Timothy Sandefur and I have disagreed about as often as we’ve agreed, despite the fact that both of us are “libertarians.” (Sandefur is, or was, an Objectivist; I am, to use my terminology, a radical-right-minarchist.)
In any event, Sandefur and I have tended to agree about matters of defense and foreign policy. A good case in point is his post of earlier today, “Cato’s foreign policy, don’t speak up for freedom’s defenders,” in which he says:
One thing you can usually expect from the Cato Institute’s foreign policy experts is that America shouldn’t use military force to defend freedom against tyranny in other countries. While I often find myself disagreeing with that position, it’s at least one that reasonable people can take in various cases. What I find much harder to take is the idea that the United States should not even cheer on freedom’s defenders from the sidelines, or speak up for the rights of democracies to do perfectly innocent things. I noted last year Ted Galen Carpenter and Justin Logan making a really deplorable argument that it is somehow “antagonistic” to the People’s Republic of China for Taiwan to seek to change the name of its airline to “Taiwan Airlines” or to put “Taiwan” on its passports. For Carpenter to say that these things are “antagonistic” to the PRC is nothing short of taking the side of a totalitarian communist dictatorship against the perfectly legitimate rights of a democracy that has never for even a minute of its history been governed by the PRC.
Well, here we are again: Logan argues that “President Obama should keep quiet on the subject of Iran’s elections.” Not that the United States should hold off from intervening in any direct or military way—again, a reasonable position—or that the United States should be wary of Mousavi, who is probably not the “moderate” he’s called on CNN. No, Logan’s argument is that the United States should “keep quiet” while a totalitarian theocratic dictatorship sends its masked thugs to shoot and beat demonstrators who seek some minor degree of political freedom. This he characterizes as “narcissism,” and he ridicules the idea of “anoint[ing] from afar one side as the ‘good’”—a word he puts in scare quotes…..
How sad that libertarians, supposedly America’s most consistent defenders of liberty, are so eager to avoid the possibility of military confrontation that they will adopt and even encourage cravenness and appeasement to the egos of totalitarian dictators. We should reject that approach. John Quincy Adams famously said we were “friends of freedom everywhere; defenders only of our own.” We may disagree at times over the second half of that proposition, but we should never waver on the first.
I couldn’t put it better. Sandefur captures the outrage I felt when I read Justin Logan’s post.
Cato, for all of the wisdom it dispenses on economic matters, is institutionally stupid on matters of defense and foreign policy. Cato isn’t alone on the “libertarian” anti-war flank, which mistakes defense for aggression, and bows slavishly toward non-aggression — as if anything other than last-ditch defense is an act of aggression.
There are times when it is necessary to fight in the defense of liberty. Taking a step backward, then, a lack of preparedness can be fatal to liberty. Taking another step backward, a lack of forthrightness toward those who would “bury us” is too easily taken as a sign that we are unwilling and even unprepared to fight. (We were attacked on 9/11, in part, because bin Laden perceived us as “soft” and unwilling to defend ourselves.)
We cannot afford to let acts of tyranny slide by without a peep, nor should we if we are to stand for liberty and against tyranny. Thus Sandefur is exactly right to call out Cato in the matter of the Iranian elections.
There are several issues on which many a “libertarian” shares ground with Leftists. Defense is one of those issues. What I say in “The Media, the Left, and War” also could be said of most “libertarians.” See also “Parsing Political Philosophy,” where I point out the similarity of left-minarchists (a.k.a. left-libertarians) to left-statists (a.k.a. “liberals”).
Finally, I should note that I have taken to putting “libertarian(s)” and “libertarianism” in quotation marks because “libertarianism” — in its internet-dominant strains (anarchist and left-minarchist) — is a recipe for the destruction of civil society, and thence the ascension of a truly oppressive regime. For more on the fatuousness of the dominant strains of “libertarianism,” see “On Liberty” and “The Meaning of Liberty.”
I have posted before on the obdurate, head-in-the-sand, Chamberlainesque attitude exemplified by Cato and other “libertarian” organizations:
Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part I
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
More about Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
More Final(?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Thomas Woods and War
“Peace for Our Time”
How to View Defense Spending
More Stupidity from Cato
Cato’s Usual Casuistry on Matters of War and Peace