TOL Response: 5 Foreign Policy Problems Libertarians Need to Address

The online liberty group “Thoughts on Liberty” pumps out some good stuff more often than not. The site is intellectually managed and operated by “a team of ladies writing about freedom” who offer their unique perspective on libertarianism. Like most addressing the liberty movement, the authors usually take a right leaning (or all-out right stance) on most issues pertaining to the liberty. This, of course, is their prerogative and I do enjoy much of their posts.

I was discouraged when I came across “5 Foreign Policy Problems Libertarians Need to Address” on the site. It reads like a shameless endorsement of vulgar libertarianism.

So, I will offer a response. First I will note that I do agree with the author, Rachel Burger, that foreign policy is a very complex issue, that it is not black or white and that all too often libertarians (especially the liberty movement) need to reassess their position on foreign policy. Movement libertarians still want to reckon with the state. Instead of endorsing the actual philosophy of libertarianism, the movement tends to embrace the government policies of libertarianism.

Yes, we need a better state – the ultimate goal, however, is to be stateless.

Good points and concerns are raised in this article – but none-the-less, here is my retort.

1. War is Fought Between States, Not Individuals – but it is individuals who fight the wars for the political/economic ruling class.

The original argument screams of the “we are the state” fallacy. Yes, states wage war on other states – but it is living, breathing human beings who have to follow orders and fight wars. The logic behind the post suggests that individuals are the state in war-time – this has grave implications.

An executive order sends troops to war, if one dissents – let’s say Chelsea Manning – and morally objects to their situation and decides to expose war crimes, then any punishment sent that person’s way (illegal detention, torture, possible life imprisonment) is all voluntary. The author is right, states wage war against one another but on a piece of paper. Human beings have to deal with the consequences of executive decree – be it death or otherwise.

The Author notes that after the 9/11 attacks the US declared war on Afghanistan and not Al-Qaeda. OK, fair enough, but that is because the US could not declare war on a terrorist group – it was not that Afghanistan, as a state, was more important than Al-Qaeda, it is because a war on terror is ridiculous; so a defined battle ground (which has now seeped across numerous national borders) was needed. Afghanistan was the “in.”

Her final argument: “if one state has no monopoly of force, another monopoly of force will take over.” This is to say, “if a libertarian stateless society is realized. then another government will just invade and poof – another state.” Later in her article Burger notes herself as an Anarcho-Capitalist – only “anarcho” in so far as we would still need an aggressive, violent state to provide for the common defense I guess. The OG An-Cap Murray Rothbard would disagree – as would I. A stateless society could absolutely (especially one with the infrastructure of the United States) provide its own defense… And without the offense this job would only become easier.

2. The Non-Aggression Principle is Insufficient – Uhm… so?

The argument here is that by adhering to the NAP the state can do a whole lot in the name of self-defense. To that I agree. In a truly libertarian society, however, the absence of force means the necessary abolishment of centralized power, and of ALL bureaucratic, hierarchical institutions so that the true market form will be able to build society. It is not in the interests of human beings to die in offensive attacks for false defense. It is in the interests of human beings to seek peace, and without centralized aggression, this is much more attainable.

3. Nuclear Weapons Are Actually Really Great at Making Peace – Especially when we all rest in peace.

The argument here is that Mutually Assured Destruction has led to the greatest peace time the world has ever known. Burger believes “Peace through Strength” has worked.

I dissent. Nuclear arms are the absolute in technological supremacy and hegemony. They are terrifying. They threaten the existence of human civilization. A simple look at human history can dissolve this idea: the most violent creation of humankind has been the state. States are agents of repression and the number one threat to liberty.

Mutually assured destruction fits its acronym rather well – belief in peace through mutual destruction certainly is MAD. I would point out how close the world came to nuclear war during the JFK administration. One policy error (and humans a prone to errors) and the world would end. States escalate violence quickly. Currently states are engaged in economic warfare, policy warfare, information warfare, etc. There is also the scaling up of militarization among powerful nation states – militarization of space, national borders, technology and so forth. In the shattering event that nuclear arms are ever used it will prove to be the end the human experiment.

Championing nuclear arms is incredibly short-sighted.

4. Trade Does Not Guarantee Peace – Right.

I agree that trade does not guarantee peace. Free market exchange and social organization are great tools for peace, however. A utopia is not attainable in the near future (if ever) for a number of reasons, but in a way that is the true beauty of markets. Our creative labor, in a liberated society, will build true peace.

5. An Absolutist Foreign Policy Is Dangerous – OK, I will play ball.

So the premise here is we have a state so how do we handle foreign policy in war-time? Simple. Stop allowing the state to commit atrocities. The official policy of the state when it comes to foreign policy should be non-interventionism. If the state was not involved in so much economic and social engineering there would be much less blow back and much more peace. Instead of dedicating so many tax dollars to nation building and the spread of democracy, let the state and its private partnerships utilize all of the military industrial complex mega trillions on true defense.

Now, in a stateless society, markets would realize how destructive state foreign policy is – to liberty, peace, economics and the human condition. Libertarians should all reject the state, and begin (right now) building a new society within the shell of the old. Major foreign policy problems (the biggest of which is war) exist because of the state – lets let markets build policy in the public arena.


Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory