In Defense of Non-Interventionism
is well known that the canonical libertarian position regarding
a state’s foreign policy is non-interventionism, no foreign aid,
and free trade. This combination has been espoused by people from
Quincy Adams, and George
Washington to Murray
Rothbard and Ludwig
von Mises. It is part
of the platform of the US Libertarian Party.
Lindsey, a scholar at the Cato
Institute, has had some
reservations about this libertarian
combination, most notably the non-interventionism
(never mind that he’s not
sure he’s a libertarian). He thinks that state intervention
for the purpose of liberation, which I will refer to here as humanitarian
intervention, can be justified in some cases. My understanding is
that this is one motivation for his calling the Libertarian Party
intend to show here that contrary to Lindsey’s claim there is a
principled case for state non-interventionism and non-aid. He needs
no lecturing on free
trade, to be sure. And I will not engage in historical
debates over whether the waging of the Civil War could be or
was actually either justified by the abolition of slavery in the
South or waged for that end. I will only make the principled case
against humanitarian intervention.
intervention is a type of foreign aid. It is an in-kind donation
from one government to the people under another government. As such,
it is a type of "welfare" program, whereby one body of
persons (taxpayers) is forced to help another body of persons (the
libertarians hold a deontological principled
stand against forcing one person to help another, the
case for state non-interventionism obviously follows (not a deontologist?
Roderick Long has raised some interesting questions regarding
deontology and consequentialism). What makes a libertarian unique
is his endorsement
of negative rights and rejection of positive rights. I will
not here make the case for such a principled stand against welfare
programs, but if Mr. Lindsey denies a principled case against state
non-interventionism abroad, he certainly concedes much to the social
democrats domestically. If people are to be helped by taxpayers,
why not choose the domestic poor or disadvantaged?
because humanitarian intervention might be a good does not imply
that it should be tax-funded.
Cato Institute is well known for its excellent Center
for Constitutional Studies; scholars in the latter have underscored
the connection between the Constitution and Locke’s Second Treatise
via the Declaration of Independence, and have been instrumental
in reviving the doctrine of enumerated powers.
of enumerated powers is that "the power the people give
to government, to exercise on their behalf, is strictly limited"
(quoted from the preface of this
booklet) and in the Constitution, they are listed in Article
I, Section 8. Nowhere in this section is a power granted to conduct
humanitarian interventions. Certainly, the power to declare war
is granted; but declaring war is quite different than conducting
a humanitarian intervention.
if we are to take the enumerated powers doctrine seriously, then
we must construe all clauses of section 8 as non-elastic and delimiting.
The opening line of section 8 is, "The Congress shall have
Power to…collect taxes…[in order to] provide for the common Defense
and general Welfare of the United States." This clause, under
the enumerated powers doctrine, means that all expenditures of the
Congress must be appropriated either for the defense of the United
States, or for its welfare – not the welfare of those outside the
United States. On the fact that there is a comma, not a semi-colon,
after the word "Excises" in the opening line of section
8, how there almost was one, and how it would have radically altered
the meaning of this passage, refer to tape set 6 here.
is congruent with the Declaration of Independence. If "to secure
[their] rights, governments are instituted among men" then
this social compact is among those people so contracting, not among
all people of the world. Therefore, you also cannot extend the government’s
duty to protect the rights of people beyond its geographic borders.
the concrete, it is clear that this was exactly the intent of the
founders. As Charles Adams pointed out in his book Those
Dirty Rotten Taxes: The Tax Revolts that Built America:
r]estricting taxes was...achieved by restricting spending. In
early modern England, a tax was illegal if the expenditure was
illegal. For example, in 1497, Henry VII got Parliament to approve
a tax for a military expedition against the Scots. A revolt erupted
in Cornwall (southwest England) when collectors were lynched en
masse. The Cornish people argued that the tax was illegal because
the expenditure was illegal. No tax was justified for military
purposes – except for defense. This view…found expression in the
U.S. Constitution...The framers realized that taxing and spending
are inextricably tied together, so you have to control both sides
of the public purse the spenders and the taxers. They would
put clear-cut provisions in the Constitution to get the job done.
think Roger Pilon
is right about the enumerated
powers doctrine. Of course, I also think Spooner
was correct about the Constitution.
International Law Argument
will grant that this sub-argument is nuanced, and perhaps the weakest.
towering figure in the libertarian tradition is Hugo Grotius. He
is widely regarded as the father of international law. His writings
had, as their goal, the promotion of peace among nations, by deducing
the natural code of justice that states should adopt, vis-à-vis
core concept of a state is the notion of sovereignty. In many ways,
the corpus of classical international law theory mimics the topology
of libertarian rights theory. Libertarian rights theory describes
a sphere of inviolable sovereignty for the individual, typically
his person and his naturally acquired physical property; and specifies
that all other interactions among individuals should be voluntary;
and specifies that any breach of the sovereignty of A by B without
A’s consent is a violation of rights.
classical international law describes a sphere of inviolable sovereignty
for the state, typically its historic geographic borders and its
possessions, such as boats, in otherwise unowned areas (such as
international waters and outer space); and specifies that all other
interactions among states should be voluntary; and specifies that
any breach of the sovereignty of A by B without A’s consent is a
violation of international law.
deny the sovereignty of the state, but I will leave that to one
side for now.
the case of Iraq and the US, Iraq is a sovereign state, and it is
a violation of international law for the US to conduct an invasion
or other breach of Iraq’s borders without proof that Iraq has or
intends to attack the US. And, as Charley Reese has recently underscored,
proof of this sort has been offered.
rights are the side constraints which individuals face. Similarly,
international law(s) are the side constraints which states face,
if they proclaim their sovereignty. Here, I am drawing on Stephan
approach, insisting that states not act in ways that are self-contradictory.
triumph of international law theory was to use the state’s own logic
to restrain its predations. To deny international law theory is
to remove a constraint to state power. My argument is of the slippery-slope
type. If we do not insist upon the canons of international law,
then we deny the external constraints that all states face. If states
may, for causes they deem appropriate, conduct humanitarian interventions;
then, it follows that stronger states will face one less barrier
to imperial "benevolent
Nozick opined in Anarchy,
State, and Utopia that a dominant private defense association,
thinking its procedures to be the most just, and having the best-equipped
forces, would be able to shut down all of its competitors by force,
and that this would be the necessary result of anarcho-capitalism.
Rothbard rightly ridiculed this as the "immaculate
conception of the state" but one can rightly imagine states
with the power to tax, no longer constrained by the doctrine of
international law, expanding their benevolent empires (and the tax
revenue and power they deliver to the hands of the political elites)
thus tending toward the establishment
of a one-world government.
is a direction for future history that I, for one, would like to
ensure does not happen. My two girls should live to see the end
of taxation, not the triumph of the empire.
there are some libertarian anarchists who have suggested that, all
of this said, we should still trust the state with humanitarian
intervention. After all, if our life were threatened by a home intruder,
we would call the state police or no one. If there’s a fire, we
call the tax-funded fire department (not
all of us do) or do without. We live in a statist world, and
must use the state for those functions which it has monopolized.
is an appealing argument, but I think it is wrong. Even if none
of the other arguments above applied (which they do, don’t get me
wrong), we are still faced with a band
of robbers who are willing to do our personal bidding.
should demand repeal of all so-called neutrality and anti-piracy
laws that prevent funding and participation in foreign wars by private
should, perhaps, fund businesses whose intent is to make a profit
by humanitarian intervention. The businesses might send agents into
the territory of the state in question and get contracts by the
subjects of that state which say, "If company X overthrows
the government, then I will pay $Y to company X." Illegal?
Yes. Immoral? No. And, I should point out, it is only illegal according
to states; it is not forbidden by international law. The Iraq interventionist
wants to break laws too: those of international law and of Iraq,
and, as I argue above, the laws of the US. Neither side in this
debate is advocating strictly legal activities.
should not encourage the state to spend taxpayer money on
our behalf. Our houses are not on fire, and our lives are not being
immediately threatened by a home intruder: lifeboat
ethics do not apply. Instead, we are coolly considering how,
in accordance with the non-aggression axiom, we can help some people
who are being oppressed by a state.
answer is not statism.
Guillory [send him
mail] is an engineer in Houston.
© 2002 LewRockwell.com