A Freedomist View of Liberarianism

January 19, 2009

[First published January 25, 2006] When I wore my heart on my sleeve as a youth, I was a democratic socialist and a Democrat, but in the early 1970s, I gave up socialism for democratic libertarianism under the hammer blows of von Mises, Hayek, and Milton Friedman. Libertarian is what I called myself until recently. I remain libertarian in domestic policy, which is to say the more domestic freedom from regulation, government controls, taxation, and oppressive laws, the better up to a point. I am not an anarchist, but believe social justice means minimal government consistent with protecting and guaranteeing all have equal civil and political rights, even against majorities.

However, on foreign policy the libertarian, with some exceptions, is a raving isolationist, starkly opposed to foreign involvements and interventions. Let international relations also be free, the libertarians say, which means free trade and commerce, and freedom for other countries to do whatever they want with their people. Not our business.

Lest you think I exaggerate, look at the “National Libertarian Party” platform:

The Issue: Intervention by the government in Washington in the affairs of other nations is an attempt to impose our values on those nations by force. 

 The Principle: The important principle in foreign policy should be the elimination of intervention by the United States government in the affairs of other nations. Solutions: We favor a drastic reduction in cost and size of our total diplomatic establishment. We would negotiate with any foreign government without necessarily conceding moral legitimacy to that government.

Then on foreign intervention, the platform reads :

End the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid, guarantees, and diplomatic meddling. Individuals should be free to provide any aid they wish that does not directly threaten the United States.

I don’t know how one can read this platform in any other way than isolationist, and this is the NATIONAL Libertarian Party.

On foreign policy and fostering democracy, even peacefully, the libertarians are blinded by their desire for freedom here and now, not realizing that everything, including freedom demands contextual qualification (should those with a dangerous infectious disease remain free, when they could spread it far and wide, killing maybe hundreds with it?). By their isolationism, libertarians are making the world safe for the gangs of thugs (euphemistically, called dictatorships) that murder, torture, rape, enslave, and thus rule by fear.

Not our business, the libertarian still will say, although his fundamental belief in freedom is being violated in the most horrible ways. By implication, his isolationism is declaring that since it’s somebody else that’s suffering, not me, or my loved ones, it’s okay.

But besides this basic human me and mine, it is also a blindness to his own welfare. For in an age of state supported terrorism, readily transportable biological weapons, such as anthrax, and nuclear weapons, no longer can a country like the U.S. sit back and ignore terrorism, and what goes on elsewhere in the production and deliverability of WMD, as with North Korea and Iran. In the hands of those who hate the democracies and their libertarian values, terrorism and WMD make democracies too vulnerability to attack and blackmail. Intervention by the democracies in the rapacious affairs of such thug regimes, therefore, is ultimately to protect ourselves, not to mention to advance as a by product the human rights and the very freedom libertarians praise. Quite simply, no thug regimes can be trusted with either the possession or the capability to produce such weapons.

Feeding into libertarian isolationism is an apparent distrust, if not outright hatred, of democracy. They put this in various ways, some pointing out how questioning our classical liberal forefathers were of democracy when they opted instead for an American constitutional republic. Other libertarians simply point out that democracy is a disguised tyranny by a majority. Leaving aside their vast misunderstanding of what democracy means today, which includes the traditional definition of a republic, libertarians generally offer no alternative form of government. The anacho-libertarians among them throw government out altogether, not realizing that any anarchy will evolve into a democracy, gang rule, or a system of self-governing, independent groups, like international relations today.

Then there is the democratic peace, which one libertarian after another has tried to attack, but ended up misrepresenting its propositions, ignoring the relevant literature, doing incompetent empirical analysis, or making illogical claims. All have been wrong in detail, and if anything, their attempts to topple this edifice have only left it stronger. Why they do this is beyond me, except that what appears to aggravate them the most is that the democratic peace proclaims the value of . . . . democracy.

Not able to deal with the democratic peace directly, some take a side path — it is wrong to make war for democracy, they say. The innocents that die don’t care if it be for democracy or by a dictator’s hand. They are dead nonetheless. But, then, who is saying we should spread democracy though war? Not President Bush, not Vice-President Cheney, not Secretary Rumsfeld, not Secretary Rice, not my colleague Pro Forma, and not me. We all argue for doing so through nonviolent methods. The wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, and the other wars before our time that ended with the democratization of Japan, Germany, and Italy were not fought to spread democracy, but democratization was the best answer to the question as to what to do with these countries once they were defeated.

On a different path, a few libertarians argue that most attempts to democratize countries have failed. Okay, say it has failed in 70 percent of the cases, the most pessimistic argument. But, that would mean success in 30 percent of the cases. And consider the happiness of these millions freed from the enslavement and possible torture and murder at the hands of some dictator. With so much at stake, better to have tried and failed, then not try at all.

And perhaps the final argument — there is a stage of democratization where partial democracies are more dangerous to the peace than dictatorships. This view is gaining prominence among libertarians due to the publication of Jack Snyder and Edward Mansfield’s book Electing To Fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go To War. I have reviewed the book, and pointed out that their empirical claims for this are faulty. What is most amazing about the libertarian’s reliance on this work, however, is that they ignore its support for the major democratic peace proposition that democracies don’t make war on each other.

So, my libertarian friends, often admirers of my book Death By Government have been upset with my apostasy. I’ve gone conservative, they claim. NO way. I’m as hard on the conservative’s repression of social freedom, as I am on the liberal’s socialism and the libertarian’s foreign policy.

Then, am I still a libertarian, although an insurgent one? No, I no longer accept that label. Instead, I am a freedomist (ist is a suffix meaning a follower or believer in certain beliefs, such as in socialist or feminist). This is one who believes not only in maximum freedom at home, but also unlike the libertarian, in fostering democratic freedom abroad. This is to protect our own freedom, to end war and democide, and to further human security.

Let freedom ring.

Another of my democide paintings. This is of the Croatian fascist Utashi genocide during WWII. Original here.