The Intralibertarian Split On War

Ilya Somin proposes a couple of theories on why people who label themselves libertarian are split on the issue of war.

I continue to be amazed at the argument put forth against the war (as seen in the comments of Ilya's post) based on simplistic moral principles such as "don't initiate force". Any careful examination of the ramifications of such principles demonstrates them to be useless at the nation-state level. They simply do not translate from the level of individuals to the level of states. There are good arguments against war, but "don't initiate force" isn't one of them.

The biographical theory is especially interesting, because contra Ilya, I don't think most libertarians truly appreciate how corrupt other nations' governments can be. They see the US government carry out a Drug War, tax up to 50% of earned income, and kill innocent people on death row. Because it causes suffering within the boundaries of the US, and because the US is the most powerful government in the world, they conclude that it must also be responsible for the suffering outside the boundaries of the US. Unless one has direct experience living under a foreign government, it's difficult to maintain perspective at the relative evils of various governments, to realize that there is a difference in living in a country where you can, without remorse, openly and publicly mock the President from 10 feet away as he sits helpless in front of millions versus living in a country where you can be whisked away and killed for passing a note in the audience during a speech given by the dictator. Someone who has lived in such a place would be less likely to be outraged by a war carried out by the US government.

I think the best argument against war, isn't really against war per se, but against nation building. If liberty depends on institutions, and if good institutions are organically evolved, it seems unlikely that simply removing the regime will result in liberty. I'm skeptical that a top-down intervention will create the robust civil societies necessary for liberalism to thrive, though I'm open to persuasion.

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I wonder if the odd

I wonder if the odd phenomenon of libertarian hawkishness has to do with machismo. It seems that high testosterone lends to the spirit of rugged individualism that in turn leads to liberatarianism (aka classic liberalism). And I've read a lot of posts from libertarian bloggers who seem to think of themselves as Tom Clancy-esque action heroes, fantasizing about what they would do if someone accosted them. Maybe at the bottom of all this rationalizing among classic liberals for the sake of such a highly illiberal concept as proactive war is basically a biochemical itch for a fight.

I wonder if the odd

I wonder if the odd phenomenon of libertarian hawkishness has to do with machismo

I don't really think you want to go there, because if we want to reduce dovishness to psychology, the result is not flattering.

I don’t really think you

I don’t really think you want to go there, because if we want to reduce dovishness to psychology, the result is not flattering.

I don't mind going there at all. I for one feel no shame in being of the non-bellicose, bookish persuasion. Perhaps it would only be unflattering to those who are particularly macho and defensive about their machismo in the first place.

Now I don't mean to oversimplify. I'm sure there are plenty of manly-man libertarians whose powers of reason outstrip their red-blooded predilections. And I'm equally sure that (typically feminine) nurturing instincts can lead irrationally to impulsive appeasement (which too can be overcome).

I'm just looking for a likely explanation for a curious trend.

Daniel , you are an English

Daniel , you are an English historian.. Ever heard of Queen Elizabeth, Queen Anne or Margaret Thatcher. Didn’t they win a few wars? Was it five, six or more?

I for one feel no shame in

I for one feel no shame in being of the non-bellicose

But just as you took it upon yourself to psychoanalyze the "hawks", the "hawks" can in all fairness take it upon themselves to psychoanalyze you, and the analysis, if they perform it, is unlikely to be "non-bellicose" and "bookish". More like, "self-loathing", "a heel" who lets others take advantage of him, etc.

Dave, Daniel , you are an

Dave,

Daniel , you are an English historian.. Ever heard of Queen Elizabeth, Queen Anne or Margaret Thatcher. Didn’t they win a few wars? Was it five, six or more?

I am no historian, just a history buff. I never said wars could not be won. My point is that proactive and corrective military operations launched from afar are generally harmful to local political order. I don't think Britain's military history disproves that.

Constant,

But just as you took it upon yourself to psychoanalyze the “hawks", the “hawks” can in all fairness take it upon themselves to psychoanalyze you, and the analysis, if they perform it, is unlikely to be “non-bellicose” and “bookish". More like, “self-loathing", “a heel” who lets others take advantage of him, etc.

Again, I don't mean to oversimplify. Machismo, among other things, contributes toward hawkishness, leading to a pattern, but not a rule. I certainly would suspect that self-loathing and heelishness are among many qualities that might contribute to reflexive passivism. I'm guessing my own opinion of the efficacy of war does not spring from that source, however. First of all, I used to generally favor American liberation wars myself. I was in favor of the Iraq invasion until recently, and even liked the idea of going into Iran. And secondly I have quite a high opinion of myself and my faculties (I've been accused of arrogance), and far from being a heel, I've told off direct supervisors on more than one occassion (not wise perhaps, but certainly not heelish).

I meant to type "pacifism",

I meant to type "pacifism", not "passivism".