NOL Foreign Policy Quiz, Part One

The goal of this post is to discuss the purpose of a NOL Foreign Policy Quiz. It is the first in a series of posts discussing the details of how to actually devise and distribute this quiz. Reader input is encouraged.


The Nolan Chart is a short political quiz developed by David Nolan, the Libertarian Party founder. The Nolan quiz plots individuals along two axes, asking them their preferences towards issues of personal and economic freedom (both Rick and Warren have blogged about the Nolan Chart here at NOL, too). Libertarians are those individuals who favor both personal and economic freedom.

nolanchart

The benefit of the Nolan Chart is that it moves us away from the left–right spectrum and towards a two-dimensional understanding of politics. The limitation of the Nolan Chart is that it only views politics through these two limitations. The Nolan Chart at best tells us what end policies we favor, but it fails to address how to achieve these goals.

This is problematic, as even political groups that agree on end goals differ substantially on how to best achieve them. Among libertarians, the largest debate is probably between those who believe a minimal state is needed (minarchists), and those who believe no state can be tolerated (market anarchists) to achieve maximum liberty. There is also, to a lesser extent, a debate on the form of government* and foreign policy.

It is possible to be a libertarian and believe that monarchy is superior to republicanism or democracy in upholding the law and maximizing liberty. Likewise, it is possible to be a libertarian and desire an active foreign policy beyond promoting free trade agreements. I know that I stir controversy with my latter comment, but give me a moment to defend it.

The standard libertarian foreign policy is one of non-intervention. It is a policy of wishing to sever military ties with foreign nations and instead promoting free trade with all. It is a policy consistent with the non-aggression principle.

However, this standard policy is not the only policy consistent with libertarianism. It is possible to believe that, although the loss of any human life is horrible and that the state is illegitimate, the best option to minimize human life and protect liberty is to attack, embargo, or annex another state.

I do believe that there are several tests that must be met before one adopts a foreign policy beyond the standard libertarian creed. Specifically:

  1. Loss of human life and liberty must be weighed for both sides.
    1. Discounting should not occur on national basis.
  2. All reasonable peaceful solutions must be acted on beforehand.
  3. The long-term consequences of the action must be considered and weighed for both sides.

Additionally, if actions are taken, then all precautions must be taken to minimize loss of human life and liberty on both sides.

Minarchist libertarians may see the state as a tool to maximize freedom, but I do not believe this grants them the authority to kill others. There may be a scenario where the murder of one man is outweighed by it leading to the protection of ten men, but the one man has still been murdered and his death must be felt as a regrettable action. The value of a man is not dependent on whether he was born in New York City or Tehran. A libertarian cannot be a jingoist.

At no point may a foreign policy action be taken if a reasonable peaceful action is still available. If a man enters your home with a gun and clearly intends to harm you, by all means it is justified to attack him, even if he has not yet shot or aimed at you.

And finally, the long-term consequence of a foreign policy action must be considered. Even if the first two rules are met, if there is not a long-term plan that is likely to succeed, no action should be taken.

For a long time, I wrestled with my stance on the Iraq war. I believed in the past that the first two requirements had been met and that the US invasion of Iraq was justified despite the loss of life and liberty on both sides. The Iraq war did not, however, meet the third hurdle. There was no viable long-term plan, and the latest consequence of this is the rise of ISIS and other militant groups in the MENA region.

Meeting these three conditions is difficult, but possible.

For example, I believe that expanding the US to include South Korea and Japan would be a proactive foreign policy stance consistent with my the rules I outlined above. Such an expansion would harm Okinawan residents, whose land is currently used for US bases. Such an expansion would also lead to retaliation from the PRC and North Korea. It would, however, lead to a net win for liberty. South Koreans and Japanese residents would have a stronger defense against a rising PRC seeking to dominate the region militarily. US residents would benefit from having defense costs, both in monetary and human life terms, more equitably shared. Although I am hopeful the PRC will liberalize in the future, its actions towards Hong Kong makes me doubtful that that will occur in the foreseeable future.

It is possible that I am wrong of course, and that adding South Korea and Japan would lead to a great loss of life and/or liberty. I am still a libertarian, however. I am not discounting the lives or liberty of non-US residents. I am not ignoring another peaceful solution – the current foreign policy scenario in East Asia is not sustainable for much longer, the PRC has clear intent to assert itself in the region, and it’s extremely doubtful that it will liberalize in the foreseeable future. I am considering the future: the PRC and North Korea are sure to retaliate, but I do not see either of them going to war over it. I do see the PRC being more likely to go to war over annexing Taiwan, even if not immediately, or otherwise I would promote Taiwanese annexation as well.

Hopefully I have successfully shown that it is possible to be a libertarian and favor a policy beyond the standard libertarian foreign policy. In which case, there is merit in discussing foreign policy beyond this standard.

There have been proposals to incorporate a foreign policy dimension to the extant Nolan Chart, but these proposals take it for granted that a non-interventionist policy is the only libertarian prescription. Over at FEE, Richard Fulmer proposes the following five questions:

  1. The United States should cease serving as the world’s policeman.
  2. The United States should not engage in nation building.
  3. The United States should not pledge to defend other countries.
  4. The United States should withdraw its troops currently stationed around the world.
  5. U.S. foreign policy should not be tied to that of the United Nations.

Unless one believes only a non-interventionist foreign policy is compatible with libertarianism, it is clear that these questions are insufficient. They also highlight that a NOL foreign policy quiz should seek to complement, but be independent of, the Nolan Chart. Otherwise, any attempt to add a foreign policy dimension will end with in fighting over who is a libertarian and who is a statist.

Again, the standard non-interventionist libertarian foreign policy view is a consistent and legitimate view point. It is however possible to favor foreign policy interventions under certain conditions and still be a consistent libertarian.

In the next post I will be proposing the foundation for a NOL foreign policy quiz.


Foot Notes:

*Even market anarchists who reject the need for a state debate on what type of organizations would exist and how the law would operate. For example, Murray Rothbard’s early vision for market anarchism presumed that a unitary law would exist, and that private defense associations (PDAs) would compete to best to carry out this unitary law. This unitary law would be based on ‘natural law.’ David Friedman’s vision for market anarchism does not presume a unitary law, and instead imagines competition for the law, as opposed to competition for the application of the law itself. My understanding is that there are also Rothbardians who have moved away from PDAs and towards dispute resolution organizations (DROs). It has been quite some time since I actively followed this debate among market anarchists, so I will defer to anyone who has more up-to-date information.

Further Reading:

Ian Bremmer’s American Foreign Policy Quiz [NOL Post] – The post that initiated the idea of a NOL Foreign Policy

A Three Dimensional Nolan Chart Extension Focusing on Form of Government (e.g. Anarchy v. Monarchy)

Rand Paul for President!

By now everyone knows about Rand Paul’s thirteen-hour filibuster on the Senate floor. He succeeded in his short-term goal, as Attorney General Holder finally produced a memo affirming that the President has no right to murder American citizens who are not engaged in hostilities against the U.S. Senator Paul drew more support from colleagues than I would have expected, including Senator Minority Leader McConnell and Democratic Senator Wyden of Oregon.

But it’s not just his short-term success that has me excited. This might just be the start of a couple of very favorable longer-term outcomes.

First is the prospect that RP may run for President in 2016. He has dropped hints to that effect. He is an attractive candidate for libertarians because of his generally solid stands for economic liberty, civil liberties and non-interventionism. OK, maybe he’s a bit more conservative than some of us would like, and he endorsed Romney last year. And by traditional standards, he’s young and inexperienced.

Yet he just might be electable. He should be able to draw on the army of Ron Paul supporters who are mostly young and energetic. By 2016 the Obama administration will be in shambles and the Democratic candidate will have to distance himself from Obama. A minority party could emerge and siphon off Democratic votes. People will be looking for a fresh face, and Rand Paul does have a boyish, fresh face which doesn’t hurt. And he’s a bit less caustic and perhaps a bit more articulate than his dad.

Best of all, he could be the catalyst for a realignment of politics in this country. One side would be centered on the libertarian principles just mentioned: economic freedom, civil liberties, international peace. The first principle would attract some fellow travelers from the right and the other two would attract some from the left. On the other side would be statists of various stripes including “progressives,” who should be classified as fascists, as well as bloodthirsty warmongers like Senator McCain.

The political realignment just outlined will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, formerly called the Nolan chart. Millions of people have taken the quiz, and it has gained considerable respect (“The Quiz has gained respect as a valid measure of a person’s political leanings,” says the Washington Post.)

A lot can happen between now and then. RP’s rising start could fade. He could get co-opted by the Republican establishment. We’ve been disappointed before and it could happen again. But the idea does give one hope. Rand Paul for President, Gary Johnson for Vice President?

(Footnote for anyone shocked by the f-word: There are two aspects to fascism. The economic aspect leaves ownership of the means of production under nominal private ownership but with the government calling all the shots. That describes the program of the “progressives” to a tee. The other aspect is racism or nationalism, echoes of which are seen these days in the forms of affirmative action, multiculturalism, and “diversity” programs.)