A Libertarian Error

In response to early comments on my previous article entitled “Iran: A Legacy of Failure”, I was presented with a number of challenges to my basic argument that were worthy of response— not for their intellectual merit, but for their popularity and the danger that they pose. They are fallacies of the typically libertarian¹ variety that forbid their adherents from comprehending the nature of a truly rational American foreign policy. Libertarians, though generally quite masterful in economics, are so dogmatically predisposed to an anti-governmental spirit that they are prone to indulge in the philosophical vice of rationalism, by which they begin with their conclusions ready-made and attempt the unseemly task of working backwards to establish reasons for the contentions which they have already sworn to uphold. Never is this more true than in the subject of defense and military ventures. To lend context to this explication, I will, for the uninitiated, generally summarize my argument made in the article in question:

Since 1979, the United States has endured untold losses of life among its citizens and military personnel through a campaign of deliberate and systematic aggression by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Any one of these acts of force individually— and certainly when viewed in full context— should, by rational standards, be recognized as a unilateral war waged against the United States by the nation of Iran. The failure by six presidential administrations to recognize and effectively eliminate that threat constitutes a failure to defend American citizens’ rights to life. This tradition, I contend, is continued in the current reluctance of this administration to face the imminent and very real threat of a nuclear Iran.

It is evidence of the total divorcing of philosophical principles from such issues that anyone could dispute such reasoning. As argument, they contend that my viewpoint entails either (1) an advocacy of preemption, or (2) a violation of the policy of non-interventionism as supported by the Founding Fathers. It is neither.

To characterize any advocacy of military action against Iran today as preemption requires the evasion of thirty years of continued brutality. The case which I have made should be sufficient to establish that pattern of behavior, but if further evidence is required, I recommend to the reader Winning the Unwinnable War, edited by Elan Journo. That volume firmly establishes all necessary evidence to prove the existence of more than three decades of unilateral war having been waged against the West by Islamic totalitarianism, with Iran as violator-in-chief. However, playing devil’s advocate and presuming the fantasy that this campaign of aggression against the West was non-existent, the critics still remain severely deluded about the nature of preemption. Their confusion arises from a misconception of what constitutes the initiation of force. By their estimation, if one man declares himself the mortal enemy of another, announces his intention to do his adversary harm, and commences to arm himself, the aggressed does not hold the right to act in response until such time as physical violence has already been done against him. No such morality can claim to be life-promoting, self-interested, or supportive of individual rights. Such a belief requires that a man, in order to secure his own physical safety, be telepathic or omniscient. That is, it requires of him the impossible. Morality, however, applies only to the realm of man’s knowledge. It is, thus, incumbent upon the individual— or the nation— to objectively and by a process of rational evaluation determine when its well-being is threatened. The concrete, particular standards for what constitutes the initiation of force— that is, for what action is necessary or sufficient to merit action in defense of one’s life or the lives of citizens— is not a philosophical consideration, but a matter of policy which should be carefully considered by the individual or nation on its own behalf. However, suffice it to say that the back-swing of a barbarian’s club, the cocking of a mugger’s gun, and the enrichment of uranium by a malicious tyrant is just as surely an act of aggression as the follow-through, the pulling of the trigger, or the planting of a nuclear weapon in a metropolitan area. So much for the accusation of preemption.

The suggestion that what I am proposing is in any way a violation of the Founders’ principle of non-interventionism has even less intellectual merit and shows the common misconception of that principle even by some of its alleged proponents. The principle of non-interventionism and the desire to avoid “foreign entanglements”, as Washington called them, were never intended as an endorsement of the pacifism which some libertarians have attempted to connote from the founding documents. Rather, the principle which the Founders advocated was that the well-being of the nation was best served by the avoidance of unnecessary involvement in conflicts between two foreign nations or between the people and government of a single foreign nation— not to suggest, when the United States is faced with a series of egregious acts of force against its military and civilians, that it should be reluctant to respond in its own defense. To the contrary, it was by their will to rebuke a string of injustices done by a distant aggressor that we are not British subjects today.

It is worthy of reiteration that the evasions and distortions at work in the objections cited here are scarcely worthy of full consideration. They are irrationally devised, dogmatically held, and intellectually bankrupt. I have responded to them for two reasons: (1) their commonality among some advocates of small government and (2) those advocates’ posturing as defenders of individual rights or, as they more broadly term it, “liberty”. It is by consideration of popular arguments such as these that I come to believe that any man who wishes to stand for the defense of individual rights must be as scrutinizing of those within his own ranks as he would be of his antithesis. There is some political value in the solidarity desired by those who say that advocates of limited government should stand together in times such as these, setting aside personal differences in a time of crisis. However, the nature of one’s basic philosophy vastly supersedes all alliances of convenience, and if we are not scrupulous in our treatment of the intellectual culture among us and if we resolve to value unity above reason, we risk the perils of becoming unified upon as immoral a set of tenets as any statist or collectivist. Of what use is common ground if that ground is infertile? Of what use is a consensus of the irrational?

¹ I do not apply this term, “libertarian”, as loosely or generally as it is often applied by critics or its adherents themselves. I speak only of what I observe to be a pervasive trend within that ideology and make full allowances for those among its adherents who hold different beliefs.

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