For the last six years, I have stood in horror, seeing the freedom movement divided over the issues of war and peace — a division that has always afflicted the movement but which became particularly apparent and germane in the wake of 9/11.
The pro-war libertarians — and yes, I know the term is an oxymoron — so frustrated, saddened and disappointed me because I had figured that those who understood the nature of war and the state should be aware of the incompatibility of war and liberty. When even libertarians accept the national security state, the doctrine of bombing civilians, imperialism in the name of liberation, totalitarian central intelligence and all the other evils that come with war, the prospects for liberty seem bleak indeed.
Ultimately, the state operates within the confines of public ideology. When libertarians join in on perpetuating the fallacy that market economics and personal liberties are compatible with or protected by a bloated warfare state, it only encourages the particular type of governance that characterizes the modern American experience. We get what Robert Higgs calls "participatory fascism." We get a system of corporatism, police statism, aggressive war, and vicious nationalism, all delivered through social democracy.
For a while after 9/11, many of the loudest public voices associated with libertarianism were, to varying degrees, markedly pro-war. Mainstream free market economists, think tanks, neolibertarian bloggers, radio talk show hosts, journalists, authors and academics could be heard everywhere, attempting to square their support for the war on terror and empire with their supposed understanding of the failures of central planning, their alleged distrust of government, their proclaimed individualist ethics, their pretenses of morally opposing aggression. Their arguments failed in terms of logic and the government programs they went out of their way to defend have also failed and become public scandals, but along the way they helped advance the destructive myth that massive military interventions do not pose insurmountable threats to liberty and free enterprise.
What has the big government program they favored brought? The cost in dollars will far exceed a trillion, but the economic loss goes far beyond that, once we consider the credit expansion, opportunity costs and mass destruction of wealth involved. The cost in life is almost too gruesome to contemplate. And many thousands of America’s young men and women are now forever wounded, physically and psychologically. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans were slaughtered and millions lost their homes.
Then there’s been the unrelenting attack on our civil liberties, habeas corpus, the Fourth Amendment, the First Amendment, and in fact the very heart of America’s classical liberal heritage. This betrayal is one of the greatest in our nation’s history, and it is a disgrace that most Americans, including many who should and pretend to know better, have accepted this ravaging.
Libertarian theory provides the explanatory framework to make sense of all this. I was pessimistic for a while that the libertarian explanation would get a fair hearing. I knew if it did it would finally encourage a new understanding, one based on the classical liberal position of non-intervention, arising out of a theory of war and freedom guided by natural law and economic law, and yet sharpened and updated for today’s circumstances. Not until we have peace can we have freedom, but not until Americans understand the connection will we likely get either.
Enter Ron Paul. He has undone so much of the damage caused by liberventionists, all the work they did to bolster the pernicious myth of libertarian war. By making the war the center of his campaign, he has forced even the reluctant Old Media to concede the consistency of being for small government, free markets, liberty and peace. He has stood as a grand example of the Jeffersonian ideal (an ideal Jefferson himself betrayed in office): peace and commerce with all nations, entangling alliances with none.
When Ron Paul is asked about taxes and spending, he emphasizes the war. Free-market conservatives hate this and consider it a dodge, but it is they who attempt to dodge and deny economic reality when they cheer on their low-tax imperialism and supply-side military industrial complex. Paul has made cutting the aggressive military arm of the U.S. his top spending priority, as it should be for any libertarian assessing the damage and recognizing what is most necessary to be rid of for the sake of world peace. Some libertarians have tried to detract from this and emphasize that libertarianism is not necessarily so hostile to war — that it’s basically just a socially hip form of neoconservatism. But it is Paul’s approach, not the muddled pro-war libertarian view, which is getting attention, inspiring the American people.
During nationwide debates and TV appearances, Ron Paul has attacked the secret prisons, the torture and the surveillance state. And he has warned against war on Iran. This alone makes him a hero of individual rights. As some have been quite cavalier about the possibility of exterminating tens of thousands or millions of people in a murderous flash of nuclear light, Paul has called this and related foreign policy aggression our greatest moral crisis today in American political life. And surely it is.
Their arguments and influence used to upset me, but I no longer worry about the liberventionists. They had their few years of glory, trying to reconcile their outward rhetoric of freedom with their de facto loyalty to the monstrous Bush administration. But they lost. No one is all that interested in their libertine conservatism, their big-brother libertarianism, their Trotskyite foreign policy of liberation at gunpoint. Ron Paul’s contagious advocacy for peace has even caused some former hawks to rethink their position and see the folly of the war.
And if we do see a rollback of the Great Society, or, better yet, the New Deal — if we ever become free of the income tax and absurdist police state — such freedom will arrive only after or alongside a retrenchment of the empire. As long as libertarians don’t get this, I have feared, most people won’t get it.
But now millions and millions of Americans have been exposed to the real libertarian position on war, thanks to Dr. Paul. Finally, many Americans who became cynical after a lifetime of witnessing left-right politics and GOP and Democratic partisanship have been introduced to the consistent liberal program of freedom and peace. They are excited by the package deal. They are starting to get it. And so there is much reason to hope.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.