Blinded by Hatred? On So-Called Pro-War Libertarians
by Per Bylund
by Per Bylund
To Swedish, and presumably many European libertarians, the United States equals freedom. This is by definition, and the truth of the thesis is so emotionally fixed that no arguments in the world can disaffirm it. America has a constitution that guarantees its people inalienable rights protected by its government; it was the only power that fought the immense threat of the Soviet Union; and it has traditionally been pro free markets whereas Europe has traditionally sought hierarchies, national economic planning, obedience and outright statism.
The difference between America, the new land, and Europe, the old and constrained, is clear. Judging from subjectively selected and interpreted events in history, the United States is the beacon of liberty illuminating the socialism-effectuated darkness in Europe and elsewhere.
This, at least, is how many libertarians in Sweden choose to see it. They gladly accept and defend the waged wars in Korea and Vietnam by interpreting them as "necessary" to fight the big monster not very far east from Sweden: the Soviet Union. Likewise, the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq are for the liberation of their peoples as much as they are for the protection of "us." The United States is grandly making sacrifices in order to make sure people in foreign countries can enjoy their god-given rights as defined in the U.S. Constitution. Isn't that great?
After all, Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, and tyrants should always be overthrown. The cost of the people in Iraq under Hussein's rule was immensely greater than the small cost of a few thousand American troops dying on foreign soil and Americans' being forced to pay for having their "inalienable" rights violated — and literally abolished — in their own nation.
Imagine the enormous threat to the West and our way of life when/if Iran, or other countries with weird cultures and religions we don't understand, develop nuclear weapons! Somebody ought to do something about that. The thought is horrible; imagine what they could do… Hey, Americans — do your thing!
And terrorism! It is not simply a criminal act and terrible tactic — it is an ideological war! We should collectively take the responsibility to fight it — wipe it out. After all, it is potentially a threat to our way of life and the values we hold dear. Whatever happens in Israel happens to us! We need to put an end to this.
These are essentially the arguments put forth in defense of the United States by Swedish libertarians. The sacrifices made are nothing but great if you look at what is called the "whole picture" (limited to a state-centered view of world politics), and whoever dies for the rights of another is a "patriot." Yet I see no Swedish libertarians signing up for a few years in the US Army or Navy.
Most of these arguments are based on the illusion that whatever the United States government does is always aligned with the quest for freedom. And this assumption is further strengthened by the fact that the European Left is knee-jerk anti-American — thus being pro America must be good.
Freedom needs to be aggressively protected from whatever threat (or potential threat) posed and whoever poses it. No matter what this will cost us — freedom is priceless and that means any cost by definition is smaller and thus could and should be an acceptable loss. It still means we're making a profit, doesn't it?
This kind of reasoning befuddles me, especially when advocated by self-proclaimed libertarians. What if protecting your freedoms comes at the cost of some other freedom?
No worries, they respond. TAANSTAFL — nothing is free of charge. We simply have to choose which freedom is more valuable to us. The threat is too great to not do anything about it. What are a few thousand lives now compared to the "inevitable deaths" of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, if tyrants in other countries wage a cultural war on us?
What?! Since when do libertarians harbor a utilitarian sense of freedom, where sacrificing a few freedoms for the greater good of some freedom years or decades down the line? And since when does freedom include taxing and killing for a "greater good"? And what about the rights and freedoms literally flushed down the toilet by our own Western governments in pursuit of protecting freedom (as they say) / increasing their powers (as they mean).
The selective memory, reaffirming subjective interpretations of world events, and utilitarian approach to world politics take care of all such questions. The argument enjoys all the benefits of a circular argument — it cannot be refuted unless the assumption is refuted, and the assumption has already been confirmed by the circular argument itself!
Establishing democracies in the Middle East is such a good thing that it doesn't really matter what it costs — democratization and nation-building in these countries means they will not be a threat to us anymore. That is certainly a huge gain, right? We're assuming, of course, the unchallengeable truth that all democracies would automatically adopt western values and a western way of life as soon as parliaments are established. And the "truth" that democracies never wage wars.
What disturbs me about the pro-war position of so-called libertarians, and their fierce defense of war itself as a legitimate means for a greater collective good, is that it is so contradictory it beats every available schoolbook example of what is a contradiction. Individual rights are sacrificed in order to save individual rights and our "way of life." They say "we" must do something "now," yet the persons arguing this point are certainly not going to do anything. They are so busy writing blog posts defending the killings in distant countries they simply don't have time to do the killing themselves.
And, by the way, Swedish libertarians don't really have to bear the costs of all this. At all. It is not their tax money being spent by waging a war on Iraq and it is not the lives of their loved ones mercilessly sacrificed as a guy with medals heavily breathes "Go! Go! Go!" into a microphone. They aren't really affected by all this, except for the Swedish government following the United States government's great example of abolishing the rights of citizens. So the war is really not beneficial to these individuals. Why this interest in people they don't know dying for the sake of protecting rights that are already being abolished in every western nation?
I simply don't see how anyone can claim to be a proponent of individual rights while advocating wars where the lives of some individuals are forcefully sacrificed for the collective good and freedom of others. It stands to reason — and in every sense contradicts the Non-Aggression Principle, no matter how you interpret it. Shouldn't libertarians know this? Even if they are Swedish?
As a libertarian I cannot understand how it could ever be possible to contradict freedoms and choose a "greater freedom" at the expense of a conflicting "lesser" freedom. And I especially don't understand how anyone can claim the right to make such decisions for everybody else.
September 27, 2007
Per Bylund [send him mail] is a PhD student in economics at the University of Missouri—Columbia and the founder of Anarchism.net. Visit his website www.PerBylund.com or his blog where he comments on this article and more.
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