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Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy

December 8, 2014 in Economics

By Christopher A. Preble

Christopher A. Preble

In domestic policy, libertarians tend to believe in a minimal state endowed with enumerated powers, dedicated to protecting the security and liberty of its citizens but otherwise inclined to leave them alone. The same principles should apply when we turn our attention abroad. Citizens should be free to buy and sell goods and services, study and travel, and otherwise interact with peoples from other lands and places, unencumbered by the intrusions of government.

But peaceful, non-coercive foreign engagement should not be confused with its violent cousin: war. American libertarians have traditionally opposed wars and warfare, even those ostensibly focused on achieving liberal ends. And for good reason. All wars involve killing people and destroying property. Most entail massive encroachments on civil liberties, from warrantless surveillance to conscription. They all impede the free movement of goods, capital, and labor essential to economic prosperity. And all wars contribute to the growth of the state.

An abhorrence of war flows from the classical liberal tradition. Adam Smith taught that “peace, easy taxes and a tolerable administration of justice” were the essential ingredients of good government. Other classical liberals, from Richard Cobden and John Stuart Mill to Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek, excoriated war as incompatible with liberty.

War is the largest and most far-reaching of all statist enterprises: an engine of collectivization that undermines private enterprise, raises taxes, destroys wealth, and subjects all aspects of the economy to regimentation and central planning. It also subtly alters the citizens’ view of the state. “War substitutes a herd mentality and blind obedience for the normal propensity to question authority and to demand good and proper reasons for government actions,” writes Ronald Hamowy in The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. He continues, “War promotes collectivism at the expense of individualism, force at the expense of reason, and coarseness at the expense of sensibility. Libertarians regard all of those tendencies with sorrow.”

Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman stated the issue more succinctly. “War is a friend of the state,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle about a year before his death. “In time of war, government will take powers and do things that it would not ordinarily do.”

It is wrong to equate engagement with global military dominance and perpetual warfare.”

The evidence is irrefutable. Throughout human history, government has grown during wartime, rarely surrendering its new powers when the guns fall silent.

Some might claim that a particular threat to freedom …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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