Most Americans express support for private enterprise. In this country, outright socialists are relatively rare, except on university campuses, and even progressives, who favor pervasive regulation and heavy taxation, often declare that they support a free-enterprise economy – they simply oppose ‘unbridled capitalism.’ For many sincere friends of the free market, however, it shines as only one star among a host of others in their ideological firmament, and with regard to one critically important service, protection from foreign threats, they favor a government-monopoly supplier with an established reputation for recklessness and unnecessary ferocity. Thus, notable free enterprisers include both hawks (e.g., Thomas Sowell, George Shultz, Walter Williams) and doves (e.g., Thomas Gale Moore, David Henderson, Donald Boudreaux) in their views about U. S. foreign and military policy.
Among libertarians in particular, the U. S. invasion of Iraq has brought this difference to the fore more visibly than any previous event. Some professed libertarians have supported the U. S. attack and the ensuing occupation, others have opposed those actions, and still others have hedged somewhere in between. On October 22, 2004, for example, a well-publicized and well-attended libertarian conference at the Cato Institute, ‘Lessons from the Iraq War: Reconciling Liberty and Security,’ gave the podium to advocates of each of these positions. (I was one of the invited speakers.) Supporters of ‘big tent’ libertarianism have counseled that libertarians ought to steer clear of fratricidal conflict over this issue. After all, they say, we still agree on so many other issues.
Although I generally eschew quarrels with fellow libertarians over doctrinal matters – my crucial dispute is with the government, not with other libertarians – I draw the line at the question of war and peace. In my judgment this issue is fundamental; it well-nigh defines a genuine libertarian ideology. Professed libertarians who support an aggressive warfare state are, in effect, giving up the ship. They are making the same mistake that has long condemned conservatives to serving as de facto buttresses of Leviathan, no matter how much they might complain about high taxes and excessive regulation.
This post was published at Mises Canada on MARCH 25, 2016.