More Timely Than Ever!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More on Barnett

Randy Barnett's "libertarian" defense of the Iraq war -- and imperial war generally -- was so much balderdash that it can't be covered in a single post. So I'll probably come back to it again in the coming days. My first post, while worthwhile in my opinion, was more complex than necessary, because here's one of the chief points of his article:
[L]ibertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack.
But they sure as hell tell us what constitutes inappropriate "self-defense" after an attack. Such as: don't commit mass murder, don't destroy a people's infrastructure so they will die of starvation and disease, and don't violate the rights of the people allegedly being defended. The principles also provide guidance in how to avoid attacks and the need for self-defense in the first place. Such as: Don't prop up and arm dictators, don't overthrow elected regimes, don't aid those who oppress others, don't go out of your way to acquire enemies, etc. etc. etc.

Come to think of it, a libertarian can get quite a lot of foreign-policy guidance from his first principles. If he's really interested in trying.


Anonymous said...

I was waiting for you to comment when I saw the article. I am glad you did.

Matt Zwolinski said...

Hi Sheldon,

I think that's a nice insight about dialectical vs. a priori views of libertarianism. In my own discipline, philosophy, libertarianism is almost universally identified with Robert Nozick, and hence with the set of propositions that can be deduced, a priori, from self-ownership. Of course, almost *nothing* of interest can be deduced a priori from self-ownership. (What, after all, does self-ownership tell us about riparian rights?) And so libertarianism as a philosophical doctrine is dismissed.

Like you, then I think it's much better to see libetarianism as a set of policy recommendations that are grounded in a whole host of consideratinos - some a priori commitments to the value of self-ownership, some empircally grounded economic considerations, some historical, etc. It's the diversity of reasons that can be brought to libertarianism's defense that makes the theory as rich as it is.

Mike said...

Seems Barnett is taking a Randian view point, like Wally Conger pointed out yesterday, rather than strictly Libertarian.

He wouldn't be the first person, sadly, to confuse the tow philosophies.


Anonymous said...

Bravo Sheldon! Well said. A Randian hyper-rationalist trying to define libertarian foreign policy on the head of a pin.

One wonders where (or how) to begin a refutation: the war against Mexico, or Spain, or the countless occupations of Latin America before WW2; then the big two WWs which were the nail in the coffin of liberty; the defeats in Korea and Vietnam, not to mention the scores of other interventions, assassinations, inteference in electons in the Third World since 1945.

And then we come to Chalmers Johnson's idea of "blowback" where the American interventionist chickens suddenly come home to roost. Well the chickens are certainly flocking home to roost now, aren't they? What Randy seems to want is a battery chicken farm in the Middle East so that there will be blowback for generations to come.

Sheldon Richman said...

I appreciate all the comments. It is urgent that we not let Barnett's position be taken as "the libertarian" position.

His article can be demolished even without getting into libertarianism. If you are concerned about jihad, why would you invade a secular, westernized Arab country that was a barrier to both al Qaeda and Iran? Makes no sense unless you want a pretext for a long-term imperial presence in the region.

Anonymous said...

"It is urgent that we not let Barnett's position be taken as "the libertarian" position."

The nail on the head.

This is all about co-opting the word "libertarian," just as the word "liberal" was corrupted by FDR worshipers.

Whomever controls the language, controls the debate.

Anonymous said...

What especially irks me is that Barnett runs a website dedicated to individualist anarchist Lysander Spooner. I think Spooner had a few things to say about the War Between the States.