Pro-war "libertarians" — acceptable terminology for them includes "liberventionists," "neolibertarians," and, in some cases, "anarcho-statists," — often assert that they are not "pro-war" at all. They defend themselves by saying something like:
"It’s disingenuous to call me u2018pro-war!’ I’m not u2018pro-war!’ I just believe that some wars are necessary. Indeed, only by going to war now can we secure the long-lasting peace and universal freedom that you anti-war libertarians claim to uphold!"
Historian Charles Beard called this phenomenon "perpetual war for perpetual peace," whereby the United States (or another nation) is in constant war to guarantee a hypothetical future peace.
I can see why this idea would appeal to so many Americans, who learned in government schools that the US government gallantly waged a modest handful of wars — the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the War Between the States, the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf Wars, and a number of "police actions" throughout the globe — all so we could enjoy the fruits of peace in the periods between. We owe our peace and freedom to these wars of the past, and we owe the tranquility we enjoy domestically to the war "we" wage on foreign soil.
"We fight them there, so we don’t have to fight them here!" says the American taught by government schools and educated later in life by Fox News.
I have no particular beef with these people, by and large. I vehemently disagree, but I can understand, given what we’re typically exposed to in schools and on television, why they might think that if it weren’t for the occasional sacrifice of thousands of Americans and billions of dollars, we would all live in a war-torn dictatorship. I’ve become used to hearing the idea that if it weren’t for such liberating acts as the carpet-bombing of Cambodia and the coup that put the Shah in power over Iran, the world would be a much worse place.
We’d all be speaking German. Or maybe even Creole and French, had Clinton not boldly intervened in Haiti.
But it’s the pro-war "libertarians" that still amaze me in their adherence to these outlandish notions. Would we expect the same "libertarians" who assert that "only war can prevent war" to extend this preemptive and preventive interventionist philosophy to other policy questions?
Imagine a libertarian saying the following:
"I don’t believe in welfare. I just believe we need massive wealth distribution programs now, so in the future we can have a free economy."
"I deplore gun control. And after we get the guns out of the hands of all the criminals, we can restore the 2nd Amendment in all its glory."
"The Drug War is a terrible failure. Once the government stops drug addiction we can legalize drugs."
"Universal healthcare is a terrible idea. After the government gives everyone healthcare, we won’t need to consider such a dismal proposal ever again."
No libertarian would speak such claptrap. Self-respecting liberals and conservatives probably wouldn’t either, because the contradiction would be just too egregious to voice.
Now imagine, if you would, a self-described anarchist, who believes in the War on Terror, saying this:
"I don’t believe we should have a government. Until we get rid of the government, it needs to liberate the Middle East and create good governments for Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran — and possibly Egypt."
I’ve heard such things said! It sounds as silly as Marxism, whereby the workers ostensibly rise up and impose a "dictatorship of the proletariat," until economic equality allows the total state to dissolve into no state at all. Indeed, there is something quite Marxist about the unrelenting faith that so many have in war, where dropping bombs and killing thousands is supposed to make way for peace and international harmony.
What a preposterous idea for a libertarian to embrace!
That war is the collectivist policy that neolibertarians exempt from their principles is particularly disheartening. As bad as, say, rent control is, at least it doesn’t usually kill people. Free marketers never tire of quoting Assar Lindbeck, the Swedish socialist economist who said, “In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a cityu2014except for bombing.”
Notice that bombing is still first. If even a socialist can realize how disastrous rent control is, you’d think most free marketers would understand the reality of bombing, and concede: "In many cases bombing appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city — it’s even worse than rent control!"
It is to be hoped that one day everyone realizes that obliterating the property and snuffing out the human life in a given location is bad for its economic growth. Libertarians should understand this the best.
Neolibertarians, however, still believe that the government, which supposedly can’t do anything right, can still wage war correctly. One of the lines of reasoning is that governments are terrible at producing, but ever competent at destroying. But war is, in the statist mindset, supposed to produce something in place of what it destroys, is it not? That’s why it’s often called "nation-building," even by its opponents. Why on earth does anyone, let alone someone who supposedly believes in libertarian principles, expect the government to do well at building nations and managing foreign economies? It can hardly build housing for the poor that doesn’t fall apart after ten years. It has trouble building freeways that withstand the physical abuse and congestion of modern traffic. It can’t build anything without going way over budget and falling way behind schedule. How could government build a whole nation?
Government can’t do anything right, unless killing and maiming thousands of innocents and squandering the treasure of its hard-working people are considered "right." Pro-war "libertarians" do a disservice to the cause of freedom by characterizing war as a libertarian policy.
Those "libertarians" who believe that government has only one legitimate function — mass slaughter — do, at least, have some reason to be optimistic, for governments, so long as they exist, will likely prove forever efficient at carrying out the kind of policy they favor.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at UC Berkeley, where he was president of the Cal Libertarians. He is an intern at the Independent Institute and has written for Rational Review, Strike the Root, the Libertarian Enterprise, and Antiwar.com. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.