The Libertarian Standard » Anthony Gregory Property - Prosperity - Peace Sun, 18 Jan 2015 07:28:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A new website and group blog of radical Austro-libertarians, shining the light of reason on truth and justice. The Libertarian Standard clean The Libertarian Standard (The Libertarian Standard) CC-BY Property - Prosperity - Peace The Libertarian Standard » Anthony Gregory TV-G Against the Libertarian Cold War Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:54:17 +0000 A controversy has arisen in the libertarian movement over the proper approach to the events concerning Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea. Like many such controversies, it has quickly polarized almost everyone, and has served as a proxy for long-standing factionalism within the movement. People quickly accuse each other of supporting Putin’s aggression or backing violent U.S. intervention. I myself have been accused of both kissing up to the Russian regime and dishing out State Department propaganda. This doesn’t itself show I have the right balance in my position, only that this feud has galvanized libertarians and hardened their rhetorical loyalties.

We might learn something from looking back at the 20th century. During the Cold War, most western critics of state power erred too far in one direction or the other. There were some whose opposition to U.S. wars led them to soften their assessment of communist aggression. Free-market and leftist lovers of peace both made this mistake. At the same time, many who favored economic and political liberty often let their anti-communism translate into support for American militarism and the security state. This confusion pervaded Americans across the spectrum.

We can all see this now: Yes, some antiwar Americans were obscenely soft on the communists. Well-meaning but foolish westerners said nice things about Lenin, Stalin, and Mao—and many of a more moderate tinge had no perspective of just how much worse international communism was than the U.S. system, at least as it concerned domestic affairs. Meanwhile, many libertarians and almost all conservatives ditched their supposed attachment to skepticism of government power and signed onto the U.S. Cold War effort. This American project included dozens of coups and interventions, the instruction of foreign secret police in unspeakable torture techniques, murderous carpet bombings that killed hundreds of thousands of peasants, and wars that indirectly brought about the Khmer Rouge and the rise of Islamist fundamentalism, both of which also became directly funded in the name of anti-communism.

It is easy to look back and see how westerners were wrong on both the Cold War and communist states—each of which killed millions of people and nearly brought the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust.

The stakes were so much higher then than in anything going on with Russia now. Imprecision in one’s moral assessment—either in defense of Nixon or Tito—was far more condemnable than criticizing Putin or Obama too harshly. The errors of almost all the great 20th century libertarians, free marketers, and peaceniks far exceeded any errors some might have today in their appraisal of NATO or Russia and Ukraine. And yet we forgive many people on both sides of that Cold War division. No one today actually thinks Hayek was a neocon or Rothbard a pinko.

Today’s polarization is all the more frustrating given that the bulk of American libertarians seem to agree on two major points: (1) the U.S. should not intervene in Eastern Europe and (2) Putin’s various power grabs are indefensible. Thus, most libertarians are not truly as divided as well-meaning Americans were in the Cold War.

Now, one’s emphasis is important. Not all acts of aggression are equal. But before addressing that, it’s useful to try to actually understand the splits in the movement right now.

I easily identify four factions, not two: (A) There are people who outright defend Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Crimea, and who otherwise downplay his autocratic tendencies; (B) There are those who agree that Putin is worth condemning, but who think it’s more important to emphasize the evils of U.S. interventionism; (C) There are those who agree that U.S. intervention is unwise and maybe even unethical, but who think it’s most important right now to emphasize Putin’s despotism; (D) There are those who outright favor U.S. and western intervention to stop Putin.

The polarization of discussion has led to A and B teaming up against C and D. It has also led to people in the B camp pretending like “no one” on their side is actually defending Putin, while people in the C camp are pretending “no one” on their side is actually calling for war or major U.S. interventions.

A principled opponent of state power is tempted to say that in fact B and C are on one side, despite differences in emphasis, and A and D are two extremes flirting with nationalist statism. This is my position, although I will say that I have friends—good friends—who flirt with being in camp A as well as in camp D. It happens. And to make the point again, during the Cold War, any libertarian activist would have probably had some friends who advocated nuclear strikes against the USSR, and others who supported Soviet control of the Eastern Bloc. Both of these positions would have been completely immoral and disgusting—far worse than anything said by anyone in Camp A or Camp D today. Yet today’s Cold War replay is leading people to defriend each other in the name of Manichean struggle. The tendency of people to break ties with others over this will only increase the polarization and erode mutual understanding.

On the other hand, camps A and D are at least being outright in their positions, while B and C are letting themselves get dragged into a flame war against each other when they both agree on both Putin’s and America’s actions. Both B and C are being disingenuous about some of their allies in the attempt to seem reasonable and principled and to say the other side is the only one that’s unbalanced.

In both cases, the problem appears to be nationalism—a desire to defend Putin’s actions as consistent with Russian, rather than individualist, concerns; or a desire to see American intervention as being more defensible than Russian aggression because, well, at least it’s American, and we have better, more liberal values at home. Both tendencies are in fact very illiberal, as are the attempts to collectively attack people on the “other side” of this debate when for all you know some of them agree with you on all the fundamentals more than some of the people “on your side” do.

The arguments over Russia have brought the Cold War back to the movement. They have fractured those primarily committed to anti-interventionism and those primarily concerned with liberty for all worldwide, when in fact these values are two sides of the same coin. The primary libertarian reason to oppose U.S. wars, of course, is that they kill foreigners, that they divide people into tribes based on nationality, that they are acts of nationalist aggression.

Discursively, refighting the Cold War within libertarianism will only harden people’s hearts, polarize their loyalties, and ultimately compromise their principles and clarity of thought. I plead young libertarians to refuse to be a proxy belligerent in this Cold War when for the most part it’s probably not really about Russia or Crimea at all; it’s about major factions within the movement with more fundamental disagreements using this as an opportunity to fight. If you actually seek to understand everyone’s positions, you’ll be surprised how heterogeneous attitudes are, despite the attempt to turn this current affairs disagreement into a grander sectarian dispute.

So what should we think? We should probably take a middle ground between B and C. Putin isn’t just an aggressor; he’s one of the worst on the planet. He killed tens of thousands of Chechens. He oversees one of the most vast prison populations on earth. He is essentially a late-communist holdover of the party variety in everything but name, and his violations of civil liberties, free speech, and the dignity of homosexuals and others are not minor matters for any libertarian who cares about the rights of all people on earth. His invasion of Ukraine was unjustified. His annexation of Crimea cannot be defended and although some critics have exaggerated the evils of this territorial power grabs by comparing them to Stalin’s or Hitler’s expansionism, it is true that Putin’s defenders’ arguments based on ethnic nationalism could indeed be used to justify the most infamous European land grabs that occurred that same decade.

As for the United States, its foreign policy is a lot worse than Putin’s biggest detractors wish to acknowledge. While Putin has killed more people than Obama, he does not appear to have killed more people as Bush—and yes, it is a moral failure and deviation from libertarianism to downplay the Iraq war as anything less than one of the very worst international atrocities of our new century, and one that dramatically taints the moral character of U.S. diplomacy. What the last few U.S. administrations have done will haunt much of the world for decades. And the aggression has hardly ceased. Obama’s drone killings are one of the most infamous human rights violations on the planet, the drug war imposed on Mexico has taken tens of thousands of lives, and America’s own civil liberties record is far worse than some on Team America wish to confront. There are tens of millions of people much worse off throughout the world because of recent U.S. diplomacy and wars, and only a cold utilitarian would even attempt to justify this record.

I understand why some libertarians are inclined to emphasize one point or the other. Those Americans focusing on U.S. criminality are right that we have more influence, albeit marginally so, on the government that lords over us, that if we don’t stand up to the U.S. war machine and its covert ops, no one will, and that criticism of foreign aggression often fuels war propaganda at home. But others are frustrated that just because the U.S. government condemns Russian aggression, they’re supposed to keep quiet. “My country is the world,” as Tom Paine said, and libertarians around the world should condemn aggression anywhere it happens. Pretending the U.S. government is the world’s only major problem is naïve at best. The first group is often right that liberal states are more belligerent in foreign affairs, and the second group is often right that it’s easy for people here to forget about victims of foreign oppression. Such dynamics played themselves out in the Cold War, too, and both sides had a point. It would have been demoralizing to be berated for attacking either U.S. or Soviet aggression in those times.

It is hard to maintain the right level of nuance and principle. I think John Glaser and the Jesse Walker blog entry he links to are good models of principled libertarian commentary. And I agree with plenty of points being made on multiple sides of the various controversies. Those who wish to purge either Ron Paul’s followers or the Student for Liberty internationalists over this are ignoring the points of agreement as well as the odious errors on their own side, and maybe even their own errors, and are blowing things out of proportion.

Did I myself get the balance perfectly right? Perhaps not. The right balance would have been even harder during the Cold War, and yet it would have mattered much more then. So please, everyone, take a step back. It’s fun as hell to get in faction fights. Sectarian squabbles are the force that gives us meaning. But you’ll find yourself drained and with fewer friends in the end. Don’t pretend your fellow libertarians are themselves worse than Russian nationalists or the Pentagon. It’s not true in either case. Our unifying enemy should be the same: aggression, whether it is ordered from Moscow or Washington DC.

Whenever anyone strays from this balance, it’s good to bring up what they’re missing. Then you’ll see who your true allies are, who the trolls are, and who is simply using this as a battle to refight old clashes in the movement. You’ll also find out what people’s actual position is, and that might help inform your own.


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On Libertarian Factionalism, Our Critics, Conservative Associations and State Power Mon, 27 Jan 2014 15:59:21 +0000 The generation of libertarians seen in such outfits as SFL excites and encourages me. I especially approve its efforts to cleanse the movement of the type of bigotry that emerged after years of the libertarian movement’s circumstantial alliance with conservatives to battle against New Deal liberalism. Finally, young libertarians seem poised to differentiate themselves entirely from rightwing mythology and error.

I worry, however, that many of the young libertarians, particularly centered around the DC institutions, might lose sight of the importance of radical anti-statism. This all relates to something I can best explain by way of a little autobiography.

I was always a cosmopolitan libertarian. Although I had my origins on the right, I have favored gay marriage and open borders since I was in junior high in the mid-1990s. I have always disliked the notion that white upper middle class men were somehow the most persecuted minority. I have always seen law enforcement’s treatment of people of color as one of the greatest problems in American culture. I have, with varying degrees of intensity, long been sympathetic to such leftish concerns as feminism and the need for the poorest to be liberated from the state infrastructure that keeps them down.

There are many like me who in the 1990s tended to see our values most represented in institutions like CATO and Reason, and who were suspicious of the seemingly conservative tendencies of other libertarians, such as those associated with Ron Paul.

The main reason so many of us were repelled by these cosmo groups and attracted to the paleos in the following decade was simple: 9/11 and the following response by the government seemed to illustrate that we were wrong to assume that CATO-style libertarians were more “liberal” than the paleos. Cato took years to seriously confront the issue of torture. Whereas many libertarians in the beltway began equivocating on border issues just when they got even more important, the paleos, in contrast, began rethinking their earlier skepticism of immigration in the age of Bush. On the police state, the paleos became abolitionists and radicals just as other libertarians became defenders of the FBI and CIA. In the last decade, it was the Rothbardians that radicalized the movement on police abolition, IP abolition, and military abolition.

The most dangerous form of bigotry in American culture from 2001 on, at least at first, seemed to be Islamophobia, and the Randians and mainstream libertarians went soft just as the state was rounding up innocent people and throwing them in dungeons such as at Guantánamo. Starting in the Bush administration, a CATO scholar started defending the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping and John Stossel publicly defended it on the Colbert Report. Efforts to reach out to liberals during the second Bush term often came from the very cosmo libertarians who were for the Iraq war, and who, for what it’s worth, tended to equivocate on abortion rights and immigration as well.

On what I consider the number one issue of the last decade and a half—war and militarism—the cosmo libertarians dropped the ball, time and again: on torture, on bombing Afghanistan, on the timetable in Iraq, on detention policy, on surveillance, on military recruiters on college campuses, on the warfare state as such.

Everyone realizes finally that the war on terror has become the biggest single threat to our liberty, the method by which the state has finally virtually destroyed privacy altogether, the main engine of government growth, the main fuel of the lawless presidency, the reason we have cops with tanks and battle rifles even in small towns. And directly and indirectly, the most bigoted policies in the last generation have been advanced in the name of a cause that too many libertarians have been at best ambivalent on. The war in Afghanistan today seems obviously horrible to almost everyone, but when it most mattered—when we had a chance to stop the bloodshed and the inevitable cascade of unending conflict and death that bombing and invasion would inaugurate—the whole mainstream libertarian movement was busy rubbing shoulders with the most corrupt Republicans since the Nixon administration.

The Rothbardians, even the socially conservative Rothbardians, were always right about these, some of the very biggest issues of our day. They also opened the door to other forms of radicalism, and, indirectly at least, Ron Paul activism has appeared to vastly radicalized the movement and brought in far more women and minorities. The radical anti-state, war-hating, peace-loving, establishment-condemning message of Rothbardian-Paulianism has, in its own way, made the movement far more cosmopolitan. Indeed, I think the welcome change in libertarian demographics to better represent the general population has many roots in Ron Paul activism.

At the same time, fringe cultural conservatives, in all their reactionary quirkiness, can be found in the “respectable” libertarian factions as well. There are famous race realists who hang out with the think tankers. I’ve seen Christian Reconstructionists tabling at a regional SFL event. The Birchers and Patriot types have as much a grip on libertarian activism in the west as in the South. And of course, the Republican impulses of many factions of the movement—even those enlightened enough to support gay marriage—have long tainted the movement with corporate apologia and, by proxy, rightwing culture warring. Before the NYT attacked libertarians for ties to neoconfederates, the New Yorker attacked us for ties to the Koch Brothers, and you had better believe that progressives will remember that exposé long after they forget about the NYT one.

The New Yorker attack was unfair, and brought on a wave of progressive conspiracy theorizing about how libertarians were allying with Republicans to abolish the state according to the philosophical platform of pacifist Robert LeFevre. My point is, we will always be attacked, our unsavory associations will always be cited but they are rarely necessary, most of our enemies hate libertarianism in its pure form more than they have conservatism, and practically every faction of our movement is vulnerable.

I have become far more ecumenical over the last couple years. I have taken a lesson from my model of a libertarian scholar, Robert Higgs. This ecumenicism might lose me some friends, but I don’t want to have any more enemies among libertarians. I see great value in much of what many of these organizations do, and I think there are very important issues on which my biggest allies over the last decade or so aren’t the most correct.

But I do want the younger libertarians to understand something: the mainstream libertarian organs, as great as they are—and they are great—have also made bad associations and have failed to uphold our values as times. Some of them won’t admit it, but many of them were wrong about what became the most pressing issues of our day.

The truth is not to be found in sectarianism. Please consider that.

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Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the U.S. Terror State Tue, 06 Aug 2013 16:16:06 +0000 Being a U.S. war criminal means never having to say sorry. Paul Tibbets, the man who flew the Enola Gay and destroyed Hiroshima, lived to the impressive age of 92 without publicly expressing guilt for what he had done. He had even reenacted his infamous mission at a 1976 Texas air show, complete with a mushroom cloud, and later said he never meant this to be offensive. In contrast, he called it a “damn big insult” when the Smithsonian planned an exhibit in 1995 showing some of the damage the bombing caused.

We might understand a man not coming to terms with his most important contribution to human history being such a destructive act. But what about the rest of the country?

It’s sickening that Americans even debate the atomic bombings, as they do every year in early August. Polls in recent years reveal overwhelming majorities of the American public accepting the acts as necessary.

Conservatives are much worse on this topic, although liberals surely don’t give it the weight it deserves. Trent Lott was taken to the woodshed for his comments in late 2002 about how Strom Thurmond would have been a better president than Truman. Lott and Thurmond both represent ugly strains in American politics, but no one dared question the assumption that Thurmond was obviously a less defensible candidate than Truman. Zora Neale Hurston, heroic author of the Harlem Renaissance, might have had a different take, as she astutely called Truman “a monster” and “the butcher of Asia.” Governmental segregation is terrible, but why is murdering hundreds of thousands of foreign civilians with as much thought as one would give to eradicating silverfish treated as simply a controversial policy decision in comparison?

Perhaps it is the appeal to necessity. We hear that the United States would have otherwise had to invade the Japanese mainland and so the bombings saved American lives. But saving U.S. soldiers wouldn’t justify killing Japanese children any more than saving Taliban soldiers would justify dropping bombs on American children. Targeting civilians to manipulate their government is the very definition of terrorism. Everyone was properly horrified by Anders Behring Breivik’s 2011 murder spree in Norway – killing innocents to alter diplomacy. Truman murdered a thousand times as many innocents on August 6, 1945, then again on August 9.

It doesn’t matter if Japan “started it,” either. Only individuals have rights, not nations. Unless you can prove that every single Japanese snuffed out at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was involved in the Pearl Harbor attack, the murderousness of the bombings is indisputable. Even the official history should doom Truman to a status of permanent condemnation. Besides being atrocious in themselves, the U.S. creation and deployment of the first nuclear weapons ushered in the seemingly endless era of global fear over nuclear war.

However, as it so happens, the conventional wisdom is an oversimplification at best. The U.S. provoked the Japanese to fire the first shot, as more and more historians have acknowledged. Although the attack on Pearl Harbor, a military base, was wrong, it was far less indefensible than the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s civilian populations.

As for the utilitarian calculus of “saving American lives,” historian Ralph Raico explains:

[T]he rationale for the atomic bombings has come to rest on a single colossal fabrication, which has gained surprising currency: that they were necessary in order to save a half-million or more American lives. These, supposedly, are the lives that would have been lost in the planned invasion of Kyushu in December, then in the all-out invasion of Honshu the next year, if that was needed. But the worst-case scenario for a full-scale invasion of the Japanese home islands was forty-six thousand American lives lost.

The propaganda that the atomic bombings saved lives was nothing but a public relations pitch contrived in retrospect. These were just gratuitous acts of mass terrorism. By August 1945, the Japanese were completely defeated, blockaded, starving. They were desperate to surrender. All they wanted was to keep their emperor, which was ultimately allowed anyway. The U.S. was insisting upon unconditional surrender, a purely despotic demand. Given what the Allies had done to the Central Powers, especially Germany, after the conditional surrender of World War I, it’s understandable that the Japanese resisted the totalitarian demand for unconditional surrender.

A 1946 U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey determined the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nukings were not decisive in ending the war. Most of the political and military brass agreed. “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing,” said Dwight Eisenhower in a 1963 interview with Newsweek.

Another excuse we hear is the specter of Hitler getting the bomb first. This is a non sequitur. By the time the U.S. dropped the bombs, Germany was defeated and its nuclear program was revealed to be nothing in comparison to America’s. The U.S. had 180,000 people working for several years on the Manhattan Project. The Germans had a small group led by a few elite scientists, most of whom were flabbergasted on August 6, as they had doubted such bombs were even possible. Even if the Nazis had gotten the bomb – which they were very far from getting – it wouldn’t in any way justify killing innocent Japanese.

For more evidence suggesting that the Truman administration was out to draw Japanese blood for its own sake, or as a show of force for reasons of Realpolitik, consider the United States’s one-thousand-plane bombing of Tokyo on August 14, the largest bombing raid of the Pacific war, after Hirohito agreed to surrender and the Japanese state made it clear it wanted peace. The bombing of Nagasaki should be enough to know it was not all about genuinely stopping the war as painlessly as possible – why not wait more than three days for the surrender to come? But to strategically bomb Japan five days after the destruction of Nagasaki, as Japan was in the process of waving the white flag? It’s hard to imagine a greater atrocity, or clearer evidence that the U.S. government was not out to secure peace, but instead to slaughter as many Japanese as it could before consolidating its power for the next global conflict.

The U.S. had, by the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, destroyed 67 Japanese cities by firebombing, in addition to helping the British destroy over a hundred cities in Germany. In this dramatic footage from The Fog of War, Robert McNamara describes the horror he helped unleash alongside General Curtis LeMay, with images of the destroyed Japanese cities and an indication of what it would have meant for comparably sized cities in the United States:

“Killing fifty to ninety percent of the people in 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional – in the minds of some people – to the objectives we were trying to achieve,” McNamara casually says. Indeed, this was clearly murderous, and Americans are probably the most resistant of all peoples to the truths of their government’s historical atrocities. It doesn’t hurt that the U.S. government has suppressed for years evidence such as film footage shot after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet even based on what has long been uncontroversial historical fact, we should all be disgusted and horrified by what the U.S. government did.

How would it have been if all those Germans and Japanese, instead of being burned to death from the sky, were corralled into camps and shot or gassed? Materially, it would have been the same. But Americans refuse to think of bombings as even in the same ballpark as other technologically expedient ways of exterminating people by the tens and hundreds of thousands. Why? Because the U.S. government has essentially monopolized terror bombing for nearly a century. No one wants to confront the reality of America’s crimes against humanity.

It would be one thing if Americans were in wide agreement that their government, like that of the Axis governments of World War II, had acted in a completely indefensible manner. But they’re not. The Allies were the white hats. Ignore the fact that the biggest belligerent on America’s side was Stalin’s Russia, whom the FDR and Truman administrations helped round up a million or two refugees in the notorious undertaking known as Operation Keelhaul. We’re not supposed to think about that. World War II began with Pearl Harbor and it ended with D-Day and American sailors returning home to kiss their sweethearts who had kept America strong by working on assembly lines.

In the Korean war, another Truman project, the U.S. policy of shameful mass murder continued. According to historian Bruce Cumings, professor at the University of Chicago, millions of North Korean civilians were slaughtered by U.S. fire-bombings, chemical weapons and newly developed ordnance, some of which weighed in at 12,000 pounds. Eighteen out of 22 major cities were at least half destroyed. For a period in 1950, the US dropped about 800 tons of bombs on North Korea every day. Developed at the end of World War II, napalm got its real start in Korea. The US government also targeted civilian dams, causing massive flooding.

In Indochina, the U.S. slaughtered millions in a similar fashion. Millions of tons of explosives were dropped on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. These ghastly weapons are literally still killing people – tens of thousands have died since the war ended, and three farmers were killed not long ago. Among the horrible effects of the bombing was the rise of Pol Pot’s regime, probably the worst in history on a per capita basis.

The U.S. has committed mass terrorism since, although not on quite the scale as in past generations. Back in the day the U.S. would drop tons of explosives, knowing that thousands would die in an instant. In today’s wars, it drops explosives and then pretends it didn’t mean to kill the many civilians who predictably die in such acts of violence. Only fifteen hundred bombs were used to attack Baghdad in March 2003. That’s what passes as progress. The naked murderousness of U.S. foreign policy, however, is still apparent. The bombings of water treatment facilities and sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s deliberately targeted the vulnerable Iraqi people. Once the type of atrocities the U.S. committed in World War II have been accepted as at the worst debatable tactics in diplomacy, anything goes.

American politicians would have us worry about Iran, a nation that hasn’t attacked another country in centuries, one day getting the bomb. There is no evidence that the Iranians are even seeking nuclear weapons. But even if they were, the U.S. has a much worse record in both warmongering and nuclear terror than Iran or any other country in modern times. It is more than hypocritical for the U.S. to pose as the leader of global peace and nuclear disarmament.

The hypocrisy and moral degeneracy in the mouths of America’s celebrated leaders should frighten us more than anything coming out of Iran or North Korea, especially given America’s capacity to kill and willingness to do it. Upon dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, President Truman called the bomb the “greatest achievement of organized science in history” and wondered aloud how “atomic power can become a powerful and forceful influence toward the maintenance of world peace.” Nothing inverts good and evil, progress and regress, as much as the imperial state. In describing the perversion of morality in the history of U.S. wars, Orwell’s “war is peace” doesn’t cut it. “Exterminating civilians by the millions is the highest of all virtues” is perhaps a better tagline for the U.S. terror state.

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The Case for Independence Wed, 03 Jul 2013 22:42:53 +0000 On July 4th some Americans celebrate the rejection of empire. Politicians more likely see it as the US government’s birthday. Libertarians must decide which legacy the day truly commemorates, and celebrate or mourn appropriately.

If this is a day to remember liberation, disunion, the idea that a house divided might be more civil, peaceful and secure than one kept together by force—if we are to focus on the subversion of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence more than its inconsistencies—we should consider the benefits of reclaiming and radicalizing the spirit of 1776 and applying its principles to the present day. We should contemplate the possibility that what Americans and foreigners need is independence from the empire.

The American colonists had been particularly irked by the British government’s hypocrisy regarding the liberal tradition. The British prided themselves on having a liberal and enlightened political culture, complete with checks and balances, due process and the like. But they did not grant such privileges and immunities to their colonial subjects. They preached freedom and toleration but practiced international despotism. Edmund Burke, one of the most consistent proponents of liberty in Britain, decried this colonial hypocrisy as an enormous scandal.

Today, the US empire is everything the British empire was: It claims the banner of constitutional justice at home, it feigns interest in freedom abroad, it poses as the embodiment of liberty itself. But it treats those in its clutches, especially those in its remote grasp, as dispensable means to an imperial end. It slaughters civilians with no regard for the number. It enforces martial law in its exploits abroad. It is the champion and vindicator, not of foreign liberty, but of theocracies and socialist states everywhere. In the course of its reign, it has laid waste to millions of lives.

Barack Obama is a far greater tyrant than King George ever was. He claims the right to seize anyone in all the world — his designated battlefield in the war on terror — and deprive him of liberty or life without anything approaching due process. He asserts the right to kill anyone he deems a terrorist on his own discretion. Under modern presidents, the US has become just what John Quincy Adams warned it might: The Dictatress of the World.

The world’s people deserve their independence. Perhaps it would be fitting to start with the British. Liberate them from the post-9/11 foreign policy that only a minority of them approve. Wartime coalitions without representation are tyranny! They should be the first satellite freed, as a poetic gesture of honest friendship. The Brits didn’t release America without a fight, but perhaps they can be let go in peace.

Of course, Afghanistan must be freed immediately, as should all those living in regions terrorized by US intervention—Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, and all the rest. Is it not an embarrassment for Americans to celebrate the day with fireworks and barbecues yet think nothing of the perversity of it all, given what is happening in the Muslim world? US interference with Middle Eastern independence has been nothing but a repudiation of July-4th principles, at least since 1953 when the CIA overthrew Iranian democracy and installed a torturing inflationist monster. The US support, betrayals and overthrows of Arab and Muslim regimes have typically been incoherent, contradictory, and nakedly unjust. Such intervention has not protected but has rather endangered American lives and freedoms. The entangling alliance between the United States and Israel, which compromises the safety of both populations, must also end.

Then there are the other imperial holdings. There’s Old Europe, which should stop being bullied every time they don’t want to go to war for America. Just because Americans were dragged into World War II doesn’t mean the French should be dragged into the next installment, with presumed allegiance to Old Glory until the end of time. Bring GI Joe home from Germany, where he has absurdly been stationed for six decades, presumably in wait for Hitler’s resurrection, or the threats presented by the Soviet Union, always an economic invalid and now nearly two-decades defunct.

Then there’s New Europe, which should be freed from undue US government influence. Stop bribing their leaders and see how loyal their people really are to the neocon-neolib enterprise. It is high time the US stop playing elections to its advantage.

In Japan and Korea, American troops have long been the cause of much agitation and no visible good. Bring them home. Mao has long been dead, so it’s time the US government stopped pretending it’s all that’s keeping imaginary dominoes from falling all over Asia. Free trade with Asians would be good as well. Much of the original US imperial interest in Asia was commercial in nature, although now America’s protectionists fear Asia becoming capitalist and rich. It’s clear, however, that trade benefits both sides to the transaction, and empire only gets in the way.

Latin Americans’ self-determination declines whenever the US reinterprets the arrogant Monroe doctrine to award itself the keys to the capital city of yet another Spanish-speaking nation. Policy in the region has been brazenly colonial at least since the US imposed the Platt Amendment on the Cubans and stole Guantanamo Bay. The US should stop pretending it has always owned the Western Hemisphere, stop poisoning crops, stop staging coups and stop strong-arming Mexico and other countries into maintaining a draconian drug war.

US meddling in Africa also tends toward disaster, as Libya, Somalia and Sudan have shown. Extend to the African peoples total free trade and friendship, which is the best America can do to help them join the developing world. We should resist the internationalist temptation to redeploy into the continent with humanitarian bombs and altruistic bellicosity, as if in anticipation of a Joseph Conrad novel with a happy ending.

Australia, Canada (and every other country) should also get their independence, at last, from the US. No more global regulatory arm-twisting, manipulative foreign aid, threats or empty promises.

As for the American people, we should consider independence, too. For starters, half our income is taxed away and we have the biggest prison population on the planet. American government is much worse for American liberty than the British empire was, to an almost obscene degree.

Open up Common Sense and notice the radical insights about being governed from afar. There is simply no sense or justice in the same central state ruling everybody from Hawaii to Virginia, from Arizona to Vermont. The American Republic was a half-decent experiment, as far as such political experiments go, but it didn’t guarantee liberty even when the American population was 2% the size it is today.

American freedom and international peace will always be a mirage so long as the beast in Washington, DC, lords it over everyone on earth. There have always been Americans who saw no limits to the US government’s power, but let us once and for all tell these Hamiltonians and Wilsonians that we are sick of their crazed expansions and invasions and want some peace and freedom for a change.

Americans make particularly terrible imperialists. We are a people who prefer privacy and liberty in our own lives. We are a people with independence and rebellion in our national heritage. Ours is thus an even more hypocritical empire than that of the British. It’s long past time Americans stopped trampling across the globe as conquerors. As long as we pursue such conquests, we ourselves will remain conquered, shackled by our own chains. Edmund Burke’s rebuke of his nation’s imperial policy and his defense of American independence apply today as never before.

Our government, the biggest in human history, is the greatest threat to our freedom, drain on our wealth, and fomenter of international conflict. We cannot keep empire if we want liberty. We cannot be free if we seek to boss all of mankind around. To have the freedom that Jefferson described, we must let go of our foreign satellites and allow our compatriots and international brothers and sisters the freedom we want for ourselves.

Is such independence possible? Absolutely. Empires crumble. In 1775, few thought the Americans would soon be their own nation. The British empire suffered from pretensions to eternal life. The US empire may in some ways be unique, but it is no more permanent than any other. In stark contrast, the principles of human nature declared to the world from a small Philadelphia gathering 237 years ago were true then, before the US empire was born, and will remain true long after the US empire collapses.

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Sustainable Living, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Urban Farms Mon, 13 May 2013 22:31:03 +0000 In Oakland, California, not far from where I live, urban homesteading – growing food on private land for small-scale trade and consumption – has become so common the city government was forced to back off for once. In a rare triumph for sanity and freedom, anachronistic zoning ordinances from 1965 were liberalized to accommodate the city farmers. Molly Samuel explained at KQED:

“The city has already made some changes; it’s now legal to grow and sell vegetables on an empty lot with a conditional use permit. . . . Oakland North reports one of the hotly debated topics [at a city meeting] was animal husbandry: Should Oaklanders be permitted to raise, slaughter, and sell animals? Or not?”

Despite the remaining government bureaucracy, we have to cheer on the homesteaders. They are so impossible to ignore, hundreds of them flooding a city meeting, that the tyranny of zoning is being ratcheted back for once.

And although it has a leftish quality, libertarians ought to take notice of this counter-cultural movement, whose localizing agenda poses profound implications for the future of liberty. With the economic forecasts dire and the corporatist system of mega-farms firmly gripping the Obama administration and all federal politics for the foreseeable future, our rights and perhaps very lives may depend on the freedom to farm at home.

Libertarians often straddle radically different, sometimes seemingly opposed, stereotypes. We are simultaneously atomist rugged individualists and slaves to the anonymous division of labor found in modern cosmopolitanism. This seeming paradox is reconciled in our simultaneous love of political localism and integrated economics, self-sufficiency and the contemporary blessings of a thriving voluntary community. And as admirers of both the frontier and the integrated city life, we can see much to relate to in the urban homesteaders and their hybrid lifestyle of city-slicking, strenuous agrarianism.

The urban farmers too suffer from being pigeonholed as the type you’d find in quasi-socialist hippie communes. Their community’s language and cultural habits can be jarring to a free market radical, but they need not be as dissonant as they first sound. When a libertarian hears the term “sustainable living” – another common theme in urban homesteading – he might first think of the central planning-nightmare called “sustainable development” or EPA-mandated encumbrances on his track housing. But we can as plausibly interpret the meaning to be: “freedom from the vagaries of the public utilities system and state-subsidized mass agriculture.”

Even in the larger sustainable living communities, we see a diversity of social organization. “Most cohousing communities with gardens use organic gardening practices, but just as the culture of cohousing groups varies widely, organizing and running a cohousing garden is a highly individualized project,” writes Jenise Aminoff in the Fall 2010 issue of Urban Farm magazine. Indeed, while voluntary communalism is totally compatible with libertarianism, even shameless capitalists can find much to love. Eno Commons, “a suburban cohousing community on the outskirts of Durham, N.C.,” initially ran its “garden on a standard allotment model, where each unit was assigned a garden plot,” but this led to problems: “there was a disconnect between a small handful of people doing work but the whole community picking,” explains garden manager Katherine Lee. And so what did they do? Aminoff explains:

“Last fall, Lee proposed a radical change: a market model. With Lee as the manager doing most of the gardening work, residents now pay for their garden produce. On the night of the community’s weekly common meal, Lee harvests the garden’s produce and brings it ‘to market’ in the common house.”

Surely, most other approaches to communal gardening involve a bit less commercial exchange, but from a quarter-acre urban homestead or an integrated sustainable living community to a produce co-op and the farmers’ markets that have gloriously emerged in every major city, we see there is no conflict between the market economy and sustainable farming in a municipal context. The way of life is no less libertarian than living in a condo or homeownership association.

Agricultural Independence and Urban Farms vs. the State

What are in conflict, however, are sustainable living and city pastures up against the agricultural bureaucracy, the USDA, FDA, and government at all levels. Certainly, those who offer major competition to Big Ag are targeted. There have been at least fifteen raids of raw milk farms during this administration alone. The federal government has cracked down on independent farmers in gruesome ways. Huge corn and soy subsidies have distorted our food supply, putting corn syrup in nearly every processed food, warped migration patterns and impoverished third-world economies. Even patents play a role in the farming hegemony: Monsanto, the corporate food giant with influence in the last three presidential administrations (including the current one), owns genes that can be found in 90% of America’s soy. Wind inevitably blows the seeds from Monsanto crops to those owned by smaller farmers, after which the company claims intellectual property rights over the land and forbids farmers to save seeds – a traditional agricultural practice – and even sues farmers for merely “encouraging” the violation of these patents.

But even for the small, non-commercial city farmer, the state has become a threat. Even the mildest displays of homegrown produce have run into legal trouble. In July 2011 news traveled fast of the plight of Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan, who was threatened with 93 days of jail time for the crime of planting vegetables in her front yard. A mere five raised beds featuring corn, tomatoes, squash and other vegetables constituted her great offense. Amid a massive public uproar, the city dropped the charges. In most areas of everyday life, the state has become ever more intrusive and invasive. On growing our own food, however, Americans appear sick of being on the defensive. The mainstream adoption of urban homesteading can lead to one of the great retrenchments of state power and influence in our times, echoing the homeschooling movement that has grown so impressively in recent years.

Much of the urban farm movement can be traced to the World War-era victory gardens – what we might call a market response to a statist emergency. The phenomenon of growing your own food (among other consumables) took off in the 1960s and 1970s and is now back in the cities, taking them by storm. Once again, they are coming in response to institutional crisis. In cities suffering in every other way, urban farms might save the day. The Detroit Agriculture Network’s Kristine Hahn points to the city’s “113 community gardens. . ., 18 school gardens, and 220 family gardens” as signs of hope for that suffering city’s future, writes Elizabeth Wahl.

It is a global phenomenon: The USDA estimates that urban areas grow about 15 percent of the food worldwide. In some countries, socialist regimentation has made private gardens absolutely necessary for survival. The Soviet government’s attempts to feed the masses were infamously disastrous, particularly in the calamitous era of Lyskensoism from the 1920s to early 1960s, when the Russian government imposed bizarre standards of agriculture along “proletarian” lines – the forced collectivization of farming and the rejection of genetics and mainstream botanical practices as being based in bourgeois pseudo-science. As the government began looking the other way, its citizens were finally able to feed themselves. By the late Soviet era, 90% of the nation’s fresh vegetables and a good deal of its animal products were from “unofficial sources” – meaning dacha gardens and the small private plots that collective farmers were permitted to work in their spare time,” according to the Christian Science Monitor. These private gardens became crucial in the post-Soviet upheaval as well. A 2008 survey conducted by the Public Opinion Fund found that 56% of urban Russians had a dacha or “kitchen garden.” The American government is still not as dysfunctional as Russia’s but the laws of economics apply universally. Should another financial collapse come, American dachas could be our lifeline.

At least implicitly distrustful of Washington, the urban homesteading movement gets bigger every day. With bigness, however, comes the threat of politicization, and in particular the threat of these farms being harvested by government, the co-ops being co-opted by the state. As with the bureaucratic nationalization of the word “organic” and the trouble we see with farmers running into Monsanto’s patent police, the voluntarism of sustainable living may one day be supplanted by regimented control and corporatism.

A Diversity of Meanings and Conflicts

A hint at one might come, and how urban homesteaders, without some guidance on the ethics of liberty, might make themselves vulnerable to a corporate-state takeover, arrives in the story of a trademark skirmish from this February. The Dervaeas Institute, an organizational arm of the Dervaeas family well known throughout the community for its pioneering work, its respected farm in Pasadena, and its website, sent out cease and dissent letters to sixteen groups warning them about their appropriation of the term “Urban Homesteading.” According to Jess Watson, writing in the Summer 2011 edition of Edible East Bay, the letters immediately resulted in “the Facebook pages of IUH, the Denver Institute of Urban Homesteading (a farmers market), and several homesteading-related books [being] taken down.”

According to a Dervaeas press release, their cease and desist letters were only meant to inform the sixteen organizations of “the proper usage of the registered terms. No threat was made against anyone’s first amendment rights; yet, there has been a heated argument in the media against what should have been the Dervaeses’ normal rights to protect their trademarks.”

But perhaps “normal rights” must be rethought if they involve controlling how others use such a phrase as “urban homesteading.” Libertarians have unique insights on intellectual property’s incompatibility with traditional property rights, and maybe some radical free market thought is what this community needs. There is also the practical consideration: “Urban homesteading” yields 610,000 finds on Google. Some entries concern not just sustainable farming but actual homesteading – squatting on seemingly unclaimed property. This squatting can be both farm-related and libertarian: with the state neglecting huge swaths of so-called “public property,” community farming can be an act of revolutionary Lockeanism.

In 2006, the city government moved in to seize a plot of public land that had been effectively homesteaded by 350 farming families in central Los Angeles. The city had caved to public pressure not to place a garbage incinerator there in 1987. “The lot remained abandoned for seven more years, when [around 1994] working folks from the neighborhood set up on the unused land, established gardens and cultivated the land in the lot,” writes Charles Johnson. Ten years after they began homesteading the lot, the city sold it to a wealthy businessman who had owned a fraction of it before it was stolen by the government through eminent domain in the 1980s. Here again we see the state creating a mess of property rights and producing conflict where none need exist.

Thankfully, most urban homesteads simply involve city farming and sustainable living practices that rest comfortably on private land that isn’t disputed, putting aside the invasive limitations of zoning law. “Urban homesteading” can also refer to government programs of home ownership – this is of the least interest to the libertarian. Given all these various meanings of “urban homesteading,” perhaps we ought to reject the whole notion of controlling the term through intellectual property law.

We Must Cultivate Our Garden

The trademark heat did not deter Ruby Blume, a recipient of one of the letters, from moving ahead with the book she helped Rachel Kaplan write. Skyhorse publishing this year printed Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living, a little manifesto that explores the principles of permaculture, gardening methods, the intimate bond between what we grow and what we eat, and how to build sustainable homes. The politics, economics, and environmental values that creep in the text might be a bit hard for a libertarian to take, but there are a few insights we can relate to:\

“If we wait for government action before jumping on board, it will be too late. Change like this has to begin. In Congress. In the boardroom. In your home. You only have control over one of those things. Exert it.” (p. 9)

Indeed, today’s urban homesteaders are acting directly, taking responsibility in their own sphere of influence, to improve their lives and escape the limitations of the state-infested world – and they do so without isolating themselves, but rather by expanding upon their ties to their community.

Kaplan and Blume give a sense of the individualism of this movement, one not necessarily loyal to enviro-leftist conformity. San Francisco permaculture teacher Kevin Bayuk is quoted with something mightily similar, in substance if not tone, to one of my favorite George Carlin routines on the futility of trying to “save the planet”:

“I’ve seen people approach this type of lifestyle or message as something they must do. Climate change, species extinction! Do something now! We must! I’ve had those feelings of urgency, but when people approach this kind of lifestyle with a sense of [urgency], it’s just a few years before burnout. That type of energy leads directly to failure; it doesn’t fit with the economy of a healthy system. I advocate for a different metaphor for why you’d live like this. I remember a story that comes from science that says the G-type star we’re flying around on is five or six billion years old, and it might live another twelve billion years. If humanity makes it, twelve billion years down the road all the hydrogen will have fused into helium in that star and it’s going to erupt and expand and envelop the Earth and all the life on it will be gone. In this story, you can’t save the Earth or humanity, so there’s no must about it. The story’s written; it’s just a matter of time. Is it twelve billion years from now, fifteen years from now, 100 years from now? It doesn’t matter to me; I just know the story of trying to ‘save’ the Earth is foolish.” (p. 20)

In the long run, we’re all dead, said Keynes. Nevertheless, the Austrian school of economics to which I subscribe suggests we should think about the future, at least as far as we can see ahead. With a financial system in tatters, utility systems poorly maintained and due for a major disaster, a government neither inclined nor able to handle emergencies natural or manmade, and a corporatist food system bringing us continually lower quality sustenance at ever higher prices, the state-approved way of life can sometimes appear to be a race to the bottom. For the sake of surviving, to say nothing of protecting our freedom from the state, those of us who have yet committed to a flight from the cities must begin taking urban homesteading seriously. Meanwhile, those already in that movement, disenfranchised from the nationalist system and thriving as a growing, localized economic force, need to hear about the intellectual revolution of peace, voluntary economics, and liberty known as libertarianism. It’s a match made in heaven. Let the courting process begin.

Thanks to Nicole Booz for her help and inspiration on this article. An earlier version of this ran at Freedom’s Phoenix

]]> 2 On the Boston Lockdown Sat, 20 Apr 2013 20:39:09 +0000 One doesn’t have to be any sort of radical to be appalled that thousands of police, working with federal troops and agents, would “lockdown” an entire city—shutting down public transit, closing virtually all businesses, intimidating anyone from leaving their home, and going door to door with SWAT teams in pursuit of one suspect. The power of the police to “lockdown” a city is an authoritarian, borderline totalitarian power. A “lockdown” is prison terminology for forcing all prisoners into their cells. They did not do this to pursue the DC sniper, or to go after the Kennedy assassin, and I fear the precedent. It is eerie that this happened in an American city, and it should be eerie to you, no matter where you fall on the spectrum. You can tell me that most people in Boston were happy to go along with it, but that’s not really the point, either. If two criminals can bring an entire city to its knees like this with the help of the state, then terrorism truly is a winning strategy. (And we should also keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of the massive police response did not aid in capturing the suspect—it ultimately turned on that old fashioned breakthrough—a normal denizen calling the authorities with information.)

If America suffered a bombing like the Boston Marathon atrocity every week, America would feel like a very different place, although the homicide rate would only be about one percent higher. I acknowledge the maiming was on a mass scale, but this kind of attack has to be taken in perspective in terms of how much of a risk it poses to the average American, because we have to consider what response the people would tolerate in the event of more frequent or far worse attacks.

If the people of the United States will cheer seeing a whole city shut down, even for just a day, in the event of a horrific attack that nevertheless had 1/1000th the fatalities and about two percent of the casualties of 9/11, what would Americans support in light of another 9/11? What about a dirty bomb going off in a major city? The question has nothing to do with what government wants to do, or whether police statism is a goal or simply a consequence. What will the *people* want and expect the government to do if tens of thousands were chaotically killed and injured in a terrible terror attack, or if many small attacks hit the country? I fear they would welcome the abolition of liberty altogether, given their reaction to last night. That, of course, is altogether the wrong response. If we cannot look at the police reaction last night very critically, there is really no hope for even moderate protection of our civil liberties today.

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Waco and 20 Years of State Terror Fri, 19 Apr 2013 03:57:06 +0000 There is something about April. From Columbine to Virginia Tech, from Oklahoma City to Boston, mid-to-late April occasions some of the most infamous massacres on U.S. soil. At least, these are the ones we are told to focus on. The killers are called terrorists. Unless they wear uniforms, as they did on April 19, 1993, just outside Waco, Texas. That time, as we are urged to believe, the terrorists were the ones who died. In all these massacres, regardless of specifics, the government portrays itself as all that keeps chaos at bay.

The state claims to stand against terrorism, but killing people is its stock in trade. Slaughters come in various forms, almost all of which feed the health of the state. The state conducts much killing outright. The state officially poses against other killing, while nevertheless encouraging it through its own violence. Even the killing that the state has no hand in serves as a pretext for the state to grow.

In Boston this Monday, someone left bombs that murdered three people, including an eight-year-old boy, and injured 176 others. President Obama called the crime an “act of terrorism.” The establishment definition of “terrorism” was always flawed, in that it categorically absolved the government, but at least it specified the targeting of civilians for political goals. Yet these days, even before the motive is known, such as at Boston, or when the targets are not civilians, such as American soldiers abroad, the U.S. government calls any dramatic acts of violence of which it disapproves “terrorism.”

This February, they called ex-cop Chris Dorner a terrorist. Then the police surrounded him in a cabin to burn him alive, asking the media to cover its eyes like at Waco. Everyone who knew how the state operates had no reason to expect he would get due process. They were going to hunt him down and kill him no matter what. The media dropped the formality of calling him an “alleged” murderer. The LAPD tried and convicted and executed him all on the same day and no one batted an eye. Meanwhile, liberals say all talk of American tyranny is irresponsible and conservatives continue to worship law enforcement

Today, violent resistance to the state is called terrorism. Many of the “terrorists” rounded up and imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay were at most guilty of defending their country against an invading army. Some of these people continue to languish in that dungeon, seeing their desperate hunger strike in protest of declining conditions go unanswered, except by an administration willing to cut off their water.

From February 28 to April 19, 1993, the Branch Davidians resisted. On the morning of February 28, about one hundred ATF agents, concealed in livestock trailers, descended upon their property. The agents had planned and trained for eight months, having practiced their histrionic assault on model buildings. There was no reason for all this other than publicity. The agents could have easily arrested Koresh, whom they had befriended. The agents had conducted an investigation of weapons violations and found nothing. Koresh had cooperated with them. 60 Minutes had recently focused on an ATF sexual harassment scandal, and the agency was accused of racial discrimination during a House subcommittee meeting. The bureau wanted to improve its public image. Officials reached out to the press to make sure reporters could witness their heroics on the last February morning of 1993.

Unlike the vast majority of the hundreds of daily domestic militarized raids in America, the ATF’s surprise raid “Operation Showtime” faced resistance. When the agents ran out of ammo, the Davidians ceased fire. There were casualties on both sides, although one anonymous agent told the Dallas Morning News that he suspected some agents had fallen from friendly fire. Once the raid became a clear disaster, the ATF forced the press away.

Then came the standoff. The FBI took over and turned it into a full-blown military operation on American soil. Psychological warfare came down hard on Koresh’s followers. The FBI blared loud, obnoxious music, and sounds of animal slaughter, while shining blinding lights through the night. Agents gratuitously drove a vehicle to defile a Davidian grave. The government cut off this group’s access to family, media, and lawyers. It destroyed their water supply.

The media demonized the Davidians as a heavily armed cult that abused its children. Journalists tended to report government claims as fact. But they became increasingly critical of the ATF and FBI as well. After weeks of looking like fools in the mainstream press, particularly after a critical exposé in the New York Times on March 28 revealed the initial raid’s bad planning and recklessness, government officials became increasingly hostile to the media. On April 11, ATF intelligence chief David Troy stopped holding his regular press conferences altogether.

Attorney General Janet Reno, who took office in the middle of the standoff, finally decided to put an end to it. At about 6AM on April 19, the FBI began pumping flammable and poisonous CS gas, banned in international warfare, into the Davidian home. Officials knew that women and children were holed up in the section of the home exposed to this gas. The government continued to deploy gas for almost six hours.

Chemistry professor George F. Uhlig estimated in congressional hearings that there was a sixty percent chance that the gassing alone killed some children. “Turning loose excessive quantities of CS definitely was not in the best interests of the children,” Uhlig said. “Gas masks do not fit children very well, if at all.” He testified that the gassing could have transformed their surroundings “into an area similar to one of the gas chambers used by the Nazis at Auschwitz.”

The FBI brought out an Abrams tank, the Army’s heaviest armored vehicle, to replace its Bradley fighting vehicles. Agents drove the tank, which Attorney General Janet Reno later obscenely compared to “a good rent-a-car,” into the building. FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, who had shot and killed Vicki Weaver in August 1992 at Ruby Ridge as she held her infant in her arms, was at the scene. FBI agents launched incendiary tear gas canisters. Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin later declared, “We know of no evidence to support that any incendiary device was fired into the compound on April 19, 1993.” The FBI finally admitted six years later it had indeed used such projectiles at Waco.

The Davidian home went up in flames in the early afternoon. More than seventy people died, all of them civilian targets, many of them Americans, others hailing from other countries, more than twenty of them children and close to half of them people of color, although somehow the Davidians are often smeared, along with the so-called militia movement, as white supremacists. As the fire raged, the FBI turned back the local fire department. Special agent Jeffrey Jamar claimed that he feared for firefighters’ safety—presumably, the Davidians might shoot at the very people trying to stop the fire that was burning them to death. When it was all over, the ATF hoisted its flag atop the conquered ruins.

The trial of the survivors was a sham. Confused jurors intended to convict survivors of weapons offenses but not murder charges. The judge sided with the prosecution and defied the jurors’ intentions. By 1999, polling indicated that a strong majority of Americans blamed the FBI for setting the fire. Special counsel John Danforth, a Republican, released a report the next year whitewashing the Clinton administration of all guilt in this atrocity.

After Sandy Hook, liberals regurgitated every tired gun control argument, but one of the most interesting is that an armed populace fails as a brake on tyranny because the government has the military hardware to win any confrontation. And indeed it’s true: most who resist government are swatted down like bugs. Some resist violently, like the Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee in December 1890, and are slaughtered. Others are shot for daring to resist even by throwing rocks at armed troops, like the four students murdered and the nine wounded at Kent State in May 1970. Others are targeted after a few years of relative calm, like the Philadelphia MOVE radicals in May 1985. Liberals are correct that the government has the means and the willingness to crush Americans who dare to resist. This fact never seems to convince liberals that the state is way too powerful and menacing to begin with, and maybe the last thing we should want is to give it more law enforcement powers, such as the monopolization of firearms through a war on guns.

About once a day police kill an American, but it’s often a criminal and no one cares, or at least a marginalized person like the homeless Kelly Thomas, beaten in July 2011 by five officers in Southern California, dying of complications five days later. Or they are veterans like Jose Guerena, at whom Tuscon police fired 71 rounds in the middle of the night in May 2011 – innocent of any crime, just in his own house at the wrong time. The state saves most of its killing for abroad, where killing is its very policy. And now, thanks to the war on terror, Obama calls America his battlefield and the world his jurisdiction. He has made it official doctrine that the president can order anyone’s death unilaterally.

Twenty years ago, Waco showed Americans the truth about law enforcement, the U.S. government, and the state itself. It revealed what reality was like for foreigners overseas. Yet most Americans seem totally indifferent to the mass murder the U.S. government has perpetrated and unleashed in the Middle East. On the day three were murdered in Boston, seventy-five died in Iraq. Violence in Iraq nine years ago was called terrorism, unless it was committed by U.S. troops. Today, violence in Iraq hardly makes the news. The state decides whose lives are worth caring about, and when.

Some critics of state violence dislike the very word “terrorism,” calling it meaningless, but I disagree. The state perverts most words it uses, but these words can still hold value. Terrorism refers to violence intentionally inflicted on the innocent to instill fear and advance political goals. American officials commit terrorism all the time. In the twenty years since Waco, state terrorism has escalated, from the anti-civilian sanctions on Iraq to the double-tap drone attacks on foreign first responders, all the way down to the constant domestic police raids. Even the more pedestrian police measures such as the systematic groping of New York City residents known as “stop and frisk” are there to “instill fear,” as police commissioner Raymond Kelly boasted was the intention, according to former NYPD captain Eric Adams’s testimony. From top to bottom, at home and abroad, the post-Waco American state seems intent on instilling fear in all of us.

Every April since 2003, I’ve written a piece about Waco. I think Americans should never forget what happened. published most of these articles. They each have a little bit of something different and discuss contemporary events. I also wrote my undergraduate thesis on Waco and the relationship between the media and the police state. Here are my archives for those interested:

I might take a break from revisiting Waco next April, not because I’ve forgotten the victims – I never will – but simply because I feel like I’ve done enough writing about this particular atrocity for a little while, given that the state has raged on in so many directions, making Branch Davidians out of so many foreigners and Americans caught on the wrong side of the U.S. government’s never-ending siege of the world. Many Davidians died and others suffered injustice at trial, but tragically these victims are not so unusual. There are also the many thousands slaughtered abroad in the last 20 years. There are the thousands shot by law enforcement since then. There is Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the sixteen-year-old from Denver whom Obama snuffed out with a drone, whose death was justified on the grounds that he had a bad father. Before the rapid rise of the surveillance state and the post-9/11 terror war, Waco was the best opportunity to turn things around. Instead, most Americans turned their backs and now our country is becoming one big playground for the police state.

We might call the situation David Koresh’s revenge.


This also appeared at 

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Sorry Thu, 28 Mar 2013 21:39:29 +0000 We were on the verge of obtaining a reasonable degree of liberty. We were going to get our taxes slashed and simplified but not abolished, the military budget reduced and the troops brought home, drugs decriminalized and managed via harm reduction, a significant liberalization of immigration controls without totally open borders, new restrictions on the Fed’s central planning powers adopted in 2008 and 2009, some more flexibility on pharmaceutical testing and health insurance, moderate patent reform, a diminution of pages in the Federal Register, prison reform, genuine oversight and remedies for police misconduct, strengthened due process and warrant requirements in national security cases, a plan to phase out massive entitlements, some fair-minded school reform, and a scaling back of federal gun laws. We were on the cusp of this moderate but significant step toward liberty, where we would not get all we wanted, but we would get much of what we wanted. But I ruined it all. I cited Murray Rothbard and Lysander Spooner. I made the perfect the enemy of the good, and now the liberty that was in our grasp is lost forever. Sorry, everyone. My selfish desire to adhere to ideological purity has spoiled our chances at increased freedom once again.

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Libertarians and War: A Bibliographical Essay Wed, 20 Mar 2013 23:39:53 +0000 The relationship between war and libertarianism has interested me since 9/11. In the aftermath of those terrorist attacks, I witnessed in grim fascination many libertarians make excuses for government in the realm of national security. The proper libertarian position on war has become a matter of controversy, although I believe it shouldn’t be. “War is the health of the state,” as Randolph Bourne said, as well as being “mass murder,” in the words of Murray Rothbard.

The following essay presents some of the most relevant materials and readings on this controversy. It is unapologetically tilted toward the antiwar position, although it includes some references to pro-interventionist writings. It is idiosyncratic and not comprehensive, and its omissions are not always deliberate. I am always interested in reading suggestions. As for the citations, I include publishing information for books but generally leave it out for articles written for or available on the web, so as to avoid extraneous clutter. Please follow the links to learn more.

Among the founders of modern libertarianism, Rothbard most consistently urged an antiwar position. In “War, Peace and the State,” he identified opposition to all state wars as well as to nuclear weapons as the libertarian’s core commitments. For more on Rothbard’s views on these questions, I recommend “Murray N. Rothbard: Against War and the State” by Stephen W. Carson and “Murray N. Rothbard on States, War and Peace, Part I” and “Part II” by Joseph Stromberg.

In terms of comprehensiveness and clarity, the best modern treatment is “Why Libertarians Oppose War,” chapter nine in Jacob Huebert’s fantastic Libertarianism Today (Praeger: 2010), which is probably my favorite introduction to libertarianism. Huebert covers all the bases, touching on the relevant economics, U.S. history, and moral principles, and delivers radical conclusions. The chapter is perfectly balanced in terms of scope and emphasis. In November 2012 he eloquently summed up his thesis at a Students for Liberty conference in a talk titled “Why Libertarians Must Oppose War.”

Other decent libertarian introductions feature strong summary discussions of foreign policy. Chapter fourteen, “War and Foreign Policy,” in Rothbard’s For a New Liberty still stands the test of time, and provides a nice refresher on Cold War revisionism. Harry Browne’s two campaign books, Why Government Doesn’t Work and The Great Libertarian Offer, both gave the issue serious attention, and he published a moving excerpt from the first book as an article, “What Is War?”  Mary Ruwart’s Healing Our World in An Age of Aggression (Sunstar Press: 2003) has a solid discussion of foreign policy, an earlier version of which is available online. Gary Chartier gives the topic due attention in Conscience of an Anarchist: Why It’s Time to Say Good-Bye to the State and Build a Free Society (Cobden Press: 2011). On multiple occasions Chartier has spoken on the centrality of peace under the eminently quotable topic title, “There’s War, and There’s Everything Else.”

Marc Guttman’s edited compilation Why Peace? is a masterful 636-page collection featuring dozens of authors, mostly libertarians, explaining how they came upon their staunch antiwar and pro-civil liberties convictions. It belongs on the bookshelves of all libertarians who prioritize war and peace issues. One powerful contribution is Bretnige Shaffer’s “Mere Anarchy Loosed Upon the World.”

In an excellent and succinct discussion of the war controversy, Robert Higgs draws a line in the sand with “Are Questions of War and Peace Merely One Issue among Many for Libertarians?” Higgs’s highly regarded scholarly stature and his general ecumenical stance on other issues make this piece very special. “In sum,” Higgs concludes, “the issue of war and peace does serve as a litmus test for libertarians. Warmongering libertarians are ipso facto not libertarians.”

More than a few have argued not only that libertarians should oppose war, but that they must oppose war to properly be called libertarians.  Walter Block has a couple of pieces on why pro-war libertarianism is a contradiction in terms, “Bloodthirsty ‘Libertarians’” and “Libertarian Warmongers.”

Homing in on the non-aggression principle, Wendy McElroy explains why virtually every war fails the libertarian test in “Libertarian Just War Theory.” Roderick Long’s 2006 article “The Justice and Prudence of War: Toward a Libertarian Analysis” presents a strong and somewhat novel argument against strict pacifism while adhering to a very hardcore antiwar position. As for the broader meaning of pacifism as opposition to all wars, Bryan Caplan has written one of the most compelling libertarian arguments for pacifism in a series of blogs, starting with “The Common-Sense Case for Pacifism.”

I have personally contributed a number of writings on libertarianism and war, the most extended of which was based on my talk “Warmongering Is the Health of Statism,” given at a conference in November 2005. For one of my most theoretical pieces that relate, see “Collateral Damage as a Euphemism for Mass Murder.” My most recent piece along these lines, “Noninterventionism: Cornerstone of a Free Society,” focused on American history. More of my writings are mentioned further down.

Standing Athwart History, Demanding Peace

Political issues come and go but war has always been with us. Those of the classical liberal tradition have tended toward the pro-peace position, although there have always been heretics. The major wars throughout history faced libertarian opposition and today libertarians disparage them retrospectively.

Ralph Raico’s 2007 talk “Classical Liberalism on War and Peace” sums up the historical liberal abhorrence of war. In a sense, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was itself an antiwar tract, as Don Boudreaux notes in “Adam Smith on war.” In nineteenth-century Britain, the Manchester School, personified by Richard Cobden and John Bright, was firmly on the side of peace, as Jim Powell explains in “Richard Cobden’s Triumphant Crusade for Peace and Free Trade.” Herbert Spencer’s “Patriotism” from Facts and Comments (1902) remains one of the most radical discussions of moral responsibility falling on the soldier. Stromberg’s “John Stuart Mill and Liberal Imperialism” addresses one of the most prominent classical liberal hawks.

Arthur A. Ekirch’s book The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition (The Independent Institute: 2010) surveys the historical relationship between U.S. liberalism and opposition to war. Stromberg discusses the current of anti-imperialist American liberalism in “Imperialism, Noninterventionism, and Revolution: Opponents of the Modern American Empire.”

For a discussion of libertarian attitudes about foreign policy throughout U.S. history, see Christopher Preble’s lecture, “Libertarianism and War.” Preble himself favors a mostly but not radically non-interventionist foreign policy, and emphasizes his antiwar side here: “libertarians. . . see war as the largest and most far-reaching of all socialist enterprises.”

Unsurprisingly, the most celebrated wars in U.S. history have become the most contentious among libertarians. At Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Fernando Teson has etched out his theory of defensible “libertarian wars” and elaborated on it in “More on Libertarians and War.” Gary Chartier’s “Violence, Wars, and States” at the same forum stakes out the antiwar position.

Even more radically antiwar libertarians like Rothbard have defended the colonists’ cause in the American Revolution. But there exist libertarian critiques of even the most seemingly defensible wars. Stephan Kinsella’s “Thumbs Down on the Fourth of July” compiles some of the most recent libertarian critiques of the American Revolution, including a contribution by me.

Multiple controversies surround the American Civil War. Radical abolitionist Lysander Spooner, a libertarian anarchist writing at the time, strongly opposed attacking the South. Since then, classical liberals from Lord Acton to H.L. Mencken have criticized Lincoln. Ludwig von Mises, on the other hand, favored the Union cause.

Today, some libertarians to varying degrees favor the Union, others the Confederacy, and still others oppose both sides. In April 2011, Reason Magazine commemorated the 150th anniversary of hostilities by publishing a handful of perspectives ranging from anti-war but not pro-South all the way to pro-Union. Sheldon Richman, editor of  the Freeman, dedicated that month’s issue to libertarian revisionist perspectives, including by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, author of the definitive libertarian history of the Civil War—and one of the best history books on any war or by any libertarian—Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. Hummel also has an unpublished book manuscript elaborating at length on one of his key contributions: the thesis that the government, including the national government, subsidized slavery, making it profitable for slaveholders despite its macro inefficiency, with the implication that secession was a viable anti-slavery, peaceful alternative to war: “Deadweight Loss and the American Civil War: The Political Economy of Slavery, Secession, and Emancipation.”

For a series of pro-Union critical responses to the Freeman symposium, see Timothy Sandefur’s “Springtime for Jeff Davis and the Confederacy.” Over the years, lots of writing at, particularly by Thomas DiLorenzo, has critiqued the Civil War, and especially the Union’s conduct. Pushing back against a perceived pro-Confederacy bias, Charles Johnson has written multiple pieces criticizing the Southern warfare state.

The first major Progressive War, the Spanish-American War, united most classical liberals in opposition. They were key figures in the Anti-Imperialist League, headed by Mark Twain.

World War I was more divisive, as many precursors to the modern libertarian movement, from individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker to Old Right giant Garet Garrett, favored the war, which enjoys few defenders among libertarians today. Indeed, one of the most compelling critiques of the war, particularly emphasizing the effects on the United States, is Ralph Raico’s terrific “World-War I: The Turning Point,” included in the author’s recent and entirely relevant collection, Great Wars & Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal, which also includes fantastic revisionist essays on Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, Trotsky, and other topics. A most stirring critique that explores some neglected wartime effects on domestic statism is Rothbard’s “World War I as Fulfillment: Power and Intellectuals.”  Jim Powell’s Wilson’s War: How Woodrow Wilson’s Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II makes the argument, not uncommon among libertarians, that U.S. entry paved the way to many of the centuries worst cataclysms. Libertarian historian Hunt Tooley’s The Western Front: Battleground and Home Front in the First World War is one of the best and most moving general accounts of the European War in all the literature.

World War II is a more controversial matter. Old Right giant John Flynn’s 1944 book As We Go Marching was a devastating liberal critique of World War II’s impact on American statism. The same year, Ludwig von Mises explained the National Socialist warfare state in Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total War and Total State. Rothbard’s article, “World War II: The Nadir of the Old Right,” explains the key significance of the world’s largest ever battle in shaping the principal precursor to the modern libertarian movement.

The Rothbardian tradition has opposed U.S. entry into World War II, demonstrated by a sample of critical writings from Higgs, who has focused on its domestic consequences in Depression, War, and Cold War, among many other academic and popular writings, including a nice revisionist piece, “World War II: An Unspeakable Horror Now Encrusted in Myths.” Jacob Hornberger has over the years run dozens of articles criticizing everything from U.S. diplomacy before Pearl Harbor and U.S. cooperation with Stalin to Roosevelt’s refusal of Jewish refugees and the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki—many of these articles wound up in the great FFF collection, The Failure of America’s Foreign Wars. Hornberger’s series on repatriation remains one of the few available popular writings on this episode. For his publications I have written reviews critical of World War II. Raimondo has written multiple pieces keeping the Old Right opposition to war alive, and his book Reclaiming the American Right puts the issue front and center.

Many libertarians today continue to defend U.S. entry into World War II, and some look upon the opponents incredulously. Eric Dondero had trouble believing Harry Browne, who on his radio show said he opposed U.S. entry. Cathy Young’s review of Tom Woods’s Politically Incorrect Guide to American History takes for granted that American entry into the war was a positive thing. On the other hand, many modern libertarians take it just as much for granted that Franklin Roosevelt’s warmongering was indefensible. As’s Angela Keaton said in an interview with Motorhome Diaries: “I get this question from time to time, especially from new libertarians: ‘Aren’t some wars necessary—like World War II?’ No. No. There’s your answer to that.’”

The Cold War, from its hot conflicts to its domestic political culture, occasioned the birth of modern libertarianism, by distinguishing it unmistakably from the right. The reflective “Conscience on the Battlefield” by Foundation of Economics Education president Leonard Read in 1951 marked a definite break from the Korean War hawks, although FEE did not focus much on foreign policy generally. In 1963, Rothbard’s “War, Peace, and the State” took specific aim at conservatives as it fashioned a radical libertarian theory against war, and his “Confessions of a Rightwing Liberal” and other writings served to emphasize peace as a core element of libertarianism.

These libertarians ideas finally animated a political and social movement amidst escalation of the Vietnam War, police state crackdowns on antiwar protesters, and draft card burnings and marchings. Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism (New York: PublicAffairs, 2008) conveys much of the history of this agitation, and is especially good on such event as the famous split at the Young Americans for Freedom and the 1950s and 1960s Cold War libertarian counterculture. Focus on war issues helped give rise to the New Left, which featured an affinity between anti-authoritarian leftism and libertarianism, especially in its scholarship. Rothbard’s journal Left and Right epitomized this fusion, as did his title essay, “Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty.”

Yet there were Cold Warrior libertarian fellow travelers. Even the early Libertarian Party was divided on immediate draft amnesty. In 1991, some libertarians defended the first Gulf War under George H.W. Bush. A smaller faction defended Clinton’s war with Serbia in 1999.

Jeff Riggenbach’s great introduction to historical revisionism, Why American History Is Not What They Say, explores libertarian, left-, and right-wing war historiography in some depth. Tom Woods’s book We Who Dared Say No to War, co-edited with Murray Polner, at least implicitly serves as a libertarian endorsement of antiwar perspectives throughout American history, with classic essays criticizing the War of 1812, the Mexican War, The Civil War (including from a Southern anti-Confederacy perspective), the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and the War on Terror.

Jeff Hummel’s unfinished book manuscript,  “War is the Health of the State: The Impact of Military Defense on the History of the United States” has excellent chapters on America’s major wars from the Revolution through World War II, focusing on the relationship between conflict and government growth. Each chapter is followed by an outstanding bibliographical essay. Also worth mentioning are Bruce Porter’s War and the Rise of the State (Simon and Schuster, 2002); John Denson’s edited volume, The Costs of War: America’s Pyrrhic Victories, Rothbard’s Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy, a powerful tract on American wars and the coporate state; Higgs’s Crisis and Leviathan, the classic tome on war and the growth of the U.S. government, Joseph Stromberg’s bibliography on war, peace, and the state, David Gordon’s bibliography “On War,” and the Independent Institute’s bibliographies at

From a war’s most primary policies—killing and conquest—all the way down to the taxation, intrusions into the economy, censorship, violations of civil liberties—libertarians should have more to hate about war than anyone else, as war fuels state power and collectivism in a thousand ways at once. Accordingly, libertarians have produced some of the most comprehensive critiques of war, especially its effect on wide range of government policies. Moreover, the libertarian critique often comes from all angles, so that libertarian economists, legal theorists, historians, and other social scientists will all have something bad to say about a war.

Nevertheless, in the libertarian community remains a faction that defends a wide range of state activities in the name of national security. This faction appeared to grow or become more vocal in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

War and Libertarianism after 9/11

The 9/11 attacks, the U.S. response, and particularly the Iraq war, have served to illustrate the deep divide in principle among self-described libertarians and questions of war and peace. Each event was a testing ground for principled libertarian opposition to the warfare state. Joseph Stromberg contributed a series of pieces, reflecting on the returning trend of pro-war libertarianism, which had declined a bit after the end of the Cold War. Coining the term “liberventionist,” Stromberg analyzed the unfortunate reemergence in “Liberventionism Rides Again,” critiqued general liberventionist intellectual error in “Liberventionism II: The Flight from Theory,” and discussed the liberventionist tendency to whitewash the history of U.S. intervention and even advocate total war on civilians in “Liberventionism III: The Flight from History.”

Many libertarians and some libertarian groups came out firmly on the side of peace after 9/11. Among the institutions were,, The Libertarian Enterprise, Strike the Root, the Mises Institute, The Independent Institute, and the Future of Freedom Foundation. Many of these groups not only took a pro-peace position early, but have held peace as a high priority in their publications and programs consistently since 9/11.

Harry Browne, the recent Libertarian presidential candidate, published a bold antiwar article within a day of the terrorist attacks, “When Will We Learn?” stirring up controversy among LP members. The Libertarian Party establishment itself seemed to favor the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Lew Rockwell critiqued this ambiguous LP press release in his article “Does the LP Support THIS War?

Reflecting on the sad divide in the libertarian movement over the war, the Future of Freedom Foundation’s Jacob Hornberger explained in “Libertarian Splits in the War on Terrorism” why freedom is impossible so long as there is perpetual war. David J. Theroux, president of the Independent Institute, and Karen DeCoster warned about the assaults on American liberty that would come with the burgeoning warfare state, and the impossibility of using aggression and central planning to bring about security, in “The New U.S. War on Liberty.” Hans-Hermann Hoppe explained why libertarian principles mean the rejection of aggressive war and why libertarian class theory should lead one to distrust the warfare state in an interview, “Hans-Hermann Hoppe on War, Terrorism and the World State.”

Standing against the criticism of libertarian dovishness early after 9/11, Justin Raimondo defended the antiwar libertarians in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Postrel?” and L. Neil Smith did so as well, while expounding on the non-aggression principle as it relates to war, in “War of the Weenies.

Raimondo explained how there was more hope for libertarians than many might think in his article, “Long Live Libertarianism!“—an inspiration for anyone at the time who was worrying about the death of rationality and principle in this movement of ours. In his speech “War and Freedom,” Lew Rockwell reflected on the disappointing performance of mainstream libertarians, and the horrible bloodthirstiness of conservatives and the Bush administration.

When some libertarians went beyond supporting the Afghanistan War to advocating war on Iraq, it became clear that liberventionism was not going away and was not only an understandable, if disappointing, visceral reaction in the immediate wake of 9/11.

After Justin Raimondo challenged the Libertarian Party to take a firm antiwar position in his speech, “Libertarianism in the Age of Empire,” activist and writer Thomas Knapp chimed in with “The Party and War,” explaining why the Libertarian Party could not afford to be soft on the issue. Shortly after Gulf War II began, Robert Higgs addressed the demented mindset of liberventionism in “Are Pro-War Libertarians Right?” Harry Browne reflected on the many ways libertarians had to violate their own principles in “Libertarians and War.” Gene Healy from the Cato Institute took libertarian Iraq hawks to task in a September 2003 blogpost “Libertarians and the War.” Daniel McCarthy reiterated the major reasons why we must oppose warfare aggression in “Liberventionism for Fun and Profit.” Don Boudreaux found himself explaining his position in a 2005 piece called “An Open Letter to My Libertarian Friends Who Don’t Understand My Opposition to the War in Iraq.”

In 2005, R.J. Rummel, great scholar of governmental mass murder, coined the term “freedomist” to describe an interventionist libertarianism rooted largely in the logic of the democratic peace theory. I criticized this theory in “Making the World Safe for Imperialist Democracy.”

Other conspicuous liberventionists writing from 9/11 to the end of the Bush administration included Tim Starr, Timothy Sandefur, J. Neil Schulman, Max Borders, Glenn Reynolds, John Hospers, Ron Bailey, Tyler Cowen, Neal Boortz, Randy Barnett, and Larry Elder—although some of these people have changed their tune since. Underground “mainstream libertarian” Eric Dondero made a lot of noise criticizing antiwar libertarians and calling for their purge, characterizing antiwar libertarians as pro-Islamist or “leftwing libertarians.”
The most vociferously pro-war voices in the broader libertarian movement have belonged to Objectivists. The Ayn Rand Institute called for nuclear war after 9/11. Raimondo explained how Objectivism related to warmongering within the libertarian movement in his speech, “The Objectivist Death Cult.” To be fair, there have been efforts by Objectivists to expose the folly of Randian warmongering, including a wonderful article by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, “Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand’s Radical Legacy,” as well as a thoughtful piece by Chip Gibbons, “Ayn Rand: The Roots of War.”

The Vindication of Libertarian Non-Interventionism

As the Iraq war became increasingly unpopular, Gary North expressed optimism that liberventionism was on its way out in “The Self-Castration of Libertarian Hawks.” In 2006, Milton Friedman passed away, and his publicized characterization of the Iraq war as “aggression” gave new mainstream credence to the antiwar libertarian view. The Volokh Conspiracy responded with a blog putting Friedman’s disagreement with his wife in the context of a longstanding controversy among libertarians.

In 2005, Matt Welch at Reason Magazine had an interesting pro-war libertarian quiz as he appeared to be working out these issues himself challenging interventionists to define the boundaries of their position. “An Open Letter to Libertarians Who Support the War on Terror” by Marc Joffe is diplomatic and conciliatory article standing firm on the side of peace. Justin Raimondo addressed the issue again in “Libertarianism and the War,” inspired by the release of Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism. Jacob Hornberger, in early 2007, addressed “The Critical Dilemma Facing Pro-War Libertarians,” concluding that we must stand with the warfare state or with liberty. In June 2007, John Walsh, a leftist at Counterpunch, credited the Future of Freedom Foundation for its three-day conference on peace and civil liberties: “Libertarian Conference on Peace and Liberty: Shaming the Official Antiwar Movement.” In late 2007 Bryan Caplan asked, “Why Did So Many Libertarians Support the War?

Ron Paul spent most of his political career focusing on the evils of U.S. intervention abroad, as his collection of speeches and writings, A Foreign Policy of Freedom well demonstrates. Paul ran for president in 2008 and 2012, each time putting focus on the war issue. In response to his first presidential campaign, Randy Barnett wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal asserting that one could be a libertarian and support the war in Iraq. This incited an avalanche of responses, many of which are included in Stephan Kinsella’s “An Overview of Criticisms of Randy Barnett on Iraq and War.” In addition, Robert Higgs wrote a letter to the editor, part of which was published in the WSJ, which added his expertise to the issue. Walter Block penned a piece “Randy Barnett: Pro-War Libertarian,” as well as an excellent and more substantive critique in “A Libertarian War in Afghanistan?”. My own response to Barnett was a column, “The Effects of War on Liberty,” that focused mostly on the relationship between war and statism.

The Ron Paul Revolution of 2007–2012 hardened the association of libertarianism with non-interventionism. I celebrated this in my own article in late 2007, “Ron Paul and the Defeat of the Liberventionists.” Five years later, Less Antman credited Paul for emphasizing peace and declared at the 2012 Libertarian Party convention in his stirring nomination speech for R. Lee Wrights that “Anti-war Is the Health of the Anti-state Movement.”

After eleven straight years of war, antiwar and anti-interventionism have seemingly arisen as the dominant position among libertarians. But new issues—another terrorist attack, another alleged genocide abroad—could always bring the controversy back. In late 2012, the sticky bundle of issues surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict animated libertarian debate, much of it aired on Bleeding Heart Libertarians. Steve Horwitz took a nuanced position in “‘Anti-State’ or ‘Pro-Liberty’? Some Thoughts on Israel.” John Glaser of responded with an antiwar critique of Israel in “Libertarianism, Israel, and Palestine – A Different View.” Peter Lewin largely took a pro-Israel position in “Let’s Talk Fundamentals: Israel is Not The Problem and Israel Does Not Have The Solution” Matt Zwoliski in “Libertarianism, Self-Defense, and Innocent Shields” and Chartier in “Some Principles,” attempted to bring the issue back to basic fundamentals to guide debate. My own article, “Gaza and America,” attempted to show that the Israeli state’s attacks on Palestinian are as unlibertarian as is Hamas’s terrorism, and why Americans in particular should care.

On the tenth year anniversary of the beginning of the Second Gulf War, Reason Magazine published a forum of reflections from various libertarian writers: “The Iraq War: 10 Years Later.” Ron Bailey admitted he was wrong about Iraq, most others reiterated their position of opposition, and Ilya Somin argued for a nuanced approach, ultimately concluding the war was good for both America and Iraq on balance.

Libertarians Against War

It would be impossible to list every valuable critique of war written by libertarians, but some that are particularly libertarian in their method and approach are worth including. David Henderson’s very good column Wartime Economist at is worth noting. Laurie Calhoun’s “Just War, Moral Soldiers?” hones in on the individual ethic of fighting in a war. Sheldon Richman’s “War as a Government Program” demystifies warmaking and shows it is as political and problematic as any state activity. Lew Rockwell’s “War and Inflation” draws the connection between these two key state activities. Joe Salerno’s “Imperialism and the Logic of Warmaking” brings praxeological insights to bear. My own “War and the Common Good” sees war as the epitome of collectivism.

Other libertarian scholars and writers whose primary issue is war or foreign policy, and who thus stand as walking examples of libertarian war opposition, deserve mention for their wonderful contributions. The Independent Institute’s Charles Peña has written many critical pieces and Ivan Eland, author of The Empire Has No Clothes, has written thousands of articles. The Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow, Ted Galen Carpenter, and Malou Innocent are also worth following.  Eric Garris, founder of with Justin Raimondo, has done as much to promote peace as any living libertarian. See his interview in the Daily Bell. Scott Horton the libertarian radio host has done over a thousand interviews with experts, most of them on foreign policy. Arthur Silber is a quasi Objectivists whose Once Upon a Time blog usually features very hard-hitting focus on the war issue.

I’ve written other assorted pieces relevant to the discussion of war and libertarianism. In “Only War Will Prevent War” I mock what I saw as a crude utilitarianism in pro-war libertarian reasoning and in “Would Pro-War ‘Libertarians’ Have Supported the New Deal” I pose the question of what degree of statism they would endorse. “A Compromise for the Libertarian Hawks” is mostly a polemic piece arguing that there is no such thing as pro-war libertarians; such people are merely a species of conservative. The pro-war anarchist faces scrutiny in “Anarcho-Statism.” I make a general plea that libertarians stand front and center on the issue in “Libertarians and the Warfare State” and I identify what I take to be a theoretical problem in “Liberventionists: The Nationalist Internationalists.” Parts of this essay are adapted from my 2005 article, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of World War.”

There is no issue more fundamental to liberty than peace. The essence of liberty is peace, and nothing expands the state and gives cover for rights violations better than war.  


* I will update this in the next week or so with more links I’ve been sent.

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Conservatives and the Path Toward Freedom Tue, 19 Mar 2013 03:57:09 +0000 So back in the 1930s and 40s, New Deal liberals were so hostile to liberty that a coalition of disaffected progressives, socialists, anarchists, classical liberals, radicals and pacifists emerged: what was later misnamed “the Old Right.” For decades, the Democrats with their center-left fascism forced various versions of this coalition to persist in opposition. A lot of individualists feared communism so much they hung around the conservatives, and pretty much everyone of a pro-freedom bent saw a massive threat in the domestic ambitions of the FDR-Truman-LBJ types.

From Nixon the Bush I, libertarians saw time and again why conservatism would be hostile to liberty, but the end of the Cold War and what seemed at the time to be a superlative tyranny in Clintonianism kept the conservative-libertarian fusionism going. Then came George W. Bush, and I figured we all learned our lesson about the right once and for all.

I cheered on Ron Paul, whom I saw as the last gasp of Old Right fusionism, the swan song of classical liberal minarchism, the requiem for the republican myth. But apparently rightwing libertarianism is still alive, and I’m frankly a bit scared it will keep going on forever.

Here’s the thing: We might say the state’s core tools of power are war making, policing, imprisoning, borders, taxation, the money monopoly, and schools. The conservatives are mildly critical, on some level, of a few of these, but few people are as gung-ho about the atom bomb, the barbed-wire fence, and the electric chair as are conservatives. So long as this is the case, we can’t even move on to other issues. If you think the two best things the US government has done in fifty years are Vietnam and Iraq, you are not just wrong, but as wrong as you can be. If you think the worst thing Obama has done has been to gut the military or weaken border security, you are as wrong as can be. If you think the biggest problem with the drug war is it’s a waste of money, you are as wrong as you can be.

Liberty means liberation, and there are further areas where conservatives seem to get a lot wrong. Of course, there are questions of domestic policy and culture where they might grasp something better than the state liberals. And many allegedly conservative social values are not just compatible with, but are best served, by freedom.

But if the best you can do in defending due process is saying our troops died to guarantee it (they most certainly didn’t), or if you want to throw immigrants under the bus to maintain an ugly coalition with a dying group of crotchety nativists, or if you’re going to ignore the biggest issues that actually hurt people, impoverish them, kill them, enslave them, and totally ruin them, you’re not really advancing liberty; you’re exploiting liberty as cheap rhetoric to whitewash just another partisan and culture-war circle jerk.

I want conservatives and liberals on the side of freedom. But conservatives need to abandon their fetish for nationalism, their attachment to state violence, their willingness to prop up social power structures they happen to like through brute force, and probably their incendiary animosity toward cultural groups that make them uncomfortable. They need to stop being conservatives as it’s usually defined, in short. We shouldn’t be glad they’re willing to pal around with us once again—we’ve palled around with them before and all it got us was Cambodia, the EPA, wage and price controls, gun confiscations, unprecedented deficits, Iran-Contra, the biggest prison population on earth, Ruby Ridge, Abu Ghraib, No Child Left Behind, the TSA, Guantánamo, and TARP. And they have still given no indication at all that they wouldn’t go along with another round of American fascism the second their think tanks and talk radio leaders tell them to.

I’m an anarchist libertarian, but I still have some remaining affinity to the conservatarian milieu because, like a lot of libertarians, I used to be in it myself. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy when libertarians say, “We get more people from the right; let’s reach out to the right.” Yes, we got more people from the right, and then 80% of them caved when Bush told them it was time to draw Afghan blood.

It’s not like we’re facing a choice between FDR vs. America First, communism vs. the West, or even LBJ vs. Goldwater any more. The next Republican president will almost surely be worse than Obama in at least some important ways, unless somehow he has just run out of the money to do what he wants.

It’s time to turn against hate, and turn against the state. Anyone is free to join the battle, but in 2013 we should finally get this much: Conservatism is categorically the ideology of the past. Liberty is humanity’s future. We’ll get there faster if we stop ignoring the kids being shot by cops in the streets all so we can sound more palatable to people who want to cut food stamps—but not their precious Social Security!—and reduce the deficit by 5% a year.

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