Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Why the lonely libertarian is lonely

This Hit and Run post is a good summation of the blogesphere discussion over the past few days about the merits of the Iraq War and libertarian foreign policy in general.

This piece by Robert Higgs is just the sort of point of view that led to this blog in the first place. Higgs sums up his argument,

In sum, the issue of war and peace does serve as a litmus test for libertarians. Warmongering libertarians are ipso facto not libertarians. Real libertarians do not expect pigs to fly: they do not believe the government's lies about the multitude of foreign fiends poised to pounce on us; they do not credit the government's promise to protect us from any real monsters that may exist beyond our borders; they do not even take seriously the government's declaration that its primary objective is to secure our rights against foreign invasion or other harm originating abroad.

During wartime, governments invariably trample on the people's just rights, propagandizing the abused citizens to believe that they are trading liberty for security. Yet, time and again, after the dust has settled, the U.S. government's wars have yielded the net result that Americans enjoyed fewer liberties in the post-bellum era than they had enjoyed in the ante-bellum era. This ratchet effect must be expected to accompany every major military undertaking the U.S. government conducts. In every war with a decisive outcome, the people on both sides lose, the government on the losing side loses, and the government on the winning side wins. What sort of libertarian wants to swallow that kind of poisoned Kool-Aid?

And the lonely libertarian can't help but cringe. Obviously war sucks. And yeah, inter armas silent leges rings true. (I believe, in times of war, the law falls silent.) But this is true of every single war, ever, and I find it hard to believe that anyone, libertarian or otherwise, would tell us that every single war we have ever fought is a bad idea because of this thesis. World War II was a time of tremendous intrusions on individual freedoms, both during the war, and in the years following the war. But that doesn't mean America was in the wrong, and that certainly doesn't mean we'd have been better off not fighting the war and leaving Europe, Asia, and Africa to the machinations of Germany and Japan.

You can't wish away a debate on the issues of the war in Iraq with a theory that ignores the factual specifics weighed in determining whether or not an individual war is worth fighting. It's easy to weigh the merits of wars after the fact- World War II, good, Vietnam, bad. It's much harder to weigh these issues before we know the outcome. Everyone always tends to forget, there were peace activists in the 1930's too.

And finally, the lonely libertarian questions whether political ideology actually does coincide with specific foreign policy positions. After all, one can make both liberal and conservative cases for war, and liberal and conservative cases against war. Political ideology certainly can play a role in the foreign policy position one ends up taking, but as Pat Buchanan and Joe Lieberman have demonstrated, ideology is by no means determinative.


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