Isolationism

2002-04-04

What are those libertarians thinking?

Virginia Postrel links off to essays by Brink Lindsey and Jay Manifold on the isolationist, anti-war, indeed anti-state strain of thinking in contemporary libertarianism. She also provides some reflections of her own. I detect a bit in her thinking of what I've always perceived as the conservative tilt of Reason Magazine, the journal she long edited. At the same time I recognize that the anarcho-capitalists don't have a coherent answer to the question of national defense (other than to recommend that we do away with nations), and that to claim that pulling out of all international relations would magically make terrorism against Americans evaporate is wishful thinking at best.

George Washington counselled against entangling alliances, and we're certainly caught in those snares now -- supporting Israel with one hand and Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia with the other. My old friend James Robbins once wrote an article that argued for a "muscular libertarianism", in which the USA would flex its muscles as appropriate and be actively engaged in the world to spread the culture and politics of freedom. I'm not sure which position I'm more comfortable with. International relations are notoriously messy. As I wrote last month, I don't want to be a citizen of the empire, and I don't want America to degenerate into an empire that attempts to project its power all over the globe. I feel that the USA has meddled in the affairs of too many nations and that it has propped up way too many authoritarian regimes, from Central America to Asia to the Middle East. We'd be better off today if we had been more discerning and principled about our international partners. Yet today we're also facing an unprecedented threat -- a many-headed terrorist beast that could, for all I know, appear tomorrow in the form of suicide bombers throughout America and the world. How do we protect American citizens (and world citizens) against such an amorphous enemy?

Given the abject failure of government agencies like the INS, national ID cards and an ever-more-vigorous prosecution of the war on drugs are not the answer to terrorism. Yet we're dealing with a meme that I can only call primitivist -- and these 8th-century mentalities are armed to the teeth. I would hope that there is a way for the answer to involve more freedom, not less. Let's not forget that the September 11th atrocities occurred in one of the only zones (airports) in which American citizens are by law not allowed to carry the means of self-defense (another such zone consists of government-run schools -- can you say Columbine?). When the victims are disarmed, the predators will be attracted to the opportunity to wreak mayhem. But I suppose the politicians don't care -- they've all got bodyguards and Secret Service agents to protect them.

But that gets us into the whole gun issue. It's getting a bit late to delve into that one tonight, other than to note that Cathy Young has a good, short article on the topic over at reason.com right now.


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