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.
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.”
Must reading indeed. Here’s what I don’t get about the drone debate. Why the @#$% did it take so long to start? Admittedly, I’ve grown somewhat numb to the fact that so-called conservatives are attacking the current POTUS about issues that seemed somehow obscure to them when Shrub was manning the con. Still, one would hope that basic human decency would, maybe, cause some kind of reaction to senseless killing of men, women, and children even in the far-away Middle East. Yet, there has been an alarming lack of concern about the drone program before now. Given CIA director nominee John Brennan’s recent cageyness about plans to use drones domestically, everyone is up in arms. The British are coming! One drone if by land! Two drones if by sea!
Having witnessed more than a couple knock-down, drag-out scuffles between various factions of the ostensible “liberty movement” over the last few days and weeks and months, it’s not really surprising to me when people disagree. One of the best–and most entertaining–ones occurred on Facebook (Where else?) just a few weeks ago. One side suggested that “Amerika is a police state!” They provided examples and context. The other side responded with, “C’mon! No one was jailed for calling the POTUS an idiot this week, right?” That’s also a pretty solid point. And, as is true of most of these debates, debates that balance on a sliver of disagreement between two tiny factions of what is itself a very small faction in the U.S. political landscape, both sides are somewhat correct.
Romney bans certain kinds of guns; Obama supports war and Bush-era doctrines; Romney enacts (even more) socialist-fascist health care; Obama has a near opaque administration in spite of the desire to be transparent.
The so-called “left” promotes a policy (say, universal healthcare or the individual mandate or the health care exchanges). The “right” opposes it. The opposition is usually superficial and us used as talking points to obtain votes. The object of power is power, after all. Assuming the policy becomes law, and assuming (as is often the case) it receives widespread support, the right becomes less vociferous about repealing the law. At best they want to reform; usually either nothing happens or the mildest of cosmetic changes are made, if only to appease the fringe party supporters. Today’s progressive, becomes tomorrow’s conservative. Already, for example, the financially devastating Obamacare that was such a hot topic a year ago is starting to go away in the eyes of most–that is, if you don’t have a business facing ever-higher health care costs. Soon the right will stop talking about repealing it or replacing it with something else. Florida governor Rick Scott, who initially opposed setting up the FL healthcare exchange, has changed his tune–how unexpected!
On the other “side” of the political spectrum, the totalitarian and warmongering right wing, whose most recent icon and trend setter is GWB, pushes for war and empire and crackdowns on civil liberties. The left claims to oppose it. When Bush II was in power the progressives, ever irate, regaled us with their smugness (and, as we now know, insincere) opposition to the Bush administration’s policies and tactics. Enter a democratic president. Oh my–what happened!? Suddenly Obama adopts and relishes in continuing core Bush doctrines as well as expanding into new territories of despotism: droning and NDAA come to mind. Today’s warmongering conservative is tomorrow warmongering progressive.
I for one welcome our new unipartisanship overlords.