Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What’s the Libertarian Stance on ISIS? Read Rothbard

By Michael S. Rozeff

It’s easy to find people who call themselves libertarian who want the U.S. to bomb and fight ISIS. See here and here. It’s easy to find other nuanced views on this issue among people who are said to be libertarian and may even label themselves as such. And then there are people like Richard Epstein who are not libertarians but who claim to understand when “hard-core libertarians” are saying things about ISIS that he says are “totally inconsistent with libertarian principles.”
Much of what is written by self-labeled libertarians and about libertarians by non-libertarians is nonsense, especially when it’s
in favor of bombing ISIS or intervening in some foreign land. If these writers seriously want to understand the libertarian views on intervention, they will make an excellent start by reading chapter 14 of Murray Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto.” In fact, read the whole book.
He concludes “To conclude our discussion, the primary plank of a libertarian foreign policy program for America must be to call upon the United States to abandon its policy of global interventionism: to withdraw immediately and completely, militarily and politically, from Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, from everywhere.”
Rothbard points out that isolationism, invented as a pejorative term, is actually more internationalist than the policy of one state intervening overseas to further its own views and interests. A unipolar world is more nationalistic than a multipolar world. Neutrality and isolationism have multipolarity as the alternative to superpower dominance, empire and U.S. global hegemony. Part of that multipolarity is for nations and states in different regions, like the Middle East, to settle their own differences as best they can without the injection of U.S. pressures, aid, inducements and military forces. It’s up to countries and peoples in the Middle East to deal with ISIS, not the U.S. and not with the U.S. military as an active participant, through its navy, its air force, its drones, its mercenaries, its advisers, its special forces, its marines or its army.
Those who favor attacking ISIS will surely point to the evils it has perpetrated and cry for U.S. action. The libertarian view articulated by Rothbard is clear. The U.S. should withdraw immediately and completely from the region. Better late than never.
What? Don’t fight the evil? Yes, don’t fight it. Why not? Rothbard’s prescription for non-intervention and neutrality grows directly out of his detailed libertarian analysis of the U.S. history of interventions and empire given in that chapter and elsewhere. Rothbard gives argument after argument as to why libertarianism is against intervention. He analyzes U.S. imperialism and he is completely against it. The libertarian position on U.S. intervention against ISIS is crystal clear: NO. Not intervening against it should be part of complete and immediate U.S. withdrawal from every foreign country. This position arises out of the more general anti-state position that Rothbard develops.
Those so-called libertarians, or critics of libertarianism who wish to smear it, or those who do not understand it and equate it with pacifism — all of these who support U.S. intervention against ISIS on grounds of battling an evil or a big potential evil are all badly confused and ignorant. They haven’t read or understood Rothbard and libertarianism; if they have, they’ve misread him. Being anti-state doesn’t leave room for supporting the state as a slayer of evil forces, evil states, evil empires, or evils in general. There is no such thing as a good state in libertarianism, and supporting a state in its imperial quests will only enhance its power to deliver evil itself. One may not necessarily believe that the best state is a dead state, as Rothbard does; but libertarianism still means that the better state is the smaller state. As Rothbard writes “Pending the dissolution of States, libertarians desire to limit, to whittle down, the area of government power in all directions and as much as possible.” That’s the basic reason for non-intervention.
This position carries with it a basic view that it’s better to let others deal with an organization like ISIS than to continue to support the growth of U.S. government power as it makes effort after effort to stamp out various people, situations and organizations that it tags as evil. The support for this position is very substantial, in my view, but that conclusion rests on how one reads and understands the record of past U.S. interventions and wars. Rothbard examines that record.
Since his death in 1995, has the U.S. record with respect to intervention improved? It’s unbelievably bad! Wars started and lost, men and women destroyed, whole countries ruined and left to civil conflicts, refugee populations created, huge debts accumulated, civil liberties undermined at home, travel freedom and the enjoyment of public spaces wrecked, a huge spying apparatus, a cowed public, wall to wall propaganda, and a police state.
ISIS is a recent phenomenon. In my opinion, the American public is ill-informed about its origins and why it has arisen. It doesn’t understand its goals or why it has been succeeding in getting recruits. It doesn’t understand its bluster and its limitations. It knows better its threats and video. It knows better what politicians have said about it. Obama will find support for his new war and a new intervention despite the horrible record of past interventions and their contributions to causing more terrorists and more terrorism.
Recent polls on ISIS that are supportive of U.S. war against ISIS suggest that the American public doesn’t know the sorry record of U.S. interventions, doesn’t care or regards it as of little consequence. War-weariness may have been set aside for the moment. However, one can not rely on polls, because the questions they ask are shorn of context and do not allow for a consideration of costs of a policy. One cannot trust polls that are taken immediately after some gruesome video achieves wide circulation. One can’t trust polls that ask simple-minded or biased questions. One can’t go by polls taken of an ill-informed and misinformed public.
The libertarian position on intervention is uncompromising. It calls for complete and immediate U.S. withdrawal of the U.S. from foreign countries, the very opposite of further interventions. It cannot be stated too strongly that the U.S. anti-terror wars have stimulated the growth of organizations like ISIS.
The above originally appeared at

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