Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Libertarians and Foreign Policy

I was listening to Dennis Prager the other day and he said something that I have been thinking about since. He noted that libertarians, like the left, totally fail on foreign policy. They fail to fight evil. They are isolationists who simply ignore evil. I don't think Prager is correct. The libertarian would surely oppose coercion. Government should not forcibly make citizens fight wars. Government should not forcibly require other nations to do anything that would infringe on that public's private property rights.

However, could an argument be made for a country to invade another country? The libertarian argument would be that if our private property rights are threatened or under fire, then a defensive action would make sense. So, if it could be shown or argued that some regime is indeed ready to attack the U.S. or U.S. property, then would defensive action make sense? Would this apply to Saddam Hussein or Iran? How about Hitler or Stalin? Now, what would libertarians propose to do about genocide in Cambodia under Pol Pot, or in Darfur? Wouldn't the libertarian view be that if enough people voluntarily agreed to stop the bloodshed by hiring others to do so or doing it themselves, this would be all right? Since the aggressing party in such conflicts is violating basic human right of personal ownership, would it be invalid to argue that if individuals voluntarily agree to stop this violation it would not be libertarian? What do you think about this issue?

1 comment:

  1. Boyes response to Prager allows us to think about the term libertarian - clearly this term encompasses any number of views that may, in fact, be in conflict. The classical 19th century liberal might address foreign policy in an entirely different direction from an anarcho-libertarian.

    That said, as Boyes outlines, regardless of policy, conflict over property rights (the most fundamental property right is to life) and possible coercion make for an intriguing question.

    Natural liberty calls for property rights, a court system and some national defense. One argument would be that national defense would address the issue of Hussein, Hitler, Stalin, et al.

    The question becomes, what responsibility exists when property rights are violated in another country? This is worth pursuing . . . although our intervention in Iraq had arguably (demonstrably) reduced civil society, the rule of law and property rights (from an already low level).

    This brings to mind a book I am reading for an FTE conference - Violence and the Social Orders by North, Wallis and Wengast. I will blog on this later, but for now, to the extent that violence threatens or violates property rights in another country, libertarian responses might be informed by the North et al framework of limited access orders (what they call natural states - the vast majority of the world) and open access societies.

    Given all the examples Boyes provides (and that I can think of) are limited access or natural orders - I wonder if the violence disequilibrium can only be made worst by 3rd party organizations. That seems to be the case in Iraq, Afganistan, Somalia, et al.

    In any event, provocative post by Boyes.