In chatting and debating on libertarian message boards, I have repeatedly come across some people who staunchly support our current foreign policy, particularly the war in Iraq. I have seen some even clamor for intervention with Iran. These people may not constitute a majority in libertarian circles, but they are a sizable faction and it appears that they are starting to gain disproportionate control of libertarian institutions.
Nothing makes my blood boil more than to see self-professed libertarians express pro-war sentiment. I sometimes wonder if half the people out there who consider themselves libertarians think that libertarianism is some sort of special brand of conservatism, with hookers and bongs added into the mix. Where in the heck are these people getting their ideas about government from? Apparently not from any libertarian authors.
I'll admit, I have not been involved in this movement for any more years than I can count on one hand. But it was very clear to me from the very beginning that non-intervention in foreign affairs, particularly opposition to war, is a central tenet of this philosophy (one that I generally held before becoming interested in it). So when I see a sizable portion of "libertarians" supporting the war in Iraq and "war on terror", of course I become disturbed.
Now, there is of course some room for disagreement between libertarians. Some particular areas of debate have been over immigration and abortion. But on this particular issue, the warfare state, I can see no honest disagreement between libertarians, particularly because the warfare state is the most blatant and gigantic manifestation of what libertarians are supposed to oppose. It is the most aggressive manifestation of the state and it is the mechanism by which the state expands its power the most.
How one can believe that government is inept, yet somehow simultaneously act as if this ineptitude does not apply to the military sphere makes no sense. How can someone believe that central planning of the domestic economy fails while simultaneously believing that central planning of foreign policy is immune to the laws of economics? Indeed, the case against central planning applies to foreign policy and military affairs just as much as it does to domestic matters. All of the great economists from Mises onwards were perfectly aware of this, and Hayek's "Road To Serfdom" is a textbook example of how the warfare state is a means to transfer a country into socialism.
If a "libertarian" supports the "war on terror", then in practise they must support all that comes along with it. That means that they must support the huge growth in government powers, which includes the massive increase in spending, the centralization of executive powers, the inflation and the nation building. When it all is considered, it adds up to a sizable portion of the status quo (no, a net increase in the state's power), expressed in trillions of dollars.
How is this libertarian? How is a trillion dollars in spending justified on libertarian grounds? If it is, then I guess libertarians should have been pleased with Clinton's budget for the entire federal government a decade ago, which is an amount that is equivalent (lesser than, even) to the cost of our current crusade. Let's make this clear: the cost in military spending alone for this is quickly becoming in exess of what the entire federal budget was under a "big government" Democrat!
Consequentialist and pragmatic considerations aside, the absurdity of pro-war libertarianism is obvious when held up the standards of the philosopher's stone of liberty: the non-aggression axiom. Most would agree that to murder one person would violate the axoim. Yet modern offensive war is the largest possible violation of this axoim, for it is the mass-destruction of life and property. I wrote more in depth about this in a past article here. The anti-war, anti-empire position is a logical deduction from the non-aggression axoim. Without it, a huge chunk of this philosophy falls into the void.
Unfortunately, pro-war "libertarianism" seems to be very popular among many modern followers of Ayn Rand and assorted right-wingers. I fear that this is partially the fault of the libertarian movement itself for tieing itself to the hip of the right for so many years. The result has been an infiltration of the movement by conservatives. To these people, libertarianism is apparently just a special form of conservatism in which we get to gloat about how much more conservative we are then the others. They never picked up on left-right revisionism and the re-alignment of the political spectrum, so they are still trapped in a false political dychotomy.
I can tolerate anti-immigration libertarians, left-libertarians, right-libertians, agorists, objectivists, etc. Such groups can have faults and inconsistancies without giving up the bulk of the philosophy. But I cannot tolerate "pro-war libertarianism" because it is not libertarianism; it is not possible to take such a position without giving up a huge chunk of this philosophy. If I was anti-war before becoming interested in libertarianism (and I was, I was), then surely "libertarians" can be anti-war already.