T Nation

War and Libertarians

Very interesting op-ed by libertarian law professor Randy Barnett, pointing out that libertarians are not reflexively anti-foreign-war based on first principles - and in fact have been divided historically on such matters as Viet Nam. Particularly, Barnett repudiates Ron Paul on the point that libertarian principles dictate that one must be against the Iraq War.

Here’s the article: http://opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110010344

EXCERPT:

[i]. . . Does being a libertarian commit one to a particular stance toward the Iraq war? The simple answer is “no.”

First and foremost, libertarians believe in robust rights of private property, freedom of contract, and restitution to victims of crime. They hold that these rights define true “liberty” and provide the boundaries within which individuals may pursue happiness by making their own free choices while living in close proximity to each other. Within these boundaries, individuals can actualize their potential while minimizing their interference with the pursuit of happiness by others.

When it comes to foreign policy, libertarians’ severe skepticism of government planning in the domestic arena carries over to the government’s ability to accomplish anything positive through foreign aid, whether economic or military–a skepticism they share with most Americans. All libertarians, I suspect, oppose military conscription on principle, considering it involuntary servitude. To a libertarian, any effort at “nation building” seems to be just another form of central planning which, however well-motivated, is fraught with unintended consequences and the danger of blowback. And, like most everyone, libertarians oppose any war of aggression. In all these regards, Mr. Paul is a mainstream libertarian.

But like all libertarians, even Mr. Paul believes in the fundamental, individual right of self-defense, which is why libertarians like him overwhelmingly support the right to keep and bear arms. And most also believe that when the territory of the U.S. is attacked militarily, the government–which claims a monopoly on providing for national defense and extracts billions of tax dollars for this purpose–is justified in using the military in self-defense. For this reason, many libertarians (though not all) who now oppose the war in Iraq supported U.S. military actions against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had aided and harbored the al Qaeda network that organized the 9/11 attack.

But here is the rub. While all libertarians accept the principle of self-defense, and most accept the role of the U.S. government in defending U.S. territory, libertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack. Devising a military defense strategy is a matter of judgment or prudence about which reasonable libertarians may differ greatly. . . .[/i]

Link doesn’t work.

It worked for me – let me give it again:

http://opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110010344

If that continues to fail for you, it should be available via here shortly:

http://randybarnett.com/publications.shtml#opeds

This excerpt doesn’t seem well placed… in that it doesn’t really do anything to refute Ron Paul’s concept of a libertarian viewpoint.

Maybe if the teaser (the excerpt) seemed to get to the point it would lure me into going and reading the article?

Also, are we talking about “foreign wars” in general or the Iraq war? There is a difference!

The point is about foreign wars in general – the concept being that foreign wars can be viewed as defensive, if you’re willing to accept the idea that sometimes you need to take an offensive step for a defensive purpose. Iraq is just an example – the thesis is that libertarian first principles do not require one to be against all foreign wars (as is claimed by some, including Ron Paul).

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
The point is about foreign wars in general – the concept being that foreign wars can be viewed as defensive, if you’re willing to accept the idea that sometimes you need to take an offensive step for a defensive purpose. Iraq is just an example – the thesis is that libertarian first principles do not require one to be against all foreign wars (as is claimed by some, including Ron Paul).[/quote]

I think that Paul isn’t against war in general. At least he has never made that claim publicly. Specifically, with regard to Iraq, I think he believes that it is wrong because it was never declared in congress (thus unconstitutional) and that the war only had economic intentions which wasn’t to to “fight terrorism”.

Whether you believe that the Iraq war was purely economic is a different point altogether–but you cannot argue the point of constitutionality. Congress gave power to the president but it did not follow the constitution–a point of distinction.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
The point is about foreign wars in general – the concept being that foreign wars can be viewed as defensive, if you’re willing to accept the idea.[/quote]

That’s what your whole post revolves around, the view that Iraq is a ‘defensive’ war. That is total bullshit. The United States had never participated in a ‘defensive’ war. Ever.

My bad - in skimming the intro I misunderstood. Barnett was using Paul’s opposition and general libertarianism to introduce the question of whether one could deduce an opposition to Iraq (as an example of a foreign war) from libertarian first principles.

As to the Constitutional point, it’s interesting – the Constitution doesn’t specify that Congress must use particular wording in order to declare war, and they inarguably have the power to declare war. This would also seem to include taking lesser measures, such as authorizing military force without using the words “declare war.”

Thus it would seem that they could utilize their power within the bounds of the Constitution to authorize the President to use force against another country – particularly when the President has his own Commander in Chief powers.

I haven’t read Paul’s particular rationale, but let me know if it gets around that framework.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
I haven’t read Paul’s particular rationale, but let me know if it gets around that framework.
[/quote]
Interesting point. Given the wording of the constitution regarding congress’ authority it makes no distinction as to how a “declaration” should be made or how a president should ask–that is to say, it has never been tested in court whether a “formal declaration” should be made or not.

However, the War Powers Resolution of 1973 was written specifically to limit the amount of time troops spend with boots on the ground in a conflict without an explicit declaration of war–again, this has never been tested by the USSC.

I believe Paul’s framework is expressly from the Constitution and also from his belief in the “Christian principle of Just War”. I’m not sure what that is but have heard him speak about it in the debates. Barring the soundness of the Constitution this principle probably dictates that most wars are not just unless it fits into the framework of Christianity; but from my understanding of war and Christianity…well, that debate is for an other time and place.

I think from the libertarian framework he is mostly against war where the intent is nation building–as this assumes that the US gov’t is responsible to or for other nations and their sovereignty. Though, I am not exactly sure how to define nation building, clearly, if we have any say in how or who participates in the resulting gov’t, that can be construed as a form of nation building. I think the nation building argument is the most valid one we could make in this instance.

[quote]
BostonBarrister wrote:
The point is about foreign wars in general – the concept being that foreign wars can be viewed as defensive, if you’re willing to accept the idea.

Majin wrote:
That’s what your whole post revolves around, the view that Iraq is a ‘defensive’ war. That is total bullshit. The United States had never participated in a ‘defensive’ war. Ever.[/quote]

No - the point is an argument can be made that sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and thus a seemingly offensive war could fit in the tenets of libertarianism if it’s done for a defensive purpose. For example, if we had invaded Germany immediately after Germany had invaded Poland, that could have been justified as an offensive war with a defensive purpose.

As the article notes:

[i]Many libertarians, and perhaps most libertarian intellectuals, opposed the war in Iraq even before its inception. They believed Saddam’s regime neither directly threatened the U.S. nor harbored or supported the terrorist network responsible for Sept. 11. They also feared the risk of harmful, unintended consequences. Some may also have believed that since the U.S. was not attacked by the government of Iraq, any such war was aggressive rather than defensive in nature.

Other libertarians, however, supported the war in Iraq because they viewed it as part of a larger war of self-defense against Islamic jihadists who were organizationally independent of any government. They viewed radical Islamic fundamentalism as resulting in part from the corrupt dictatorial regimes that inhabit the Middle East, which have effectively repressed indigenous democratic reformers. Although opposed to nation building generally, these libertarians believed that a strategy of fomenting democratic regimes in the Middle East, as was done in Germany and Japan after World War II, might well be the best way to take the fight to the enemy rather than solely trying to ward off the next attack. [/i]

None of this suggests that one cannot be a libertarian and still oppose virtually all military action other than narrowly defined self-defense. If you believe that offense is rarely an effective form of defense, libertarian isolationism becomes your favored policy. However, such a conclusion does not necessarily follow from the intrinsic principles of libertarianism. For that reason, libertarians will continue to disagree over war and military intervention.

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:

I think from the libertarian framework he is mostly against war where the intent is nation building–as this assumes that the US gov’t is responsible to or for other nations and their sovereignty. Though, I am not exactly sure how to define nation building, clearly, if we have any say in how or who participates in the resulting gov’t, that can be construed as a form of nation building. I think the nation building argument is the most valid one we could make in this instance.[/quote]

This is interesting – some libertarians hold that even nation-building isn’t outside the scope of libertarianism, depending on the motivation. This is a minority view for sure, but in this case the focal point of the analysis of a governmental intervention, whether national or international, is whether it will, on balance, increase the protection of rights (where “rights” are defined in a libertarian way). Thus someone exceptionally pessimistic as to the enforcement of rights absent a governmental intervention could favor the intervention even if the intervention, in and of itself, wouldn’t seem as if it were within the libertarian purview.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
Thus someone exceptionally pessimistic as to the enforcement of rights absent a governmental intervention could favor the intervention even if the intervention, in and of itself, wouldn’t seem as if it were within the libertarian purview.[/quote]

Kind of like the argument against a woman’s right to choose unless her life is in danger? In both cases it comes down to which rights could be perceived to be more important–the rights of American citizens (Constitutionally) or the rights of all persons in general.

In Paul’s case I think he would argue that his duty is to the Constitution, always–first and foremost.

Ron Paul characterizes himself as a constitutionalist.

I think you could argue that authorizations of force are in fact declarations of war and that they should be held to the same standard as a formal declaration of war.

I also do think you could also argue that the president has no authority to initiate conflicts except in special cases. The fact it has been done in the past does not mean that it is appropriate.

Somebody does of course need to make decisions in a timely and non-committee manner during a war, and that of course is the president, who has a plethora of advisors and resources to draw from.

However, giving the president the ability to engage in nation building, world policing and other actions seems like the wrong direction to take.

Also, I do have to mention Iraq, due to the fact that the reason for the war seems to have shifted from a supposed imminent danger to a liberating initiative.

EDIT…

To get back to the constitution, we could probably consider whether or not the government is supposed to generally be responsive to the will of the people. Does making the executive branch similar to a kingship or a dictatorship lend itself to this principle.

I would argue that it does not, as I wonder how the will of the people can be expressed when one single person gets to decide to wage war with a nations assets, but what do I know.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:

BostonBarrister wrote:
The point is about foreign wars in general – the concept being that foreign wars can be viewed as defensive, if you’re willing to accept the idea.

Majin wrote:
That’s what your whole post revolves around, the view that Iraq is a ‘defensive’ war. That is total bullshit. The United States had never participated in a ‘defensive’ war. Ever.

No - the point is an argument can be made that sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and thus a seemingly offensive war could fit in the tenets of libertarianism if it’s done for a defensive purpose. For example, if we had invaded Germany immediately after Germany had invaded Poland, that could have been justified as an offensive war with a defensive purpose.

As the article notes:

[i]Many libertarians, and perhaps most libertarian intellectuals, opposed the war in Iraq even before its inception. They believed Saddam’s regime neither directly threatened the U.S. nor harbored or supported the terrorist network responsible for Sept. 11. They also feared the risk of harmful, unintended consequences. Some may also have believed that since the U.S. was not attacked by the government of Iraq, any such war was aggressive rather than defensive in nature.

Other libertarians, however, supported the war in Iraq because they viewed it as part of a larger war of self-defense against Islamic jihadists who were organizationally independent of any government. They viewed radical Islamic fundamentalism as resulting in part from the corrupt dictatorial regimes that inhabit the Middle East, which have effectively repressed indigenous democratic reformers. Although opposed to nation building generally, these libertarians believed that a strategy of fomenting democratic regimes in the Middle East, as was done in Germany and Japan after World War II, might well be the best way to take the fight to the enemy rather than solely trying to ward off the next attack. [/i]

None of this suggests that one cannot be a libertarian and still oppose virtually all military action other than narrowly defined self-defense. If you believe that offense is rarely an effective form of defense, libertarian isolationism becomes your favored policy. However, such a conclusion does not necessarily follow from the intrinsic principles of libertarianism. For that reason, libertarians will continue to disagree over war and military intervention. [/quote]

I’d say attacking Geramany to defend Europe would be FAIR and just, also. FAIRNESS being the criteria upon which reason for war should be waged. Again, something unsupported by history.

I’m not saying that libertarians can’t support military action. It’s a stereotype that’s been blown out of proportion as so much other information is. But generally, especially with our record, I’d say true Libertarians should have opposed most, if not all, military action.

Note should be taken of who CALLS themselves Libertarian and who actually IS one. Tags and labels don’t overshadow personal qualities, they only mask them from us.

My point was also that this is what Ron Paul means and not that there is no possible scenario on Earth that he would not support military action. The statistics on people who decided at one point to call themselves libertarian don’t weigh as much as a man right here, right now who is going against the grain of both parties and is smart enough to stand his own. It’s especially embarrassing to the vasectomized democratic party.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
Very interesting op-ed by libertarian law professor Randy Barnett, pointing out that libertarians are not reflexively anti-foreign-war based on first principles - and in fact have been divided historically on such matters as Viet Nam. Particularly, Barnett repudiates Ron Paul on the point that libertarian principles dictate that one must be against the Iraq War.[/quote]

The best quote I heard recently was that, “If you got five libertarians in a room together. You instantly have ten different factions.”

Unfortunately I can’t remember the source.

Since libertarian is the new black, and many different people claiming the mantle of “libertarianism” as against others, it is interesting to see some libertarians accusing Ron Paul of being no libertarian at all:

http://kipesquire.powerblogs.com/posts/chain_1180003223.shtml

http://kipesquire.powerblogs.com/posts/1181147106.shtml

Does this matter much? I doubt it - you either like Paul’s ideas or you don’t, regardless of formal taxonomy. But libertarians seem to be very interested in who appropriates the title, and I wonder if this will have any impact on these folks wanting someone else from the Libertarian Party in 2008.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
Since libertarian is the new black, and many different people claiming the mantle of “libertarianism” as against others, it is interesting to see some libertarians accusing Ron Paul of being no libertarian at all:

http://kipesquire.powerblogs.com/posts/chain_1180003223.shtml

http://kipesquire.powerblogs.com/posts/1181147106.shtml

Does this matter much? I doubt it - you either like Paul’s ideas or you don’t, regardless of formal taxonomy. But libertarians seem to be very interested in who appropriates the title, and I wonder if this will have any impact on these folks wanting someone else from the Libertarian Party in 2008.
[/quote]

I am not a big believer in labels or titles. Substance is what matters to me most–not what we call the framework it fits into. If I were to call myself a libertarian and then there were some ideology withing the framework that I didn’t agree with would I still be considered a libertarian, for example? You can ask that question of every philosophy. The only label I am comfortable with it the name my mother gave me.

I am also not a big fan of group think. When you get a bunch of people into a convention their behavior becomes robotic and quite hilarious. I think that is why I must continually rock the boat.

http://www.lewrockwell.com/raskin/raskin22.html

"To the Editor:

This laudatory letter is a response to Randy Barnett�??s op-ed of Tuesday, July 17, in which he limns a brilliant vindication of the mass killing of Iraqi civilians. He has done us pro-murder libertarians a great service by reclaiming the movement from the radical flapdoodle pacifists who doggedly insist upon what they have labeled a “non-aggression axiom.” This incoherent moral law essentially proclaims that violence committed against innocent people is wrong."

"And now we come to the extremely un-libertarian Ron Paul. Paul believes in limited government and consistently votes against increases in federal power. This is a slap in the face to all good libertarians, e.g. Randy Barnett. Without a police state and strong military, how in the world is the government going to impose libertarianism?

So as we see, Paul is simply another in a long line of so-called libertarians who have espoused the rhetoric of limited government and personal liberty, while at the same time professing to be against murder, rape, and theft. "

Randy Barnett has pointed out an interesting argument about state sovereignty from the libertarian perspective, going more toward a “rights positive” model of libertarianism that would tolerate governmental action that tended to increase individual rights (again as defined from a libertarian perspective):

EXCERPT:

[i]The problem is that the notion of state sovereignty in the modern era leads to a view of the moral equivalence of all states�??Communist China is then no different from Republican Switzerland�??and this is detrimental to human rights, because it means that a tyrannical state is immune from outside pressures to liberalize. Michael Walzer goes some of the way in this direction, but not to the ultimate conclusion. The argument is that sovereignty needs to be based in service to people, that is, protecting their rights, so illegitimate regimes don’t have sovereignty at all. There’s a Lockean component here also: If rights are conceptually prior to the state, then state sovereignty must derive from a theory of legitimacy which is based on protection of rights rather than from a theory of moral equality of all states.

The rights component gets lost when we adopt a �??realist�?? model of legitimacy, such as actually holding power or being “recognized” by the UN. Now, what are the causes which might count as “just cause”? Least controversial is defense against aggression. The right to respond to force with force seems fairly straightforward, although in a moment I will indicate why it might not be for some. A bit less obvious is defense of another. If B is invaded by A, B might have the right to repel the invasion, but utterly lack the power to do so. C’s assistance would be justified on the grounds that B was unjustified in aggressing against A in the first place. C’s right to use force against A follows from B’s right. More controversial still are interventions; for example, taking sides in a civil war or preventing a genocide or removing a tyrant. It might seem as though only in this last case does it even matter what model of legitimacy we adopt.

If A is attacked, isn’t A’s right of selfdefense absolute regardless of whether it is attacked by a republic or a tyranny? Traditional just war theory would answer yes, but I think it actually does matter. Since tyrannical states have no legitimacy, if they are attacked by free states, they cannot claim that their sovereignty is being violated. In other words, intervening to protect rights against a tyrant is not a violation of sovereignty at least not any kind of sovereignty worth defending. (Nevertheless, the attack would have to satisfy other justice conditions, e.g., it would have to be intended to liberate oppressed people or prevent a genocide rather than to seize raw materials or to acquire territory.)

Some will argue that a free society has no business interfering in other societies’ internal politics. But this is, ironically, or paradoxically, a holdover from the old monarchist mindset. The old order on which traditional just war theory is based, and on which sovereignty is the paramount value in international relations, depends on a moral equivalence between states which is derived from a statist view, not an individualist view.

On a non-statist, individualist view, individuals, not states, have rights. States may have powers, but the just powers derive from the consent of the governed. The putative right of any state to sovereignty thus is a function of its protection of the rights of the people in its domain. So a free society may very well have some business “interfering” in tyrannical or genocidal states namely, the business of protecting life and liberty.

The very language that this is “interference” in a state’s own affairs implies that the state has some right of action which is presumptively respected, and again, this can only be justified by old-order thinking, not by liberal thinking. (I am not here arguing that they are obliged to do so, only that they are permitted to do so, or that they do no wrong by doing so.)[/i]