Working Papers

Pro-War Libertarians

Randy Barnett has a WSJ op-ed on libertarian approaches to war and self-defence, which is partly a response to Ron Paul’s lamentable performance in the Republican presidential candidate debates.  An unfortunate aspect of libertarianism and classical liberalism in the US is its continued fusion with Old Right isolationism, a phenomenon that is largely absent from these traditions outside the US.  As the lead-in to the op-ed notes, ‘first principles tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense.’  There are exceptions to these isolationist views, however, as Barnett notes:

there are those pro-invasion libertarians who are now following the progress of Operations Phantom Thunder and Arrowhead Ripper. They hope that the early signs of progress in this offensive will continue, so that American and Iraqi forces can achieve the military victory necessary to allow the Iraqi government to assume responsibility for protecting the Iraqi people from terrorists, as well as from religious sectarian violence. They hope this success will enable American soldiers to leave Iraq even before they leave Europe and Korea, and regain the early momentum that led, for example, to Libya’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons program.

These libertarians are still rooting for success in Iraq because it would make Americans more safe, while defeat would greatly undermine the fight against those who declared war on the U.S. They are concerned that Americans may get the misleading impression that all libertarians oppose the Iraq war—as Ron Paul does—and even that libertarianism itself dictates opposition to this war. It would be a shame if this misinterpretation inhibited a wider acceptance of the libertarian principles that would promote the general welfare of the American people.

posted on 17 July 2007 by skirchner in Economics, Foreign Affairs & Defence

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Interesting article.  There is indeed healthy debate among libertarians concerning how to properly defend the United States.

Dr. Paul has contended that America can model freedom by example, rather than attempting to spread democracy by preemptive military action.  How long will it take for the people of a newly changed despotic regime to value freedom enough to take its mantle on their own shoulders?  Will they ever take that mantle if their own effort didn’t secure it?  Will it happen while the foreign force that made the change still occupies the country?  What we’re witnessing now might provide answers to these highly debatable questions.  Among others, we have Vietnam and post-war Germany/Japan to draw upon as potential examples.  Different libertarians predict different outcomes, just like any other group of people.  As we’ve seen, even people who are arguably experts in historical and present world events fail miserably to predict future events.

Absent any functional crystal ball, one option is to fall back on the charter upon which America was founded, and is theoretically based.  As a professor of law, I was a bit surprised that Mr. Barnett made no mention of Ron Paul’s assertion that, constitutionally, going to war should require a congressional declaration of war.  A recurring theme in Ron Paul’s statements and voting record in congress is his adherence to the constraints of the constitution.  He is often the lone voice of dissent opposing the expanding power of the executive.  Opposing war without declaration is consistent with that position.

I agree with Mr. Barnett that many people may evaluate candidates (and entire political philosophies) based on very limited information.  In the tidal wave of information available to the average U.S. citizen, it’s hard to decide which leads to follow.  I suggest anyone concerned about the positions held by Ron Paul or any libertarian to dig at least one level deeper and get enough information to make informed decisions.

Sound bites in debates followed by emotional applause are a poor source of useful information.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/18  at  02:17 PM

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