Monday, January 13, 2003

Matthew Yglesias responds to Nick Denton's critique of libertarian hawks. But they both seem to me to miss some important points.

Both of them suppose that American hawkishness has some innate connection with antidemocraticness, as though the central case of U.S. intervention these days were an invasion to overthrow the elected Chavez. This allows Nick to say that libertarians trust individuals at home but distrust the people abroad, and Matthew to say that libertarians trust individuals but not the people as a collective body.

I'm hardly going to defend the administration's Venezuala screw-up. But is it even the teensiest bit relevant that Taliban wasn't and the Ba'ath regime isn't a democratically elected government? That it's against such overseas dictatorships that the libertarian hawks are advocating the use of force? It seems to me that regardless of whether one trusts individuals or democratic populaces, there's no argument derived from "trusting the people of Iraq" against an invasion. There are plenty of important arguments, but that's not one of them. (Nor is any argument based on the related idea of national self-determination.)

Now all libertarians, hawkish and otherwise, understand the paradox of libertarian hawkishness. It has nothing to do with trusting "the people." it has to do with trusting the state-- the government of the United States. The same agent that libertarians distrust in almost all circumstances, the agent whose failings they document all the time, the agent whose warped incentives and limited knowledge and political character and greed for power makes it so untrustworthy, is the agent that undertakes wars. Moreover, there's an especially strong tendency for even domestic state size and power to expand during wartime. For these reasons the standard libertarian position has traditionally been anti-interventionist. Roderick Long continues to argue for the primacy of those considerations, and for the libertarian moral theory that rests on the prohibition on the initiation of force (by states or anyone else). Brink Lindsey has argued at length that such considerations are provisional and of a ceteris paribus character and that there's no argument from libertarian principle prohibiting the use of force to increase the freedom of others. Tom Palmer and many others think that the balance of considerations justified action against Afghanistan but does not against Iraq.

But even Brink acknowledges that there are tensions and countervailing considerations. They're just not the ones Nick or Matthew pointed out.

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