What's Wrong With Our Foreign Policy and What the Libertarian Party Can Do About It

This talk was given at Bridgeport, CT, at the CT Libertarian Convention on May 30th, 2009.

I was asked to talk today about the problems of our foreign policy — a question so wide-ranging it would be impossible to address in a 20-minute speech — and yet it is a fascinating question. Like the search for a grand unified theory, it is also an irresistible challenge.

In thinking about our foreign policy — or any foreign policy — a libertarian would ask about force, and about freedom. A libertarian would also wisely observe, as Frdric Bastiat did in the 1800s, that when goods cease to cross borders, armies will. A libertarian would consider how foreign policy would exist — if at all — without the state.

When you think about it, we all have our own foreign policies, in a way. This foreign policy is our personality — how we think about those we don’t know well, how we learn or don’t learn from those we meet or with whom we interact, our sense of the future and the past, the things we value, what we covet, the things we hope to gain, or wish to lose. And fundamentally, we already know from our own family, work and political experience that all kinds of very different personalities can live together closely, kindly and profitably, as long as communication happens and force is not brought into picture.

Think about any good movie you have seen — be it a romantic comedy or a cops and robbers buddy flick. Whether it’s "You’ve Got Mail" or "Lethal Weapon" — the good guys are never clones of each other — most often they are odd couples of an extreme sort who through understanding and communication actually make a winning team. If anyone is clonelike, it’s the bad guys — and they are bad guys for one reason and one reason only.

They use force and deceit to get their way, destroying people, wealth, faith and justice.

If we were considering problems in an individual’s personality — a.k.a. foreign policy — we would identify things like greed, quickness to anger, willingness to use force or manipulation in plotting their desires, and faithlessness. A person who is ill-informed or whose beliefs do not conform with a known reality, who is a bully, and who constantly lie to get their way…why, we would probably institutionalize such a person! People who live their lives like that are unhinged, obnoxious and unproductive, and sometimes dangerous.

But when such a personality belongs to something called the state, we stand proudly, our hearts beat reverently, we wave the flag assiduously and we pledge our undying allegiance.

OK, we here today don’t do that. But most of us have been taught from an early age to revere the state, and we are in varying stages of personal recovery from that indoctrination. As we all observed on TV, on the radio, in newspapers, and even in church last Memorial Day weekend, many people in this country — who themselves have functional and healthy personal foreign policies — become schizoid when it comes to the foreign policy of the state.

Now — I used the word schizoid casually here. But there is such a thing as a Schizoid Personality Disorder, or SPD. It is characterized by "a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary lifestyle, secretiveness, and emotional coldness." Well, that actually sounds a lot like our foreign policy over the past hundred and fifty years.

Some would say that this is unfair — didn’t this country come to the aid of the poor and downtrodden, those weak countries, nations or peoples who couldn’t defend themselves in the South, the West, the north Pacific, the Philippines, Europe, Europe again, Korea, Vietnam, Central America, Kuwait, Yugoslavia, etc. etc? Are we not in Iraq today to help poor Iraqis get a democracy, which of course is what we have here (not) and what everyone in the world wants (double not)? What’s all that war if not sociable?

And what about aid to other countries? Hasn’t this country delivered our excess and subsidized agricultural and industrial products, our elaborated copies of a constitution, our religious and capitalistic value systems, and sometimes straight cash from the American taxpayer to lesser endowed countries and causes around the world? What’s that, if not kind and generous?

Well, of course, the answer is known and has been known forever. Thucydides nailed it when he recalled the Athenian explanation to the soon to be subjected Melians — "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." And whether it is war, economic aid, or political mandates, when a big country delivers its foreign policies, everyone suffers. The victims and charity cases suffer physical, cultural, or economic destruction, and the source countries suffer a degraded morality and false pride.

We may agree, or not, that American foreign policy has never been based on existent or expected social relationships with other countries. The wars, conflicts, invasions and occupations this country has initiated — as well as the ill-conceived aid programs — have all been dreamed first in the hearts of men who somehow gained political power, and held the reins of the state. The problem is not completely one of foreign policy — but of individuals — and therein lies the keys to a cure.

In an individual case of Schizoid Personality Disorder, there are several common symptoms, including introversion and self-sufficiency, narcissism, a sense of superiority, loneliness, depersonalization, and regression.

Along these lines, we can quickly analyze what’s wrong with American foreign policy. Note that we do so at the very end of the patient’s life, as this country has been shaped and transformed from a constitutional republic made up of consenting states, to what we have today, a fascist, or if you prefer, corporatist superstate in a technological age wholly unavailable to Mussolini and Hitler. Yet, the patient’s introversion is seen and heard nightly via the ranting in support of Lou Dobbs—style economic autarky and constant promotion of the fear and distrust of dark strangers, especially if their religions or ethnicities start with an "M."

We see ample evidence of an ambition of self-sufficiency of the state. That we should make war alone, because we want to, or feel like it, and that we should have a standing military force that can destroy the world if it so chooses — this is how most Americans tend to measure, and value, self-sufficiency of the state. We memorialize this on several national holidays, and in our awe and reverence for our standing military. The state, of course, views its self-sufficiency in a slightly different way. It looks for increasing efficiency in bringing in the tax revenue, enforcing its code of justice, educating the young, indoctrinating the old, marginalizing political parties and individuals who would challenge it, and increasing the degree to which various sectors of society are dependent upon the state for their survival. This state behavior is verifiable, and if we were to diagnose the state’s mental condition, this symptom is salient.

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We also cannot deny that our foreign policy specifically and the state generally exhibits a strong streak of narcissism and a scary superiority complex. This is not new for the patient, but these symptoms became more marked during and after the Civil War. When a child exhibits narcissism and feels superior to his peers and others, generally we credit lenient and indulgent parenting. The parent of state, and its foreign policy, was the Constitution, but it passed away quietly decades ago, after a long illness. Apparently no one recognized this, as the state made, and continues to make, constant references to the Constitution even as it runs far afield of its words and spirit.

Loneliness, depersonalization and regression are symptoms of the schizoid state. They are also indicators of the end of the patient — and frankly the end of the federal state here should be nothing if not welcomed. Loneliness brought on by our foreign policy is already being felt by many who would otherwise have cheered it on. The schizoid patient does indeed feel loneliness because in spite of being unable to connect, the patient wants to be loved, and to love. As we use, in the name of the American state, inappropriate force and violence, most politicians and average Americans feel a disconnect between their desire to do good and the resultant anger and alienation of the people who survive our desires.

Today, I am speaking of our high-tech 2nd-generation warfighting in fourth-generation insurgencies. Today I am speaking of remotely piloted drones killing innocent people, or organized attacks against wedding parties in Iraq or slums in Somalia. But this loneliness can be found in the diaries of those conducting the foreign policy of the state, and in some of the memoirs of the politicians who fomented these policies.

Depersonalization is another serious terminal indicator. Defined as "the experience of a separation between the observing and the participating ego," in an individual case, it may be thought of as a living example of Dostoevksi’s "Underground Man," who is completely aware of the ills of his existence but unable to act in any way to change things for the better. Depersonalization is also defined as a tuning out or turning off, ignoring the realities as if they are not there. Consider for a moment the foreign policy of the current administration. To the extent that President Obama and his cabinet continues the mistakes of the previous administrations, even as he claims to understand the evil of it, seems to be a book definition of depersonalization. That he dares to mention the word "change" while he continues apace the military, economic and political destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan and now our erstwhile ally Pakistan seems to be a tune-out of monstrous proportions.

Regression is another terminal indicator of the schizoid — and it refers to "flight from the external world, both inwards and backwards." I would suggest that our foreign policy — and to the extent that this is closely integrated with our monetary policy — for the past several years is experiencing regression, a return to a sense of the secure womb of government, back to a previous time when — dare I say — the dollar was king. Foreign and domestic policies collide in a flurry of endless green fantasy dollars, both borrowed and printed. Happy days are here again, the sad state wishes. The 298 million people in this country who are not directly part of the federal state, and some who are, watch in dismay and amazement. Will no one rid us of this schizoid state, with its mad schemes and insane policies?

And this is the problem of our foreign policy — foreign policy is the personality of the state, and the personality of the modern American state is schizoid, defective, in need of a strong straitjacket and a padded room.

Well, what do we do about it? First, we must recognize the state is a crazy state. Many people are coming to this conclusion, and President Obama can be credited with bringing a great number of former state-faithers into the fold of the sane. His daily betrayals to his supporters, his long teleprompted speeches and his un-teleprompted disasters are showing the true double-face of the state to those with a proclaimed belief in its goodness. Obama, being that he is a statist democrat and not a statist republican, puts the GOP an underdog position. In November, the GOP immediately moved into its "small government is good" mode — but Republicans across the country had only too recently witnessed the peculiar and bloodthirsty GOP viciousness directed against the one man who personified and preached those decentralized, antiwar, constitutional, small-government values — of course I am speaking of Ron Paul. So average republicans don’t trust Republicans any more than democrats now trust Democrats. When the English colonies in North America seceded from the King’s government, they felt much the same way. They simply could not trust their political leadership, and when they thought about it, realized they had little in common with that supposed political leadership after all.

The first prescription — recognizing we live in and under an insane government — is easy, and also provides opportunities for libertarians. Of course, many people can see that the state itself is the problem. But the second prescription is more difficult. The state, just as any schizoid patient, needs to be isolated from civil society, and limited in its potential to do harm. Libertarians agree that the state should be reduced, at least to within its lawful and constitutional limits.

It is amazing how dangerously radical it has become to truly support the Constitution. Libertarians, in political parties and outside of parties, should be able to publicly and proudly evangelize the Constitution. But to truly understand the Constitution is to also understand the seeds of statism, and the document that libertarians should more loudly promote is the Declaration of Independence. Of course, to do this is to demand real change, likely secessions, and even war against the prevailing state — and the American government today has already identified those who take this stand as living threats.

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Can those who value liberty and peace, can a political party centered around these values, directly challenge the state? I think the answer is no, although electing libertarians locally is certainly worthwhile. Power is seductive, the siren’s song far too strong for most men and women — be they libertarians, or those associated with the two major parties, both of which will freely appropriate libertarian rhetoric to be elected, without the slightest idea why this rhetoric is so attractive to average people. If the goal is a serious reduction of the state power, scope, and its integration with civil society through the electoral process, we may continue to be disappointed in the success of the party to constrain government and render the state less dangerous through electoral politics.

To treat the patient, we first recognize the error of the state, and then point out the existing legal and societal rules, and try to see those rules respected. The first prescription is the job of the doctor, the intellectual or the armchair quarterback. It’s easy, and we are doing it now. The second prescription requires convincing the patient that the state must live under rules. It’s the job of the orderly, the bouncer, or the defensive line. Given the size and scope of the current American state, this job is nearly impossible, and we are mismatched.

A third prescription however, is an area where libertarians can indeed become standard bearers, and guides for others, and thus lead the charge break the state, or at least break it down. If the schizoid patient is dangerous — and ours is — he or she must be constrained in movement, in action, and in language. Libertarians everywhere can challenge the state by both personal resistance and by exposing the state’s own violations of law, willful and otherwise. The national Libertarian Party and the state parties should be filing amicus briefs on each and every case where the state is out of line, joining any number of civil and military petitions for justice. The LP should be out in front in support of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, from the perspective of Jefferson rather than Hamilton. It should be helping the case of government whistleblowers. And it should be bold in striking against the state, never siding with it, and never serving it — even as we walk within it.

We should be everywhere — and yet nowhere. To assist in the destruction of the unconstitutional state, libertarianism taught, embraced, and lived becomes a kind of guerilla resistance, not just an emerging body of new-old ideas about liberty and humanity, but a fundamental change in the country that both accelerates the drastic reduction of the state, and makes that radical change survivable.

Many uninformed people (and the state) relegate libertarianism to libertinism — and sometimes associate a cartoonish label of anarchism with the libertarian brand. The LP is not shy about what it does not want. We certainly want the state out of our lives, to leave us alone to live in peace. We value negative rights and negative freedoms, we celebrate and talk about them, but that language may also make the message seem self-centered and anti-social. Certainly, the party is organized around negative rights and negative liberties — but when the state interferes, what do we do? Well, every day, people fight the state, in a hundred different ways, and it seems to me the LP should not be shy about publicly supporting the fight — successful or not — of those trying to preserve their right to be left alone and to live free.

This is not necessarily big tent libertarianism, or maybe it is. But I think the LP can use its grown-up political party status to attack and diminish the state by articulating a defense of the cases and the people who attack and diminish the state — and most of the people I am thinking of are probably not party members. Have we taken up the case of illegal detainees, in the name of principle? Have we talked about whistleblower legislation and cases and used those interesting situations as a way of attacking concentrated power? Have we really articulated how much the empire costs every American in blood, money and honor? Have we truly encouraged and helped push movies, music, and media that touch on our principles?

I’m sure the party tries to do this — but when I see the national LP.org website, I see the banner of "smaller government." Given that the government consumes nearly half of our GNP each year, has already spent our children and grandchildren’s future, makes wars in dozens of countries around the world, and has decimated our freedom here at home — all while not listening to a word we say — well, asking for "smaller government" seems pretty wimpy. Lower taxes is also advocated on the website. Few people, in terms of simple numbers, pay taxes of any note in this country. What we think of as the middle class is a minority, and those who pay lots of taxes are those who know they can’t vote their way out of it, so they pursue other more rational means of reducing their taxes. While a smaller state necessarily means less taxes, lower taxes alone is a "who cares" issue and we should leave it to the idiot republicans — who are already proven liars, and will do little to reduce either the growth or the burden of the state on the people.

"More freedom" is the third leg of our political stool. What does that mean to Americans? Half of them think the government is over there defending our "freedom" so more freedom could in fact mean more soldiers over their defending it from those other people who want to take it from us. Little kids quickly figure out their parents’ codewords for things like ice cream, sex and the weird neighbor across the street. But it could be that the LP hasn’t yet figured out the Orwellian language of the state? In fact, right now the LP website has a Memorial Day message that states, "As Americans reflect this week on those who have died in defense of this nation, Libertarians everywhere join our friends, families and neighbors in honoring the men and women who gave their lives so others could be free." Sorry — but I don’t believe that’s exactly why they died and if we are joining together in this we are not standing up for our principles.

This country’s political climate is changing fast, and that change is more like a developing mudslide rather than a surprise earthquake. The political, economic and religious subsoil is increasingly unable to support the crust of our obscenely immoral and expensive state. Even as so many of us depend on government for jobs, pensions, contracts, spending, and direction — we are becoming increasingly disassociated from the actuality of that government. Many have faith in the state as they believe it to be — but the propaganda through the American versions of Pravda and Izvestia are failing — thanks to the internet and decentralized, self-directed education. Our own hard times in the current era are causing average people to ask a lot of the right questions. The indoctrination projects in the public schools are failing, as millions of families voluntarily avoid these arenas, students consciously fight back with self-education, or simply drop out for lack of interest. While many use government services and benefits, the flawed delivery and heavy-handed militarization of these services has opened the eyes of many, and broken their faith.

For the LP to be useful and even powerful in shaping the future of freedom and peace in this country, it needs to stop looking to be a part of the upper crust, because that crust is going to crumble and sink, and in our lifetimes. Instead, we ought to do what we do best and that is to articulate the principles of freedom in a way that is relevant and understandable to the majority. That requires a long-term focus, a willingness to be true to the hard core principles of liberty and maintaining a dedication to the understanding that the state is always — always — anti-liberty, even if it is small, gathers less taxes, and allows us "more freedom."

The foreign policy — the outward personality — of the state will be corrected when the state itself is made small and relatively weak, when it accepts that this condition is healthy, and agrees that being small and weak will ensure the patient’s long life and productivity. Most who study government and history understand that it is far more likely that the patient will die violently before accepting this treatment — after all, as Lord Randolph Bourne observed, "war is the health of the state." Healing — or elimination — of the schizoid state is the fervent desire of libertarians, and it should be the guiding theme of the Libertarian Party, the goal towards which its every resource is aimed.