September 23, 2004

· Philosophy

I agree with Matt. Jacob Levy’s defense of the possibility of Libertarian Hawkishness is coherent and even forceful in the context of the Afghanistan war, but Belle backed down too soon. It’s just not plausible to construe libertarianism as really being about massive, state-sponsored,[1] centrally-planned,[2] militarily-administered[3] efforts to invade and reconstruct another country—let alone to imply that libertarians are by temperament the kind of people who are confident that enterprises like this usually succeed as planned. So, I think Schmibertarians could adopt as their anthem a slightly modified version of Randy Newman’s song The World Isn’t Fair. It’s about Karl Marx, which doesn’t seem promising for Schmibertarians with aggressive foreign policies.[4] But consider:

Oh Karl the world isn’t fair It isn’t and never will be. They tried out your plan It brought misery instead, If you’d seen how they worked it You’d be glad you were dead. Just like I’m glad I’m living in the land of the free, Where the rich just get richer And the poor you don’t ever have to see—It would depress us, Karl. Because we care That the world still isn’t fair.

Just replace ‘Karl’ with ‘Bob’ and “they” with “we” and you’re set. Sure, Iraq was run by a wholly evil despot before. But so what? After all, who if not libertarians can we depend on to remind us that the world isn’t fair, your plan brought misery instead, and that you’re just wasting your time—and probably making things worse—by initiating some Grand State Scheme to control unemployment, the market for rental accommodation, civilian air traffic or infant polio. This argument scales up to things like the forcible invasion, occupation and political reconstruction of faraway countries. Given that the country posed no credible threat to the U.S., Libertarians ought to have opposed the war and especially the subsequent occupation in Iraq. And indeed many of them did.

fn1. That is, botched.

fn2. That is, botched.

fn3. That is, botched.

fn4. Note that we’re talking about the Schmibertarians of Samizdata here, not Jacob Levy of the University of Chicago.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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