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THe Libertarian Split over the War II - Historical Roots:

I am happy that my post on the libertarian divisions over the Iraq War has generated so much debate both here at VC and elsewhere in the blogosphere (e.g. here and here), among other sites too numerous to list).

In this post, I want to focus on the fact that the intralibertarian debate over war and foreign policy is not a new one, and actually dates back to the Cold War era. During the 1960s and 70s, the formative years of modern libertarianism, some prominent libertarians, including F.A. Hayek and especially Ayn Rand generally supported US policy in the Cold War, at least to the extent of favoring a hard line against the Soviet Union and its allies. If I recall correctly, Milton Friedman was also generally hawkish during this period, as were most of the other prominent Chicago school libertarians. These Cold War libertarians did not support every aspect of US policy (e.g. - all of them opposed the draft), but they did favor a strong anticommunist line, including the occasional use of US military power.

Other libertarians, led by Murray Rothbard and the other founders of the Libertarian Party favored a dovish/isolationist foreign policy, and in some cases endorsed the New Left view that the Cold War was primarily the fault of the US rather than the communist bloc. In his 1978 book, For a New Liberty, Rothbard argued that the Soviet were primarily defensive in orientation and would not have tangled with the US but for American aggression and bellicosity. In 1969, Young Americans for Freedom, the most prominent right of center student group of the era splintered as a result of conflicts between pro-Vietnam War conservatives and anti-War libertarians.

What can be learned from this history? Does it seem to track the absolutist vs. maximizing and immigrant/Jewish vs. gentile/native-born hypotheses I advanced in my last post (linked below)?

I think it provides some support for both, but the second more than the first. To take the ethnic theory first, it is obvious that Hayek and Rand were both immigrants from authoritarian or totalitarian societies (fascist Austria and the USSR) and that these experiences had a powerful impact on their political views and may have led them to support the exertion of US power against totalitarianism abroad. Many of the other prominent Chicago School scholars of that era were also of either Jewish or immigrant origin.Murray Rothbard, by contrast was native-born and, though of Jewish background, he and his family were alienated from their ethnic roots because his parents were part of what he himself called "a communist culture" (see link above). Late in life, Rothbard even supported the presidential candidacy of the anti-Semitic Pat Buchanan. Rothbard's attitudes were somewhat idiosyncratic (especially his support for Buchanan), but he was one of the main founders of the Libertarian Party and his views on foreign policy were similar to those of most other dovish libertarians of the era. Indeed, Rothbard himself was one of the main intellectual influences on the modern dovish school of libertarianism.

The maximizer vs. absolutist split does not do quite as well. Although Rothbard was clearly an absolutist libertarian, so too were Ayn Rand and her "Objectivist" movement followers. Hayek, Friedman and the Chicago school fall clearly in the maximizer camp (and were in fact denounced by the Rothbardites for supposedly compromising libertarian principles). It may be that the absolutist vs. maximizer theory works better if we exclude Rand and her Objectivists from consideration, since they could be viewed as a special case. But I'm not sure that saving the theory in this way would be analytically justified.

The clearest lesson to be learned from this history is that the intralibertarian debate over foreign policy is not a new one, and that therefore it may be deeply rooted in the nature of the ideology and not just an aberration caused by recent events.

A happier thought is the fact that the existence of a deep internal split over foreign policy did not prevent libertarians from having a significant impact on domestic policy debates during the 70s and 80s, and perhaps this success will be repeated. At the same time, it is far from certain that libertarianism will be able to weather a deep division over the most prominent issue of the day without serious harm to its prospects.

UPDATE: To avoid confusion, I should note that I am NOT saying that it is impossible to be a "maxmizing" libertarian and oppose the Iraq War. It is perfectly possible to do so if you believe that the war undermines libertarian values on net more than it promotes them. My point was simply that a libertarian maximizer is MORE LIKELY to be willing to support the war than a libertarian absolutist.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. THe Libertarian Split over the War II - Historical Roots:
  2. Libertarianism, the Iraq War, and the Division in the Friedman Household:
anonyomousss (mail):
you oddly don't mention that rand, while vehemently anti-communist, also vehemently opposed the vietnam war. her grounds were not tremendously applicable to most libertarians, though. as she saw it, we were fighting to preserve the welfare of others and the expense of our self-interest. according to rand, this is altruism and therefore immoral.
7.24.2006 6:50pm
RS:
Maximizing Libertarian = Nonsense

Presumably, one would only adopt a "maximizing" conception of libertarianism (i.e., I surmise, allowing some violations of libertarian rights now in order to have (a lot) fewer in the future) if one thought the libertarian package of rights was desirable inasmuch as it provides good outcomes. If, in contrast, one thought that libertarian rights were morally required, one could not justify their current violation.

That said, though, the maximizing libertarian position is rendered incoherent--one holds it because it leads to good outcomes. But, then, the proponent should instead seek to maximize good outcomes *directly* (as do the various forms of utilitarianism). Fetishizing the intermediate step of the libertarian rights package cannot be rationalized, since the committment to that package flows (only) from its producing good results.

One could, I suppose, advance some (silly) position, like "I fetishize the libertarian rights package on aesthetic grounds," but basically one can only plausibly maintain the non-maximimizing, deontic libertarian conception. So-called maximizing libertarians hold a fairly implausible conception of utilitarism (if they reformulate it to a plausible utilitarian conception, I have no particular truck with it--we are left with the familiar dilemma of choosing between libertarianism and utilitarianism, both of which have attractive and unattractive elements).
7.24.2006 6:56pm
ThirdCircuitLawyer (mail):
Ilya writes:
<blockquote>
<i>A happier thought is the fact that the existence of a deep internal split over foreign policy did not prevent libertarians from having a significant impact on domestic policy debates during the 70s and 80s, and perhaps this success will be repeated. At the same time, it is far from certain that libertarianism will be able to weather a deep division over the most prominent issue of the day without serious harm to its prospects.</i></blockquote>Libterarians influencing domestic policy? Certainly not in this Admininistration.
7.24.2006 7:23pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I'm not a libertarian, so forgive me if this is a naive observation, but it's a sincere one.

It seems as if there are two possible reasons for libertarians to disagree about Iraq, one based on factual disagreement and one theoretical.

First, factual disagreement as to issues of self-defense and security. Obviously, folks differ in their answers to these questions question. If you thought this war really was in some form of self-defense, well, doesn't libertarian theory generally grant that the government can take military actions to defend itself? On the other hand, if you thought this war wasn't in self-defense (it wasn't Iraq that attacked us on 9/ll, and/or this will do more harm than good to U.S. security interests), then that wouldn't fit.

Second, theory. Assuming one believed that our intervention in Iraq is actually going to improve the lives of Iraqis, the question would be, is it OK to use military force to try to improve the lives of people in other countries? And from the original post, you can see the tension in the "yes, let's spread libertarian principles ... at least where there are totalitarian governments" vs. the hard-core anti-altruism idea.

Again, I have no dog in this fight since I'm not a libertarian. But I'm not shocked libertarians could come out differently on this issue. Dems and now even Republicans have come out differently on it too.
7.24.2006 7:48pm
hmmm:
The "anti-semitic" Pat Buchanan? I don't know if I'd go that far. I'm no fan of Pat's, but that seems a bit too strong.
7.24.2006 7:50pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):

One could, I suppose, advance some (silly) position, like "I fetishize the libertarian rights package on aesthetic grounds," but basically one can only plausibly maintain the non-maximimizing, deontic libertarian conception.

I agree that the position you put in quotes is silly, but of course no one holds that position using the word "fetishize," and probably few if any hold that position using the word "aesthetic." I in fact do hold a maximizing libertarian position, where rights protection rather than utility is the maximand. (And I think I speak for a substantial fraction of libertarians in saying this.) I gather you think this is silly too, but doesn't this deserve a better treatment than the conclusory, throwaway line you offered?
7.24.2006 7:55pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Wouldn't a maximizing libertarian still oppose the Iraq war as the opportunity costs lost in the war squandered a much more efficient allocation of freedom spreading resources.

I have always been partial to this Cecil Adams column.

Would Vietnam war money have been better spent bribing the enemy to stop fighting?

11-Jan-1991

910111.gifDear Cecil:

When I was in an artillery unit in Vietnam, we were told that each shell we fired cost the taxpayers several thousand dollars to manufacture, disregarding the cost to develop the weapon itself or the cost of training the manpower to shoot it. We speculated that, considering the great number of rounds we fired, the United States could easily have instead built each Vietnamese a beautiful suburban house complete with swimming pool instead of spending the money trying to kill them. In that way we could have not only won the war but also the hearts and minds of the enemy. So I put it to you: if the cost in dollars of the Vietnam war were divided by the number of Vietnamese, how much could each have been paid to lay down their arms and live peacefully ever after? --Stephen Wilhelm, New York

Dear Stephen:

Best damn question I've had in months. Let's take it step by step.

Estimates of the cost of the Vietnam war vary all over the place, with one analyst putting the figure as high as $900 billion. But that includes all kinds of indirect and future costs--21st century veterans' benefits, the cost of inflation resulting from the war, you name it. A bit too blue-sky for our purposes.

The Defense Department in the 1970s came up with a much more conservative figure--$140 billion in direct military outlays between 1965 and 1974. This includes some Pentagon overhead, i.e., money that presumably would have been spent whether there was a war or not. However, other estimates of "incremental" costs run anywhere from $112 billion to $155 billion, so we're probably safe in going with 140.

The combined population of North and South Vietnam in 1969, the midpoint of substantial U.S. involvement, was somewhere around 39 million. That means that over 10 years we spent about $3,600 for every Vietnamese man, woman, and child. Today you could buy most of a Yugo with that kind of money. At first glance, hardly enough reason to abandon a war of national liberation.

But let's put this in perspective. Per capita annual income in South Vietnam in 1965 by one estimate was $113. At $3,600 per, we could have kept those guys in rice and fish sauce for pretty much the rest of their lives, with color TV and a Barcalounger thrown in. As an added bonus, the country would not have suffered incalculable war damage, and 1.8 million more Vietnamese would not be dead (or at least they would have died other than by being shot, blown up, etc.).

I know, I know: millions for defense but not one cent for bribes. But considering how things actually turned out, maybe we should have given it a try.
7.24.2006 8:06pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

Libterarians influencing domestic policy? Certainly not in this Admininistration.


I don't know about that. When then Governor Bush ran for President in 2000 he made it rather clear that he didn't agree with the "government is the problem" mantra embraced by so many libertarians but his push for an "ownership society" has been largely about empowering individuals. With Bush we've gotten Health Savings Accounts, stopped price controls on pharmaceuticals, introduced the concept of means-testing to Medicare, had the first serious push for Personal Savings Accounts as part of Social Security reform, expanded trade and the death of the Byrd amendment, improved the process for approving generic prescription drugs (one of the little known successes of the Bush administration), limited the use of eminent domain post-Kelo, stopped frivolous lawsuits against the firearms industry, rolled back a number of last-minute regulations enacted by the Clinton administration, and liberated at least two nations from dictatorships.

On the negative we have McCain-Feingold, NCLB, increased spending on domestic programs (Medicare Part D, Farm bill, transportation, energy bill, etc.), and increased FCC fines for television broadcasts. Other than that, most of the libertarian complaints seem to be that much of the Nanny State has been left in place and other than increased levels of spending, it's largely been the status quo.
7.24.2006 8:10pm
Shangui (mail):
The "anti-semitic" Pat Buchanan? I don't know if I'd go that far. I'm no fan of Pat's, but that seems a bit too strong.

How about just "holocaust-denier Pat Buchanan"?
7.24.2006 8:17pm
RS:
Sasha,
*Why* maximize "rights protection" (RP)? I.e., why is RP an attractive maximand? Presumably, b/c you think RP leads to "good" results (not, as I was suggesting, b/c RP is aesthetically appealing to you). Once agree to this, then why not maximize goodness *directly*? I.e., why not "maximize goodness" instead of "maximize RP." The latter can only get you less goodness, never more, than the former.
You're slipping a conjencture about how goodness might best be maximized (i.e., via RP) into an otherwise plausible committment to utilitarianism (i.e., "maximize goodness").
The only plausible positions in your neighborhood are 1) Nozickian negative-rights libertarianism or 2) straight-up utilitarianism. No baby-splitting is coherent here, sorry.
7.24.2006 8:22pm
hmmm:
Am I missing something here? Is Buchanan really a holocaust denier? I did a quick web search and didn't see anything definitive on it. Can someone point to some evidence on this?
7.24.2006 8:34pm
Seamus (mail):

How about just "holocaust-denier Pat Buchanan"?



That doesn't work either. I remember that he once expressed skepticism about claims that, in one particular instance, Jews were killed by the exhaust from diesel trucks, but that doesn't mean that he denies the Holocaust as a whole.
7.24.2006 8:40pm
Mike Lorrey (mail) (www):
Yeah, Bush's tax policies, for instance, were almost entirely authored by Grover Norquist, who, though not an absolutist libertarian by any stretch, is noted to have said, "I'm not totally anti-government, I just want to shrink it down small enough to strangle it in the tub."

There needs to be a distinction made between libertarians per se, and anarchocapitalists, such as Rothbard, et al, who promote the Nolan Chart in the party propaganda as describing nearly a quarter of the political landscape as "libertarian", but won't let anybody in the party who doesn't pass their 100%x100% ancap litmus test, and the rest of the libertarian community (which is most of them).

As a libertarian, though, while I disapprove of a draft in the current circumstances as unnecessary, on a theoretical basis, I see the claims of most other libertarians on this to be based on flawed simplistic logic.

As libertarians support the 2nd amendment, including the part about the militia being necessary to the security of a free state, and given that its authors are on record saying that the militia is "the whole of the people", and that 10 USC Sect 311 states that the militia is comprised of its organized (natl guard) and unorganized (everyone else not in active duty military), just what mechanism do my libertarian brethren propose is the proper mechanism for calling up the unorganized militia, but the draft? Would they wish to call everyone up, but call it something else (even though, functionally, it is identical to that process known as "the draft"?)

As a NH resident aware of my state constitution's provision exempting those "morally scrupulous" against use of arms, as well as the well established history of people declaring themselves concientious objectors, and being put into non-combat duties, such as medical and ambulance services, there is no logical argument against a draft unless one is arguing strictly from an anarchist position (not a libertarian position) of denying the authority of the state to compel its citizens to their duties (of any sort, including jury duty, posse duty, etc).

I sympathize with the ancap position and wish to live in such a community some day, though I do not live in an ancap society, and because I do not live in an ancap society, it is contractually unethical for me, or others in like situation, to seek to avoid duties to which I am currently constitutionally obligated, including the draft.
7.24.2006 8:41pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):

Presumably, b/c you think RP leads to "good" results (not, as I was suggesting, b/c RP is aesthetically appealing to you).

Why are you "[p]resum[ing]" that I support RP because I think it leads to "good" results? Can't I believe in rights for purely moral reasons, having to do with the dignity of man and all that, without having to believe these rights are absolute?
7.24.2006 9:01pm
TheGarbageman (mail):
Significant facts have been left out of Somin's presentation. For one, 'dovishness' among libertarians has been common among libertarians for the past three centuries. And most of the libertarian movement's predecessors in this country and in Britain were major critics of imperialism. Just google 'Old Right' and you'll find plenty of characters - Rose Wilder Lane, H. L. Mencken, Robert Taft, John T. Flynn. So there is some historical myopia here. Also, don't forget Mises anti-interventionist position; Hayek departed from his mentor.

Be sure to google Chris Sciabarra and Ayn Rand for a balanced treatment of her foreign policy views.

For Somin, I will list a few of the anti-war institutions amongst libertarians:

Cato, the LP, the Ludwig von Mises Institute (which it is, by the way, *completely ridiculous* for Somin not to have mentioned), the Independent Institute, Liberty magazine, Reason magazine, I.H.S. is more anti-Iraq than pro, hands down, I'd say. Look at a list of members of FEE and you'll see the same thing there. What about the FFF? Or ... geez, you get my point.

Now, what are the pro-war libertarian institutions? ... There are some libertarian hawk blogs, and some more prominent libertarian intellectuals like Sowell. But I mean, seriously, what is the balance of serious libertarian intellectuals who support interventionist foreign policy versus those who oppose it? For Somin to argue that there is some sort of split is silly, I think.

Here's a better analysis of the 'split': Many of the new people flooding into the libertarian movement did so through Republican-libertarian connections over the last 20 years. They're more hawkish. And that's affected the LP and some libertarian thinkers. But there's not a split, I don't think, at least not among the movement's thinkers.

Furthermore, I think there's a good case to be made that interventionism is a serious *deviation* from libertarianism. Political Economist Robert Higgs has just made the case for this over at Lewrockwell.com - a heavily visited anti-war libertarian website (which is another group that should have been mentioned by Somin).

Higgs has probably made the case better than anyone alive that war and government control of the economy go hand in hand. This is a point that pro-war libertarians, to my mind, have never seriously struggled with. The best explanation for pro-war libertarianism is not Somin's suggestion that they're interested in maximizing liberty but that they misunderstand how to do so. Higgs' work can speak for itself.

In general, again, Somin's presentation of the issues involved are biased (for instance, attributing libertarian dovishness to Murray Rothbard then attaching the dovish position, through Rothbard, to Rothbard's less popular foreign policy views - albeit subtly). As a libertarian who has been in the movement for some years now, I'd have to say that Somin's presentation isn't just unbalanced but indicates a bias to the degree that I'm concerned about his ability to accurately report on the issue.

I strongly encourage VC readers to take his comments on the libertarian movement with a grain of salt.
7.24.2006 9:08pm
RS:
Sasha,
Yes, of course you can believe in rights for moral reasons. But, then you can't (plausibly) adopt the maximizing of those rights. To take the time-honoured example, if you think killing is morally wrong, you can't plausibly adopt "maximize lives," (or even "minimize killings") b/c such maximands might entail killing A to save Y &Z (or killing A before he kills Y &Z rather than killing Y&Z before they kill A). If you plead "well, I'm not *absolutely* committed to not killing" then we can (re-start) the chain of reasoning--i.e., ok, what is it about "not usually killing" that you like, and you're back on the horns of the "goodness" dilemma of the previous posts.
There's good (!) reason that the only academically respectable form of libertarianism is Nozick's. Not that there's anything wrong w/ being a utilitarian either--I'm just trying to point out the (I would have taken to be non-controversial) view that intermediate positions are reducible to implausible versions of utilitarianism.
7.24.2006 9:43pm
Shangui (mail):
Am I missing something here? Is Buchanan really a holocaust denier? I did a quick web search and didn't see anything definitive on it. Can someone point to some evidence on this?

Sorry, I was mostly kidding. He's not a full holocaust denier but for his claims that the number of Jews killed are vastly too high he cited publications from groups that certainly are openly deniers of the holocaust. I suggest you start with the Wikipedia article which gives a pretty balanced account of the issue.
7.24.2006 9:54pm
Jeff R.:
I'm not sure why a liberty-maximizing system is indistinguishible from utilitarianism, or implausible. Utilitarianism, after all, goes farther than maximizing "goodness"; it goes on to meausre "goodness" by the sum of individual happiness and satisfaction. The alternate version that instead defines "goodness" as the sum of individual freedom and liberty seems both meaningfully distinct and not implausible on it's face at least.
7.24.2006 9:56pm
byomtov (mail):
That doesn't work either. I remember that he once expressed skepticism about claims that, in one particular instance, Jews were killed by the exhaust from diesel trucks, but that doesn't mean that he denies the Holocaust as a whole.

No. Just the specifics. His denial implied that very few people were killed at Treblinka. You may want to check that.

The fact is, Buchanan is a Holocaust denier and an anti-Semite. Anyone supporting his Presidential campaign - and includes not just Rothbard but National Review and a substantial segment of Republican primary voters - simply felt that was no big deal.
7.24.2006 10:33pm
sbw (mail) (www):
Liberty-maximizing isn't constructive and invoking the parallel for Utilitarianism is a useful way to show it's not an effective yardstick to measure societal success. Thanks for mentioning it.
7.24.2006 10:34pm
RS:
Jeff R.,
Yes--but then, you really agree w/ the point I've been hammering at above--that that form of "libertarianism" *is* utilitarianism (i.e., a form of "maximize goodness"). There are lots of different conceptions of what, for utilitarians, goodness is and how it should be measured.
No use endlessly arguing over labels, but I guess at the end of the day, it seems odd to label as "libertarian" a system that (by maximizing goodness qua liberty) can (and, here we could again quibble endlessly over likelihoods) likely would endlessly *curtail* rights most find central to the libertarian project. E.g., "in order to maximize liberty over generations, the current generation is (sadly) condemned to labor as slaves on the "mankind to mars" project." That type of argument is profoundly, I should think, utilitarian, and would be so roundly rejected by followers to Nozick that one wonders to what extent they're truly in the same tent.
7.24.2006 10:37pm
hmmm:
Charges of anti-semitism and holocaust denial are pretty serious. People should cite some evidence (a link would do) if they are claiming this about Buchanan, IMHO. (And when I say "people," I'm mostly referring to Ilya Somin.)
7.24.2006 10:39pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
RS -- You keep saying "plausibly." You used the word twice in that last comment!

To take the time-honoured example, if you think killing is morally wrong, you can't plausibly adopt "maximize lives," (or even "minimize killings") b/c such maximands might entail killing A to save Y &Z (or killing A before he kills Y &Z rather than killing Y&Z before they kill A).

I actually do believe that, in principle, it might be O.K. to kill A to prevent the killing of Y &Z. I'll go along with you and say I don't believe that "killing is morally wrong." But I do think killing is a rights violation, because there's a "right to life" that derives from the moral worth of living your life without certain forms of interference by others.

So far this is consistent with many forms of absolutist libertarianism . . . except that in my view, this right might conflict with other rights. There are libertarians who say that, if properly defined, rights don't conflict with each other; I disagree. For instance, I don't accept the strong action/inaction distinction that many libertarians accept; so I think rights are in conflict when you have to kill some innocents in a foreign country to prevent that dictator from killing some innocents in your country.

When rights are in conflict, you can adopt a hierarchical view that says which rights trump which others; or you can, as I do, assign these rights particular "values," so some rights can be overcome by the need to protect certain other rights. So rights, rather than functioning as absolute values, become for me balanceable interests.

This isn't utilitarianism because people's happiness isn't relevant in this analysis. I do end up maximizing some form of goodness, but that goodness is explicitly defined in terms of rights (derived in the same way anyone else might derive them, but redefined as balanceable interests), so there's no deeper level to go.

If this is implausible, please explain how rather than just saying so.
7.24.2006 10:47pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
RS -- O.K., I see, from an intervening comment of yours, that you define "utilitarianism" much more broadly than I do. You actually define utilitarianism as any form of "maximizing goodness," while I define it as "maximizing (social) utility," where social utility is some aggregation of individual utility. So any philosophy that tries to make people "happy" is pursuing utility, while any philosophy that tries to pursue some goal unrelated to happiness, like (my goal) liberty, is non-utilitarian.

My sense is that my definition of utilitarianism conforms more closely to contemporary practice, but I could be wrong. But let's not spend much time quarreling over terminology.

In any event, I agree with you that any "goodness-maximizing" philosophy should maximize that good thing directly, rather than inventing some intermediate concept. Thus, utilitarians (in my sense) may accept a "rights"-like notion for second-best rule-utilitarian-like reasons, but rights should play no role in their fundamental analysis.

There still remains the question: What if the "goodness" is the rights themselves? You assert that aesthetics is the only way to come up with rights as an appropriate maximand; I disagree, because I don't see why I can't derive rights similarly to, say, a Nozickean, but then at the same time believe that these rights might conflict and therefore come up with balancing-type ways of resolving those conflicts.
7.24.2006 11:00pm
SLS 1L (mail):
TheGarbageMan:
Cato, the LP, the Ludwig von Mises Institute . . . the Independent Institute, Liberty magazine, Reason magazine, I.H.S. is more anti-Iraq than pro, hands down, I'd say. Look at a list of members of FEE and you'll see the same thing there. What about the FFF? Or ... geez, you get my point.

Now, what are the pro-war libertarian institutions? ... [answer: virtually none]

Here's a better analysis of the 'split': Many of the new people flooding into the libertarian movement did so through Republican-libertarian connections over the last 20 years. They're more hawkish. And that's affected the LP and some libertarian thinkers. But there's not a split, I don't think, at least not among the movement's thinkers.
I think this has the explanation almost exactly right. The (so-called?) libertarians who support the war, such as Glenn Reynolds or the bulk of the contributors to this blog, tend to be systematically less libertarian than the more hardcore libertarians who, aside from the two major Objectivist groups, are pretty uniform in their opposition to the war and to Bush's security policies in general.

This also seems to track people who came to libertarianism via a traditional path like Ayn Rand novels, and people who came to identify as libertarians through the Republican Party and allied institutions like the Federalist Society.
7.24.2006 11:33pm
Bleepless (mail):
It was three or four years ago that the NY Libertarian Party held a costume ball, the guest of honor being their Presidential candidate. The theme was "Come as Your Favorite Victim of US Imperialism" and it was held on the anniversary of 9/11. I think that says it all.
7.24.2006 11:34pm
RS:
Sasha,
OK--here is what I take to be your argument:

1) You want to "maximize rights"
2) You realize rights can conflict, so you assign values to them to decide what to do in such situations

Basically, then, you are maximizing the sum of rights (i.e., if a right does not conflict, you select it; if it conflicts, your values determine which right is selected). You are not, therefore, committed to any particular right--it can be over-ridden in the maximizing of the total sum of rights.

What is my objection?
Let us say we observe someone with the declared committment to "maximize puppies." Pursuant to such goal, he is engaged in a ruthless program of eugenic breeding, in which most of each litter is drowned. Now, I think one might object to his goal "maximize puppies" (just as I object to your goal "maximize rights") along the following lines:
1) he does not seem to be committed to puppies as moral entities, since most of each litter is killed.
2) if he wants to maximize puppies (over time) as an aesthetic matter, that is just silly (you are with me on this one, at least).
3) so, if (1) and (2) are correct, he must be committed to maximizing puppies because he thinks something good must come from it. I.e., he cares about consequences. (unlike (1)) I do not see a 4th option for why he wants to maximize puppies (tell me if i am missing something).

If it is 3, then he is a "goodness maximizer" and should be open to other mechanisms of maximizing goodness (surely, goodness is not defined solely in terms of puppies--if it is, that is just silly).

So, i think your form of libertarianism, in which you "maximize liberty," is best described as a way of "maximizing goodness" (in which case you would need to defend rights as the sole metric of goodness, which seems tough given the seeming compellingness of actual *outcomes* to goodness). You want to describe it as a form of (1)--i.e., drawn from a committment to moral rights. I am not buying that, as it licenses too many rights-violations (thus my attraction to the puppy example).

Unless I am overlooking something, I think the argument ends there. You can dig your heels in on conception (1). I will continue to insist that that you are really a concealed (3) with a weirdly non-consequential conception of "goodness." I take it that the Nozickeans would be with me, and so would the utilitarians (they just think you have a lousy conception of "goodness"). But, such things should not be decided by majority-vote, of course!

Thoughts?
7.24.2006 11:53pm
Ilya Somin:
Charges of anti-semitism and holocaust denial are pretty serious. People should cite some evidence (a link would do) if they are claiming this about Buchanan, IMHO. (And when I say "people," I'm mostly referring to Ilya Somin.)

I think that Buchanan's anti-Semitism is pretty well-established, which is why I felt no need to include supporting evidence in a post primarily devoted to other subjects. But in addition to the association with Holocaust denial described by other commenters, I note William F. Buckley's 1992 book In Search of Anti-Semitism (in spite of the title, it is primarily about Buchanan, not really about anti-Semistism generally), which discusses and documents Buchanan's anti-Semitism in great detail, though more sympathetically than I would.

Other anti-Semitic and racist statements by Buchanan are chronicled here.
7.25.2006 12:00am
Fuz (mail) (www):
Garbageman's mention of Liberty magazine is especially timely. Their April 06 issue contains four articles on, essentially, "War! what is it good for?" Only two is available online, the lead by Robert Higgs and one by Stephen Cox; all are worth your while.
Stephen Cox's article best represents my position.
7.25.2006 12:09am
Ilya Somin:
TheGarbageMan:
Cato, the LP, the Ludwig von Mises Institute . . . the Independent Institute, Liberty magazine, Reason magazine, I.H.S. is more anti-Iraq than pro, hands down, I'd say. Look at a list of members of FEE and you'll see the same thing there. What about the FFF? Or ... geez, you get my point.

Now, what are the pro-war libertarian institutions? ... [answer: virtually none]

Here's a better analysis of the 'split': Many of the new people flooding into the libertarian movement did so through Republican-libertarian connections over the last 20 years. They're more hawkish. And that's affected the LP and some libertarian thinkers. But there's not a split, I don't think, at least not among the movement's thinkers.
I think this has the explanation almost exactly right. The (so-called?) libertarians who support the war, such as Glenn Reynolds or the bulk of the contributors to this blog, tend to be systematically less libertarian than the more hardcore libertarians who, aside from the two major Objectivist groups, are pretty uniform in their opposition to the war and to Bush's security policies in general.


I listed quite a few prominent pro-Iraq War libertarians in my initial post (including Reynolds, many of the writers here at VC, the Randians, some of the Reason writers, and others). In this post,I noted many libertarians who were Cold War hawks, such as Hayek, Friedman, most the Chicago School, and Ayn Rand. Ludwig Von Mises, whom Garbageman identifies as pro-isolationist, also supported the Cold War, and the Allied war effort during WWII. For his discussion of the latter and his advocacy of a prolonged, transformative allied occupation of Germany and a permanent alliance of democratic states against totalitarianism, see his book Omnipotent Government (1944, esp. Chapt. 12).

Attempts to write off all these people as not "real" libertarians are silly, unless one uses a definition of libertarianism that is far removed from ordinary usage. Nor does it make much sense to say that these people are simply less "hard-core" than the anti-war libertarians. Just focusing on people here at VC, David Bernstein and I are quite radical in our libertarian views, as regular VC readers probably know. And Randy Barnett is even more radical than we are, as one can see by reading his book The Structure of Liberty, which is pretty close to advocating the abolition of government.

With regards to libertarian institutions, it may well be that there are more anti-war than prowar ones, though this conclusion would not be accurate if we count libertarian institutions outside the US such as France's Liberte Cherie. Even if true, this does not disprove the point that there are many prowar libertarian intellectuals, and that they are not significantly fewer in number than the antiwar ones.

Finally, it is silly to think that the most prowar libertarians came to the ideology through the Federalist Society or the Republican Party. That certainly wasn't true in my case (I was never active in the Republican Party, and I joined Fed Soc many years AFTER becoming a libertarian), or in the case of any other prowar libertarian I am familiar with.

I have gone on too long for a comment on my own post:), but hopefully some people will find it useful.
7.25.2006 12:23am
SLS 1L (mail):
Ilya - thanks for your response. My impression of the VC posters comes principally from their writings on this blog, and it may be that you all are more radical than you come off as being, at least to me.

I haven't actually read most of the libertarian thinkers you mention on foreign policy. Were they really Cold War "hawks" in the sense of supporting U.S. interventions in Korea and Vietnam? Or were they just "hawkish" in the sense of supporting tough rhetoric and military buildup?
7.25.2006 12:39am
Ilya Somin:
Ilya - thanks for your response. My impression of the VC posters comes principally from their writings on this blog, and it may be that you all are more radical than you come off as being, at least to me.

I haven't actually read most of the libertarian thinkers you mention on foreign policy. Were they really Cold War "hawks" in the sense of supporting U.S. interventions in Korea and Vietnam? Or were they just "hawkish" in the sense of supporting tough rhetoric and military buildup?


I'm pretty sure that Hayek, Mises, and the others supported the Korean War. Rand didn't like what she thought was the "altruistic" rationale for the Vietnam War, but she vehemently opposed US withdrawal and thought LBJ and Nixon were not aggressive enough in their strategy.
I Don't know about Hayek and Mises on the Vietnam War, but even if they opposed it, one can be a hawk without supporting every single war that the government undertakes.

Regarding our own radical credentials, I refer you to Bernstein and Barnett's published writings, and also to David's advocacy of such things as privatizing most public spaces here on the VC. As for me, I would have thought that arguing for the abolition of of laws against public nudity right here on this blog constitutes considerable proof of libertarian radicalism:). I'm not as radical as some libertarians of course, including Barnett. But if that level of radicalism is required to be a libertarian, it would be enough to exclude Friedman, Hayek, Rand, and numerous others whose credentials can't seriously be denied.
7.25.2006 1:19am
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Jeezus, the blog thread that won't die! Ilya, I appreciate your new input. But I fear it will elicit little new thought, and vastly more recitation of dogma, from the endless morass of Epsilon-like VC readers, who are incapable of intellectual synthesis.
7.25.2006 2:15am
Ken Arromdee:
Would Vietnam war money have been better spent bribing the enemy to stop fighting?

The problem with this reasoning is that it assumes that everyone who fights in a war is fighting only for liberty and prosperity. I don't want to get into a Vietnam war argument here, but if you assume that any significant portion of the North's leaders had something in mind other than freedom, merely paying all the Vietnamese money wouldn't have worked. They'd have said "I can get $3600 or I can extend the reach of the Party. Hmm, looks like the Party is the better deal."

You're also ignoring the fact that waging a war is a risk, and many of the benefits happen only when you win the war. If the US had won the war, there are potential benefits that could have been much more valuable than what we'd get by buying the Vietnamese out of the war. (To pick an extreme hypothetical, imagine if the Soviets were deterred enough that they stayed out of Afghanistan, and the US stayed out too, and there never was a Bin Laden.)

Also, it wouldn't be difficult for the Vietnamese to come to us in another 5 years and say "give us each $3600 again or we start the war up." It's not so much a bribe as it is money being extorted from us by the North Vietnamese, and there's no reason they can't extort us a second time.
7.25.2006 2:28am
person (mail):
What RS said.

Maximizing rights seems antithetical to the whole concept of rights. Rights arise from the inherent value of an individual. To invade the rights of particular individual to maximize rights is not to treat that individual as possessing inherent value. Rights create "no trespassing" signs around individuals. Because the individual is valuable nothing can prima facie justify harming that individual.

Am I missing something?
7.25.2006 10:09am
David Tomlin (mail):

The Iraq war isn't analogous to the Cold War policy of containment, but to the 'rollback' policies that were debated and rejected. Examples would be sending NATO forces into Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968. Were there any libertarians supporting 'rollback'?
7.25.2006 10:44am
sbw (mail) (www):
I think the libertarian issue dealing with other societies needs to be teased apart. Liberty is not the precise measure for dealing with other societies, although what I define as civil societies below will value liberty.

Previously, one society would interact according to the law of the jungle with other societies unless and until those societies agreed by their words and action to other, perhaps more civil, arrangements.

What distinguishes civil society from other societies is that adherents within a civil society commit to a process of peaceful problem resolution with other adherents. Civil societies, buffered from other societies by natural and technological boundaries, have not previously been obliged to establish a process for how to respond to actions by other less civil societies. However, scientific understanding of the laws of nature has broken down the buffers between all societies, civil and uncivil, requiring a change in how societies interact with each other. On this small planet, uncivil societies have become spectacularly dangerously powerful.

Civil society has only two characteristics. First, it codifies a continuous process of internal change that allows it to discover and implement better ways of doing things. It institutionalizes the humility that sometimes we think we are right only because we think we are correct. Second, -- and this follows from the first -- since we are together working towards the best way of doing things we have to respect the contributions of others by giving them due consideration.

How to respond to a society depends. Is it a civil society? How does it treat its citizens? Does it allow the free exchange of ideas? Does it embrace continuous peaceful change? How does it deal with other civil societies?

This is not anti-libertarian.
7.25.2006 11:10am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
I have to agree with some of those above that have criticized the allegedly "maximizing" libertarian philosophy. To me it seems to approach, if not cross the line into, collectivism enforced by coercion. There's hardly anything recognizably libertarian about that.

And note that with interventionalism you run into the problem that you do with all other government projects - you are giving up a bird in the hand (taxpayer's money and citizens' lives) for what is almost always less, most of the time much less, than a bird in the theoretical bush. And in the case of wars you sometimes get into negative bird territory, since many countries have been savaged, ruined, and bankrupted in war even as the "winner".

I also disagree with the characterization of some libertarians as "dovish". Maybe there are some pacifist libertarians, but most (I would say the vast majority) advocate the right to self-defense, and vigorous self-defense at that. (Of course "pre-emption" really doesn't qualify as self-defense.) A libertarian administration would have no problem hunting down whoever was responsible for 9/11, they just wouldn't have invaded and started a war with an unrelated country.

PS: If anyone's tempted, save the "anti-American" and "traitor" crap. I support our troops, which is why I don't want to see any more killed for some unrealistic nutso theories.
7.25.2006 1:36pm
hmmm:
Ilya,

Thanks for your response on Buchanan, as I know this was an insignificant aspect of the post. I still feel that you need to be more careful here. The link you gave offers statements by Buchanan that could be described as careless and insensitive, but I do not see anything "anti-semitic" there (in the sense of hating Jews because they are Jews). If Buchanan were complaining about the harm to society that Jews have done, or something like that, than I'd be inclined to agreed with your assessment. But from what I've read, he's not doing anything like that.

People like Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh are regularly accused of bigotry, although from what I read they have a wide range of friends and acquaintances of other races and religions. Buchanan is not someone I think very highly of, but I think that throwing around anti-semitism charges undermines your other arguments. It's true that you're not the only one saying it, so I'm not saying you are completely off base. But I think it would be good to go beyond the usual rhetoric on an issue like this one.
7.25.2006 1:50pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The problem with Libertarians, especially American Libertarians, is that they want to believe in American exceptionalism and have to believe in all kinds of fairy tales and ignore some hard truths about private property for their fantastical notions to work.

First of all how any libertarian would want anything to do with anything martial is beyond me. The military is the absolute pinnacle of government inefficiency and should represent everything a libertarian hates. It is the ultimate expression of government coercian, wasted resources, and the most anti-democratic institution of government. When it is used in offensive operations it is depriving others of their life, liberty and property. Much of the constitution is devoted to limiting the power of the military.

But of course, considering that vast majority of the private property in this country was obtained by military action, I guess libertarians really should be supportive of war since that is the source of private property after all, isn't it. And that is the central contradiction of libertarianism, that without government to create and define it, personal liberty and private property wouldn't even exist.
7.25.2006 3:41pm
sbw (mail) (www):
JFT: First of all how any libertarian would want anything to do with anything martial is beyond me.

If no minimal society exists, libertarians have no society within which to function -- They'd be permanently stuck in the jungle with no structure or moral framework just like all the rest of the animals. Society, and morality for that matter, is manufactured by humans -- a creation some try to take advantage of.

Your job is imagine what is minimally acceptable behavior that allows a diversity of otherwise different societies to blossom and flourish, and what to do when that level of behavior is not met. If you can't do that, then you haven't met the ante for the game being played by humanity.
7.25.2006 5:42pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
RS -- You keep insisting that I believe in maximizing "goodness," so why don't I maximize that directly. I keep insisting that I don't believe in maximizing goodness. Or, rather, that my notion of goodness, which I seek to maximize, is no more nor less than rights. So maximizing rights and maximizing my source-of-goodness directly, under this conception, are the same thing.

How many more times do I need to say that for you to take it seriously? There is no other source of goodness (on this view) that one can maximize.

By the way, you do at least correctly state my view that:

Basically, then, you are maximizing the sum of rights (i.e., if a right does not conflict, you select it; if it conflicts, your values determine which right is selected). You are not, therefore, committed to any particular right--it can be over-ridden in the maximizing of the total sum of rights.

In your puppies analogy, you conclude that someone who wants to maximize puppies but still kills them isn't committed to puppies as moral entities. I don't think the puppies analogy is very clean (because the first puppies stands for "rights" while the second puppies stands for "rights-holders"), but I get your gist, and I don't see how this follows. I do see rights-holders as moral entities, but unfortunately I also see rights as conflicting. There are libertarians who don't run into this problem because (on their view of rights) rights never conflict (mainly because of action-inaction distinctions), but I'm not one of them.

For instance, commenter "Person" says:

Maximizing rights seems antithetical to the whole concept of rights. Rights arise from the inherent value of an individual. To invade the rights of particular individual to maximize rights is not to treat that individual as possessing inherent value. Rights create "no trespassing" signs around individuals. Because the individual is valuable nothing can prima facie justify harming that individual.

I agree with the general idea of that comment. All that "inherent value of an individual" stuff is right on. But what if (on my view of rights) someone's rights are going to be violated regardless? Then nothing I do will lead to the no-trespassing option.

As an example, consider the "I kill innocent Germans" vs. "Hitler kills innocent Americans" scenario. Some libertarian pacifists say "Let Hitler do it because then he's at fault and you haven't violated any rights." Objectivists, as well as some libertarians who believe in self-defense say "Kill the innocent Germans because that's an unavoidable consequence of your right to self-defense and therefore you're not violating any rights." I, on the other hand, see that someone's rights will be violated either way; I don't particularly care who's doing the rights violating; and I just want to choose the path that leads to the "least" rights violation.

So, I repeat: I do treat rights holders as moral entities, and my view of what the substantive rights are is quite similar to many other libertarians'. But because I see lots of situations where rights will be violated regardless, I'm forced into a balancing situation.

And I'm not maximizing goodness!
7.25.2006 8:13pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas-

First of all how any libertarian would want anything to do with anything martial is beyond me. The military is the absolute pinnacle of government inefficiency and should represent everything a libertarian hates. It is the ultimate expression of government coercian, wasted resources, and the most anti-democratic institution of government.

Well most libertarians aren't hawks. They realize there is a need to defend the country and that the military is created and authorized by the Constitution, but they don't revel in it and they want it to be as non-wasteful as possible. Many believe the military should be used sparingly and be subject to a number of checks and balances - like Congress having to actually declare war, for example.

When it is used in offensive operations it is depriving others of their life, liberty and property. Much of the constitution is devoted to limiting the power of the military.

For the most part libertarians don't believe the military should be used for offensive operations, only defensive ones. (Offensive operations within an overall defensive conflict legitimately and Constitutionally initiated in self-defense would qualify as defensive.) And of course most libertarians support the Constitutional limitations on the military.

But of course, considering that vast majority of the private property in this country was obtained by military action, I guess libertarians really should be supportive of war since that is the source of private property after all, isn't it.

Well one has to live in the real world. Libertarians can't go back in a time machine and right all the wrongs that have occurred throughout history. They were born or have become citizens of this country and therefore will likely focus on maximizing freedom and liberty here.

And your argument quickly becomes absurd when applied objectively. When does the property clock stop or start? At a point you arbitrarily decide? Was the first human over the frozen Bering Strait the true owner of the Americas? What about the Polynesians that we now think made it to the west coast by sea? What about the Vikings and possibly others that made it here pre-Columbus? Is everyone after the first human a thief? What are the requirements for valid title? Language? Written communication? Organized monotheistic religion? If libertarians are remiss about this, surely everyone else is as well.

And that is the central contradiction of libertarianism, that without government to create and define it, personal liberty and private property wouldn't even exist.

I'm not sure that it can be termed a contradiction. Libertarians believe the protection of property and other rights is the only reason for governments to exist, and that when they go much beyond those essential services they tend to decrease liberty and violate rights - thus becoming counterproductive. It might help to refer to the libertarian idea of "natural rights. Libertarians believe in rights existing before government, indeed in some cases despite government, and that the only reasons for government to exist is to protect and defend those rights.
7.26.2006 1:00am
abc123@gmail.com (mail):
I think we can finally say that the non-interventionist libertarians proved to be far more prescient than the interventionists. For all of the comments from people who "agree with the libertarians on most things, but find their isolationist foreign policy dangerous," we live in a far more dangerous and destablized and, at least domestically, less free world than we did before we intervened. So, thanks for nothing, my interventionist libertarian friends.
7.26.2006 3:12am
lance@asecondhandconjecture.com (mail) (www):
Ilya,

Thanks for the link. I decided in light of todays discussion to more directly address the topic. Here is the url:

http://asecondhandconjecture.com/?p=15

Fuz,

Thanks for the link. I really enjoyed Stephen Cox's piece.

Sasha,

I think you have things pretty straight.
7.26.2006 3:33am
sbw (mail) (www):
abc123: the non-interventionist libertarians proved to be far more prescient than the interventionists.

Not so fast. You take advantage selecting the most convenient segment of the timeline to prove your point. Remember, Neville Chamberlain could claim peace in our time up to the point in the timeline when he discovered otherwise.

That's the problem with not examining the processes of society.
7.26.2006 11:21am
person (mail):
Sasha,
There is a world of difference between violating rights to promote rights (e.g. waging war to liberate a nation), and having to choose between respecting the rights of many individuals or the rights of the fewer.
7.26.2006 1:23pm
David J. Theroux (mail) (www):
In reference to your recent posting, Libertarianism, the Iraq War, and the Division in the Friedman Household, the following might be of special interest:

"Are Questions of War and Peace Merely One Issue Among Many for Libertarians?", by Robert Higgs

As any libertarian should know, those who believe that moral ethics can be based on some collectivist, utilitarian calculus of "the end justifying the means" are hopelessly trapped in the dilemma of admitting that they do not subscribe to any moral ethics that would defend individual rights and the Rule of Law. Not only are rights by definition not situational in war or peace, every means is an end in itself, always dooming collectivist "ethics" to be nothing other than an excuse for trampling on rights. And moreover, because the ethics of individual rights is rooted in natural law, the practical consequences of collectivist "ethics" cannot produce the desired outcome, regardless of the "long run." In effect, collectivist "ethics" are neither moral nor utilitarian.

--David J. Theroux
Founder and President, The Independent Institute
-------------------

Thanks!

But I don't agree that any consequentialist ethical system must necessarily be "collectivist" or that libertarians must completely abjure all weighing of ends against means. Whether one libertarianism in consequentialist or "deontological" terms there can be real-world cases where advancing libertarian value A may mean sacrificing to some degree libertarian value B.

--Ilya Somin
-------------------

I fully agree with you that there can be various theories of ethical systems, including consequentialist ones. My point is that all consequentialist systems are unstable and not ethically coherent. Such systems cannot be libertarian since libertarianism is by definition an ethical system of rights. Consequentialist systems may be many things, but they cannot be libertarian for the simple reason that such systems will include conclusions which will advocate non-libertarian solutions, including collectivist ones. In other words, a non-rights-based system cannot be expected to be a rights-based system.

This dilemma is a fundamental flaw in the thinking of many consequentialist classical liberals, who when push comes to shove regarding an issue that they are unclear of and/or fearful about, will too often default to the state as the solution. The behavior of many classical liberals in the aftermath of 9/11 has made this all too clear, as Robert Higgs notes in his recent commentary. And interestingly enough, such conclusions have included jettisoning even the consequentialist arguments they otherwise would use, such as public choice insights.

As for the weighing of ends and means, all human action involves doing so. However, all human action is not libertarian, and this is the reason to have a system of ethics in the first place. The libertarian ethical point remains that the end never justifies the means because every means is an end in itself. In a libertarian natural law system, all means should be subject to the same rules of non-aggression. For the libertarian, only non-invasive means are acceptable and form the universal basis for the Rule of Law. Situational ethics regarding means is out of court and various weighed forms or degrees of invasiveness are not acceptable means for any ends.

In short, a Benthamite or other utilitarian/consequentialist system of ethics is not libertarian, and good natural law scholars before and since Bentham have understood this.

Since you mention ontology, I might also add the point that it is no accident that consequentialist ethics usually go hand in hand with a naturalist world view because the naturalist cannot produce a coherent basis for rights or even libertarian agency from naturalism. Furthermore, not only does the naturalist/consequentialist fail to produce a system of moral ethics, but as Alvin Plantinga and others have shown, naturalism ultimately implodes on itself as a system of rational inquiry. The utilitarian fails to produce a coherent system of ethics because consequentialism itself is confined by the philosophical poverty of naturalism. It is hence no surprise that so many consequentialists have embraced the post-9/11 collectivism of the "war on terror."

In this regard, you may find the following of interest:

"Naturalism and Libertarian Agency," by Stewart Goetz

--David J. Theroux
Founder and President, The Independent Institute
7.27.2006 6:05pm
sbw (mail) (www):
DJT: In a libertarian natural law system, all means should be subject to the same rules of non-aggression. For the libertarian, only non-invasive means are acceptable and form the universal basis for the Rule of Law

Stating it isn't as useful as explaining it. It's not obvious on the face of it. [Admitting, along the way, that you punch holes in the utilitarian/consequentialist position.]
7.27.2006 11:56pm