Libertarians and War: A Bibliographical Essay

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • You missed one. My essay “War and Liberty” in Reason Papers 28 (Spring 06) argues that even anarcho-libertarians need not be pacifists. I understand you may think the argument fails, but it is there.

    • Aeon, thanks. I might do an updated version of this, but I think I’ll wait until I get more additions, if I do. For now, I’m grateful you put this in the comments.

  • Holy cow Anthony, did you start writing this on the eve of the Iraq invasion?

  • I resent warmongers like Glenn Beck, Eric Dondero, etc, muddying the brand. Great job. There’s more of a divide, though, on the initiation of force against pregnant women and doctors. I’d like to see such a summary on pro-lifers who consider themselves libertarians. Heck, I’d like to see a libertarian defense of the position. I haven’t seen anything that even began to hold water.

    • If one accepts the premise that at some given stage of development (the moment of conception, implantation, zygotic, embryonic, fetal,point of viability) that the developing entity is a human being, then it’s rational to infer that taking any direct action that would bring an unnatural end to that new human life prior to birth is against libertarian principles. Basically, as cliche as the comparison is, having an abortion after that point is tantamount to murder.

      Of course, at any point before humanity is conferred on that separate living entity gestating within the mother, it would fall to the prerogative of the woman and, should she choose not to take the pregnancy to term, her ability to find a doctor willing to preform the abortion procedure or prescribe abortion-inducing drugs.

      Personally, I draw the line at the fetal stage for various reasons. One based upon the observation that miscarriages occur by and large before the before the fetal stage. As such, just as contraceptives trick the body to prevent pregnancy, medical abortions would just be inducing naturally occurring conditions that cause miscarriage thus passively preventing the pregnancy from being brought to term. On an added note, these non-invasive medical abortions would seem to incur less risk than a more invasive surgical procedure.

      • “If one accepts the premise that at some given stage of development (the moment of conception, implantation, zygotic, embryonic, fetal,point of viability) that the developing entity is a human being, then it’s rational to infer that taking any direct action that would bring an unnatural end to that new human life prior to birth is against libertarian principles.”

        That doesn’t follow. A human being living inside another one wouldn’t necessarily mean that “any direct action that would bring an unnatural end to that human life prior to birth is against libertarian principles.” Otherwise, all pregnant women would have no right to commit suicide, even if they were dying a slow death in extreme pain. Even if you think the unborn has rights, this doesn’t mean the woman can be enslaved to the unborn.

        • It does follow, especially when it’s only means of survival is via the nourishment and shelter provided via the mother and we’ve recognized that the gestating being is recognized as not just as simply being alive but as embodying human life.

          It would be an entirely different thing if it was some other non-human entity deriving sustenance from a human being. I mean, It’s not like we’re not arguing for the right of something on the level mosquito to not be killed when biting people for their nourishment via their blood-sucking.

          As alluded to down-thread, a parent depriving their child of food and shelter would be charged with abandonment. They could even be charged with manslaughter if the child died as a result. How would this differ in that respect? Even if you somehow did not kill the gestating entity (which is what abortion does by definition) and simply “evicted” it from the womb prior to viability, how would it have any chance of surviving independently?

          Once the developing being is viewed (at least legally) as human, then the mother should have the same level of parental obligation that she would have to any newborn child. Currently, the point of viability is widely held as an acceptable compromise for a legal cut-off for when abortions cannot be done by law except in extenuating circumstances (e.g. life of the mother at risk and such). Although, I have seen attempts in other states to push it slightly earlier than that point but nothing so far back as to pre-fetal stages (although, I wouldn’t be surprised is some state legislatures have made serious non-partisan attempts to do so).

      • It’s viability, because all else is either dogmatic myth and/or unscientific. Quantum physics informs us what we think of as, sloppily, “life” and “living” is energy, which you cannot destroy. The “dead” have stopped being animated due to loss of all energy. The energy transforms, visibly, into “other” “living” forms. That’s how, e.g., we get “spring”, which is energy suddenly transformed by an uptick of heat absorbed into transformed living plants and creatures released to “live” in those newborn forms, adapted through evolution to fit their niches and survive, by dint of the continuation of conditions allowing for continuation, most notably heat and water. Both the mother and the DNA package in her womb are alive, but the zygote/fetus is as separate from its mother as one of her arms, or fingers, which also could not live as a separate life without being attached to her. So the key for the human animal is the point of viability, when the fetus can survive outside and without her, some time between the 20th and 24th weeks; until then, the new person is not viable as a separate creature, and is part of her, hence her legal ability to do with her body as she sees fit, including the subtraction of any infinitessimal part of her, specifically that part that could become a separate person living outside her, which she also would become responsible for, if she chose to let it leave her body able to live outside her.

        • But by that logic a mother could give birth to a newborn and leave the child on the floor without feeling the need to expend any energy in providing shelter or sustenance to the child. Would such abandonment not be a crime? The mother is basically just providing food and sustenance to the child in her womb through pregnancy, so I see no logical difference between the two situations.

          • “The mother is basically just providing food and sustenance to the child in her womb through pregnancy, so I see no logical difference between the two situations.”

            I’d say she’s doing a hell of a lot more than that.

        • “It’s viability, because all else is either dogmatic myth and/or unscientific. Quantum physics informs us what we think of as, sloppily, “life” and “living” is energy, which you cannot destroy. The “dead” have stopped being animated due to loss of all energy. The energy transforms, visibly, into “other” “living” forms”

          This is scientistic nonsense. Dead bodies don’t have less “energy” than living ones.

    • See my How We Come To Own Ourselves and Objectivists on Positive Parental Obligations and Abortion. The basic idea is that libertarians are not against all positive obligations–we oppose those that are unchosen. But some can be incurred as a result of one’s actions. I’d argue that creating a rights-bearing dependent human gives rise to the obligation to care for the person created. It’s astonishing to me to say that a fetus is a “trespasser” when it’s there as a result of the mother’s actions (in most cases).

      • I believe in inalienable rights and oppose voluntary slavery. A woman can’t alienate her right to control her body for a whole nine months, even if she could make an agreement to a person not yet born. To force her to carry the baby to term is to enslave her and enforce the most brutal of specific performance contracts.

        In any event, this thread is probably best devoted to war issues.

    • @ Scott A Libertarian defense of Pro Life? Heres one: The starting point of my world view is the Human value argument. A logical extension of the Human value argument would be that it protects the unborn as all human life has equal value and therefore equal rights. A woman does have natural rights in regards to the control of her body. But at some point in pregnancy that control shifts to a cooperation and the unborn has the right to protection.

    • Been away, just checked back. Likely talking to the crickets at this point.
      All these arguments reduce to the idea that humanity begins at fertilization, which is either absurd, or a misuse of language – in either case, enabled by mental compartmentalization. For religious, sentimental, or other personal reasons, you are refusing to make or see connections that would otherwise be obvious.
      1) What would you think of a restaurant that offered a chicken dinner and served you a fertilized egg? Or a breeder who sold you a week old horse, then said you’d have to wait 11 months for it to be born?
      2) By your definition, an abortion is a two-person conspiracy of murder (thus 1st degree) of an innocent person. No legal system treats such an act lightly. Regardless of your (libertarian, not anarchist) views on justice & penology, what should be the state’s response? Arguing for leniency undercuts the humanity of the victim and violates any notion of human equality. Best case: Penalty as for a caregiver inducing a doctor to overdose an unwanted aged relative.
      3) Similarly: a woman has killed a father’s child. What rights of compensation or retribution are there?

  • You missed my 2 libertarian peace books, which, for years now have been offered online at – I would very much welcome your comment in them.

    • John, I’ll work it into an addendum or second draft, when I get some more stuff.

  • Superb overview, Anthony!

  • Excellent list but you misspelled my name. I’m Murray Polner (only one “l”) who did “We Who Dared Say No To War (Basic Books, 2008) with Thomas Woods Jr. Also, check out William Graham Sumner’s “The Conquest of the United States by Spain & Other Essays” (Regnery Gateway 1965) for his strong anti-war opinions opposing the Spanish-American War and the US invasion of the Philippines.

    • Mr. Polner, sorry about that! It’s fixed. That Sumner essay is a classic; I’ll check out that collection.

  • Dammit, Anthony, I planned to visit my usual websites this morning and then get down to doing my work. Now, with your excellent essay, I’ve got to go and read a bunch of important articles I missed. Some friend you are.

  • Ralph, if it’s any condolence, following the leads in your own scholarship has once or twice ruined my day as well.

  • I greatly appreciate some references to the Spanish-American War and Phillipine Rebellion as well as the war on Native American nations. Thanks for a great start.

  • I highly recommend listening to each of these Scott Horton interviews which examine in detail the lies and more lies about the Iraq invasion told by both the Neocons and their media hacks:

    3/22/13 Peter Hart
    3/22/13 Daniel McAdams
    3/20/13 Greg Mitchell
    3/19/13 Dahr Jamail
    3/19/13 Jonathan Landay
    3/15/13 Eric Margolis
    3/15/13 Karen Kwiatkowski

  • CURSES!! My already-mammoth pile of books and articles to read just got so much bigger!

    Not such a bad problem to have, though. Hope some day I can contribute to this awesome list of anti war scholarship / journalism / writing. Excellent job on this bibliography, my brain thanks you.