In Defense of Libertarian Imperialism

(Cross-posted from

Many libertarians, after Rothbard, start from the (correct) assumption that one's government is one's first and most direct enemy, to the conclusion that one should always side with the enemies of one's current oppressor. Rothbardians have thus prolificly denounced the US and supported its enemies in its hot and cold wars with National Socialist Germany, International Socialist Russia, Communist China, North Korea, North Vietnam, National Islamist Iran or Iraq, etc.

Of course, applying the same "logic", the respective citizens of those countries whose government are in conflict with USG should in turn support the US government in its fight against their own — if only their own government wouldn't murder them immediately at the mere utterance of such a support. And to take this line of reasoning to its conclusion, a Pole in 1939 should have supported Hitler and Stalin as opponents to his current oppressive government.

A "logic" that reaches different conclusions for different people is actually not a logic. It's polylogism, a fallacy of double standards, a rhetorical device to back whichever absurdity one fancies. Moreover, underlying this fallacy, we see another typical case where people who should know better fall into an accounting fallacy: just because a current oppressor is identified (current account negative) current non-oppressors (current account zero) are considered a better alternative as part of an unrelated future choice between oppressors.

"There are two kinds of pacifists: those who try to disarm the aggressors, and those who try to disarm the victim." At the margin, you may only have the choice between two oppressors. Making this economic (moral) choice about the future based on a historical accounting of one's past personal relationship with them is completely stupid and baseless. The enemy of your current oppressor may oppress you far more than said current oppressor if he wins, not to speak of his current victims, as Hitler and Stalin may have amply demonstrated to the hypothetical Pole who would have believed the rothbardian argument.

Some oppressors are objectively better than others. And one should support the better oppressors against the worse oppressors, whichever of them is currently oppressing one. For all its warts, the corrupt US-backed South Vietnamese regime was better than the wanton mass-murdering Russia-backed North Vietnam, and should have been supported in its war of defense against the communist aggressor. The wanton mass-murdering Russia-backed North Vietnam itself was better than the outright genocidal China-backed khmer rouge, and should have been supported in its war of aggression against that regime. The latter regimes were no less imperialist than the previous for being backed by Russia or China rather than the US or France; but they were much less libertarian.

Similarly, for all the crimes committed by their men, the British and French Colonial Powers should have been supported in their conquests of barbarian and totalitarian powers that previously existed in Africa, India, Vietnam, etc. In all those countries, colonial oppression may have been a bad thing, pre-colonial oppression was worse, and so was post-colonial oppression. The regimes that were toppled by colonial imperialists were never peaceful to their own people, and had no "right" to remain in place. The offenses they committed against their later victors may have been large (as in the case of systematic muslim raping enslavers around the mediterranean sea) or comparatively trifling (as in the case of various disputes with european merchants or missionaries); they were often reason enough to wage war, and even when not, the new conqueror had no less right to rule than the previous one; only more so for his more liberal laws.

But apparently, to the racists who call themselves anti-colonialists, the color of the skin of the ruler matters more than whether he's an honest, competent administrator or a corrupt wanton mass-murderer. And so the racists and leftists from the Western Establishment, after conquering the University, the main-stream media and the public administrations, have managed to push for local brown-faced mass-murderers to replace rather honest white administrators everywhere that a colonial power once existed, tamed after its initial bloody installation. Worse, they have successfully disarmed and embargoed those who were resisting communism in Russia, China, Vietnam and paralyzed the attempts of western reactionaries to help the victims.

Let it not be said that those of us who call for the use of force against barbarians are pro-war. The war was started long ago, and the enemies of life, property and liberty have never granted any truce even less peace, to those they seek to oppress. Those who deny property rights and claim totalitarian power over our lives are at war with us, whether their agenda is open or remains concealed behind pleas for greater "social justice" and claims of "saving the planet". They have successfully subverted many weak societies and their entryism in all venues of power is now bearing fruit even in the formerly strongest societies. Expect no mercy from these enemies. And grant them none.

The essential proficiency in political science is to distinguish friends from foes. You may be a fool and not know the difference; the enemies of liberty are quintessential political beasts and sense this difference very well. You're a fool if you believe yourself at peace with socialists, islamists and other totalitarians. You're a fool no less if you realize there is conflict but think you can bargain, negotiate or compromise your way into peace with them. Any appeasement talk with totalitarians can fool but yourself and your allies, never the enemy. Their very nature, the way and the reason they live, their deepest aspiration, their ultimate value, is to prey on producers; there is no more peace to be had with them than with the plague. If you're waiting for men in black to knock at your door before you realize these men are at war with you, you're a pretty useless ally in this war; you're just another of these "useful idiots" as Lenin called them.

Free Market defense agencies would certainly have to fight attempts by the totalitarians to seize power; meanwhile totalitarians would certainly do systematic entryism in whichever defense agencies they can to turn them into their tool. And so this eternal war will certainly continue in the Anarchy dreamed by anarcho-capitalists just as it exists now, though freedom to choose one's defender may make it easier to win that war over and over again. In any case, fighting back at the totalitarians will happen in the Free Societies of Tomorrow, and is thus certainly no crime. It thus isn't a crime now even in the Semi-Free Societies of Today, and wasn't a crime in the Semi-Free Societies of Yesterday, though those who may have waged this war may themselves not have been innocent of other lesser crimes.

However, inasmuch as there are many tyrants to be kicked out in the world today there is no more an Imperial force to kick them out and replace them with something better. Inasmuch as there are a whole lot of totalitarian activists to be crushed, there is no Imperial force to crush them and spread civilization in place of the poisons these activists spread in people's minds. "Conservatives" and "Neo-conservatives" have bitten bait, hook and line into the "progressive" ideology of Democracy, and will sacrifice all liberties on the altar of this God That Failed. They cannot replace tyranny with anything but another tyranny in foreign countries, and even at home they are part of the problem rather than the solution. Meanwhile, "progressives" and outright "socialists" continue with little impediment on their war on liberty, and there is no one to stop them, only minor hurdles that slow them down. National armies and police forces, having monopolized the defense of property rights in the last semi-free countries able to fight, are now securily controlled by enemies of liberty. The war has been waged, and it has been won by the Enemy.

But this war was waged first with ideas. The reconquest will also happen first with ideas. Before guns may speak on our side again and at long last give the totalitarians a taste of their own medecine, we have a long way to go. Happily, modern technology makes it easier than ever for ideas to spread; and so, we must wage the war with ideas, with faith that it is precisely what makes our ideas good that will make them prevail in the end.

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Confused by your title

Is your title irony, or are you suggesting that it takes an empire of libertarians to defeat a tyrannical empire?

Almost by the definition of empire (as a centrally controlled State so large as to rule a wide geography), I would expect that most empires have either been defeated through distributed attacks by a plethora of opponents, or have collapsed under their own weight.

At least, this is true of hegemonic empires. Smaller States with imperial aspirations have been defeated or otherwise subsumed into larger empires. As you seem to suggest, though, this typically leaves the ruled in a worse situation once the dust has settled.

Well Stated!

In another guise I have been deemed a warmonger for making similar observations. I found the LP's pronouncements on foreign policy most troubling when I joined it back in the day. They made statements bordering on delusional in reference to the Soviet empire. If reality doesn't match the zero tax dream, then ignore reality.

Here's the extra disturbing bit, one I may write a post on in the future: national defense is a public good. If my neighbor contributes to the local SDI network, I benefit whether I contribute or not. National defense is THE area where democracy, or even monarchy, beats the anarchy described in The Machinery of Freedom. It's a rather important issue.

Offense, on the other hand, can be a private good. If we consider the propery of a tyrannical government to be stolen goods, a liberator could ethically take a commission when liberating said goods and returning them to rightful owners. A libertarian offense agency might well make a profit overthrowing Castro in return for some beach front for development. Offense for profit has precedent. William the Conqueror leafletted northern France in search of knights for his invasion. The Vikings also did offense for a profit.

Libertarian offense agencies would be a bit more constrained than the Vikings, of course. But the opportunity is there.

After libertarian offense agencies have rid the world of tyrants, anarcho-capitalism might have a chance of working.

Hear, hear

I also share much of Faré’s view here.

For some people, libertarianism is an ethic, a guide for personal behavior, a personal religion of blamelessness. To the extent that this ethic acknowledges the existence of other people at all, it suggests that other people would live an optimal life if everyone adopted a similar ethic. People who embrace this ethic disparage questions about strategies and tactics for modifying OTHER people’s behavior; that defeats the purpose of libertarianism. Governments can never be agents of autonomy; they are nothing more than organized crime syndicates. Yet the value of this ethic can only be appreciated metaphysically, not empirically, because there’s overwhelming empirical evidence that most people will NOT refrain from coercion, thus nullifying much of the ethic’s value in practice.

For other people, libertarianism is an ideal toward which to strive, but never to be actually achieved in toto. To these people, questions of strategy and tactics for actually achieving social change are paramount. Governments may indeed be understood as both an organized crime syndicate AND a tool for autonomy. Governments, like organized crime syndicates, have a strong interest in promoting the prosperity of the territory they control, and people in any given territory may well value having a government/syndicate around – to guard against the predations of worse governments/syndicates. As Churchill remarked, democracy is the worst form of government ever devised – except for all the others. The role of government is to displace those others.

Now, I acknowledge that there may be many practical reasons for avoiding coercion and empire. But, because I find no moral imperative to refrain from using coercion against those who use coercion, I remain open to discussions about strategic and tactical use of coercion to advance the cause of autonomy.

"Public good" schmublic good

The whole concept of "public good" is bullshit. See my essay public good fallacies. So what if the poor benefit from defense set up by the rich? Who's exactly to complain about that?

I totally agree about libertarian offense agencies. The day that the "Neutrality Act" is repelled, I'll chip in a few thousand dollars for the toppling of the lowest hanging tyrant -- just to make sure he hangs off the ground.

PS: You're the Lenin of Liberty. I want to be the Stalin of Pacifism, the Hitler of Multiculturalism, and the Napoleon of isolationism. Maybe also the Genghis Khan of Gardening, the Ramses II of Microarchitecture.

I also agree with the idea

I also agree with the idea and implementation of Libertarian Offense Agencies. What recourse would the libertarians that do not agree with us do about this offense organization? their interpretation of the NAP would prevent them from "taking care of us".

Unfortunately I wouldnt have a couple grand to donate, but I would certainly volunteer to go over with all my nice toys and private sector training to help make sure Castro hangs, in person.

Glad to see some fellow realists when it comes to defense.

In liberty,
Sv. S.Elmo

PS. I have bookmarked your Public Goods Fallacies document, I shall read it before I return to work on Monday. It has enticed me with the title and subtitle alone!

Libertarian Offense Agencies

Remember that if the "Neutrality Act" is repelled, and Foreign Aggression is thus privatized, you'll be a few thousand dollar richer just in not having to fund the President's choice of foreign aggression and its pathetic bureaucratic implementation.

PS: if you read this article, you might be drawn into reading the essay from which it is extracted, "Government is the Rule of Black Magic"...

National defense is THE area

National defense is THE area where democracy, or even monarchy, beats ... anarchy

Which is why the biggest imperial army on the planet so easily defeats dispersed opponents in Afghanistan, Somalia, Viet Nam...


And these dispersed opponents effectively repelled the U.S. military. WRONG! They took years to wear us down, in the meantime utterly failing to "defend" their populations against the U.S. Defense was underproduced.


Respectfully I must posit that the resistance fighters in Afghanistan had been fighting an insurrection against foreign occupiers, not attempting to repel an invasion force. This, I believe, is a very important distinction when considering "diffuse resistance".

It is illegal under US law

It is illegal under US law to supply arms to a person outside the US without permission from the US government AND the government of that person. Regardless of how oppressive and evil that foreign government may be. Foreign rebels are sometimes given weapons by FedGov but only rarely and in small quantities. What is the reason for these restrictions? FedGov is exactly the same type of oppressor as other governments. (Perhaps slightly more lenient but still of a type.) All governments fear above all things the unbridled possession of arms by their subjects. Governments may ban or allow different things in different countries but not one will allow stinger type missiles to be freely purchased by civilians.

Externalities again

I was hoping someone would bring this up! I’ve been pondering it as the US is prosecuting US kids from Somalia that have returned to their home country to fight in, basically, a civil war.

There is a long tradition of people voluntarily taking up arms against a foreign foe. At least by some accounts the word “private” derives from “privateer,” – a pirate that plunders ships from other nations on his own initiative, but then may well receive the sanction of his home state. Foreigners famously came to fight at the side of US colonists during our own revolutionary war. And US citizens flocked to Spain to join the “Lincoln Brigades” in opposing the fascist Franco. So I have reservations about the US practice of clamping down on the actions of private citizens in foreign jurisdictions. And yet....

As much as I value the concept of autonomy, I can’t ignore the reality of externalities. In particular, I can’t ignore the fact that the acts of any individual can provoke a war – a war that will have consequences for many third parties. Following the attack of 9/11, the US, as agent for those who were attacked, sought recompense (or retribution) against the attackers who happened to live in Afghanistan. The Afghan government and the vast majority of Afghanis were mere bystanders, yet they have incurred great (and foreseeable) harm in the ensuring war.

Given this dynamic, do you as a private citizen have a legitimate interest in controlling my actions that might foreseeably provoke a conflict with others that could affect you? I grudgingly concede that you do. But I’m curious to hear other people’s thoughts.

Anti-colonialism has always had a whiff of racism to me

The quality of the rulers never seemed to matter; only the color of their skin. If a benign ruler was the wrong race, he had to be replaced.

Racism, personal preference and public opinion

This one’s tough. Yes, racism influences the anti-colonial movement. Moreover, “identify politics” is a never-ending pit. Hutu vs. Tootsi, N. Korean vs. S. Korean, Irish Protestants vs. Catholics, Army vs. Navy, Kappa Kappa Kappa vs. Sigma Pi Gnu, Star-Bellied Snitchs vs. Snitches with no Stars upon Thars – you can always find an excuse for sowing divisions if you want to.

Yet racism is also just another form of personal preference. I may not share the preference for being governed by someone who looks/talks/acts/shares the same religion as I do, but that fact does not negate the fact that other people have different preferences.

Assuming that it is foreseeable that people have this preference, then I would be foolish to ignore it. In any attempt to install a ruler that has a different demographic profile from the majority of the citizens, I must be persuaded that the good the ruler can accomplish will offset the friction that will inevitably result.

I much prefer Obama to Bush, but that race issue was (and is) always on my mind.

We need colonialism, not just imperialism.

This essay, while very true, fails to pay attention to the extent to which state production of violence is counterproductive and ineffectual.

Our installation of Karzai depressingly resembles Charlemagne’s assistance to Ibn al Arubi, which blew up in his face as our support of Karzai is blowing up in our face.

When Israel removed the settlers from Gaza, rockets followed. Therefore, when the settlers were present, they were suppressing rockets. Israeli government suppression of rockets eventually succeeded, but it was far more bloody and expensive, and considerably less effectual.

We never got anywhere in the war with the Barbary pirates till the French started settling their lands. Until the colonialists arrived, the Barbary pirates would just surrender, then promptly unsurrender.

Similarly, if we observe successful imperial rulers such as Rhodes and Raffles, we observe that they were classic stationary bandits, who pillaged the locals pretty severely, but they not only did a better job than the native stationary bandits they replaced, but also did a better job than the non bandit London bureaucrats who replaced them.

Bad Use of Polylogism

"A 'logic' that reaches different conclusions for different people is actually not a logic. It's polylogism, a fallacy of double standards..."

This may be foolish, but there's nothing illogical or polylogistic about it. "Be nicer to others than to yourself," say, demands you be nicer to me and I to you... but so what? Logical statements can take account of context.

POlylogism would be something like, "Europeans should hate their own governments, but Asians should love theirs, because Asians have a more subservient mentality than Europeans."