Libertarian Split on Non-Intervention

Megan McArdle does a pretty fair job of outlining the issues that have split libertarians over the Iraq war.  A snippet:

If you are not willing to posit that Americans should stay home even
when millions are being senselessly slaughtered, then you end up in
sticky pragmatic arguments about the possibilities of inherently
untrustworthy state power to counteract even more noxious state power,
and how much in the way of cost we can reasonably be expected to bear
in order to advance liberty. I don't think there's an inherently
libertarian answer to those questions. Libertarians should be
inherently more suspicious of the American government's ability to make
things better than other groups--but by the same token, it seems to me
that they shoul


  1. John Haeberle:

    OK ... I'm a "Non-card-carrying" libertarian, and I just don't understand the isolationist platform of that party. I think we can agree that defense of our country is a reasonable use of government (maybe I'm wrong ... maybe True Libertarians deny defense as a reasonable purpose of government) and if so, why can't that defense be vigorous, and very INTERVENTIONAL? Why not make every use of our influence (diplomatic, military, whatever) vigorously in defense of our little corner of heaven?

    It seems to me that arguments that state that we must respect the rights of other nations are primarily moral and based on religious respect for others and not defense.

    Not to sound like a gun toting nut, but a libertarian life is possible only with the second amendment to protect us from the government, and the Marines to protect us from the heathens at the gate. Without those, we don't have libertarianism, we have anarchy.

    If I'm right, and DEFENSE is a reasonable purpose of government, then why not a vigourous, interventional, downright ruthless defense? All foreign policy is DEFENSE policy, in the end. Doesn't an isolationist deny any reasonable defense?

  2. Tom Gellhaus:

    First of all, John H, it is not an "isolationist" platform. Pat Buchanan does not favor completely free trade and that is why he IS an isolationist.

    I notice that Megan, who is NOT herself a libertarian, seems to know just what their arguments are about. Did she ever say "Hey I talked to so-and-so and so-and-so, both known libertarians, and they explained to me what this split was all about."?
    I have read countless articles and essays by libertarians, and I think I understand the arguments both sides make. But those in favor of intervention make some very UNlibertarian assumptions, seems to me.

  3. Gabriel Malor:

    Tom G., Megan has held herself out as a libertarian for years (for example, see here). I'm not sure what gives you the authority to declare that she's not one.

  4. John Haeberle:

    Tom, I can't guess what those arguments would be ... you'll have to expound on them. Because arguements "seem to you" to by unlibertarian doesn't mean I can read your mind. What, exactly, is unlibertarian about an inverventional foreign policy?

  5. BobH:

    Although I registered and voted Libertarian in the seventies and early eighties, I abandoned them afterwards because they became increasingly divorced from reality -- on this issue as many others. I've talked with Libertarians who get extremely worked up over public ownership of sidewalks.

    I now always make it clear that I'm a small-l libertarian.

  6. Tom Gellhaus:

    Okay fair enough. I don't have any "authority" other than "it's my opinion that.." to declare that Megan is not a libertarian. However, the link provided, which has a list of issues important in the 2004 election and who Megan thinks is better on each, does not show a clear sense of libertarian values AS I UNDERSTAND THEM - i.e., rejecting a false dichotomy of having to choose only between Bush's position or Kerry's. (What about neither?)

    I had understood libertarians to be highly suspicious of the Federal government, no matter who is currently in charge, and to therefore be skeptical when that same government claims special circumstances warrant a curtailment of liberties (oh, it's only "temporary", trust us), or a years-long war with a country that never attacked us.

    The unlibertarian aspects of an interventional foreign policy include the higher taxes to pay for it, the interruption of free trade, the assumption that America has any legitimate interest in which way things turn out in other countries that justifies the intervention, the expansion of state and military power...

    Check what Murray Rothbard had to say about the subject.

  7. John Haeberle:

    I'm all for being "suspicious" of the Federal Government ... but does that mean that we should not have one at all? No, and one of the main things Federal Government does better than locals is foreign policy and defense. Of course it means taxes, and so on, but that doesn't have to mean unlimited, unchecked taxes.

    And why should we not have "legitimate" interests in foreign governments? If the only purpose of a military is to protect the homeland from a frontal assault, can't we wonder if such an assualt could have been prevented, perhaps by an "interventional foreign policy"?

    Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. Sometimes.

  8. Bearster:

    I think the root of the Libertarian Party and Libertarianism per se (but not classical liberalism) is anarchism. "That government which governs least, governs best." This is a recipe for zero government, i.e. anarchism.

    But anarchism isn't liberty. It's a particularly brutal state of civil warfare and gang violence that inevitably leads to some other more stable form of statism ruled by some kind of warlord.

    So, distrustful (and resentful) of government, Libertarians can seem like barking Moonbats in their opposition to the war. "9/11 was an inside job." "Jihad is no threat to the US." etc.


    Certainly, Bush has mismanaged the war (for example, choosing Iraq as a target but ignoring the greater threat, Iran). Certainly we're spending huge amounts of money on international welfare and "nation building."

    But you can't earnestly take the position that you want the US to be defeated!

  9. Tom Gellhaus:

    Now THATS a ridiculous logical fallacy right there...! "But you can't earnestly take the position that you want the US to be defeated!"
    Okay, I opposed going to war against Iraq and I want us to withdraw all our troops (SAFELY but quickly). How does that imply that I want the US to be defeated - and what the hell does that even mean ? If you mean that defeat = any withdrawal of troops, that means we can never correct any mistake we make militarily. That is re-framing the whole issue in a way that benefits the war-mongers.

    Bearster, there are quite a few modern anarchists (some call themselves anarcho-capitalists and some left-libertarians) who would take issue with your characterization of anarchy. I don't think you have taken the time to actually read the discussions (there are quite a few) about how to provide services in the absence of a state - including detective services, postal services, security services, and roads, to name just a few.

  10. diz:

    I think the root of the Libertarian Party and Libertarianism per se (but not classical liberalism) is anarchism. "That government which governs least, governs best." This is a recipe for zero government, i.e. anarchism.

    Libertarianism is not anarchism.

    Libertarians believe in a very strict set of rules, and a government to enforce them.

  11. davidcobb:

    Having done my time in the military and being a real, tatooed on my body, anarchist I have no problem with kickin butt (intervention), but hangin around (occupation) make me ill.
    There is also the problem of somebody spreading poo around and then screaming you have to make sacrifices to deal with the smell.

  12. David B:

    I'm small-l libertarian: I agree with a lot of concerns, and I'd like to see us as a society move more toward Libertarian views, but I don't think that they're right about everything.

    From my perspective, Libertarianism sounds like "the means justify the ends," while many of the non-libertarians take the converse position. I don't think that either alone is sufficient for a society to endure.

  13. jimv:

    There is no libertarian split on the war. Those "libertarians" who favor the war are not libertarians -- they are 'LINO's. (Libertarians in name only).

    Iraq was never an existential threat to the U.S. The war advocates just ginned up a lot of war histeria (something that seems to precede all our wars) to persuade the naive that the war was necessary and good. (Those same war advocates are going through a similar exercise to scare up support for attacking Iran).

    In reality, the war, like all government enterprises, is just another government program, with all its attendant red tape, lobbyists, politics, and stupidity. The winners of this war are the defense contractors, and Haliburtons who feed at the government trough. The losers are the Iraqi people who are caught in the crossfire, the fallen and wounded U.S. troops who are called on to serve, and the U.S. taxpayers who have yet to pay the mounting bill for this debacle.

    For a libertarian to support the Iraq war would be like asking whether they support the creation of some new gigantic pork barrel project. A real libertarian's answer: no, no, a thousand times no!

  14. Alex:

    Defense and offense are not the same thing. A true libertarian must only support military action when a direct threat to the nation is present(i.e. when Japan declared war on US).
    Warfare requires elevated taxes, which any true libertarian can say that they oppose. Is a 9.5 trillion dollar debt really necessary. Further, it can lead to conscription, which is a form of slavery, and is illegal according to the Civil War Amendments. Also, why should American tax money be going to welfare in the Middle East? This is a matter of private charity. The Bush administration does this in exchange for access to petroleum, which benefits the companies, but not the people.