Libertarians and the War:
In today's Wall Street Journal (available for free here on OpinionJournal.com), I have an op-ed on Libertarians and the War in which I note that libertarian first principles do not dictate a single stance towards the war in Iraq and that libertarians are indeed divided on the issue. Here is a portion from the middle:
. . . Does being a libertarian commit one to a particular stance toward the Iraq war? The simple answer is "no."The point of this essay is not to debate the merits of the Iraq war but to inform those who may be unaware that libertarians can come down on either side of this issue.
First and foremost, libertarians believe in robust rights of private property, freedom of contract, and restitution to victims of crime. They hold that these rights define true "liberty" and provide the boundaries within which individuals may pursue happiness by making their own free choices while living in close proximity to each other. Within these boundaries, individuals can actualize their potential while minimizing their interference with the pursuit of happiness by others.
When it comes to foreign policy, libertarians' severe skepticism of government planning in the domestic arena carries over to the government's ability to accomplish anything positive through foreign aid, whether economic or military--a skepticism they share with most Americans. All libertarians, I suspect, oppose military conscription on principle, considering it involuntary servitude. To a libertarian, any effort at "nation building" seems to be just another form of central planning which, however well-motivated, is fraught with unintended consequences and the danger of blowback. And, like most everyone, libertarians oppose any war of aggression. In all these regards, Mr. Paul is a mainstream libertarian.
But like all libertarians, even Mr. Paul believes in the fundamental, individual right of self-defense, which is why libertarians like him overwhelmingly support the right to keep and bear arms. And most also believe that when the territory of the U.S. is attacked militarily, the government--which claims a monopoly on providing for national defense and extracts billions of tax dollars for this purpose--is justified in using the military in self-defense. For this reason, many libertarians (though not all) who now oppose the war in Iraq supported U.S. military actions against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had aided and harbored the al Qaeda network that organized the 9/11 attack.
But here is the rub. While all libertarians accept the principle of self-defense, and most accept the role of the U.S. government in defending U.S. territory, libertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack. Devising a military defense strategy is a matter of judgment or prudence about which reasonable libertarians may differ greatly. . . .
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