War and Foreign Policy

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This essay
is a chapter from Murray Rothbard’s For
A New Liberty

Left and Right

was coined as a smear term to apply to opponents of American entry
into World War II. Since the word was often applied through guilt-by-association
to mean pro-Nazi, “isolationist” took on a “right wing” as well
as a generally negative flavor. If not actively pro-Nazi, “isolationists”
were at the very least narrow-minded ignoramuses ignorant of the
world around them, in contrast to the sophisticated, worldly, caring
“internationalists” who favored American crusading around the globe.
In the last decade, of course, antiwar forces have been considered
“leftists,” and interventionists from Lyndon Johnson to Jimmy Carter
and their followers have constantly tried to pin the “isolationist”
or at least “neoisolationist” label on today’s left wing.

Left or right?
During World War I, opponents of the war were bitterly attacked,
just as now, as “leftists,” even though they included in their ranks
libertarians and advocates of laissez-faire capitalism. In fact,
the major center of opposition to the American war with Spain and
the American war to crush the Philippine rebellion at the turn of
the century was laissez-faire liberals, men like the sociologist
and economist William Graham Sumner, and the Boston merchant Edward
Atkinson, who founded the “Anti-Imperialist League.” Furthermore,
Atkinson and Sumner were squarely in the great tradition of the
classical English liberals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
and in particular such laissez-faire “extremists” as Richard Cobden
and John Bright of the “Manchester School.” Cobden and Bright took
the lead in vigorously opposing every British war and foreign political
intervention of their era and for his pains Cobden was known not
as an “isolationist” but as the “International Man.”1
Until the smear campaign of the late 1930s, opponents of war were
considered the true “internationalists,” men who opposed the aggrandizement
of the nation-state and favored peace, free trade, free migration
and peaceful cultural exchanges among peoples of all nations. Foreign
intervention is “international” only in the sense that war is international:
coercion, whether the threat of force or the outright movement of
troops, will always cross frontiers between one nation and another.

has a right-wing sound; “neutralism” and “peaceful coexistence”
sound leftish. But their essence is the same: opposition to war
and political intervention between countries. This has been the
position of antiwar forces for two centuries, whether they were
the classical liberals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
the “leftists” of World War I and the Cold War, or the “rightists”
of World War II. In very few cases have these anti-interventionists
favored literal “isolation”: what they have generally favored is
political nonintervention in the affairs of other countries, coupled
with economic and cultural internationalism in the sense of peaceful
freedom of trade, investment, and interchange between the citizens
of all countries. And this is the essence of the libertarian position
as well.


favor the abolition of all States everywhere, and the provision
of legitimate functions now supplied poorly by governments (police,
courts, etc.) by means of the free market. Libertarians favor liberty
as a natural human right, and advocate it not only for Americans
but for all peoples. In a purely libertarian world, therefore, there
would be no “foreign policy” because there would be no States, no
governments with a monopoly of coercion over particular territorial
areas. But since we live in a world of nation-states, and since
this system is hardly likely to disappear in the near future, what
is the attitude of libertarians toward foreign policy in the current
State-ridden world?

Pending the
dissolution of States, libertarians desire to limit, to whittle
down, the area of government power in all directions and as much
as possible. We have already demonstrated how this principle of
“de-statizing” might work in various important “domestic” problems,
where the goal is to push back the role of government and to allow
the voluntary and spontaneous energies of free persons full scope
through peaceful interaction, notably in the free-market economy.
In foreign affairs, the goal is the same: to keep government from
interfering in the affairs of other governments or other countries.
Political “isolationism” and peaceful coexistence – refraining
from acting upon other countries – is, then, the libertarian
counterpart to agitating for laissez-faire policies at home. The
idea is to shackle government from acting abroad just as we try
to shackle government at home. Isolationism or peaceful coexistence
is the foreign policy counterpart of severely limiting government
at home.

the entire land area of the world is now parcelled out among various
States, and each land area is ruled by a central government with
monopoly of violence over that area. In relations between States,
then, the libertarian goal is to keep each of these States from
extending their violence to other countries, so that each State’s
tyranny is at least confined to its own bailiwick. For the libertarian
is interested in reducing as much as possible the area of State
aggression against all private individuals. The only way to do this,
in international affairs, is for the people of each country to pressure
their own State to confine its activities to the area it monopolizes
and not to attack other States or aggress against their subjects.
In short, the objective of the libertarian is to confine any existing
State to as small a degree of invasion of person and property as
possible. And this means the total avoidance of war. The people
under each State should pressure “their” respective States not to
attack one another, or, if a conflict should break out, to withdraw
from it as quickly as physically possible.

Let us assume
for the moment, a world with two hypothetical countries: Graustark
and Belgravia. Each is ruled by its own State. What happens if the
government of Graustark invades the territory of Belgravia? From
the libertarian point of view two evils immediately occur. First,
the Graustark Army begins to slaughter innocent Belgravian civilians,
persons who are not implicated in whatever crimes the Belgravian
government might have committed. War, then, is mass murder, and
this massive invasion of the right to life, of self-ownership, of
numbers of people is not only a crime but, for the libertarian,
the ultimate crime. Second, since all governments obtain their revenue
from the thievery of coercive taxation, any mobilization and launching
of troops inevitably involve an increase in tax-coercion in Graustark.
For both reasons – because inter-State wars inevitably involve
both mass murder and an increase in tax-coercion, the libertarian
opposes war. Period.

It was not
always thus. During the Middle Ages, the scope of wars was far more
limited. Before the rise of modern weapons, armaments were so limited
that governments could – and often did – strictly
confine their violence to the armies of the rival governments.
It is true that tax-coercion increased, but at least there was no
mass murder of the innocents. Not only was firepower low enough
to confine violence to the armies of the contending sides, but in
the premodern era there was no central nation-state that spoke inevitably
in the name of all inhabitants of a given land area. If one set
of kings or barons fought another, it was not felt that everyone
in the area must be a dedicated partisan. Moreover, instead of mass
conscript armies enslaved to their respective rulers, armies were
small bands of hired mercenaries. Often, a favorite sport for the
populace was to observe a battle from the safety of the town ramparts,
and war was regarded as something of a sporting match. But with
the rise of the centralizing State and of modern weapons of mass
destruction, the slaughter of civilians, as well as conscript armies,
have become a vital part of inter-State warfare.

Suppose that
despite possible libertarian opposition, war has broken out. Clearly,
the libertarian position should be that, so long as the war continues,
the scope of assault upon innocent civilians must be diminished
as much as possible. Old-fashioned international law had two excellent
devices to accomplish this goal: the “laws of war,” and the “laws
of neutrality” or “neutrals’ rights.” The laws of neutrality were
designed to keep any war confined to the warring States themselves,
without attacks upon nonwarring States and, particularly, aggression
against the peoples of other nations. Hence the importance of such
ancient and now almost forgotten American principles as “freedom
of the seas” or severe limitations upon the rights of warring States
to blockade neutral trade with the enemy country. In short, the
libertarian tries to induce neutral States to remain neutral
in any inter-State conflict, and to induce the warring States to
observe fully the rights of neutral citizens. The “laws of war,”
for their part, were designed to limit as much as possible the invasion
by warring States of the rights of civilians in their respective
countries. As the British jurist F. J. P. Veale put it:

The fundamental
principle of this code was that hostilities between civilized
peoples must be limited to the armed forces actually engaged….
It drew a distinction between combatants and non-combatants by
laying down that the sole business of the combatants is to fight
each other and, consequently, that non-combatants must be excluded
from the scope of military operations.2

In the modified
form of prohibiting the bombardment of all cities not in the front
line, this rule held in Western European wars in recent centuries
until Britain launched the strategic bombing of civilians in World
War II. Now, of course, the entire concept is scarcely remembered,
since the very nature of modern nuclear warfare rests upon the annihilation
of civilians.

To return to
our hypothetical Graustark and Belgravia, suppose that Graustark
has invaded Belgravia, and that a third government, Walldavia, now
leaps into the war in order to defend Belgravia against “Graustarkian
aggression.” Is this action justifiable? Here, indeed, is the germ
of the pernicious twentieth-century theory of “collective security”
– the idea that when one government “aggresses” against another,
it is the moral obligation of the other governments of the world
to band together to defend the “victimized” State.

There are several
fatal flaws in this concept of collective security against “aggression.”
One is that when Walldavia, or any other States, leap into the fray
they are themselves expanding and compounding the extent of the
aggression, because they are (1) unjustly slaughtering masses of
Graustarkian civilians, and (2) increasing tax-coercion over Walldavian
citizens. Furthermore, (3) in this age when States and subjects
are closely identifiable, Walldavia is thereby leaving Walldavian
civilians open to retaliation by Graustarkian bombers or missiles.
Thus, entry into the war by the Walldavian government puts into
jeopardy the very lives and properties of Walldavian citizens which
the government is supposed to be protecting. Finally, (4)
conscription-enslavement of Walldavian citizens will usually intensify.

If this kind
of “collective security” should really be applied on a worldwide
scale, with all the “Walldavias” rushing into every local conflict
and escalating them, every local skirmish would soon be raised into
a global conflagration.

There is another
crucial flaw in the collective security concept. The idea of entering
a war in order to stop “aggression” is clearly an analogy from aggression
by one individual upon another. Smith is seen to be beating
up Jones – aggressing against him. Nearby police then rush
to the defense of the victim Jones; they are using “police action”
to stop aggression. It was in pursuit of this myth, for example,
that President Truman persisted in referring to American entry into
the Korean war as a “police action,” a collective UN effort to repel

But “aggression”
only makes sense on the individual Smith-Jones level, as does the
very term “police action.” These terms make no sense whatever on
an inter-State level. First, we have seen that governments entering
a war thereby become aggressors themselves against innocent civilians;
indeed, become mass murderers. The correct analogy to individual
action would be: Smith beats up Jones, the police rush in to help
Jones, and in the course of trying to apprehend Smith, the police
bomb a city block and murder thousands of people, or spray machine-gun
fire into an innocent crowd. This is a far more accurate
analogy, for that is what a warring government does, and in the
twentieth century it does so on a monumental scale. But any police
agency that behaves this way itself becomes a criminal aggressor,
often far more so than the original Smith who began the affair.

But there is
yet another fatal flaw in the analogy with individual aggression.
When Smith beats up Jones or steals his property we can identify
Smith as an aggressor upon the personal or property right of his
victim. But when the Graustarkian State invades the territory of
the Belgravian State, it is impermissible to refer to “aggression”
in an analogous way. For the libertarian, no government has a just
claim to any property or “sovereignty” right in a given territorial
area. The Belgravian State’s claim to its territory is therefore
totally different from Mr. Jones’ claim to his property (although
the latter might also, on investigation, turn out to be the illegitimate
result of theft). No State has any legitimate property; all of its
territory is the result of some kind of aggression and violent conquest.
Hence the Graustarkian State’s invasion is necessarily a battle
between two sets of thieves and aggressors: the only problem is
that innocent civilians on both sides are being trampled upon.

Aside from
this general caveat on governments, the so-called “aggressor” State
often has a quite plausible claim on its “victim”; plausible, that
is, within the context of the nation-state system. Suppose that
Graustark has crossed the Belgravian border because Belgravia had,
a century earlier, invaded Graustark and seized its northeastern
provinces. The inhabitants of these provinces are culturally, ethnically,
and linguistically Graustarkian. Graustark now invades in order
to be reunited at last with its fellow Graustarkians. In this situation,
by the way, the libertarian, while condemning both governments for
making war and killing civilians, would have to side with Graustark
as having the more just, or the less unjust, claim. Let us put it
this way: In the unlikely event that the two countries could return
to premodern warfare, with (a) weapons limited so that no civilians
were injured in their persons or property; (b) volunteer rather
than conscript armies; and also (c) financing by voluntary methods
instead of taxation; the libertarian could then, given our context,
side unreservedly with Graustark.

Of all the
recent wars, none has come closer – though not completely so
– to satisfying these three criteria for a “just war” than
the Indian war of late 1971 for the liberation of Bangla Desh. The
government of Pakistan had been created as a last terrible legacy
of Imperial Britain to the Indian subcontinent. In particular, the
nation of Pakistan consisted of imperial rule by the Punjabis of
West Pakistan over the more numerous and productive Bengalis of
East Pakistan (and also over the Pathans of the North-West Frontier).
The Bengalis had long been yearning for independence from their
imperial oppressors; in early 1971, parliament was suspended as
a result of Bengali victory in the elections; from then on, Punjabi
troops systematically slaughtered the civilian Bengal population.
Indian entry into the conflict aided the popular Bengali resistance
forces of the Mukhti Bahini. While taxes and conscription were,
of course, involved, the Indian armies did not use their weapons
against Bengali civilians; on the contrary, here was a genuine revolutionary
war of the Bengali public against a Punjabi occupying State.
Only Punjabi soldiers were on the receiving end of Indian bullets.

This example
points up another characteristic of warfare: that revolutionary
guerrilla war can be far more consistent with libertarian
principles than any inter-State war. By the very nature of their
activities, guerrillas defend the civilian population against
the depredations of a State; hence, guerrillas, inhabiting as they
do the same country as the enemy State, cannot use nuclear
or other weapons of mass destruction. Further: since guerrillas
rely for victory on the support and aid of the civilian population,
they must, as a basic part of their strategy, spare civilians
from harm and pinpoint their activities solely against the State
apparatus and its armed forces. Hence, guerrilla war returns us
to the ancient and honorable virtue of pinpointing the enemy and
sparing innocent civilians. And guerrillas, as part of their quest
for enthusiastic civilian support, often refrain from conscription
and taxation and rely on voluntary support for men and matriel.

The libertarian
qualities of guerrilla warfare reside only on the revolutionary
side; for the counterrevolutionary forces of the State, it is quite
a different story. While the State cannot go to the length of “nuking”
its own subjects, it does, of necessity, rely primarily on campaigns
of mass terror: killing, terrorizing, and rounding up the mass of
civilians. Since guerrillas, to be successful, must be supported
by the bulk of the population, the State, in order to wage its war,
must concentrate on destroying that population, or must herd masses
of civilians into concentration camps in order to separate them
from their guerrilla allies. This tactic was used by the Spanish
general, “Butcher” Weyler, against the Cuban rebels in the 1890s,
was continued by the American troops in the Philippines, and by
the British in the Boer War, and continues to be used down to the
recent ill-fated “strategic hamlet” policy in South Vietnam.

The libertarian
foreign policy, then, is not a pacifist policy. We do not
hold, as do the pacifists, that no individual has the right to use
violence in defending himself against violent attack. What we do
hold is that no one has the right to conscript, tax, or murder others,
or to use violence against others in order to defend himself. Since
all States exist and have their being in aggression against their
subjects and in the acquiring of their present territory, and since
inter-State wars slaughter innocent civilians, such wars are always
unjust – although some may be more unjust than others. Guerrilla
warfare against States at least has the potential for meeting libertarian
requirements by pinpointing the guerrilla’s battle against State
officials and armies, and by their use of voluntary methods to staff
and finance their struggle.

Foreign Policy

We have seen
that libertarians have as their prime responsibility the focussing
on the invasions and aggressions of their own State. The
libertarians of Graustark must center their attentions on attempting
to limit and whittle down the Graustark State, the Walldavian libertarians
must try to check the Walldavian State, and so on. In foreign affairs,
the libertarians of every country must press their government
to refrain from war and foreign intervention, and to withdraw from
any war in which they may be engaged. If for no other reason, then,
libertarians in the United States must center their critical attention
on the imperial and warlike activities of their own government.

But there are
still other reasons for libertarians here to focus upon the invasions
and foreign interventions of the United States. For empirically,
taking the twentieth century as a whole, the single most warlike,
most interventionist, most imperialist government has been the United
States. Such a statement is bound to shock Americans, subject as
we have been for decades to intense propaganda by the Establishment
on the invariable saintliness, peaceful intentions, and devotion
to justice of the American government in foreign affairs.

The expansionist
impulse of the American State began to take increasing hold in the
late nineteenth century, leaping boldly overseas with America’s
war against Spain, dominating Cuba, grabbing Puerto Rico and the
Philippines, and brutally suppressing a Filipino rebellion for independence.
The imperial expansion of the United States reached full flower
in World War I, when President Woodrow Wilson’s leap into the fray
prolonged the war and the mass slaughter, and unwittingly bred the
grisly devastation that led directly to the Bolshevik triumph in
Russia and the Nazi victory in Germany. It was Wilson’s particular
genius to supply a pietistic and moralistic cloak for a new American
policy of worldwide intervention and domination, a policy of trying
to mould every country in the American image, suppressing radical
or Marxist regimes on the one hand and old-fashioned monarchist
governments on the other. It was Woodrow Wilson who was to fix the
broad features of American foreign policy for the rest of this century.
Almost every succeeding President has considered himself a Wilsonian
and followed his policies. It was no accident that both Herbert
Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt – so long thought of as polar
opposites – played important roles in America’s first global
crusade of World War I, and that both men harked back to their experience
in World War I intervention and planning as the guideposts for their
future foreign and domestic policies. And it was one of Richard
Nixon’s first acts as President to place Woodrow Wilson’s picture
upon his desk.

In the name
of “national self-determination” and “collective security” against
aggression, the American government has consistently pursued a goal
and a policy of world domination and of the forcible suppression
of any rebellion against the status quo anywhere in the world. In
the name of combatting “aggression” everywhere – of being the
world’s “policeman” – it has itself become a great and continuing

Anyone who
balks at such a description of American policy should simply consider
what the typical American reaction is to any domestic or
foreign crisis anywhere on the globe, even at some remote site that
cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered a direct
or even indirect threat to the lives and security of the American
people. The military dictator of “Bumblestan” is in danger; perhaps
his subjects are tired of being exploited by him and his colleagues.
The United States then becomes gravely concerned; articles by journalists
friendly to the State Department or the Pentagon spread the alarm
about what might happen to the “stability” of Bumblestan and its
surrounding area if the dictator should be toppled. For it so happens
that he is a “pro-American” or “pro-Western” dictator: that is,
he is one of “ours” instead of “theirs.” Millions or even billions
of dollars’ worth of military and economic aid are then rushed by
the United States to prop up the Bumblestani field marshal. If “our”
dictator is saved, then a sigh of relief is heaved, and congratulations
are passed around at the saving of “our” State. The continuing or
intensified oppression of the American taxpayer and of the Bumblestanian
citizens are, of course, not considered in the equation. Or if it
should happen that the Bumblestani dictator may fall, hysteria might
hit the American press and officialdom for the moment. But then,
after a while, the American people seem to be able to live their
lives after “losing” Bumblestan about as well as before – perhaps
even better, if it means a few billion less in foreign aid extracted
from them to prop up the Bumblestani State.

If it is understood
and expected, then, that the United States will try to impose its
will on every crisis everywhere in the world, then this is clear
indication that America is the great interventionary and imperial
power. The one place where the United States does not now attempt
to work its will is the Soviet Union and the Communist countries
– but, of course, it has tried to do so in the past. Woodrow
Wilson, along with Britain and France, tried for several years to
crush bolshevism in the cradle, with American and Allied troops
being sent to Russia to aid the Czarist (“White”) forces in trying
to defeat the Reds. After World War II, the United States tried
its best to oust the Soviets from Eastern Europe, and succeeded
in pushing them out of Azerbaijan in northwestern Iran. It also
helped the British to crush a Communist regime in Greece. The United
States tried its best to maintain Chiang Kai-shek’s dictatorial
rule in China, flying many of Chiang’s troops northward to occupy
Manchuria as the Russians pulled out after World War II; and it
continues to prevent the Chinese from occupying their offshore islands,
Quemoy and Matsu. After virtually installing the dictator Batista
in Cuba, the United States tried desperately to oust the Communist
Castro regime, by actions ranging from the CIA-engineered Bay of
Pigs invasion to CIA-Mafia attempts to assassinate Castro.

Of all America’s
recent wars, certainly the most traumatic for Americans and their
attitude toward foreign policy was the Vietnam war. America’s imperial
war in Vietnam was, indeed, a microcosm of what has been tragically
wrong with American foreign policy in this century. American intervention
in Vietnam did not begin, as most people believe, with Kennedy or
Eisenhower or even Truman. It began no later than the date when
the American government, under Franklin Roosevelt, on November 26,
1941, delivered a sharp and insulting ultimatum to Japan to get
its armed forces out of China and Indochina, from what would later
be Vietnam. This U.S. ultimatum set the stage inevitably for Pearl
Harbor. Engaged in a war in the Pacific to oust Japan from the Asian
continent, the United States and its OSS (predecessor to the CIA)
favored and aided Ho Chi Minh’s Communist-run national resistance
movement against the Japanese. After World War II, the Communist
Viet Minh was in charge of all northern Vietnam. But then France,
previously the imperial ruler of Vietnam, betrayed its agreement
with Ho and massacred Viet Minh forces. In this double cross, France
was aided by Britain and the United States.

When the French
lost to the reconstituted Viet Minh guerrilla movement under Ho,
the United States endorsed the Geneva agreement of 1954, under which
Vietnam was to be quickly reunited as one nation. For it was generally
recognized that the postwar occupation divisions of the country
into North and South were purely arbitrary and merely for military
convenience. But, having by trickery managed to oust the Viet Minh
from the southern half of Vietnam, the United States proceeded to
break the Geneva agreement and to replace the French and their puppet
Emperor Bao Dai by its own clients, Ngo Dinh Diem and his family,
who were installed in dictatorial rule over South Vietnam. When
Diem became an embarrassment, the CIA engineered a coup to assassinate
Diem and replace him with another dictatorial regime. To suppress
the Viet Cong, the Communist-led national independence movement
in the South, the United States rained devastation on South and
North Vietnam alike – bombing and murdering a million Vietnamese
and dragging half a million American soldiers into the quagmires
and jungles of Vietnam.

the tragic Vietnamese conflict, the United States maintained the
fiction that it was a war of “aggression” by the Communist North
Vietnamese State against a friendly and “pro-Western” (whatever
that term may mean) South Vietnamese State which had called for
our aid. Actually, the war was really a doomed but lengthy attempt
by an imperial United States to suppress the wishes of the great
bulk of the Vietnamese population and to maintain unpopular client
dictators in the southern half of the country, by virtual genocide
if necessary.

Americans are
not accustomed to applying the term “imperialism” to the actions
of the U.S. government, but the word is a particularly apt one.
In its broadest sense, imperialism may be defined as aggression
by State A against the people of country B, followed by the subsequent
coercive maintenance of such foreign rule. In our example above,
the permanent rule by the Graustark State over formerly northeastern
Belgravia would be an example of such imperialism. But imperialism
does not have to take the form of direct rule over the foreign population.
In the twentieth century, the indirect form of “neoimperialism”
has increasingly replaced the old-fashioned direct kind; it is more
subtle and less visible but no less effective a form of imperialism.
In this situation, the imperial State rules the foreign population
through its effective control over native client-rulers. This version
of modern Western imperialism has been trenchantly defined by the
libertarian historian Leonard Liggio:

The imperialist
power of the Western countries… imposed on the world’s peoples
a double or reinforced system of exploitation – imperialism
– by which the power of the Western governments maintains
the local ruling class in exchange for the opportunity to superimpose
Western exploitation upon existing exploitation by local states.3

This view of
America as a long-time imperial world power has taken hold among
historians in recent years as the result of compelling and scholarly
work by a distinguished group of New Left revisionist historians
inspired by Professor William Appleman Williams. But this was also
the view of conservative as well as classical liberal “isolationists”
during World War II and in the early days of the Cold War.4


The last anti-interventionist
and anti-imperialist thrust of the old conservative and classical
liberal isolationists came during the Korean War. Conservative George
Morgenstern, chief editorial writer of the Chicago Tribune
and author of the first revisionist book on Pearl Harbor, published
an article in the right-wing Washington weekly Human Events,
which detailed the grisly imperialist record of the United States
government from the Spanish-American War down to Korea. Morgenstern
noted that the “exalted nonsense” by which President McKinley had
justified the war against Spain was “familiar to anyone who later
attended the evangelical rationalizations of Wilson for intervening
in the European war, of Roosevelt promising the millennium,…of Eisenhower
treasuring the ‘crusade in Europe’ that somehow went sour, or of
Truman, Stevenson, Paul Douglas or the New York Times
preaching the holy war in Korea.”5

In a widely
noted speech at the height of the American defeat in North Korea
at the hands of the Chinese in late 1950, conservative isolationist
Joseph P. Kennedy called for U.S. withdrawal from Korea. Kennedy
proclaimed that “I naturally opposed Communism but I said if portions
of Europe or Asia wish to go Communistic or even have Communism
thrust upon them, we cannot stop it.” The result of the Cold War,
the Truman Doctrine, and the Marshall Plan, Kennedy charged, was
disaster – a failure to purchase friends and a threat of land
war in Europe or Asia. Kennedy warned that:

…half of
this world will never submit to dictation by the other half….
What business is it of ours to support French colonial policy
in Indo-China or to achieve Mr. Syngman Rhee’s concepts of democracy
in Korea? Shall we now send the Marines into the mountains of
Tibet to keep the Dalai Lama on his throne?

Kennedy added, we have been burdening ourselves with unnecessary
debts as a consequence of Cold War policy. If we continue to weaken
our economy “with lavish spending either on foreign nations or in
foreign wars, we run the danger of precipitating another 1932 and
of destroying the very system which we are trying to save.

Kennedy concluded
that the only rational alternative for America is to scrap the Cold
War foreign policy altogether: “to get out of Korea” and out of
Berlin and Europe. The United States could not possibly contain
Russian armies if they chose to march through Europe, and if Europe
should then turn Communist, Communism “may break of itself as a
unified force…. The more people that it will have to govern, the
more necessary it becomes for those who govern to justify themselves
to those being governed. The more peoples that are under its yoke,
the greater are the possibilities of revolt.” And here, at a time
when cold warriors were forecasting a world Communist monolith as
an eternal fact of life, Joseph Kennedy cited Marshall Tito as pointing
the way for the eventual breakup of the Communist world: thus, “Mao
in China is not likely to take his orders from Stalin….”

Kennedy realized
that “this policy will, of course, be criticized as appeasement.
[But]… is it appeasement to withdraw from unwise commitments…. If
it is wise in our interest not to make commitments that endanger
our security, and this is appeasement, then I am for appeasement."
Kennedy concluded that “the suggestions I make [would] conserve
American lives for American ends, not waste them in the freezing
hills of Korea or on the battlescarred plains of Western Germany.”6

One of the
most trenchant and forceful attacks on American foreign policy to
emerge from the Korean War was leveled by the veteran classical
liberal journalist, Garet Garrett. Garrett began his pamphlet, The
Rise of Empire (1952), by declaring, “We have crossed the boundary
that lies between Republic and Empire.” Explicitly linking this
thesis with his notable pamphlet of the 1930s, The Revolution
Was, which had denounced the advent of executive and statist
tyranny within the republican form under the New Deal, Garrett once
more saw a “revolution within the form” of the old constitutional
republic. Garrett, for example, called Truman’s intervention in
Korea without a declaration of war a “usurpation” of congressional

In his pamphlet,
Garrett adumbrated the criteria, the hallmarks for the existence
of Empire. The first is the dominance of the executive power, a
dominance reflected in the President’s unauthorized intervention
in Korea. The second is the subordination of domestic to foreign
policy; the third, the “ascendancy of the military mind”; the fourth,
a “system of satellite nations”; and the fifth, “a complex of vaunting
and fear,” a vaunting of unlimited national might combined with
a continuing fear, fear of the enemy, of the “barbarian,” and of
the unreliability of the satellite allies. Garrett found each one
of these criteria to apply fully to the United States.

Having discovered
that the United States had developed all the hallmarks of empire,
Garrett added that the United States, like previous empires, feels
itself to be “a prisoner of history.” For beyond fear lies “collective
security,” and the playing of the supposedly destined American role
upon the world stage. Garrett concluded:

It is our

Our turn
to do what?

Our turn
to assume the responsibilities of moral leadership in the world,

Our turn
to maintain a balance of power against the forces of evil everywhere
– in Europe and Asia and Africa, in the Atlantic and in the
Pacific, by air and by sea – evil in this case being the
Russian barbarian.

Our turn
to keep the peace of the world.

Our turn
to save civilization.

Our turn
to serve mankind.

But this
is the language of Empire. The Roman Empire never doubted that
it was the defender of civilization. Its good intentions were
peace, law and order. The Spanish Empire added salvation. The
British Empire added the noble myth of the white man’s burden.
We have added freedom and democracy. Yet the more that may be
added to it the more it is the same language still. A language
of power.7

War As
the Health of the State

Many libertarians
are uncomfortable with foreign policy matters and prefer to spend
their energies either on fundamental questions of libertarian theory
or on such “domestic” concerns as the free market or privatizing
postal service or garbage disposal. Yet an attack on war or a warlike
foreign policy is of crucial importance to libertarians. There are
two important reasons. One has become a clich, but is all too true
nevertheless: the overriding importance of preventing a nuclear
holocaust. To all the long-standing reasons, moral and economic,
against an interventionist foreign policy has now been added the
imminent, ever-present threat of world destruction. If the world
should be destroyed, all the other problems and all the other isms
– socialism, capitalism, liberalism, or libertarianism –
would be of no importance whatsoever. Hence the prime importance
of a peaceful foreign policy and of ending the nuclear threat.

The other reason
is that, apart from the nuclear menace, war, in the words of the
libertarian Randolph Bourne, “is the health of the State.” War has
always been the occasion of a great – and usually permanent
– acceleration and intensification of State power over society.
War is the great excuse for mobilizing all the energies and resources
of the nation, in the name of patriotic rhetoric, under the aegis
and dictation of the State apparatus. It is in war that the State
really comes into its own: swelling in power, in number, in pride,
in absolute dominion over the economy and the society. Society becomes
a herd, seeking to kill its alleged enemies, rooting out and suppressing
all dissent from the official war effort, happily betraying truth
for the supposed public interest. Society becomes an armed camp,
with the values and the morals – as the libertarian Albert
Jay Nock once phrased it – of an “army on the march.”

It is particularly
ironic that war always enables the State to rally the energies of
its citizens under the slogan of helping it to defend the country
against some bestial outside menace. For the root myth that enables
the State to wax fat off war is the canard that war is a defense
by the State of its subjects. The facts, however,
are precisely the reverse. For if war is the health of the State,
it is also its greatest danger. A State can only “die” by defeat
in war or by revolution. In war, therefore, the State frantically
mobilizes its subjects to fight for it against another State,
under the pretext that it is fighting to defend them.8

the history of the United States, war has generally been the main
occasion for the often permanent intensification of the power of
the State over society. In the War of 1812 against Great Britain,
as we have indicated above, the modern inflationary fractional-reserve
banking system first came into being on a large scale, as did protective
tariffs, internal federal taxation, and a standing army and navy.
And a direct consequence of the wartime inflation was the reestablishment
of a central bank, the Second Bank of the United States. Virtually
all of these statist policies and institutions continued permanently
after the war was over. The Civil War and its virtual one-party
system led to the permanent establishment of a neomercantilist policy
of Big Government and the subsidizing of various big business interests
through protective tariffs, huge land grants and other subsidies
to railroads, federal excise taxation, and a federally controlled
banking system. It also brought the first imposition of federal
conscription and an income tax, setting dangerous precedents for
the future. World War I brought the decisive and fateful turn from
a relatively free and laissez-faire economy to the present system
of corporate state monopoly at home and permanent global intervention
abroad. The collectivist economic mobilization during the war, headed
by War Industries Board Chairman Bernard Baruch, fulfilled the emerging
dream of big business leaders and progressive intellectuals for
a cartelized and monopolized economy planned by the federal government
in cozy collaboration with big business leadership. And it was precisely
this wartime collectivism that nurtured and developed a nationwide
labor movement that would eagerly take its place as junior partner
in the new corporate State economy. This temporary collectivism,
furthermore, served as a permanent beacon and model for big business
leaders and corporatist politicians as the kind of permanent peacetime
economy that they would like to impose on the United States. As
food czar, Secretary of Commerce, and later as President, Herbert
C. Hoover helped bring this continuing monopolized statist economy
into being, and the vision was fulfilled in a recrudescence of wartime
agencies and even wartime personnel by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New
Deal.9 World
War I also brought a permanent Wilsonian global intervention abroad,
the fastening of the newly imposed Federal Reserve System and a
permanent income tax on society, high federal budgets, massive conscription,
and intimate connections between economic boom, war contracts, and
loans to Western nations.

World War II
was the culmination and fulfillment of all these trends: Franklin
D. Roosevelt finally fastened upon American life the heady promise
of the Wilsonian domestic and foreign program: permanent partnership
of Big Government, big business, and big unions; a continuing and
ever-expanding military-industrial complex; conscription; continuing
and accelerating inflation; and an endless and costly role as counterrevolutionary
“policeman” for the entire world. The Roosevelt-Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon-Ford-Carter
world (and there is little substantive difference among any of these
administrations) is “corporate liberalism,” the corporate State

It is particularly
ironic that conservatives, at least in rhetoric supporters of a
free-market economy, should be so complacent and even admiring of
our vast military-industrial complex. There is no greater single
distortion of the free market in present-day America. The bulk of
our scientists and engineers has been diverted from basic research
for civilian ends, from increasing productivity and the standard
of living of consumers, into wasteful, inefficient, and nonproductive
military and space boondoggles. These boondoggles are every bit
as wasteful but infinitely more destructive than the vast pyramid
building of the Pharaohs. It is no accident that Lord Keynes’s economics
have proved to be the economics par excellence of the corporate
liberal State. For Keynesian economists place equal approval upon
all forms of government spending, whether on pyramids, missiles,
or steel plants; by definition all of these expenditures swell the
gross national product, regardless of how wasteful they may be.
It is only recently that many liberals have begun to awaken to the
evils of the waste, inflation, and militarism that Keynesian corporate
liberalism has brought to America.

As the scope
of government spending – military and civilian alike –
has widened, science and industry have been skewed more and more
into unproductive goals and highly inefficient processes. The goal
of satisfying consumers as efficiently as possible has been increasingly
replaced by the currying of favors by government contractors, often
in the form of highly wasteful “cost-plus” contracts. Politics,
in field after field, has replaced economics in guiding the activities
of industry. Furthermore, as entire industries and regions of the
country have come to depend upon government and military contracts,
a huge vested interest has been created in continuing the programs,
heedless of whether they retain even the most threadbare excuse
of military necessity. Our economic prosperity has been made to
depend on continuing the narcotic of unproductive and antiproductive
government spending.10

One of the
most perceptive and prophetic critics of America’s entry into World
War II was the classical liberal writer John T. Flynn. In his As
We Go Marching
, written in the midst of the war he had tried
so hard to forestall, Flynn charged that the New Deal, culminating
in its wartime embodiment, had finally established the corporate
State that important elements of big business had been seeking since
the turn of the twentieth century. “The general idea,” Flynn wrote,
was “to reorder the society by making it a planned and coerced economy
instead of a free one, in which business would be brought together
into great guilds or an immense corporative structure, combining
the elements of self rule and government supervision with a national
economic policing system to enforce these decrees…. This, after
all, is not so very far from what business had been talking about….”11

The New Deal
had first attempted to create such a new society in the National
Recovery Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration,
mighty engines of “regimentation” hailed by labor and business alike.
Now the advent of World War II had reestablished this collectivist
program – “an economy supported by great streams of debt under
complete control, with nearly all the planning agencies functioning
with almost totalitarian power under a vast bureaucracy.” After
the war, Flynn prophesied, the New Deal would attempt to expand
this system permanently into international affairs. He wisely predicted
that the great emphasis of vast governmental spending after the
war would continue to be military, since this is the one form of
government spending to which conservatives would never object, and
which workers would also welcome for its creation of jobs. “Thus
militarism is the one great glamorous public-works project upon
which a variety of elements in the community can be brought into

Flynn predicted
that America’s postwar policy would be “internationalist” in the
sense of being imperialist. Imperialism “is, of course, international…
in the sense that war is international,” and it will follow from
the policy of militarism. “We will do what other countries have
done; we will keep alive the fears of our people of the aggressive
ambitions of other countries and we will ourselves embark upon imperialistic
enterprises of our own.” Imperialism will ensure for the United
States the existence of perpetual “enemies,” of waging what Charles
A. Beard was later to call “perpetual war for perpetual peace.”
For, Flynn pointed out, “we have managed to acquire bases all over
the world…. There is no part of the world where trouble can break
out where… we cannot claim that our interests are menaced. Thus
menaced there must remain when the war is over a continuing argument
in the hands of the imperialists for a vast naval establishment
and a huge army ready to attack anywhere or to resist an attack
from all the enemies we shall be obliged to have.”13

One of the
most moving portrayals of the change in American life wrought by
World War II was written by John Dos Passos, a lifelong radical
and individualist who was pushed from “extreme left” to “extreme
right” by the march of the New Deal. Dos Passos expressed his bitterness
in his postwar novel, The
Grand Design

At home we
organized bloodbanks and civilian defense and imitated the rest
of the world by setting up concentration camps (only we called
them relocation centers) and stuffing into them

citizens of Japanese ancestry… without benefit of habeas corpus…

The President
of the United States talked the sincere democrat and so did the
members of Congress. In the Administration there were devout believers
in civil liberty. “Now we’re busy fighting a war; we’ll deploy
all four freedoms later on,” they said….

War is a
time of Caesars….

And the American
people were supposed to say thank you for the century of the Common
Man turned over for relocation behind barbed wire so help him

We learned.
There are things we learned to do

but we have
not learned, in spite of the Constitution and the Declaration
of Independence and the great debates at Richmond and Philadelphia

how to put
power over the lives of men into the hands of one man

and to make
him use it wisely.14

Foreign Policy

In a previous
chapter, we have already dealt with the problem of national defense,
abstracting from the question of whether the Russians are really
hell-bent upon a military attack upon the United States. Since World
War II, American military and foreign policy, at least rhetorically,
has been based upon the assumption of a looming threat of Russian
attack – an assumption that has managed to gain public approval
for global American intervention and for scores of billions in military
expenditures. But how realistic, how well grounded, is this

First, there
is no doubt that the Soviets, along with all other Marxist-Leninists,
would like to replace all existing social systems by Communist
regimes. But such a sentiment, of course, scarcely implies any sort
of realistic threat of attack – just as an ill wish in private
life can hardly be grounds for realistic expectation of imminent
aggression. On the contrary, Marxism-Leninism itself believes that
a victory of communism is inevitable – not on the wings
of outside force, but rather from accumulating tensions and “contradictions”
within each society. So Marxism-Leninism considers internal revolution
(or, in the current “Eurocommunist” version, democratic change)
for installing communism to be inevitable. At the same time, it
holds any coercive external imposition of communism to be at best
suspect, and at worst disruptive and counterproductive of genuine
organic social change. Any idea of “exporting” communism to other
countries on the backs of the Soviet military is totally contradictory
to Marxist-Leninist theory.

We are not
saying, of course, that Soviet leaders will never do anything contrary
to Marxist-Leninist theory. But to the extent that they act as ordinary
rulers of a strong Russian nation-state, the case for an imminent
Soviet threat to the United States is gravely weakened. For the
sole alleged basis of such a threat, as conjured up by our cold
warriors, is the Soviet Union’s alleged devotion to Marxist-Leninist
theory and to its ultimate goal of world Communist triumph. If the
Soviet rulers were simply to act as Russian dictators consulting
only their own nation-state interests, then the entire basis for
treating the Soviets as a uniquely diabolic source of imminent military
assault crumbles to the ground.

When the Bolsheviks
took power in Russia in 1917, they had given little thought to a
future Soviet foreign policy, for they were convinced that Communist
revolution would soon follow in the advanced industrial countries
of Western Europe. When such hopes were dashed after the end of
World War I, Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks adopted the theory
of “peaceful coexistence” as the basic foreign policy for a Communist
State. The idea was this: as the first successful Communist movement,
Soviet Russia would serve as a beacon for and supporter of other
Communist parties throughout the world. But the Soviet State
qua State would devote itself to peaceful relations with
all other countries, and would not attempt to export communism through
inter-State warfare. The idea here was not just to follow Marxist-Leninist
theory, but was the highly practical course of holding the survival
of the existing Communist State as the foremost goal of foreign
policy: that is, never to endanger the Soviet State by courting
inter-State warfare. Other countries would be expected to become
Communist by their own internal-processes.

Thus, fortuitously,
from a mixture of theoretical and practical grounds of their own,
the Soviets arrived early at what libertarians consider to be the
only proper and principled foreign policy. As time went on, furthermore,
this policy was reinforced by a “conservatism” that comes upon all
movements after they have acquired and retained power for any length
of time, in which the interests of keeping power over one’s nation-state
begins to take more and more precedence over the initial ideal of
world revolution. This increasing conservatism under Stalin and
his successors strengthened and reinforced the nonaggressive, “peaceful
coexistence” policy.

The Bolsheviks,
indeed, began their success story by being literally the only political
party in Russia to clamor, from the beginning of World War I, for
an immediate Russian pullout from the war. Indeed, they went further
and courted enormous unpopularity among the public by calling for
the defeat of “their own” government (“revolutionary defeatism”).
When Russia began to suffer enormous losses, accompanied by massive
military desertions from the front, and the war became extremely
unpopular, the Bolsheviks, guided by Lenin, continued to be the
only party to call for an immediate end to the war – the other
parties still vowing to fight the Germans to the end. When the Bolsheviks
took power, Lenin, over the hysterical opposition of even the majority
of the Bolshevik central committee itself, insisted on concluding
the “appeasement” peace of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. Here, Lenin
succeeded in taking Russia out of the war, even at the price of
granting to the victorious German army all the parts of the Russian
empire which it then occupied (including White Russia and the Ukraine).
Thus, Lenin and the Bolsheviks began their reign by being not simply
a peace party, but virtually a “peace-at-any-price” party.

After World
War I and Germany’s defeat, the new Polish State attacked Russia
and succeeded in grabbing for itself a large chunk of White Russia
and the Ukraine. Taking advantage of the turmoil and of the civil
war within Russia at the end of the war, various other national
groups – Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – decided
to break away from the pre-World War I Russian empire and declare
national independence. Now, while Leninism pays lip service to national
self-determination, to Soviet rulers, from the very beginning, it
was clear that the boundaries of the old Russian State were supposed
to remain intact. The Red Army reconquered the Ukraine, not only
from the Whites, but also from the Ukrainian nationalists, and from
the indigenously Ukrainian anarchist army of Nestor Makhno as well.
For the rest, it was clear that Russia, like Germany in the 1920s
and 1930s, was a “revisionist” country vis–vis the postwar settlement
at Versailles. That is, the lodestar of both Russian and German
foreign policy was to recapture their pre-World War I borders –
what they both considered the “true” borders of their respective
States. It should be noted that every political party or
tendency in Russia and Germany, whether ruling the State or in opposition,
agreed with this aim of full restoration of national territory.

But, it should
be emphasized, while Germany under Hitler took strong measures to
recapture the lost lands, the cautious and conservative Soviet rulers
did absolutely nothing. Only after the Stalin-Hitler pact and the
German conquest of Poland did the Soviets, now facing no danger
in doing so, recapture their lost territories. Specifically, the
Russians repossessed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as well as the
old Russian lands of White Russia and the Ukraine that had been
eastern Poland. And they were able to do so without a fight. The
old pre-World War I Russia had now been restored with the exception
of Finland. But Finland was prepared to fight. Here the Russians
demanded not the reincorporation of Finland as a whole, but only
of parts of the Karelian Isthmus which were ethnically Russian.
When the Finns refused this demand, the “Winter War” (1939–1940)
between Russia and Finland ensued, which ended with the Finns conceding
only Russian Karelia.15

On June 22,
1941, Germany, triumphant over everyone but England in the West,
launched a sudden, massive, and unprovoked assault on Soviet Russia,
an act of aggression aided and abetted by the other pro-German States
in Eastern Europe: Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Finland.
This German and allied invasion of Russia soon became one of the
pivotal facts in the history of Europe since that date. So unprepared
was Stalin for the assault, so trusting was he in the rationality
of the German-Russian accord for peace in Eastern Europe, that he
had allowed the Russian army to fall into disrepair. So unwarlike
was Stalin, in fact, that Germany was almost able to conquer Russia
in the face of enormous odds. Since Germany otherwise would have
been able to retain control of Europe indefinitely, it was Hitler
who was led by the siren call of anti-Communist ideology to throw
away a rational and prudent course and launch what was to be the
beginning of his ultimate defeat.

The mythology
of the cold warriors often concedes that the Soviets were not internationally
aggressive until World War II – indeed, they are compelled
to assert this point, since most cold warriors heartily approve
the World War II alliance of the United States with Russia against
Germany. It was during and immediately after the war, they assert,
that Russia became expansionist and drove its way into Eastern Europe.

What this charge
overlooks is the central fact of the German and associated assault
upon Russia in June 1941. There is no doubt that Germany and her
allies launched this war. Hence, in order to defeat the invaders,
it was obviously necessary for the Russians to roll back the invading
armies and conquer Germany and the other warring countries of Eastern
Europe. It is easier to make a case for the United States being
expansionist for conquering and occupying Italy and part of Germany
than it is for Russia’s actions – after all, the United States
was never directly attacked by the Germans.

During World
War II, the United States, Britain, and Russia, the three major
Allies, had agreed on joint three-power military occupation of all
the conquered territories. The United States was the first to break
the agreement during the war by allowing Russia no role whatever
in the military occupation of Italy. Despite this serious breach
of agreement, Stalin displayed his consistent preference for the
conservative interests of the Russian nation-state over cleaving
to revolutionary ideology by repeatedly betraying indigenous Communist
movements. In order to preserve peaceful relations between Russia
and the West, Stalin consistently tried to hold back the success
of various Communist movements. He was successful in France and
Italy, where Communist partisan groups might easily have seized
power in the wake of the German military retreat; but Stalin ordered
them not to do so, and instead persuaded them to join coalition
regimes headed by anti-Communist parties. In both countries, the
Communists were soon ousted from the coalition. In Greece, where
the Communist partisans almost did seize power, Stalin irretrievably
weakened them by abandoning them and urging them to turn over power
to newly invading British troops.

In other countries,
particularly ones where Communist partisan groups were strong, the
Communists flatly refused Stalin’s requests. In Yugoslavia, the
victorious Tito refused Stalin’s demand that Tito subordinate himself
to the anti-Communist Mihailovich in a governing coalition; Mao
refused a similar Stalin demand that he subordinate himself to Chiang
Kai-shek. There is no doubt that these rejections were the beginning
of the later extraordinarily important schisms within the world
Communist movement.

Russia, therefore,
governed Eastern Europe as military occupier after winning a war
launched against her. Russia’s initial goal was not to communize
Eastern Europe on the backs of the Soviet army. Her goal was to
gain assurances that Eastern Europe would not be the broad highway
for an assault on Russia, as it had been three times in half a century
– the last time in a war in which over twenty million Russians
had been slaughtered. In short, Russia wanted countries on her border
which would not be anti-Communist in a military sense, and which
would not be used as a springboard for another invasion. Political
conditions in Eastern Europe were such that only in more modernized
Finland did non-Communist politicians exist whom Russia could trust
to pursue a peaceful line in foreign affairs. And in Finland, this
situation was the work of one far-seeing statesman, the agrarian
leader Julio Paasikivi. It was because Finland, then and since,
has firmly followed the “Paasikivi line” that Russia was willing
to pull its troops out of Finland and not to insist on the communization
of that country – even though it had fought two wars with Finland
in the previous six years.

Even in the
other Eastern European countries, Russia clung to coalition governments
for several years after the war and only fully communized them in
1948 – after three years of unrelenting American Cold War pressure
to try to oust Russia from these countries. In other areas, Russia
readily pulled its troops out of Austria and out of Azerbaijan.

The cold warriors
find it difficult to explain Russian actions in Finland. If Russia
is always hell-bent to impose Communist rule wherever it can, why
the “soft line” on Finland? The only plausible explanation is that
its motivation is security for the Russian nation-state against
attack, with the success of world communism playing a very minor
role in its scale of priorities.

In fact, the
cold warriors have never been able either to explain or absorb the
fact of deep schisms in the world Communist movement. For if all
Communists are governed by a common ideology, then every Communist
everywhere should be part of one unified monolith, and one which,
given the early success of the Bolsheviks, would make them subordinates
or “agents” of Moscow. If Communists are mainly motivated by their
bond of Marxism-Leninism, how come the deep China-Russia split,
in which Russia, for example, keeps one million troops at the ready
on the China-Russia frontier? How come the enmity between the Yugoslav
and Albanian Communist States? How come the actual military conflict
between the Cambodian and Vietnamese Communists? The answer, of
course, is that once a revolutionary movement seizes State power,
it begins very quickly to take on the attributes of a ruling class
with a class interest in retaining State power. The world revolution
begins to pale, in their outlook, to insignificance. And since State
elites can and do have conflicting interests in power and wealth,
it is not surprising that inter-Communist conflicts have become

Since their
victory over German and associated military aggression in World
War II, the Soviets have continued to be conservative in their military
policy. Their only use of troops has been to defend their
territory in the Communist bloc, rather than to extend it further.
Thus, when Hungary threatened to leave the Soviet bloc in 1956,
or Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Soviets intervened with troops –
reprehensibly, to be sure, but still acting in a conservative and
defensive rather than expansionist manner. (The Soviets apparently
gave considerable thought to invading Yugoslavia when Tito took
it out of the Soviet bloc, but were deterred by the formidable qualities
for guerrilla fighting of the Yugoslav army.) In no case has Russia
used troops to extend its bloc or to conquer more territories.

Professor Stephen
F. Cohen, director of the program in Russian Studies at Princeton,
has recently delineated the nature of Soviet conservatism in foreign

That a system
born in revolution and still professing revolutionary ideas should
have become one of the most conservative in the world may seem
preposterous. But all those factors variously said to be most
important in Soviet politics have contributed to this conservatism:
the bureaucratic tradition of Russian government before the revolution;
the subsequent bureaucratization of Soviet life, which proliferated
conservative norms and created an entrenched class of zealous
defenders of bureaucratic privilege; the geriatric nature of the
present-day elite; and even the official ideology, whose thrust
turned many years ago from the creation of a new social order
to extolling the existing one…

In other
words, the main thrust of Soviet conservatism today is to preserve
what it already has at home and abroad, not to jeopardize it.
A conservative government is, of course, capable of dangerous
militaristic actions, as we saw in Czechoslovakia… but these are
acts of imperial protectionism, a kind of defensive militarism,
not a revolutionary or aggrandizing one. It is certainly true
that for most Soviet leaders, as presumably for most American
leaders, detente is not an altruistic endeavor but the pursuit
of national interests. In one sense, this is sad. But it is probably
also true that mutual self-interest provides a more durable basis
for detente than lofty, and finally empty, altruism.16

as impeccable an anti-Soviet source as former CIA Director William
Colby finds the overwhelming concern of the Soviets to be the defensive
goal of avoiding another catastrophic invasion of their territory.
As Colby testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

You will
find a concern, even a paranoia, over their [the Soviets’] own
security. You will find the determination that they shall never
again be invaded and put through the kinds of turmoil that they
have been under and many different invasions… I think that they…
want to overprotect themselves to make certain that that does
not happen…17

Even the Chinese,
for all their bluster, have pursued a conservative and pacific foreign
policy. Not only have they failed to invade Taiwan, recognized internationally
as part of China, but they have even allowed the small offshore
islands of Quemoy and Matsu to remain in Chiang Kai-shek’s hands.
No moves have been made against the British and Portuguese-occupied
enclaves of Hong Kong and Macao. And China even took the unusual
step of declaring a unilateral cease-fire and withdrawal
of forces to its border after having triumphed easily over Indian
arms in their escalated border war.18

A Priori History

There is still
one thesis common to Americans and even to some libertarians that
may prevent them from absorbing the analysis of this chapter: the
myth propounded by Woodrow Wilson that democracies must inevitably
be peace-loving while dictatorships are inevitably warlike. This
thesis was of course highly convenient for covering Wilson’s own
culpability for dragging America into a needless and monstrous war.
But apart from that, there is simply no evidence for this assumption.
Many dictatorships have turned inward, cautiously confining themselves
to preying on their own people: examples range from premodern Japan
to Communist Albania to innumerable dictatorships in the Third World
today. Uganda’s Idi Amin, perhaps the most brutal and repressive
dictator in today’s world, shows no signs whatever of jeopardizing
his regime by invading neighboring countries. On the other hand,
such an indubitable democracy as Great Britain spread its coercive
imperialism across the globe during the nineteenth and earlier centuries.

The theoretical
reason why focussing on democracy or dictatorship misses the point
is that States – all States – rule their
population and decide whether or not to make war. And all
States, whether formally a democracy or dictatorship or some other
brand of rule, are run by a ruling elite. Whether or not these elites,
in any particular case, will make war upon another State is a function
of a complex interweaving web of causes, including temperament of
the rulers, the strength of their enemies, the inducements for war,
public opinion. While public opinion has to be gauged in either
case, the only real difference between a democracy and a dictatorship
on making war is that in the former more propaganda must
be beamed at one’s subjects to engineer their approval. Intensive
propaganda is necessary in any case – as we can see by the
zealous opinion-moulding behavior of all modern warring States.
But the democratic State must work harder and faster. And also the
democratic State must be more hypocritical in using rhetoric designed
to appeal to the values of the masses: justice, freedom, national
interest, patriotism, world peace, etc. So in democratic States,
the art of propagandizing their subjects must be a bit more sophisticated
and refined. But this, as we have seen, is true of all governmental
decisions, not just war or peace. For all governments – but
especially democratic governments – must work hard at persuading
their subjects that all of their deeds of oppression are really
in their subjects’ best interests.

What we have
said about democracy and dictatorship applies equally to the lack
of correlation between degrees of internal freedom in a country
and its external aggressiveness. Some States have proved themselves
perfectly capable of allowing a considerable degree of freedom internally
while making aggressive war abroad; other States have shown themselves
capable of totalitarian rule internally while pursuing a pacific
foreign policy. The examples of Uganda, Albania, China, Great Britain,
etc., apply equally well in this comparison.

In short, libertarians
and other Americans must guard against a priori history:
in this case, against the assumption that, in any conflict, the
State which is more democratic or allows more internal freedom is
necessarily or even presumptively the victim of aggression by the
more dictatorial or totalitarian State. There is simply no historical
evidence whatever for such a presumption. In deciding on relative
rights and wrongs, on relative degrees of aggression in any dispute
in foreign affairs, there is no substitute for a detailed empirical,
historical investigation of the dispute itself. It should occasion
no great surprise, then, if such an investigation concludes that
a democratic and relatively far freer United States has been more
aggressive and imperialistic in foreign affairs than a relatively
totalitarian Russia or China. Conversely, hailing a State for being
less aggressive in foreign affairs in no way implies that the observer
is in any way sympathetic to that State’s internal record. It is
vital – indeed, it is literally a life-and-death matter –
that Americans be able to look as coolly and clear-sightedly, as
free from myth at their government’s record in foreign affairs as
they are increasingly able to do in domestic politics. For war and
a phony “external threat” have long been the chief means by which
the State wins back the loyalty of its subjects. As we have seen,
war and militarism were the gravediggers of classical liberalism;
we must not allow the State to get away with this ruse ever again.19

A Foreign
Policy Program

To conclude
our discussion, the primary plank of a libertarian foreign policy
program for America must be to call upon the United States to abandon
its policy of global interventionism: to withdraw immediately and
completely, militarily and politically, from Asia, Europe, Latin
America, the Middle East, from everywhere. The cry among
American libertarians should be for the United States to withdraw
now, in every way that involves the U.S. government. The United
States should dismantle its bases, withdraw its troops, stop its
incessant political meddling, and abolish the CIA. It should also
end all foreign aid – which is simply a device to coerce the
American taxpayer into subsidizing American exports and favored
foreign States, all in the name of “helping the starving peoples
of the world.” In short, the United States government should withdraw
totally to within its own boundaries and maintain a policy of strict
political “isolation” or neutrality everywhere.

The spirit
of this ultra-“isolationist,” libertarian foreign policy was expressed
during the 1930s by retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley D.
Butler. In the fall of 1936, General Butler proposed a now-forgotten
constitutional amendment, an amendment which would delight libertarian
hearts if it were once again to be taken seriously. Here is Butler’s
proposed constitutional amendment in its entirety:

  1. The removal
    of members of the land armed forces from within the continental
    limits of the United States and the Panama Canal Zone for any
    cause whatsoever is hereby prohibited.
  2. The vessels
    of the United States Navy, or of the other branches of the armed
    service, are hereby prohibited from steaming, for any reason whatsoever
    except on an errand of mercy, more than five hundred miles from
    our coast.
  3. Aircraft
    of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps is hereby prohibited from flying,
    for any reason whatsoever, more than seven hundred and fifty miles
    beyond the coast of the United States.20


Strict isolationism
and neutrality, then, is the first plank of a libertarian foreign
policy, in addition to recognizing the chief responsibility of the
American State for the Cold War and for its entry into all the other
conflicts of this century. Given isolation, however, what sort of
arms policy should the United States pursue? Many of the original
isolationists also advocated a policy of “arming to the teeth”;
but such a program, in a nuclear age, continues the grave risk of
global holocaust, a mightily armed State, and the enormous waste
and distortions that unproductive government spending imposes on
the economy.

Even from a
purely military point of view, the United States and the Soviet
Union have the power to annihilate each other many times over; and
the United States could easily preserve all of its nuclear retaliatory
power by scrapping every armament except Polaris submarines which
are invulnerable and armed with nuclear missiles with multi-targeted
warheads. Bur for the libertarian, or indeed for anyone worried
about massive nuclear destruction of human life, even disarming
down to Polaris submarines is hardly a satisfactory settlement.
World peace would continue to rest on a shaky “balance of terror,”
a balance that could always be upset by accident or by the actions
of madmen in power. No; for anyone to become secure from the nuclear
menace it is vital to achieve worldwide nuclear disarmament, a disarmament
toward which the SALT agreement of 1972 and the SALT II negotiations
are only a very hesitant beginning.

Since it is
in the interest of all people, and even of all State rulers, not
to be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust, this mutual self-interest
provides a firm, rational basis for agreeing upon and carrying out
a policy of joint and worldwide “general and complete disarmament”
of nuclear and other modern weapons of mass destruction. Such joint
disarmament has been feasible ever since the Soviet Union accepted
Western proposals to this effect on May 10, 1955 – an acceptance
which only gained a total and panicky Western abandonment of their
own proposals!21

The American
version has long held that while we have wanted disarmament plus
inspection, the Soviets persist in wanting only disarmament without
inspection. The actual picture is very different: since May 1955,
the Soviet Union has favored any and all disarmament and unlimited
inspection of whatever has been disarmed; whereas the Americans
have advocated unlimited inspection but accompanied by little or
no disarmament! This was the burden of President Eisenhower’s spectacular
but basically dishonest “open skies” proposal, which replaced the
disarmament proposals we quickly withdrew after the Soviet acceptance
of May 1955. Even now that open skies have been essentially achieved
through American and Russian space satellites, the 1972 controversial
SALT agreement involves no actual disarmament, only limitations
on further nuclear expansion. Furthermore, since American strategic
might throughout the world rests on nuclear and air power, there
is good reason to believe in Soviet sincerity in any agreement to
liquidate nuclear missiles or offensive bombers.

Not only should
there be joint disarmament of nuclear weapons, but also of all weapons
capable of being fired massively across national borders; in particular
bombers. It is precisely such weapons of mass destruction as the
missile and the bomber which can never be pinpoint-targeted to avoid
their use against innocent civilians. In addition, the total abandonment
of missiles and bombers would enforce upon every government,
especially including the American, a policy of isolation and neutrality.
Only if governments are deprived of weapons of offensive warfare
will they be forced to pursue a policy of isolation and peace. Surely,
in view of the black record of all governments, including the American,
it would be folly to leave these harbingers of mass murder and destruction
in their hands, and to trust them never to employ those monstrous
weapons. If it is illegitimate for government ever to employ such
weapons, why should they be allowed to remain, fully loaded, in
their none-too-clean hands?

The contrast
between the conservative and the libertarian positions on war and
American foreign policy was starkly expressed in an interchange
between William F. Buckley, Jr., and the libertarian Ronald Hamowy
in the early days of the contemporary libertarian movement. Scorning
the libertarian critique of conservative foreign policy postures,
Buckley wrote: “There is room in any society for those whose only
concern is for tablet-keeping; but let them realize that it is only
because of the conservatives’ disposition to sacrifice in order
to withstand the [Soviet] enemy, that they are able to enjoy their
monasticism, and pursue their busy little seminars on whether or
not to demunicipalize the garbage collectors.” To which Hamowy trenchantly

It might
appear ungrateful of me, but I must decline to thank Mr. Buckley
for saving my life. It is, further, my belief that if his viewpoint
prevails and that if he persists in his unsolicited aid the result
will almost certainly be my death (and that of tens of millions
of others) in nuclear war or my imminent imprisonment as an “un-American”….

I hold strongly
to my personal liberty and it is precisely because of this that
I insist that no one has the right to force his decisions on another.
Mr. Buckley chooses to be dead rather than Red. So do I. But I
insist that all men be allowed to make that decision for themselves.
A nuclear holocaust will make it for them.22

To which we
might add that anyone who wishes is entitled to make the personal
decision of “better dead than Red” or “give me liberty or give me
death.” What he is not entitled to do is to make these decisions
for others, as the prowar policy of conservatism would do.
What conservatives are really saying is: “Better them dead
than Red,” and “give me liberty or give them death” –
which are the battle cries not of noble heroes but of mass murderers.

In one sense
alone is Mr. Buckley correct: in the nuclear age it is more
important to worry about war and foreign policy than about demunicipalizing
garbage disposal, as important as the latter may be. But if we do
so, we come ineluctably to the reverse of the Buckleyite conclusion.
We come to the view that since modern air and missile weapons cannot
be pinpoint-targeted to avoid harming civilians, their very existence
must be condemned. And nuclear and air disarmament becomes a great
and overriding good to be pursued for its own sake, more avidly
even than the demunicipalization of garbage.


See William H. Dawson, Richard
Cobden and Foreign Policy
(London: George Allen and Unwin,

F. J. P. Veale, Advance
to Barbarism
(Appleton, Wisc.: C. C. Nelson Publishing
Co., 1953), p. 58.

Leonard P. Liggio, Why
the Futile Crusade?
(New York: Center for Libertarian
Studies, 1978), p. 3.

For “New Left” revisionists, see, in addition to Williams himself,
the work of Gabriel Kolko, Lloyd Gardner, Stephen E. Ambrose,
N. Gordon Levin, Jr., Walter LaFeber, Robert F. Smith, Barton
Bernstein, and Ronald Radosh. Coming to similar conclusions from
far different revisionist traditions were Charles A. Beard and
Harry Elmer Barnes, the libertarian James J. Martin, and classical
liberals John T. Flynn and Garet Garrett.

Radosh, in his Prophets
on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism

(New York: Simon & Schuster 1975) has appreciatively
portrayed the conservative isolationist opposition to American
intervention in World War II. In numerous articles and in his
to the Swift: The Old Isolationists in the Cold War Era

(Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1978), Justus D. Doenecke
has carefully and sympathetically analyzed the sentiment of World
War II isolationists in confronting the early Cold War. A call
for a common anti-interventionist and anti-imperialist movement
by Left and Right can be found in Carl Oglesby and Richard Shaull,
and Change
(New York: Macmillan, 1967). For an annotated
bibliography of the writings of isolationists, see Doenecke, The
Literature of Isolationism
(Colorado Springs, Colo.: Ralph
Myles, 1972).

George Morgenstern, “The Past Marches On,” Human Events
(April 22, 1953). The revisionist work on Pearl Harbor
was Morgenstern, Pearl
Harbor: Story of a Secret War
(New York: Devin-Adair 1947).
For more on the conservative isolationists and their critique
of the Cold War, see Murray N. Rothbard, “The
Foreign Policy of the Old Right
,” Journal of Libertarian
Studies (Winter 1978).

Joseph P. Kennedy, “Present Policy is Politically and Morally
Bankrupt,” Vital Speeches (January 1, 1951), pp.

Garet Garrett, The
People’s Pottage
(Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1953),
pp. 158–59, 129–174.  For more expressions of conservative
or classical liberal anti-imperialist critiques of the Cold War,
see Doenecke, Not to the Swift, p. 79.

For more on a libertarian theory of foreign policy, see Murray
N. Rothbard, “War, Peace and the State,” in Egalitarianism
As A Revolt Against Nature and other Essays
D.C.: Libertarian Review Press, 1974) pp. 70–80.

Numerous revisionist historians have recently developed this interpretation
of twentieth-century American history. In particular, see the
works of, among others, Gabriel Kolko, James Weinstein, Robert
Wiebe, Robert D. Cuff, William E. Leuchtenburg, Ellis D. Hawley,
Melvin I. Urofsky, Joan Hoff Wilson, Ronald Radosh, Jerry Israel,
David Eakins, and Paul Conkin – again, as in foreign policy
revisionism, under the inspiration of William Appleman Williams.
A series of essays using this approach may be found in Ronald
Radosh and Murray N. Rothbard, eds., A New History of Leviathan
(New York: Dutton, 1972).

10 On
the economic distortions imposed by the military-industrial policies,
see Seymour Melman, ed., The War Economy of the United States (New
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971).

John T. Flynn, As
We Go Marching
(New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co.,
1944), pp. 193–94.

Ibid., pp. 198, 201, 207.

Ibid., pp. 212–13, 225–26.

John Dos Passos, The
Grand Design
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1949), pp.

For an illuminating view of the Russo-Finnish conflict, see Max
Jakobson, The Diplomacy of the Winter War (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1961).

Stephen F. Cohen, “Why Detente Can Work,” Inquiry (December
19, 1977), pp. 14–15.

Quoted in Richard J. Barnet, “The Present Danger: American Security
and the U.S.-Soviet Military Balance,” Libertarian Review
(November 1977), p. 12.

See Neville Maxwell, India’s
China War
(New York: Pantheon Books, 1970). Neither is
China’s reconquest and suppression of national rebellion in Tibet
a valid point against our thesis. For Chiang Kai-shek as well
as all other Chinese have for many generations considered Tibet
as part of Greater China, and China was here acting in the same
conservative nation-state manner as we have seen guiding the Soviets.

For a critique of recent attempts by cold warriors to revive the
bogey of a Soviet military threat, see Barnet, The Present

The Woman’s Home Companion (September 1936), p. 4. Reprinted in
Mauritz A. Hallgren, The Tragic Fallacy (New York: Knopf,
1937), p. 194n.

On the details of the shameful Western record in these negotiations,
and as a corrective to the portrayals in the American press, see
Philip Noel-Baker, The
Arms Race
(New York: Oceana Publications, 1958).

Ronald Hamowy and William F. Buckley, Jr. “National Review:
Criticism and Reply,” New
Individualist Review
(November 1961), pp. 9,11.

N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and
academic vice president of the Mises
. He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell
— of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as
his literary executor.

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