Cornerstone of a Free Society
by Anthony Gregory: Are
You Libertarian Enough?
A free society
is impossible under an empire. Even the most just war you can imagine
is a disaster for liberty and prosperity, as Ludwig von Mises pointed
out. An unjust war amounts to murder, mayhem, and mass destruction.
And a perpetual state of war guarantees that liberty will never
be achieved. James Madison said it very well:
Of all the
enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded,
because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War
is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and
armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing
the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary
power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out
offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means
of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force,
of the people. [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and
the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and
... degeneracy of manners and of morals.... No nation could preserve
its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
a purely consequentialist point of view, America has lost most of
its freedom during its wars. Even the American Revolution itself
had negative effects – martial law, massive debt that ushered in
Hamiltonian control of the new republic, and consolidation of power
in the national capital.
The War of
1812 resulted in martial law in Louisiana, where people were jailed
without habeas corpus simply for criticizing military law. A judge
was jailed for issuing a habeas corpus writ.
Mexican War the executive branch unilaterally adopted taxing powers
over U.S.-controlled ports in Mexico.
The Civil War
brought with it mass conscription, corporate welfare, the death
of real federalism, the suspension of habeas corpus, the jailing
of thousands of dissenters, the censoring of hundreds of newspapers,
the creation of a national leviathan with such new agencies as the
Department of Agriculture, military commissions, and the use of
the army against civilian draft rioters in New York.
War I, thousands of new agencies were created, millions were enslaved
to fight in a royal European family feud, American citizens were
jailed for saying things I say every day, income-tax rates skyrocketed
into the 70s, and the federal government implemented economic controls
that were later brought back in peacetime during the New Deal. In
fact, the New Deal was basically the revitalization of the wartime
economy from World War I.
World War II
saw the conscription of 11 million Americans, the detention of hundreds
of thousands of "enemy aliens" without due process, Japanese
internment, martial law in Hawaii, a quasi-fascist command economy
complete with comprehensive price controls, tax rates above 90 percent,
censorship, and the prolonging of Herbert Hoover’s and Franklin
Roosevelt’s Great Depression, which didn’t end until the U.S. government
stopped consuming 40 percent of America’s income to wage the war.
The Cold War
gave us drafts, especially during the hot wars with Korea and Vietnam,
and surveillance and psy-ops directed against peaceful activists
by U.S. intelligence agencies. With the war on terror we have lost
the last remnants of the Fourth Amendment, habeas corpus has taken
another beating, we are treated like prison inmates every time we
fly, peaceful activists have been spied on, media have been manipulated
by Washington, torture has become normalized, soldiers are not allowed
to quit after completing their first or even third tour of duty,
and Americans’ telecommunications have been exposed to surveillance
by the military.
War gave us
the welfare state – first for veterans then for the rest of us.
It gave us Prohibition – it was during World War I that beer was
targeted, both for its German origin and its popularity on military
bases – and Prohibition led to gun control and the continued destruction
of the Bill of Rights. War, under Lincoln and Wilson, gave us the
corporate state, which is now a permanent feature of American life.
War gave us federal meddling in education. It created virtually
every precedent by which our liberty is robbed.
It is no exaggeration
to say that had America not found itself in those wars, we would
be much, much freer – even if a New Deal were passed every decade,
even if the Progressive Era had never ended, even if the Great Society
were three times as grandiose, even if Obama had been president
for the last century. There are many threats to liberty, and all
are worth taking seriously. But nothing has approached war when
it comes to destroying American liberty. And abroad, war has created
conditions that almost always lead to less freedom and security,
not more, for most people involved.
The CIA talks
about "blow-back" – the idea that U.S. intervention leads
to unanticipated and unpredictable results that harm America and
its interests. Few people take it far enough.
If it were
not for the Mexican War, the question of the expansion of slavery
into the new territories might never have exploded into the political
conflicts that culminated in the Civil War. If it were not for the
Civil War, the U.S. nation-state would have not had the manufacturing
power and mercantilist interests of the North combined with the
expansionist sentiments of the South, which became united, by force,
in the national project of imperialism. If it were not for the Spanish-American
War, the colonies seized by America at the time would not have been
targets for a Japanese attack in World War II.
I and beyond
But World War
I was the true starting point of all the trouble we’ve seen since.
If not for U.S. intervention in World War I, the Germans would not
have lost so decisively, the Allies would never had been able to
impose such crushing conditions on Germany, and Hitler would have
probably never come to power. Meanwhile, the United States also
pressured the Russian democrats who had overthrown the tsars to
stay in the conflict, leading to the conditions that allowed Lenin
to take power. The Nazi and Soviet states – two of the most infamous
totalitarian regimes of modern times – were born at least in good
part because of U.S. meddling in World War I. At the same time,
the Allies carved up the Middle East, messing up that region in
ways that affect us to this day.
World War II
was simply a consequence of World War I, although it too could probably
have been avoided had Britain not declared war to save Poland –
which it never did save. But given the line between World War I
and World War II, many assume the latter, the "Good War,"
was a clear victory for peace and democracy.
that simple. World War II resulted in the amassing of far more territory
under Stalin, who was certainly not much of an improvement over
Hitler. Indeed, Hitler’s greatest crime of all – the Final Solution
– was a wartime measure. War was bad for the freedom of everyone
ruled by Hitler, just as with any other government.
addition to Stalin’s territorial grabs, the defeat of imperialist
Japan opened the door to communist domination of Asia. Aside from
the socialist takeover of China, it was during World War II that
the United States supported Ho Chi Minh, who would later take over
the communist government of Vietnam. World War II simply paved the
way to communist control of almost half the planet, as well as the
Cold War, the United States supported any regime poised against
communism. That included the Ba’athists in Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein;
the shah in Iran, which led to the textbook blowback of the Islamic
Revolution; and, in the late 70s and early 80s, the mujahideen in
Afghanistan, whose successors still plague most of that poor country.
Eventually, the United States would side with Saddam against Iran
(while sending Iran weapons illegally) and then turn on its ally,
waging war with Iraq under George H.W. Bush. All of this meddling,
of course, led to 9/11 and the resulting war on terrorism.
World War I
led to World War II, which led to the Cold War, which led to the
war on terror. It is a vicious cycle, and it needs to end, or else
we will always be in a state of war, all sides believing they didn’t
start it, and peace and the freedom that depends on it will always
be a dream.
of America’s wars
But there is
an even more fundamental reason to oppose wars as a general principle.
Wars are almost always unambiguously immoral. War is, after all,
mass killing conducted by government.
The great 13th-century
Catholic theologian St. Thomas Aquinas and the Dutch Protestant
Hugo Grotius of the 17th century etched out a Just War Theory to
determine the moral status of a given war. For a war to be just,
it has to be defensive. It has to eschew the targeting of innocents.
It has to protect wartime prisoners. It has to be declared by a
properly constituted authority. It has to be winnable – a state
can’t just devote the population to a suicide mission with no chance
of victory. It cannot result in more evils than it eliminates. Only
those directly responsible for aggression can be punished. It has
to have good intentions – revenge itself will not do. It has to
spare civilians. It has to be publicly declared. It has to be a
last resort. Both the cause in the war and the conduct in executing
it have to be just.
waged virtually no just wars. Some wars might have been in retaliation
for a direct act of aggression – such as World War II in the wake
of Pearl Harbor, but even that did not justify the firebombing or
nuclear destruction of Japan’s civilian centers, or the firebombing
of Dresden and more than a hundred other German cities. Most American
wars fail the Just War test on almost every count. And the morality
of a nation that embraces immoral wars is more threatened than by
all the social deviancies one could imagine combined.
It is for all
those reasons that the classical liberal movement – the movement
of liberty – has always had a particular abhorrence for war. The
Levellers hated war. Jefferson and Madison wrote about it passionately.
Lysander Spooner, although a radical abolitionist, opposed the Civil
War. Most prominent pro–free market and pro-liberty Americans –
from Mark Twain and Edward Atkinson to Grover Cleveland and Andrew
Carnegie – opposed U.S. intervention against Spain in Cuba and the
Philippines (where hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed
by U.S. forces), and later in World War I. The Old Right coalition
in the era of Franklin Roosevelt was concerned with the New Deal,
but despite their disagreements one thing united them more than
anything else: opposition to foreign war. The modern libertarian
movement grew, not only in opposition to regulation and socialism,
but also in opposition to the conservatives’ embrace of the draft
and the Vietnam War. And of course, if one issue unified and energized
the Ron Paul revolution starting in 2007 it was opposition to George
W. Bush’s criminal foreign policy and war on terrorism.
are very important and cut right to the nub of what it means to
be free. Such issues as censorship, gun control, drug prohibition,
income taxation, fiat money and central economic planning are all
crucial, and we should never flinch in opposing such depredations
on liberty. But if there’s any one issue on which all of liberty
hinges, any one policy whose moral implications warrant the greatest
urgency at all times, any one political question that determines
whether you live in a semi-free country or a nation that is categorically
preempted from becoming free, it is, as James Madison and many others
before and after him have said, war. A noninterventionist foreign
policy is the cornerstone of a free society. It is certainly not
sufficient to allow for freedom, but without it, freedom is but
appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.
Gregory [send him mail]
is research editor at the Independent
lives in Oakland, California. See his
webpage for more articles and personal information.
© 2012 Future of Freedom Foundation
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