From the Comments: The “Strong Defense” argument against libertarian realism

Dr Delacroix claims to have spotted a weakness in libertarian foreign policy theory (known as “liberal realism” in political science circles):

Millions of registered Republicans (like me) and independents (like younger people close to me) are unable to buy the Libertarian line because they see or sense that it contains a central inconsistency: I want less or much less government, government is crushing me, it’s inimical to freedom, but what I want can only be had within a strongly defended polity. Such a polity usually requires a powerful defense establishment. Such an establishment, in turn undermines the possibility of smaller government.

This type of argument has been repeated ad nauseum in popular discourse and here on the blog, so it is – as Dr Delacroix points out – fair game as far as debunking (over and over again) goes. I have just three things to add.

1. The fact that “millions of registered Republicans” believe in something does not make it true. Millions of registered Republicans also believe that a radical Jewish rabbi came back to life three days after being crucified by the Roman state.

Even if billions of people believed that something false was actually true it would not make the falsehood any less false. Free trade is another great example of this phenomenon. Billions of people falsely believe that free trade is a bad thing, including some very smart people.

2.  Big does not mean strong. In fact, bigness often leads to weakness. This is the point that libertarians have been making for hundreds of years. The US could conceivable cut its defense budget in half while Russia and China could double their defense budgets and the US would still outspend the entire world on defense. A large military is often overstretched and therefore unable or unwilling to respond to threats elsewhere. Libertarians do not advocate for a smaller state because it makes the state weak. Libertarians advocate for a smaller state so that it can perform the few duties ascribed to it (courts and diplomacy/defense) with a ruthless efficiency.

3. A more libertarian foreign policy would be one with a much smaller budget, a much smaller role for the military, and a much more serious role for the military. If a libertarian US were to go to war it would declare that war and fight the enemy until it surrendered completely. I’ve already dealt with this in “Would a libertarian military be more lethal?” and “A cheaper, stronger army?” Dr Delacroix is either arguing from ignorance or he does not read much outside of his preferred circles.

In a society dedicated to the freedom of the individual, war is the last resort in diplomacy. As such, it should viewed with the utmost seriousness and skepticism. Even if millions of people feel otherwise.

Afghanistan, Conservatives and Libertarians. Telling off the King.

There is an upsurge of hostility to the war in Afghanistan in conservative circles. Thus, the Independent Institute, an organization I have been supporting modestly but faithfully for years has a spate of statements against our anti-Taliban operations there. It’s understandable but disappointing.

Part of the reason for some conservative reserve is simply childish tit-for-tat: “You libs berated Bush about his war, in Iraq; the shoe is on the other foot and we will berate you about Obama’s war in Afghanistan.” It matters not to this mindset that it’s only Obama’s war in the trivial sense that he is not using his powers to withdraw.

The main cause of the upsurge of hostility comes from the strong libertarian component in our midst. Libertarians, by definition, dislike big government. They observe, correctly, that every war enlarges the importance and the power of government in relation to civil society, to society in general. They assert further that the taxation capability governments acquires in war time – largely with the help of the suspension of criticality occasioned by patriotism – is seldom rolled back. Thus, war means irreversible growth of the state and a corresponding shrinking of individual liberties. Hence, libertarians tend to be reflexively isolationists.

Of course, I think this is all true. However, this is only part of the story. It’s futile to ignore the concrete, short-term questions facing this country with respect to its involvement in Afghanistan. Here are three: Continue reading