Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Libertarian State: Engagement or Isolation

The role of the libertarian state is to ensure the freedom of the people. But which people, exactly? To be more precise, is the role of the libertarian state only to ensure the freedom of its people, its citizens. Or is it to ensure the freedom of all people internationally?

No-one has ever seriously argued that it is possible for any national government to ensure freedom for all people all over the world. However liberal leaders in history such as William Gladstone, Woodrow Wilson, and John F. Kennedy all believed that their nations should have a role in increasing freedom for other peoples around the world. For William Gladstone, his belief was galvanised by the Bulgarian Horrors perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks. Woodrow Wilson saw the disintegration of the European empires in World War I as an opportunity the United States should seize to ensure freedom for the smaller nations of Europe. The increasing soviet influence of the 1960s galvanised John F. Kennedy to attempt to oppose them (disastrously) in Vietnam.

In the past three decades, this impulse has increasingly been the catch-cry not of self-described liberals, but of a new breed who call themselves neo-conservatives. The neo-conservatives were mostly former liberals who were repelled from liberalism by the increased influence of the peace movement. They believed a muscular militarist foreign policy was necessary not just to protect freedom at home, but to extend freedom as well abroad. Their rhetoric is incredibly attractive:
Ours are not Western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit and anywhere, any time, ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same. Freedom not tyranny. Democracy not dictatorship. The rule of law not the rule of the secret police.

The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defence and our first line of attack.
- Tony Blair's Address to the United States Congress, 2003

The unspoken intellectual core of both old liberalism and neo-conservatism is that governments in free nations have a responsibility not just to ensure the freedom of their own people but to work for the freedom of other people around the world as well. As outlined by Tony Blair, sometimes this can be argued to be in the interests of those of us who are already free. At other times however, it seems to directly conflict with our interests. Overseas military operations impose enormous costs on free world taxpayers. Refugees fleeing oppressive regimes disrupt free societies, sometimes in positive ways, other times in negative ways; imposing themselves on free societies without prior permission and often bringing revolutionary intrigues, espionage and Old World rivalvries with them.

Recognising these conflicts, libertarian writers often adopt quite an isolationist approach to foreign policy in their writings. Possibly influenced by the beginning of the United States as a haven for Puritans fleeing England, Ayn Rand's utopian vision of a libertarian society in Atlas Shrugged is that of refugees from the rest of the world who isolate themselves and as much as possible refuse to engage with it. Yet is this example practical? In a world where the entire land-mass is already claimed by one nation or another, where bureacracy and the other petty tyrannies are manifest almost everywhere, is isolation really still the best course?

4 Comments:

At September 11, 2006 6:22 pm, Blogger Sukrit Sabhlok said...

A libertarian state should call on democracies of the world to unite and reaffirm the values of freedom.

The US is doing this now (in stark contrast to its Cold war policy of supporting autocratic regimes for short-term gain).

Policymakers have long recognised that liberal democracy is a valuable first step in achieving long-term peace.

On this fundamental point, the history of American foreign policy since Woodrow Wilson indicates there has been general agreement.

How we should actually go about promoting democracy – that is, whether we use words or weapons - is a separate question.

But let there be no dispute over democratisation being worthy goal.

 
At September 13, 2006 12:59 am, Blogger Mikey_Capital said...

Yes indeed. Neo Cons. Democracy for some, dictatorships for others. The US is currently using bases in former soviet republics where the intelligence organs there boil people alive.

Yep, boil them alive.

How does that sit with you?

 
At September 13, 2006 9:26 am, Blogger Sukrit Sabhlok said...

"The US is currently using bases in former soviet republics where the intelligence organs there boil people alive."

If you show me some proof this is happening, then I will condemn it.

 
At September 13, 2006 9:27 am, Blogger Sukrit Sabhlok said...

(or were you talking to post-libertarian?)

 

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