A few further remarks on foreign policy and libertarianism

Brandon’s and Fred’s blogs make me want to write a few further remarks on the relation between foreign policy and libertarianism.

1. One should be aware that ‘the libertarian argument’ does not equal ‘comments about US foreign policy’. Libertarianism should be a theory for all people everywhere. Much of the debate on foreign policy among libertarians is about American foreign policy. The US however is the exception, in terms of capacity, defense budget, possible reach of its military operations, the number of military alliances, et cetera. One cannot just say ‘smaller defence’ is better for all countries, as this would entail that many small countries would not be able to defend themselves, and indeed many are not. Even most (rich) West European countries are unable to defend themselves without NATO.

This is not to say one should not criticize US foreign policy decisions, or argue against particular military interventions abroad. It does call for further thinking among libertarians about the position of a great power in world politics. I think, particular in a globalized world, it is too simple to say such a power should retreat as much as possible from international affairs. A power vacuum will be filled, and there is no guarantee this will be beneficial to the US or the West. Indeed, I suspect it will not be.

2. Also, there is not one ‘libertarian idea about international relations’, here it is useful and needed to distinguish a separate classical liberal position, as I have argued in my book on classical liberalism and international relations theory (see the covers to the right) and will further elaborate in Degrees of Freedom, my next book that will be published next year with Transaction Publishers. There are many differences, but a main one in this context is that libertarians argue for defense as self-defense, while classical liberals accept that countries are part of international society of states, which demands a more active role in some areas. Not least a role in maintaining a regional or global balance of power. I think that is completely in line with Hayekian ideas about sponataneous order (pdf).

3. Libertarians lack meaningful thoughts about the dynamics of a world which would (partly) be characterized by libertarian ideas. Most will accept that a peaceful paradise is unlikely to unfold, yet do not think much about the alternative situations. This gap must be filled to make the basic argument more convincing (or not of course).


3 thoughts on “A few further remarks on foreign policy and libertarianism

  1. This is an excellent post, Dr van de Haar, and congratulations on your new book contract!

    Speaking for my own post, I was engaged in a debate on American foreign policy because of an argument Dr Delacroix was making. (Dr Delacroix often brings up American foreign policy as a proxy for the point you are trying to make, namely, that libertarian foreign policy debates are US-centric).

    I have, on this blog, made efforts to expand upon liberal realist theory when I get the chance. For example, here is a post of mine on how to eliminate the rent-seeking Seoul engages in by federating the 50 US states and the 17 Korean prefectures.

    And here is a comment of mine, in a thread on Native American sovereignty, expanding upon the federal option in regards to the 50 US states and Europe.

    Finally, here is a short post that expands upon both the shortcomings of IGOs like the UN and the unseen options available to policymakers concerning the problem of rent-seeking and alliances.

    Again, this is an excellent post and I am very glad you are blogging about these issues.

  2. […] closer scrutiny from now onwards. I am not a great fan of military intervention, although I also do not want to rule them out them perennially (as opposed to many others in the liberal tradition). Many of the interventions over the past few […]

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