Thursday, August 17, 2006

Some Tough Questions

I believe most people accept the fundamental premises of classical liberalism- that state power should only be invoked to secure the liberty of the individual. Of course, how one comes down in concrete cases will vary enormously depending on how one defines 'liberty'.

War is one case where disagreement over the how to correctly apply liberal principles can lead to very different views on the subject. I've found my libertarian instincts challenged by the question of just warfare. I've found a similar cognitive dissonance among other libertarians.

I believe this cognitive dissonance stems from the difference in the outcome (as least as libertarians see it) of the minimal state domestically and abroad. Under a minimal state, enforcing common law principles, the invisible hand is free to work its magic, and prosperity and freedom result. But what of those who remain under the heel of the state abroad? Are we indifferent to their plight? The traditionally non-interventionist position of the libertarian leads him to defend some unpopular views, such as the proposition that the Civil War and the Second World War were unjustified.

But what, so the objection goes, of the black slaves, or the murdered Jews of Europe? As unpalatable as it may be, it behooves the good libertarian to respond: But what of the millions who died fighting these wars? What of the expansion of the powers of the state they spurred?

Far be it from me to give the answer to these prickly questions (though I believe the libertarian need not provide a definitive answer). Isn't it remarkable, though, that these questions are so infrequently posed? It has become clearer to me of late that the state will always hold up lofty ideals and neglect the difficult questions to wage war. Sadly, it seems most are willing to accept this tactic.