George W. Bush is the liberventionists’ dream president, minus, perhaps, some differences on a few domestic issues. But he talks the privatization and tax-cut talk (even as he walks the corporate-social-democratic welfare-state walk) and he is fond of waging war in the name of freedom. War in the name of freedom is the most valued policy in the agenda of the pro-war libertarian. War in the name of freedom inspires the liberventionist to tolerate virtually anything else the government does at home. And yet, war in the name of freedom has been the largest cause of America’s decline in liberty, as well as safety, in all its history, or at least since the War Between the States.
Bush’s inauguration address and the way his unlimited Wilsonianism has been received by conservatives provide, for the liberventionist, the only needed evidence that the American Right, the Republican Party, the War on Terrorism, and George W. Bush are the best hopes for liberty, peace, and security — not just for America but for the entire world. The liberventionist admiration, respect, and loyalty to Bush and his cause — and Bush’s liberventionist-compatible rhetoric — mean something very significant to the freedom movement and the prospects for liberty that most partisans of freedom, including most antiwar libertarians, do not seem to fully grasp, I’m afraid. If you listen to what they say, Bush and his cabal embrace the liberventionist credo: world war, conducted by the U.S. state, all in the name of liberation. And although liberventionists claim to oppose domestic socialism, high taxes, the drug war, and the like, the fact is that these issues are secondary to war in their minds. The neoconservatives also care much more about foreign policy than domestic. In the end, especially after Bush’s reelection and speech, adamant liberventionists and neoconservatives have more in common than not, and in the context of a two-party system and one-dimensional political spectrum, the two groups are on the same side, in partisan terms and on the issue that matters most.
Of all the warmongers, the neoconservatives are most up front about the horrible policy they want. They want the U.S. to take over the Middle East, and eventually confront China. This means world war, or at least global cold war with occasional medium-sized hot wars — the type of nightmare the US government engaged in for almost half a century after World War II.
Even worse, it could mean a hot world war, with total war — or, indeed, nuclear warfare, which many neocons do not want to rule out as a policy option — approaching the international devastation of World War I or World War II.
This is unspeakable. I do not want to live through a world war. People who say most antiwar Americans don’t understand what the country went through during World War II do have a point. But I want it to stay that way. Ten million drafted, forty percent of the economy dedicated to wartime production, the nationalization of industry, food rationing, lunatic inflation, crippling taxation, censorship, internment camps, and 400,000 Americans dead did not mark a good time. And the effects throughout Europe and Asia were worse.
It should be needless to say that World War II was one of the least libertarian times America ever went through. World War I was also up there, basically the same but on a smaller scale. And, as it turned out, neither of these wars saved the world. World War I, especially U.S. entry into it, led to the conditions that gave rise to the century’s worst butchers and tyrants — most notably, Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler. World War II led to the expansion and nuclearization of the USSR, Communist dominance of Eastern Europe and Asia, and a Cold War in which the United States and USSR, former allies, held the world hostage with the constant threat of Mutually Assured Destruction. The Cold War left millions and millions dead and led to the current War on Terrorism, in which the United States, once again, has become pitted against its former allies, in this case its former anti-Soviet proxies in the Middle East. This madness of perpetual war for its own sake is not going to end until it ends, and America’s not going to be free as long as it’s fighting a futile, unrealistic war against worldwide evil and tyranny. America will not have its civil liberties and economic freedom as long as it’s mobilized in fighting a permanent global revolution. We will not be safe from terrorists as long as our government’s launching missiles and killing innocent people by the thousands, especially in unpopular, internationally condemned interventions, and especially considering that missiles are simply not the optimal tool to use against terrorist networks.
This war is a disaster, a humanitarian crisis, the worst thing our government has done in some time. It has only spread more blood and hate throughout the Middle East, consolidated more power in untrustworthy institutions, destabilized and destroyed countries and lives; and it has failed utterly in reducing the terrorist threat, bringing the 9/11 perpetrators to justice, or liberating the two countries that were supposedly bombed and invaded for that purpose.
A startlingly strong minority of Americans would now tolerate a war on Iran, and this is before the propaganda campaign we can expect to see. The Bush administration wants more war. And the liberventionists want it too. The liberventionists and interventionist Right have never been more united, nor has their agenda ever been so clearly divorced from any plausible rationale of national self-defense. The agenda is internationalist intervention to purge the globe of tyranny, no matter the collateral damage abroad, loss in American blood and treasure, or corruption of American institutions, credibility and culture. This is not a minor policy difference, nor is it going away.
I’m often asked, "Who are these liberventionists"? Look around the Internet. Check out most of the bloggers who call themselves libertarians, most of the Objectivists, some of the free-market think tanks, and elements of the Libertarian Party. They’re out there. And they’re screaming for blood.
Now, there are some libertarians who supported the Afghanistan war and opposed the war on Iraq. Some of them have probably come around to rethinking the first war. There are even some who supported the Iraq war and have doubts now, and will likely not fall for the trick again.
There are also "libertarians" who supported going to war with Iraq back in late 2001. Some "individualists" cried for the collective punishment of the entire Middle East after seeing the calamity of 9/11. If there’s another 9/11, what are they going to ask for? World war? Nuking millions of innocent people? Would it be worth it? Would it solve anything? Think about the implications.
Consider the idea of nuking the Middle East, and killing one-tenth the population of the Muslim world. This would be condemned as altruistic leniency by the most hawkish Objectivists, and after another 9/11, this is probably the very least they would demand.
Nuking one-tenth of the Middle East would be killing about one hundred million innocent people. That’s about twice as many people as died in World War II. If the U.S. did such a thing, it would be committing, by far, the greatest atrocity in world history, by any humane measurement. To think there is any relationship at all between such an act and the ideals of life, liberty and property is demented and delusional.
Of course, some might say this is a straw man. Few people, other than the Objectivists, are calling for one hundred million deaths.
Well, if and as long as the war continues, there will be more bombings, more aggression, more terrorism, and more escalation. The "new Pearl Harbor" that the neocons got with 9/11 might have yet another sequel. No libertarian wants this to happen. We need to stop this from happening. The War on Terrorism only increases the likelihood of such an attack, which would incite more bloodshed and hysterical calls for apocalyptic destruction and potentially spiral into total world war.
As a small contribution to the effort of ensuring that libertarians understand the importance of this issue as it relates to the libertarian movement, I suggest to everyone interested the following online reading:
The Libertarian Obligation to Oppose War
"War, Peace and the State" by Murray Rothbard is perhaps his magnum opus on the topic. It is a must-read that pretty much sums up the mandate for libertarians to oppose war, whenever and wherever they begin. For more on Rothbard’s views on war, peace and the state, I recommend "Murray N. Rothbard: Against War and the State" by Stephen W. Carson and "Murray N. Rothbard on States, War and Peace, Part I" and "Part II" by Joseph Stromberg.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains why libertarian principles mean the rejection of aggressive war and why libertarian class theory should lead one to distrust the warfare state in an interview, "Hans-Hermann Hoppe on War, Terrorism and the World State."
Laurence M. Vance contrasts war with the founding principles of America in his wonderful essay, "Jefferson on the Evils of War."
Wendy McElroy explains why virtually every war fails the libertarian test in "Libertarian Just War Theory."
Liberventionism in the Post-9/11 World
September 11th was a testing point for principled libertarian opposition to the warfare state. Joseph Stromberg contributed a series of pieces, reflecting on the returning trend of pro-war libertarianism, which had declined a bit after the end of the Cold War. Coining the term "liberventionist," Stromberg analyzed the unfortunate reemergence in "Liberventionism Rides Again," critiqued general liberventionist intellectual error in "Liberventionism II: The Flight from Theory," and discussed the liberventionist tendency to whitewash the history of U.S. intervention and even advocate total war on civilians in "Liberventionism III: The Flight from History."
A fair number of libertarians spoke out early for the need to oppose war and its inevitable accompaniment of government expansion. Lew Rockwell and his writers did, as well as Antiwar.com, a few publications such as The Libertarian Enterprise and Strike the Root, and a few organizations such as the Mises Institute, The Independent Institute, and the Future of Freedom Foundation.
Many libertarians went along with the war on Afghanistan, including, at least tacitly, the Libertarian Party establishment. Lew Rockwell pulled apart the ambiguous LP press release in "Does the LP Support THIS War?"
Reflecting on the sad divide in the libertarian movement over the war, Jacob Hornberger explained in "Libertarian Splits in the War on Terrorism" why we can’t expect to ever have a free society as long as we have a perpetual War on Terrorism.
David J. Theroux and Karen DeCoster warned about the assaults on American liberty that would come with the burgeoning warfare state, and the impossibility of using aggression and central planning to bring about security, in "The New U.S. War on Liberty."
Standing against the criticism of the libertarian opposition to the war, early after 9/11, Justin Raimondo defended the antiwar libertarians in "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Postrel?" and L. Neil Smith did so as well, while expounding on the non-aggression principle as it relates to war, in "War of the Weenies."
Justin Raimondo explained how there was more hope for libertarians than many might think in his article, "Long Live Libertarianism!" — an inspiration for anyone at the time who was worrying about the death of rationality and principle in this movement of ours. In his speech "War and Freedom," Lew Rockwell reflected on the disappointing performance of mainstream libertarians, and the horrible bloodthirstiness of conservatives and the Bush administration.
Iraq and the Continuing Delusion of Liberventionism
When some libertarians went beyond supporting the Afghanistan War to advocating war on Iraq, it became clear that liberventionism was not going away and was not only an understandable, if disappointing, visceral reaction in the immediate wake of 9/11.
After Justin Raimondo challenged the Libertarian Party to take a firm antiwar position in his speech, "Libertarianism in the Age of Empire," activist and writer Thomas Knapp chimed in, with "The Party and War," explaining why the Libertarian Party could not afford to be soft on the issue. Shortly after Gulf War II began, Robert Higgs addressed the demented mindset of liberventionism in "Are Pro-War Libertarians Right?" Harry Browne reflected on the many ways libertarians had to violate their own principles in "Libertarians and War."
Liberventionism vs. Libertarianism: The Prospects for Liberty
After the Iraq war came to turn into a quagmire, Gary North, in "The Self-Castration of Libertarian Hawks," expressed optimism that liberventionism was on its way out. More recently, Daniel McCarthy reiterated the major reasons why we must oppose warfare aggression in "Liberventionism for Fun and Profit."
Justin Raimondo explained how the element of Objectivism is a strong reason for warmongering within the libertarian movement in his speech, "The Objectivist Death Cult." To be fair, there have been efforts within Objectivism to make Objectivists realize the follies of at least components of the war, including a piece by Chip Gibbons, "Ayn Rand: The Roots of War."
Personally, I have considered this matter very crucial, and have addressed some liberventionist contradictions in "Only War Will Prevent War" and "Liberventionists: The Nationalist Internationalists." In "Libertarians and the Warfare State" I returned to the basic incompatibilities between libertarianism and war, and in "Anarcho-statism" I discussed a particular and odd creature we see once in a while: the pro-war anarchist.
The issue of war and peace is the most important issue for libertarians, especially now. This war must end for the future of liberty to have a chance in this country, and for peace to have a chance in the world. This is not a minor issue. Libertarians need to take a stand against this, and stop it from exploding into another world war, especially nuclear. This is the urgent task for all believers in freedom, individualism, and peace. You can stand on the wrong end of this issue and call yourself a libertarian, if you want. But you’re not doing much to promote liberty. Marginal tax cuts and decriminalized marijuana, as great causes as they are, would not very well compensate for what we would lose in world war.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research assistant at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.