Some Responses to Libertarianism & Foreign Policy:

As usual I have received some thoughtful comments on my post, Libertarianism and Foreign Policy–not all of which I have had the time to acknowledge personally given that I am still squeezing blogging in between lectures and other activities here in Gummersbach. Thomas at Liberty Corner blogged about this both before and after I did here and here. Hervé Duray writes:

I’m a blogger (in France, Le monde à l’envers) and consider myself “libertarian”. Just like you, I happen to know many libertarians opposed to the Iraq war (I prefer to use the term “liberation”), and we argued a lot about foreign policy and libertarian principles.

I’d like to add that many hardcore libertarians have no consideration for states, yet they are the same advocating non-interventionism which is a tacit acknowledgement of state borders. If libertarians only care about individual rights, why would they care about abstract things like


A similar point was made at greater length by Jack Diederich:

As you suggest, libertarianism doesn’t require the isolationist stance on war & war waging. In fact libertarianism doesn’t have anything to say on the matter so people just take what they know and extrapolate it to a strange conclusion:

Nations are People.

Once you make this jump from the micro to the macro the isolationist view makes sense. You can think about Mr. France and Mr. USA arguing over punching Mr Iraq in the nose. But nations aren’t people, so this fails.

He then sends this along from his now defunct blog:

Nations are not people. For the slow, Nations are NOT people. There is just so little overlap between inter-country and inter-personal relations it is silly. NANP.

“Oh” you say, “Isn’t that why we have the UN, to be a nation to its members/people?” Because the members are nations, we treat them like nations. Bill Gates wets his pants at the thought of going to jail, Saddam Hussein couldn’t give a shit when served his 17th search warrant by the UN. NANP.

“Well,” you prattle on, “couldn’t we just have one world government and then we wouldn’t have to worry about the NANP problem?” The problem is there really are things called nations. Groups of people really do believe in very different philosophies and identities. This is good because we haven’t perfected government yet; we’re still trying out different stuff.

In your Star Trek future time they’ll all agree on government and can create the Federation (right after they abolish scarcity and money). Until then we will have nations, we will have people, and we still won’t be able to treat them the same.

Some wrote to defend “defenseism” as following from Libertarian principles (I did not get permission to use their names):

Compulsory taxation for governmental services should only be justified for protection of taxpayers from bodily harm and theft and destruction of property. Therefore, police and fire departments are justifiable (put aside for a moment the case to be made for private contracting of such services).

Taxation can be supported for a military as long as it provides similar protections against foreign threats. While humanitarian missions to Sudan are nice, they can no more be justified by Libertarians can could compulsory taxation for welfare payments supporting domestic humanitrian missions.

Another writes:

It seems to me that there is a significant difference between a situation where a government is defending its own citizens and where a government is defending citizens of another country. In the first case, the citizens have a say in the decision; in the second, they don’t. A government acting in accordance with Libertarian principles will have processes in place giving its own citizens at least indirect control of its policies, including defense. The citizens of another country may not want intervention; as individuals, some may be in distress, and some not. Often, the intervener is in the position of separating hostile factions intent on killing each other (as in the former Yugoslavia) while all factions would prefer to have the intervener stay away.

Libertarianism puts a premium on individual liberties, and with liberties comes responsibility. The individual citizens of a given country are the ones primarily responsible for sorting out its problems. They can’t do so if another country steps in, pretending to have divine knowledge of what is right for them. I suppose that if the various factions could unanimously ask for help, then Libertarianism would not prevent intervention. But, if the factions could get unanimous agreement, they could probably work out their own problems without help.

So, I think that “defenseism” does follow from Libertarianism.

Finally (for now at least), the always generous-of-spirit Mark Kleiman poses this challenge to all nonpacifist Libertarians on his A Fair and Balanced Weblog:

I can imagine a defensive war, fought on national territory, that didn’t violate anyone’s rights, as Libertarians conceive them. (Other, that is, than the right not to be taxed or conscripted. A Libertarian war would have to be fought by a volunteer army in the fullest sense of that term: not only not conscripted, but unpaid.) But how could one conceivably invade and occupy another country without violating people’s rights?

The fact that a power plant, for example, is a legitimate military target doesn’t make it any less someone’s property. The owner of the power plant is hardly responsible for whatever actions of his country’s government justified the war; still less so the workers there. But when the power plant is bombed, the owner’s property will be destroyed and some of the workers killed.

Therefore, if human beings have rights not to be killed or have their goods destroyed, then it’s impossible to fight modern wars without violating those rights. And even that assumes that modern war can be waged without “collateral damage,” which is obviously not the case; some of the innocent people killed when a city is bombed were doing nothing more aggressive than sleeping in their own beds.

There are two possible conclusions here: either (1) war is always wrong, or (2) Libertarianism as a moral philosophy (as opposed to the libertarian tendency in politics) is not merely false but transparently silly, since no actual group of people could live under Libertarian principles unless some other group of people did the dirty work of collective self-defense for them.

Now this isn’t a hard one for me; I have other strong reasons for thinking that (2) is correct. But presumably Barnett has convinced himself that it’s possible to wage war without violating rights, and I’d really like to know how that miracle is supposed to be performed.

Sadly, he cannot resist closing with a gratutous innuendo:

I’d hate to imagine that Libertarians don’t mind violating rights as long as the people whose rights are violated don’t look like them.

I take some solace from the fact that he is “fair and balanced” enough that he hates to imagine such things.

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