Blogs > Liberty and Power > Long reply to critics on war issues

Sep 14, 2004 6:31 pm


Long reply to critics on war issues



Ok, several responses to my Friday post have come in over the weekend, so I’ll make several replies together here. John Shaffer writes in the comments: What about the Arab proverb,"Better 100 years of tyranny than one night of anarchy." Surely that proverb refers to chaos, not anarcho-capitalism, but even in that case, it’s not clear that 100 years, or even 10 years, of secret police torture and mass graves is better than a night of looting. “Maybe they don't value freedom above all else, whether we think they should or whether we think they're entitled to it.” If there are any such things as human rights, all humans are entitled to them, whether or nor they have countervailing cultural or religious traditions. In general, too, the line that human rights is just a western prejudice is more likely the refrain of abusers, not victims. “The country is in utter chaos now and it's hard to see how it gets any better from here.” It gets better when the US establishes indigenous security and policing, withdraws the bulk of its troops, and lets them experience how good life is when you have autonomy and a freedom bounded only by the constraint of respect for the rights of others. (Hmm, I wish we had that here!) “A system of freedom cannot just be imposed by a colonial occupier.” Sure it can: ask the Germans and Japanese. The trick, of course, is to disarm the forces of the tyrant(s), then “impose” the system of freedom, and then leave.

Chris writes in the comments: “because of all the internal contradictions of this system, we are obliged to be very careful in the kinds of actions we advocate. Yes, of course, ‘[t]he general population in Iraq and in Germany ... are just as entitled to freedom as we are.’ But how freedom comes to these general populations is a profoundly important strategic question. There are enormous differences between the current context of Iraq and the historical context of post-war Japan and Germany, both of which were utterly destroyed by total war, but which still retained a uniform culture, with some democratic antecedents.” I’m sure that’s true, and I agree that we need to be, as Chris puts it, careful, and also that the administration is not doing a bang-up job of doing so. To defend libertarian hawkishness is not to defend the current administration.

My colleague from downstairs emailed, in response to my claim that tyrannies have no right to exist: “A regime which is rights-abusive loses some of its legitimacy, but it hardly is black-and-white. My government does many things that seem dubiously moral. It connives at the denial of equal rights to gays. It used to allow, through Jim Crow, abuse of all sorts of rights of black Americans. I am not sure that an invasion from Canada to rectify either of these would strike me as morally impeccable. I would not accept that the US government had NO legitimacy, nor would the use of force to defend the US from the neo-Aristotelian libertarian Canadians seem necessarily illegitimate.” That’s correct. Jim Crow laws were illegitimate, but did not require a Canadian invasion to rectify. More generally, there’s a difference between a nominally rights-respecting regime that violates rights, and a regime which doesn’t even have the fundamental structure of respect for rights. (This distinction is straight out of Locke, and echoed by Jefferson.) If the structure of the regime is legitimate, then a transgression may be corrected without overthrow. Overthrow becomes permissible when the very structure of the regime is illegitimate, i.e., completely abusive and disrespectful of rights in a pervasive way. That’s why the reductio ad absurdum (from overthrowing Saddam or the Taliban to Canadians invading the US over gay marriage) fails.

Both my colleague downstairs and Wilkinson disagree with my claim that anyone may prosecute justice. In certain contexts, e.g., within a stable and legitimate society, we might say that we have delegated any purported natural right to prosecute justice to the agents of the state who are so charged. But even then, a duty to rescue may override. If I am witnessing Smith assault Jones, should my response be “well, it’s the job of the police to help out here, and since I have delegated my natural right to intervene to the state as part of joining civil society, I cannot help Jones”? Surely not. And on the global scale, the analogy holds even less well, since the US and Iraq aren’t both parts of a larger society (and if we say that the UN represents some analogue to civil society, we note also that Iraq was in violation of many UN-mandated conditions which enable the cease-fire from the previous war), so the idea that the power to interfere has been delegated away doesn’t apply anyway.

My colleague asks a series of slippery-slope questions: “But what if my neighbor were flushing unwanted pets down his toilet, could I shoot him then? What if he was striking his child, but not in a way likely to permanently injure said child? What if in the firefight I accidentally killed someone else in the house in the process of taking out the illegitimate, rights-abusive neighbor? What if he really did kill somebody in his house, but it was years ago, I was there at the time, was a friend of his, didn’t say anything about it then, but years later decided to shoot him? Any of these scenarios might fit the Iraqi situation as well as the one you consider.” I hardly think the mass graves and torture squads are analogous to flushing a pet down the toilet. Some of the other entries on this list are thought-provoking, but don’t, just by being asked, constitute a refutation of the principle. If Smith is assaulting Jones, Jones has the right to defend himself, and Smith has no right to assault Jones, so everyone has the right to help Jones defend himself. This doesn’t imply, however, that everyone has the obligation to help – it may be imprudent or unfeasible. That’s why this: “Considerations of natural rights might incline you to the view that the US would therefore be morally justified in invading, say, China, and I might agree, in the brief moment before deciding that your helpfulness in crafting a decent real world foreign policy was at an end” isn’t quite right – since China has intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads, it wouldn’t be prudent to invade China. That doesn’t mean their regime has a right to exist which we’d be violating if we did invade. I am not in favor of invading China, but not because the regime there doesn’t deserve to be toppled.

Was it necessary to invade Iraq? Probably not necessary. Was it prudent? Not sure. It depends on how the administration wraps things up. If the conclusion is a relatively free and peaceful Iraq, that’ll be great. If they make a total botch job of it, and the theocrats take over, then it will have been imprudent. “In Iraq we have become part of the injustice we came to solve, and it was utterly predictable that that would be so.” It need not have been so. I agree though, that they’re handling this badly.

Will Wilkinson writes on his blog that I’m wrong about the anyone-can-seek-justice thing because of the quantifiers. “If a regime like Iraq is illegitimate, then, perhaps, there is someone or other that is justified in overthrowing the illegitimate regime. But it doesn't follow that that somebody is us, or even any state.” That’s correct. That’s the point I made earlier, in reverse. To claim that the war is imprudent, or that we had no obligation to free the Iraqis, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t permissible. Wilkinson concedes that “Iraq, or the Baathist regime, would not be wronged if we invaded” but then says “But that doesn't entail that we, or anyone else in particular, may invade.” It does entail that we may invade. It doesn’t entail that we must invade. It’s true that “The state may be obligated to forebear for other reasons, namely, that the war is not in the interest of its citizens, and the actions of the state can only be justified in reference to the interests of its citizens.” If a freer and more peaceful Iraq has a stabilizing influence on the region, and represents an alternative to Islamism, it will be. “The citizens who pay the taxes are wronged, even if the Baathists aren't.” I already agreed to that, but qualified by observing that we’re not any more wronged by that wealth-transfer than by any other, and liberating a nation from a tyrant is, if anything, more justifiable than, say, steel tariffs. “For me, the whole argument comes down to this nuts and bolts empirical squabble: was Iraq a threat? The answer, as far as I can see is ‘No.’” I don’t know. Irfan did a nice job documenting some of this over the summer. In any case, I’ve been trying to say something about libertarianism and hawkishness generally, not necessarily about this war in particular. Do the anti-war libertarians, as a matter of principle, think it was immoral for the colonists to go to war against the British? That was consistent, I’d argue, with Lockean approaches to libertarianism.

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Aeon J. Skoble - 9/16/2004

>So you can have the last word.

No, the thread has probably run its course. You can. (D'oh!!)


Gus diZerega - 9/15/2004

As to Germany, I have no problem with Goldhagen's findings. But what they MEAN is up for grabs.

First, there are disturbing psychology experiments, buttressed by plenty of historical experience, that people can do truly horrible things when following authority. Jews were certainly not popular - that combined with incessant propaganda, the hysteria of wartime, and so forth, can easily move people to do things they otherwise would not. That is why many Americans made Calley a hero at the time - see below.

Before the rise of Nazism many German Jews regarded themselves as living in one of the most tolerant countries in Europe. They held important places throughout German society. For a while after the rise of Nazism many German Jews thought Poland was worse than the Nazis. There was enormous intermarrying between gentile and Jew in pre-Nazi Germany.

War changes people, and as a rule for the worse. Government propaganda changes people, as a rule for the worse. Contexts change people - something economists should spend more time contemplating, as well as would be-builders of nations.

I quite agree that living in a democratic society changes people for the better. No problem there. But for it to work you need a minimal level of receptivity or you get democracy African style: "On man one vote one time." That is the issue.

Look at Bush's little friend Putin's recent actions for example... Democracy is very very weak in Russia. I think in the long run they will get it - but it doesn't work well when you have little in the way of experience, most of that experience is associated with national humiliation (think Weimar), and the state is trying to hold on to areas that by all right and decency should be independent, leading to war, terrorism and the collective collapse in the national IQ that follows.

Lt. Calley was pardoned and while he was charged a national song honoring him as a man who did his duty rose high in the charts. I well remember that song. It answered a lot of questions for me about Germany in WWII.

That people disapproved during less turbulent times only reinforces my point about the impact of war. That the army now uses Calley as an object lesson is good - but has absolutely no impact on my point about him and his popular image during the war.

Mainstream opinion seems to not mind that Rumsfeld is still in charge - and it is ultimately his responsibility. That low ranking people are taking the rap is an insult to what used to be called honor in the armed forces. But quite in keeping with Bush family ethics. The evidence is clear that higher ups were involved. I fail to note much popular outrage.

These appalling cases are not isolated. EVERY country is probably guilty. All it takes is the proper context. Americans killed over 100,000 Philippinos while "teaching them democracy." But the Philippinos didn't get it very well till they finally began learning it on their own terms.

WWII cannot by any stretch of the imagination be blamed on anti-semitism. Italian fascism was not particularly anti-semitic until late in the war - they still had no problem expanding their empire. They also had Jewish members of the fascist party. Additionally, a great deal of Europe was anti-semitic, and didn't go fascist. France, anyone? But when contexts changed - Vichy France - the worst of French anti-semitism crawled from under its rock. Japan was not anti-semitic. Correlation, especially one as uneven as that one, is not explanation.

The Japanese emperor was considered divine for centuries - and for most of that time Japan DIDN'T try and take over the world. I'm sorry - again your argument is ahistorical to the extreme.

But I think we will just have to disagree because my understanding of history and psychology is quite different from yours. I have given lots of examples - Africa, Asia, and the Philippines - to bolster my case. Your examples of Germany and Japan do not in any sense at all confront my arguments as to why Iraq won't be rebuilt along lines designed by Milton Friedman, Richard Perle, or George Bush. So far I would suggest the on-the-ground evidence regarding Iraq is ALL on my side - I guess we'll see, won't we?

I leave for a conference and won't be able to pick up this thread till Monday. By then it will be history. So you can have the last word.




Aeon J. Skoble - 9/15/2004

It's not a caricature. Have you seen that book by Goldhagen, titled, IIRC, "Hitler's Willing Executioners" or something like that? The jew-hatred was not simply a top-down aberration. Goldhagen shows that your average rnak-and-file German was right on board for the final solution -- not just a matter of looking the other way, they were active participants. The anti-semitism starts prior to the war, so it's also not just a matter of war clouding people's minds.
"good old American 'patriots' make light of our torturing Iraqis and earlier honored Lt. Calley of My Lai fame." Calley was court-martialed, and his reputation now in Army legal/ethical training is just a notch above that of Benedict Arnold. As to Abu Ghraib, seems to me that mainstream opinion was that it was bad, not good, and those folks are getting court-martialed too.
"Lots of Japanese STILL see themselves as racially superior." This may be the case, but they no longer are remotely interested in taking over the world, and as I said, have fully embraced the benefits of liberal capitalism.
"The fundamental weakness in your argument, I think, is that you've described two peoples attitudes during wartime, when reason is vanished and primal loyalties are at their height. I am describing the attitudes and loyalties people hold even during peace time." No, the Germans were anti-semitic before the war, and the Japanese were emperor-worshippers for centuries. It's because they had those attitudes that they started aggressing. But after being vanquished militarily, and obliged to try republican government and productive capitalism, they found it a better way to live, and became exemplary world citizens. I don't think a Kurd or an Arab is less capable of such (with my earlier caveat about fanaticism).


Gus diZerega - 9/15/2004

Germany, please remember, was not a hive mind. You give a caricature of a society that NEVER gave Hitler a majority of the vote in a free election. In fact in the last free election before Hitler's dictatorship, the proportion of the vote that went to the Nazis declined. It was Hindenburg and the conservatives who gave them the opportunity to gain power. The German people didn't.

People at war do not think clearly. Germans were guilty of plenty, that's for sure. But good old American "patriots" make light of our torturing Iraqis and earlier honored Lt. Calley of My Lai fame. And no American risked his life and his family's life then or now by protesting - so the guilt of American defenders of our own crimes is, from my perspective, about equal to that of Germans who chose to look elsewhere. Wartime attitudes exacerbate already existing weaknesses in the human mind. That is PART of my argument why we should avoid war whenever possible.

Lots of Japanese STILL see themselves as racially superior. Just ask Koreans who have lived there for generations and still can't be citizens. (May have changed in the last few years, I dunno.)

The fundamental weakness in your argument, I think, is that you've described two peoples attitudes during wartime, when reason is vanished and primal loyalties are at their height. I am describing the attitudes and loyalties people hold even during peace time.

And my examples of tribal societies included a lot more than iraq. Of successful societies recently moving from subjugated to free, the only tribal one to have done so, to my knowledge, was fairly homogeneous. According to everyone I have talked to about it, that is a major factor in Bostwana's success. And almost everyone I know who knows anything about Africa (actually I know of no counterexamples) contends that the arbitrary borders drawn between these countries, borders cutting across tribal identities that are deeper than national identites, are a major reason for their current plight. Think Kurds...

To repeat, again and again, Germany and Japan had strong national identities (hence the predilection of both for racism towards others - not unlike a bunch of Americans today).


Aeon J. Skoble - 9/15/2004

"The Marshall Plan worked because W. Europe and Japan already had all the basic social institutions and atitudes needed to reconstruct their society."
The German attitude prior to 1945 was "it's our right and duty to rule the world, and inferior races, esp. the Jews, should all die." Yet within a year or so of their military defeat, the Germans became good world citizens and productive capitalists. The Japanese also saw themselves as racially superior, even to other Asians, with a divine mission to conquer, and a feudal tradition including the worship of their emperor as a god. They they too quickly embraced republican democracy and productive capitalism. I do not see any evidence that "tribal" Arabs are starting from a worse vantage point than that, and believe that they too will see the virtues of republicanism and capitalism. Except, of course, for the religious fanatics among them -- but since they're actively engaged in trying to kill us, it's proper to seek to kill them. My guess, though, is that most Arabs are not homicidal/suicidal maniacs, and want to prosper.


Aeon J. Skoble - 9/15/2004

"Taking the deaths of civilian bystanders seriously doesn't imply pacifism. It implies only that one may not *start* wars" -- again, this proved too much. One could argue that the colonists "started" the revolutionary war, but more to the point, I maintain that "starting" something in Rwanda would have been the right thing to do.

"'We're not as bad as Saddam' is in any case a pretty poor moral ground on which to stand." That's a bit of a canard, since I wasn't suggesting we colonize Iraq. Having had their dictator removed, it's my view that they should govern themselves.


Nicholas Weininger - 9/15/2004

On the pragmatic issue: yes, in theory the Iraq war might not have been badly handled. But in practice we can expect that the bad incentives, knowledge problems, and temptations of power to which those in government are subject will result in most such wars being badly handled. Which is a good reason to restrict the waging of such wars to cases of dire necessity, a necessity that simply was not present in the Iraqi case.

On the moral issue: Taking the deaths of civilian bystanders seriously doesn't imply pacifism. It implies only that one may not *start* wars-- that wars must be undertaken only in genuine self-defense against actual attack or imminent threat thereof. And as to the meaning of large numbers, the civilian death toll in Iraq stands in the tens of thousands already, and may well reach the hundreds of thousands by the time the war is through. "We're not as bad as Saddam" is in any case a pretty poor moral ground on which to stand.


Gus diZerega - 9/14/2004

I think there are theoretical differences here that go deeper than empiricism. Let's see.

I am a pretty strong Hayekian on these matters. Societies are not like building blocs that can be taken apart and put back together. I think the arguments against social engineering we use to criticize government at home are just as valid when applied to changing societies abroad. This means that other than preventing mass murder, the wisest thing to do with other places is leave them alone. I gave examples of successes such as S. Korea and Taiwan, to illustrate this point. Ditto eastern Europe.

Iraq today is a powerful piece of evidence in my favor - not yours. The fact that it is an artificial construct is all the more a support - we simply do not know how the place can work - or even if it can. Should it be unitary, should it be a federation, should it be three uindependent places, should it be something different? I dunno, and most likely neither does anyone else. If anyone does know, they haven't convinced many others. It may well be that if you want Iraq to hold together you need a despot. In that case, I suggest letting the thing fall apart. Of course, there is Turkey and the Kurds. But that's to me is another reason we shoukld avoid involvement - countries are linked to countries in all sorts of complex ways, and civil war is nasty business wherever it occurs. Best to stay out.

I believe the best way to export freedoim is by example.

Second, your approach downplays the impact of war on our own society - a very central part of my initial argument. It especially downplays the unsuitability of democratic governments to engage in social engineering of other places. The Marshall Plan worked because W. Europe and Japan already had all the basic social institutions and atitudes needed to reconstruct their society. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq are similar. For example, both are strongly tribal - especially Afghanistan - and tribal cultures seem to work well as at least semi-modern societies only when the political borders have some relation with the tribal borders. Think Botswana in Africa or, in less tribal but by no means negligible senses, many West European countries. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan come even close to this kind of potential unity.

Bush, his Neoconservative supporters, and those who agree with them have the blood of thousands on their hands and souls - and will unfortunately have the blood of thousands more on their hands and souls before this is over. Given that we CANNOT put Iraq back together again, and that we do NOT know what to replace it with, probably the least inhumane of a bunch of inhumane alternatives is to leave in as orderly ways as possible - supporting those few places where civil society is showing signs of health but leaving them largely to their own devices. In other words, leave them alone, as they were leaving us alone before we 'helped' them.

It is time Americans learned that power does not equal applied intelligence - and that in practice the two can be inversely related. Power corrupts, Lord Acton said, and this society, so infatuated with its own power, is becoming utterly corrupted. That liars like Donald Rumsfeld are still in office, and not in jail, is eloquent testimony to that fact.


Aeon J. Skoble - 9/14/2004

Gus diZerega: "So I mean no personal attack - but I mean very strongly the argument that libertarian hawks, well meaning as they may be, are undermining libertarian values." Ok, I'm happy to continue to engage on these terms.

"Aeon also replies '"Of course dictators do not have a right to their power, and it is a silly charge to suggest critics claim so." It's not silly, since one of the arguments advanced by (some) anti-war people had to do with sovereignty.' Yes - anti-war statists make that argument. Can you name ONE libertarian who does?" Well, Roderick was making an argument along those lines here.

"The theory of intervention I suggested is pretty clear - assist when actual mass morder is currently taking place, and let things develop on their own for the most part otherwise because the society is too complex for us to hope to rebuild." Mass murder was taking place in Iraq, for decades.

"A libertarian Trotskyite refers to those who believe freedom is best served by exporting it violently if necessary." First of all, Trotsky wanted to export tyranny, not freedom, so this is weird. Second of all, it's misleading to talk about exporting freedom violently. Violence per se isn't wrong, unless one is a Quaker, or one of several Buddhist sects. If see a rape in progress, and use violence against the rapist, that's perfectly legitimate. The violence I use is a good thing. Aggression is bad. Using violence to stop a rape, or a genocide, or to unseat a tyrant responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and tortures, is not aggression.

"the rough answer [to Chris' question] is that if a government is systematically killing a large number of its own people, including noncombatants, and it is within our power to inflict a very high cost on that government for doing so at a relatively low cost to us, we should. By supplying arms, by air strikes, by interdicting shipments, and by sending (ideally volunteer )advisors from our own armed forces... Further, I think we should protect democracies from attacks by nondemocracies for two reasons." Hey, we agree! But it sounds like you too have hawkish tendencies, and we're simply disagreeing about empirical matters.


Gus diZerega - 9/14/2004

Aeon writes:
"Max Borders had claimed that a libertarian hawkishness could not be based on a natural rights theory, and the revolutionary war is a counter-example. " I don't see your poiint. A revolutionary war is very very different from invading someplace else to help them out - particularly in the absence of an invitation. Apples and oranges here.

Aeon also argues "diZerega then says that my view would have licensed the French to liberate us. . . . First of all, in my eralier post I specifically distingusihed the plight of the colonists, who could fight back on their own, from the plight of modern-day subjects of totalitarian states, who cannot. Any theory of intervention is going to have to have some clause about whether the victims need help. Second of all, we did need some help, in terms of loans and some guest officers who were invaluable. Third of all, the French in the 1770s were still a monarchy, so they couldn't "liberate" anyone."

Several points. First, while fighting back within a totalitarian system is all but impossible, we need also to ask how totalitarian systems change effectively.

An interesting example would be eastern Europe. There totalitarian systems collapsed, in most cases almost bloodlessly, despite the secret police, party domination, and so on. Their societies were ready, the system had no legitimacy, and effective alternative models were available. Even the least successful of them today would probably be envied by the average Iraqi.

The theory of intervention I suggested is pretty clear - assist when actual mass morder is currently taking place, and let things develop on their own for the most part otherwise because the society is too complex for us to hope to rebuild. I am glad that Aeon was not among the many on the libertarian right who opposed intervention in Bosnia and supported the war in Iraq.

As to France and us, the French helped at our request - a big difference. And in that case, as a matter of fact, they helped liberate us and at the same time were exposed to ideas that helped undermine the monarchy. They did more than loans and a few officers. the French fleet was a pretty important part of the equation as well.

My argument was a hypothetical one where outside forces decided to help people who were not themselves in large part taking efforts to liberate themselves. In such a case - very analogous to Iraq today - I stand on my argument. Consider how American society was changed during the course of the revolution itself. A great many of these changes strengthened the classical liberal elements in that society. (Some went the other way, alas, but they were relatively minor overall.)

Aeon also replies ""Of course dictators do not have a right to their power, and it is a silly charge to suggest critics claim so." It's not silly, since one of the arguments advanced by (some) anti-war people had to do with sovereignty."

Yes - anti-war statists make that argument. Can you name ONE libertarian who does? And you made this point in a classical,liberal/libertarian blog. So I assumed it was directed against anti-war classical liberals and libertarians.

Aeon, I was not calling you a hypocrite - only those guilty of opposing Bosnian intervention and supporting the Iraqi war - almost the entire Republican right and their classical liberal allies, in other words. I am very glad you are not among them.

Aeon takes strong exception to my use of the term "weaseling out'. The term was not intended as a slur on him, and certainly did not imply in my mind that he was being dishonest. I intended it as referring to the very human reaction when something turns out poorly to try and find causes for the problem separate from the reasonable sounding arguments that lead to the difficulty. Lots of hawks are making this kind of argument right now - that their advice was good but the execution was flawed.

Advocating military action as an abstract ideal and not adequately considering the impact of any real military action that would actually be taken is setting up a catastrophe, should someone actually follow the advice. It is true that advice can be good and the execution flawed - but my argument is that given the nature of the task advocated, flawed execution was unavoidable, though few of us could imagine it on the scale the Bush people have accomplished.

I feel strrongly on this issue and may sometimes be overly pugnacious. I apologize for the "spouting off" term. I do not apologize for the Trotskyite term as it is descriptive, given its modifier, "libertarian." Trotsky believed, in contrast to Stalin, that the revolution must be exported as rapidly as posisble - and had no problem with employing violence to do so. A libertarian Trotskyite refers to those who believe freedom is best served by exporting it violently if necessary.

Please remember, you hawks, that many people are dying, histility to western values is increasing through guilt by association, and much harm has been done to our own institutions. A number of people, myself included, predicted the broad outlines of what would happen BEFORE the conflict, and had our patriotism attacked, etc. etc. Many libertarians looked the other way on Bush's countless assaults on liberty because we needed to "fight terrorism."

Those of us who remember the '60s looked on in appalled amazement as the lessons of that time were systematically forgotten by the American people - among them a good chunk of the classical liberal community. Yes, we are upset.

Chris Sciabarra asks "So, I suppose, my question is---and I ask both Gus and Aeon, who seem to agree: Where do we draw the line? Not acting to stop the slaughter may be "morally inexcusable," but at what point does it become "morally inexcusable" to keep putting American men and women in harm's way to do this job? "

My own view is that these questions can only be answered in a rough way in advance of particular situations. That said, the rough answer is that if a government is systematically killing a large number of its own people, including noncombatants, and it is within our power to inflict a very high cost on that government for doing so at a relatively low cost to us, we should. By supplying arms, by air strikes, by interdicting shipments, and by sending (ideally volunteer )advisors from our own armed forces. Why volunteer? Combat experience is a good way to advance (unless you are George W. Bush and the Repug. Right, where it disqualifes you from public office).

The idea is that if this were done once or twice, and made a principle, acts of such internal aggression would become very rare, and as a result despotisms would become less bloody.

Further, I think we should protect democracies from attacks by nondemocracies for two reasons. First, internally, democracies are less violent than undemocratic regimes. LOTS of empirical studies support this. Second, democracies are the only form of government that does not attack others of their own kind. I have published in this. Rudy Rummel is the true pioneer on the subject. Others are now agreeing. It is in our own self-interest, no matter how defined, that democracies exist in as many places as are capable of supporting them.

But this does not modify my argument that society wide social engineering is largely impossible, especially by democratic governments. The closest counter example I can think of is Turkey starting with Ataturk - and that took 80 plus years, they did it on their own with lots of outside support, and there is still no guarantee of ultimate success.

So I mean no personal attack - but I mean very strongly the argument that libertarian hawks, well meaning as they may be, are undermining libertarian values.


Aeon J. Skoble - 9/14/2004

Chris asks a question: "Where do we draw the line? Not acting to stop the slaughter may be "morally inexcusable," but at what point does it become "morally inexcusable" to keep putting American men and women in harm's way to do this job?" Remember it's an all-volunteer force. Anyone who enlists knows that our military does engage in operations like this. In a privateer/letters-of-marque liber-world, some people would still choose this line of work. The only difference is whether we'd fund it voluntarily, or whether we're forced to, as we are in this world. I don't see how this will lead to conscription, which of course I adamantly oppose.


Aeon J. Skoble - 9/14/2004

Nicholas Weininger writes "there are systematic reasons to believe, given the nature of real governments, that such wars are *in general* likely to be badly executed. Libertarians of all people should understand these reasons, and should understand the need to theorize about war (as about other things) on a foundation of knowledge about what real governments do, not of what mythical disinterested-crusader-for-liberty governments might do." That's a fair point, if a bit straw-mannish at the end. But I don't see why it was necessary that this was badly executed. I certainly agree that it's being badly handled, but it needn't have been so.

Weininger also claims that I commit "the same grievous omission as most other liberventionists I've seen: he speaks of invading a country and violently overthrowing its government as if such invasions were detrimental only to the rulers of the country, and brought nothing but freedom to the ordinary citizens. In the real world, of course, all wars inevitably result in the violent deaths of large numbers of innocent bystanders, which is a pretty clear violation of their rights" What do you mean by large numbers? Nothing like the hundreds of thousands of victims of Saddam's reign of terror.

"people are presumed to intend the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their chosen actions, and the deaths of innocent bystanders are an entirely foreseeable consequence of starting a war. It wouldn't be surprising to see a collectivist ignore these dead in favor of the "greater good" of the survivors' putative chance at freedom. It is surprising, and appalling, to see a libertarian do so." I don't think it is very helpful to use (legitmate) concerns about the deaths of innocent bystanders a trump card. That cedes to the bad guy the power to set the level of wrongdoing - no matter how bad it gets, you can't go to war, because an innocent bystander could get killed. By that logic, the Revolution, the War of 1812, and WWII were all unjust. I disagree. There are times when the use of force is warranted, and it's tragic that that means the deaths of bystanders, and that's why it's imperative to have an ethics of war which includes constraints such as those of traditional jut war theory (e.g., the imperative to make extra efforts to minimize noncombatant injuries). Maybe the Iraq war was just and maybe it wasn't, but these arguments prove too much - total pacifism. To me, that is what is appalling.


Aeon J. Skoble - 9/14/2004

More replies to diZerega -- he writes "Of course dictators do not have a right to their power, and it is a silly charge to suggest critics claim so." It's not silly, since one of the arguments advanced by (some) anti-war people had to do with sovereignty.

"Any one who supports Iraq and opposes intervention in Bosnia or elsewhere where genocide is actually happening is, not to put too nice a gloss on it, a hypocrite." I'll be charitable and assume you aren't calling me a hypocrite, since I didn't oppose the Bosnian intervention.

"Skoble writes 'To defend libertarian hawkishness is not to defend the current administration.' This is weaseling out, in my opinion." Disagree all you like, but don't insult me on my own blog. If you think I'm arguing dishonestly, skip my blog entries, and don't reply - what would be the point? Surely if there's any point to this at all, it's predicated on the idea that we're having an honest exchange of ideas. Anyway, I wasn't trying to be weasely: various people had written that libertarian hawks were an oxymoron, and Max Borders had written that libertarian hawks had to be contractarian/Hobbesians. I was outlining a position on which both of these are false. I'm not an operative of Bush/Cheney-04, I'm a philosopher. It's possible that the administration could do something I think is right for what I'd call the wrong reasons. It's possible that they could start something in a good way and make a total botch job of it. It's not weasely for me to say that it's a good thing to be rid of Saddam's terror, but at the same time note that the administration isn't doing a good job facilitating civil society.

"The Philippines is not all that great a success story - and it had a long history of American occupation. Study it before spouting off about our supposed capacity to liberate others." Nice condesencion. Be civil or I'll not reply to your comments. "Japan and Germany, as has been observed, are very poor examples to apply to Iraq, or to most other places on the globe." I haven't seen a convincing argument to this effect. The Germans lived under a vile totalitarian police state for nearly a decade, yet embraced democratic republicanism almost immediately. The Japanese lived under a highly illiberal feudal system for thousands of years, yet embraced democratic republicanism almost immediately.

"quiet down the libertarian version of Trotskyites." Not sure what this means, but if it's more insults or another accusation of bad faith in my part, don't bother explaining.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 9/14/2004

The thing about these humanitarian wars, however, is that they imply that the US should be a moral policeman. I have no problem with mercenaries or other armed groups going over to any of these countries and fighting the good fight. But I don't see how or where we draw the line on any of these humanitarian endeavors; there is enough despotism in this world to keep the US busy for the next several hundred years. Back in the 2000 campaign, Bush himself was opposed to the Bosnian crusade and to the nation-building solutions that it necessarily implied. Times have changed, clearly.

So, I suppose, my question is---and I ask both Gus and Aeon, who seem to agree: Where do we draw the line? Not acting to stop the slaughter may be "morally inexcusable," but at what point does it become "morally inexcusable" to keep putting American men and women in harm's way to do this job? I don't see how the US does this, while fighting a war against Islamic fundamentalism, and stationing troops around the globe. This keeps up and I don't see how the US avoids the need for military conscripts to be used as cannon fodder.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 9/14/2004

Agreed completely. The thing is this is now a US problem. Every "solution" has its perils, including even the three-state one that I initially favored, the biggest obstacle to that being that it won't gain favor with either Turkey or Syria, each of which has Kurdish populations wanting to join in a greater Kurdistan.

In the end, I'm just not very happy that this issue, which was, in my view, so important to the pre-war debate, was virtually swept under the rug. Why the US should now be committing hundreds of billions of dollars, at the further cost of thousands of casualities (1000+ deaths, over 27,000 medical evacuations), thus draining resources from genuine homeland security and the real threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism, is beyond me.

Now, I'll grant that Islamic fundamentalism is now an issue in the new Iraq. But it wasn't in the old Iraq. That's a reasonable argument for keeping the US there for the time being, but it isn't an argument for having gone there in the first place.

Look, let me be clear: I'm certainly not wanting to win debating points by seeing Iraq dissolve into total chaos. I was against this particular invasion and occupation, but it is my hope that I'm totally wrong about the problems at hand.


Aeon J. Skoble - 9/14/2004

DiZerega also claims that "The same conservative and libertarian right that supported the Iraq war, if I may venture a guess, OPPOSED our intervention against genocide in Bosnia." Nice try, but I favored intervening in the Bosnian situation, and in Rwanda. Leave aside whether we ought to have a large overseas military - we do, and to fail to use it to stop the slaughter in Rwanda is morally inexcusable, the same as if a bodybuilder witnessed a big kid beating up a little kid and declined to intervene.
I see I have several other points to reply to, but I have to teach some classes now. Back later.


Aeon J. Skoble - 9/14/2004

Chris, I'm as skeptical of imposed top-down order as the next guy, but here's the thing: Iraq was a post-Ottoman contrivance, with three separate groups thrown together into an imposed top-down state, with one group privileged over the others. That's already non-Hayekian. You don't have to be Herbert Croly to think that these imposed structures can be replaced with others that are flexible and liberal, and thus more conducive to Hayekian evolution. For example, imposing a federal system in which, e.g., Sunnis were legally prohibitied from killing Kurds. Or, maybe partition it into autonomous regions.


Aeon J. Skoble - 9/14/2004

Gus diZerega says my reference to the revoultion is a straw man because it was plainly defensive, but that misses the point I was making by invoking it. First of all, Max Borders had claimed that a libertarian hawkishness could not be based on a natural rights theory, and the revolutionary war is a counter-example. Second of all, the revolution is a counter-example to any libertarian pacifist purism. I understand that war has terrible consequences, esp. for innocents caught in the crossfire, but surely the colonists were justified in using force to secure their liberties. diZerega then says that my view would have licensed the French to liberate us. Talk about a straw man! First of all, in my eralier post I specifically distingusihed the plight of the colonists, who could fight back on their own, from the plight of modern-day subjects of totalitarian states, who cannot. Any theory of intervention is going to have to have some clause about whether the victims need help. Second of all, we did need some help, in terms of loans and some guest officers who were invaluable. Third of all, the French in the 1770s were still a monarchy, so they couldn't "liberate" anyone.


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 9/14/2004

Though I do not believe that genocide abroad should be a pretext for US intervention either, I do agree with Gus concerning the issue of external imposition of political structures versus internal generation of institutions, which is why I think the US should stay out of Iran. This has been central to my own Hayekian-flavored arguments against the whole "nation-building" enterprise.

I also agree that the situation in Iraq is brutally sobering: the country was, in fact, a British colonial patchwork, in which ethnic, tribal, and religious groups have been held together at the point of a gun. I'm not sure if a three-state solution is possible at this point (something I discussed in November 2003), but it's pretty clear to me that it's going to be extremely difficult to create, in such a hostile climate, the kinds of political institutions that Aeon and I favor.

In the lead-up to the Iraq war, many on the libertarian hawk side were claiming that those of us who opposed the war were nothing more than the "useful idiots" for Saddam's oppression. The irony is that those libertarians who have justified the war on libertarian grounds (and I'd actually agree that Saddam had no moral legitimacy) have come perilously close to being the "useful idiots" for the neoconservative "nation-building" enterprise of the Bush administration. And I'm not saying that Aeon is an idiot... I'm just saying that libertarians are not in power, after all, and the US is not a fully free society. I would certainly agree that it is not necessary for everything to be free before anything can be done in terms of prudent military or political intervention to preserve, protect, and defend the security of the US, and the rights of its citizens. All the more reason to have opposed the Iraq invasion and occupation, since Iraq did not pose an "imminent" threat or even a "grave and gathering" threat (one that could have been dealt with through policies of containment), while supporting the elimination of the Taliban, which had an incestuous relationship with Al Qaeda (even if the post-war situation in Afghanistan has given the US another venue to screw things up).

The German and Japanese examples are, of course, dramatically different. As I wrote here, back in May 2003:

... I believe that a projected U.S. occupation of Iraq to bring about "democratic" regime change would not be comparable to the German and Japanese models of the post-World War II era.
Iraq is a makeshift by-product of British colonialism, constructed at Versailles in 1920 out of three former Ottoman provinces; its notorious internal political divisions are mirrored by tribal warfare among Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and others. By contrast, both Germany and Japan possessed relatively homogeneous cultures and the rudiments of a democratic past, while retaining no allies after the war. And in the case of Japan, the U.S. had the full cooperation of Emperor Hirohito, who stepped down from his position as national deity, to become the figurative head of a constitutional monarchy.


Nicholas Weininger - 9/14/2004

Among Mr. diZerega's excellent points the fourth one cannot be stressed strongly enough. The pragmatic problem with liberventionism is not just that the Iraq war was badly executed; it's that there are systematic reasons to believe, given the nature of real governments, that such wars are *in general* likely to be badly executed. Libertarians of all people should understand these reasons, and should understand the need to theorize about war (as about other things) on a foundation of knowledge about what real governments do, not of what mythical disinterested-crusader-for-liberty governments might do.

On the moral level, Mr. Skoble commits the same grievous omission as most other liberventionists I've seen: he speaks of invading a country and violently overthrowing its government as if such invasions were detrimental only to the rulers of the country, and brought nothing but freedom to the ordinary citizens. In the real world, of course, all wars inevitably result in the violent deaths of large numbers of innocent bystanders, which is a pretty clear violation of their rights. That fact must be placed in the scales when speaking of the moral permissibility of invasions. Nor can its consideration be avoided by claiming that these deaths are "accidental"; people are presumed to intend the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their chosen actions, and the deaths of innocent bystanders are an entirely foreseeable consequence of starting a war.

It wouldn't be surprising to see a collectivist ignore these dead in favor of the "greater good" of the survivors' putative chance at freedom. It is surprising, and appalling, to see a libertarian do so.


John Arthur Shaffer - 9/13/2004

At one time neocons (or at least some of them like Kirkpatrick) argued that right wing despotism was a more likely course to freedom and democracy than communism. This idea was the basis for our interventionist policies (in Latin America primarily) to counter the Soviet Union.

Ironically, Hussein had largely secularized Iraq. At one time in the 1980's it had the best hospitals and universities in the Arab world. This was a necessary condition to a free, pluralistic society. A theocracy and freedom are mutually exclusive. Now it looks like a large majority of Iraqi's want an Islamic government.

Another unintended consequence of the "liberation" of Iraq, one of the Arab countries that was most secularized is now on the verge of becoming a radical, failed, terrorist haven.


Gus diZerega - 9/13/2004

I am a relative moderate on these issues as I supported taking out the Taliban, but not the rank incompetence that has marred US policy there afterwards. I helped organize peace demonstrations against Bush before we attacked Iraq and oppose the current war crimes committed by Bush and his supporters in Iraq. So I think I have offended both extremes. That said, I have several points I think libertarian hawks in particular need to mull over. Because most - not all - of the time I think the doves have the better argument.

FIRST, often the case for war is made as if it would primarily impact the targeted society. But, especially if it is a serious conflict, war forces the society going to battle to organize itself to pursue that goal. War turns a polycentric liberal order into a monocentric hierarchical one where dissent becomes increasingly disloyal and minorities need to worry about basic liberties. (Ask some Japanese Americans sometime - and I personally think THAT war was necessary.) To simply say that US war requires taxes as if that is the major cost to us is to be historically blind.

Democracies are never so undemocratic as when they are strongly unified, and war unifies. It also dumbs down - little could be dumber than the media and parties' approach to the current election. War weakens the liberal elements of the society going to war. Do it often enough and you can kiss liberalism good bye. Randolph Bourne wrote that "war is the health of the state". Maybe some of our more pugnacious intellectuals need to read him.

SECOND, the case of the US Revolutionary War with Great Britain is a TOTAL red herring. It is difficult to imagine this as a serious argument. People stood up in rebellion against those who they thought were threatening their own liberties. It was defensive in a far more unambiguous way than Iraq.

Should France, say, have invaded years earlier to "give us our freedom"? If they had, we would not have had the requirment to adapt free institutions to the circumstances of our own society, building on existing practices. We would almost certainly have had the French devise them for us - as the US occupiers have largely done for Iraq (we prevented early municipal elections, and the Kurds were required to stay, for example). French devised institutions would likely have been ill fitted to our needs. We would not have created the networks of associations and trust that enabled our country to hang together afterwards.

There are strong Hayekian theoretical grounds and strong Elinor Ostromian empirical grounds for arguing that self-governing instituions have to grow out of the conditions they must cope with. They cannot be centrally planned.

THIRD, What of the fact that Iraq was a despotism? To be sure, that made civil society weak. What then? It may be that its road to freedom would be slower than we would like and it may be that it would have to wait till Hussein was dead. But the strongest case for encouraging Iraqi backed changes would be the existence of free Muslim societies to inspire Itraqi opposition.

Also, WHYwas Iraq a dspotism? Maybe, just maybe, the society was such a cobbled together arrangement that the only way to hold the thing together is by force. Maybe it should not be a country. If so, all these efforts are doomed in advance, and allw e are doing is killing people, most innocent, and destroying our own society in the process.

The same conservative and libertarian right that supported the Iraq war, if I may venture a guess, OPPOSED our intervention against genocide in Bosnia. At the time I thought Bosnia was VERY important because there we did have the real possibility of defending a Muslim pro-western democratic society against a bunch of excommunist apparatchiks - and that every effort to destroy Bosnia was an effort that contributed to the mess we presently have. (PLEASE don't tell me about Hussein's genocide - that was done under the oversight of Republican conservative and moderate politicians. By the time Bush jr. came to power genocide was not on Hussein's docket - just murder of opponents.)

Of course dictators do not have a right to their power, and it is a silly charge to suggest criticvs claim so. I support what most conservatives and libertarians oppose - the principle that external intervention against genocide is legitimate and that sovereignty does not give that power to any government. Any one who supports Iraq and opposes intervention in Bosnia or elsewhere where genocide is actually happening is, not to put too nice a gl=oss on it, a hypocrite.

But all this principle does is restrian the worst actions of nasty regimes. It does not clain the power to remake societies. They have to do it themselves and our setting an example will help. the example we are currently setting - "collateral damage" and circumvention of the most basic rules of the Geneva Convention are not likely to inspire anyone.

FOURTH- Skoble writes "To defend libertarian hawkishness is not to defend the current administration." This is weaseling out, in my opinion. We live in a real world, a world where men who love power will be attrracted to government, and will use governemnt to expand their power. We live in free societies which, if they remain free, are ill suited to the kind of social engineering and central planning that transforming Iraq from without would require if it were to succeed. Some adminsitrations might be more incompetent than this one - though none come to mind - but even a wise one would be sorely pressed to attempt such a task given the need to plan for the next election, placate special interests, and deal with conflicting visions among Americans as well as Iraqis as to what the new free Iraq should look like. Democracies are structurally ill suited for this kind of work.

"Libertarian" hawks supported THIS war with THIS administration - that some now have second thoughts is pretty good evidence that they were INCOMPETENT to make decisions about rebuilding people's lives. They made mistakes and thoiusands of people died and democratic institutions in our own country were weakened. Simple as that.

FIFTH- The countries that have made it on their own to relatively free societies from political cultures without much liberal experience - such as Taiwan, Thailand, Botswana, and S. Korea, did it for themselves. India has a spotty record, and is not very useful as a guide. The Philippines is not all that great a success story - and it had a long history of American occupation. Study it before spouting off about our supposed capacity to liberate others. Or how we "helped" Haiti. Japan and Germany, as has been observed, are very poor examples to apply to Iraq, or to most other places on the globe.

As to radical Islam, Europe had to outgrow the stupidity of mixing government with religion. Toleration did not come about through Biblical quotations - it came about piece-meal as populations grew tired of politicized religion and the horrors it brought. Iranians are currently learning that lesson - and if we leave well enough alone, Iran may well emerge as a reasonably free and democratic society. Perhaps one thing Muslims need to learn the hard war is that Mullahs and the like get corrupt when they get power. Christians had to learn it the hard way - and the Christian right - seem to have forgotten. Hopefully we will not need to relearn the lesson.

This has gone on long enough - but I think a little more attention to the risks to and planning capacities of our own society in wartime combined with a Hayekian humility about the complexities of social orders in general would quiet down the libertarian version of Trotskyites.

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