Harry Browne knows how to put a guest at ease on his libertarian show on Radio America. But even a consummate gentleman like Harry can’t mask the fact that libertarians are peering at each other from behind ideological parapets.
Has Harry changed his mind about introducing me to his listeners as a pro-war-on-terror libertarian? I suspect not, although this is something I reject.
For my part, I put down Harry’s perception of my opinion to a pacifism that mars the thinking of many a libertarian of the anarchist persuasion. While neither one of us has budged in his view of the other, we both unite in condemning those self-appointed High Priests of libertarianism, who arrogate to themselves the duty to decide who among us is a libertarian mongrel or thoroughbred.
A theme that runs through Harry’s writings is that using retaliatory or defensive force is never a good thing. The belief that retaliatory or defensive violence is always unproductive is, to my mind, a permutation of pacifism – it’s certainly a progressive view, one which was reiterated by a vehement caller to the show. He also thundered into my e-mail box a string of the most unthinking commonplaces of the times: “Violence begets violence, compassion begets compassion and mercy begets mercy.”
Proportional and reasonable punishment is part of justice. Can justice be violent? It indeed can, especially if in response to violence. If anything, failing to punish wrongdoing serves to turn the moral order topsy-turvy, most likely further reinforcing violence.
The political philosophy known as classical liberalism or libertarianism, which is concerned with the ethics or proper use of force, represents the best the West has to offer. Expounded so magnificently by Ludwig von Mises – who was not an anarchist – classical liberalism aims at peace and co-operation within and between nations. And what can be finer than men who understand that, for its survival, civilization depends on the increasing division of labor and the peaceful exchange of goods between individuals and nations alike, and that, for this to occur, force against person or property can be justified only in defense or retaliation?
There is no finer idea than that. Except when the libertarian abstracts himself from reality, and loses the courage of the libertarian founding fathers to defend hearth and home.
The instinct for self-preservation seems to have been bred out of – or was always lacking in – many a libertarian man. There is something profoundly unrobust about men who, at this stage, express doubts about the guilt of Osama bin Laden, but are all too ready to impute evil to American soldiers, and who express a genteel preference for serving Mr. bin Laden with a subpoena.
Myself, I’d like to see bin Laden executed like the rabid dog he is. I submit that my instinct is healthier and more adaptive, at least in the evolutionary sense.
Mr. Bush’s perpetual war, however, I reject. But, whereas Harry scolds his readers for so much as entertaining the notion that a terrorist is not entitled to the protection of the Bill of Rights, I believe that eliminating the Sept. 11 conspirators and every single unreformed Jihadist is morally legitimate.
If he has committed himself to Jihad and adopted the “religion” of Jihad, a terrorist has forthwith forfeited his right to life, much less to the Bill of Rights. By committing his life to Jihad, to dedicated and ongoing murder of innocents, the career Jihadist has alienated his right to life.
Libertarians, moreover, stand to lose moral suasion and even stand accused of intellectual sloth for their refusal – under the pretense of ideological purity – to address substantive issues because the state is at the helm.
From the fact that many libertarians believe – myself included – that the state has no legitimacy, Harry and others arrive at the position that anything the state does is illegitimate. I suspect this is a logical confusion.
Consider the murderer who, while fleeing the law, happens on a scene of a rape, saves the woman, and pounds the rapist. Is this good deed illegitimate because a murderer has performed it?
It is thus legitimate, for instance, for the Rogue Rulers to reinstate the pre-1965 national-origins restrictions in immigration policy. A culturally coherent immigration policy is the logical complement to ethnic profiling. Rather than unleash his version of the Stasi secret service on loyal nationals, or terrorize foreigners abroad, the drunk-with-power president must be convinced that a defensive repelling of foreign invaders is the duty of a constitutional government.
Can libertarians be convinced?