that any use of force beyond self-defense is itself an initiation of force.

Because of their uncompromising antipathy to government, many fundamentalist libertarians claim no special allegiance to the United States and believe, further, that it is as wrong for the United States to act preemptively in the defense of its citizens as it is for you to punch your neighbor without provocation.

That's jolly well easy to say if you happen to live in the United States, whose citizens (even allowing for Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and violent crime) are, on the whole, well protected from foreign enemies and domestic predators because
  • there is a United States,
  • its government has excellent (if imperfect) armed forces and intelligence systems, and
  • its government and the governments of the individual States and their political subdivisions have large and generally effective law-enforcement agencies.
Fundamentalist libertarians -- especially anarcho-capitalists -- are simply deluding themselves if they think that they don't owe their liberty and physical security to the state and to its ability to exercise coercive power on their behalf. They are further deluding themselves if they believe that private agencies could possess the same coercive power without descending into gang warfare, if not coercing their "customers" at least as much as governments coerce their citizens.

It's true that the state doesn't perfectly protect Americans from foreign enemies and domestic predators. But we're protected well enough that anarcho-capitalists and other fundamentalist libertarians have the luxury of imagining that, without the benefit of protection from the state, they could enter into enforceable contracts with protective agencies. The American state, at least, remains somewhat accountable and responsive to those who pay its bills. What will keep your local protection racket (oops, protective agency) in check, an even more predatory competitor?

There is a difference between the United States and other nations and extra-national terrorist organizations. The United States exists for the purpose of securing the rights so prized by fundamentalist libertarians. Yes, it's far from perfect, but it's the best deal available. It therefore makes sense to adhere to the United States and oppose its enemies, unless you're prepared to move to a place that offers you a better combination of rights and physical security. If you're not, stick around, pay your taxes, and use your freedom of speech in an effort to make the union more perfect. But don't try to pretend that the United States is just another place on the map that has no special attributes worth defending.

As for defending those attributes, I will simply ignore as irrelevant those relatively few anarcho-capitalist, fundamentalist libertarians who profess outright pacifism. I am mainly concerned with the rather more prominent set of fundamentalist libertarians who oppose preemptive defense. Because they oppose preemptive defense but not self-defense, they are only arguing about where to draw the line in the sand. It's an important argument, however, because if the line is drawn too close to home, that increases my chances of being killed by someone who is bent on killing me (and who will try to do so regardless of my views about preemptive self-defense). Fundamentalist libertarians and others who hide safely behind the wall of American might are just as much a target of foreign enemies as are those of us who would aggressively pursue those enemies.

There can be no quid pro quo with fanatical aggressors. Their stated "reasons" for hating America are cover stories for their twisted set of values. And if they do hate us because -- among other things -- we maintain a presence in the Middle East to protect our access to oil, that's tough. We have just as much right to buy that oil as anyone else, and if we have to fight to protect that right, so be it. Why should we try, vainly, to assuage the hatred of our fanatical enemies by withdrawing from the Middle East and going into an economic decline deeper than that which we experienced during the Great Depression?

That leads to my first three (rhetorical) questions for fundamentalist libertarians: Where are our rights? Why aren't you worried about our rights? Why are you so bloody worried about the rights of others and not about our rights?

My fourth question for fundamentalist libertarians is this: Where should the state draw the line in protecting the interests of its citizens? When our fanatical enemies are about to slit your throat? No, that may be too late. When they're inside our country, planning to slit your throat? That, also, may be too late. Overseas, then, where they're planning and training to slit your throat? Yes, overseas, where there are regimes that support -- or turn a blind eye -- to the planning and training that would enable our fanatical enemies to slit your throat? You see, we're merely quibbling about where to draw the line in self-defense, and where you -- my fundamentalist libertarian friends -- want to draw it is in the wrong place.

Non-fundamentalist non-libertarians out there will ask -- cynically -- "Why don't we deal with other regimes in other parts of the world that threaten us?" To them I say: You do what you can, when you can, and then you move on to the next enemy, who may -- upon sober reflection -- choose to limit his aggression to verbiage in light of our willingness to smite our enemies.

That's self-defense.