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Earlier this week, I argued that libertarianism is wholly compatible with a nationalist policy on immigration, despite many (if not most) libertarians believing that national borders are arbitrary abridgments of the inherent right to travel, work, and settle freely. Today, I argue for why a certain kind of hawkish foreign policy is, similarly, utterly congruent with libertarianism.
It’s worth remembering that libertarianism is a political philosophy regarding the nature of the relationship between citizens and states with whom they are in political compact; a philosophy that places a high premium on individual autonomy and the enforcement of negative rights. As such the government of the United States exists for the benefit of its citizens, not those of other countries. While foreigners have the same inherent, inalienable rights as Americans, their protection is simply outside of the responsibility of the United States government.
With regard to other civilized nations — i.e., those nations who have at least a semblance of the rule of law and whose values are sufficiently in concert with our own — our federal government should seek to maintain peaceable, honorable, and open relations. Our citizens should be allowed to trade freely with theirs, and are obliged to follow their laws when visiting abroad, just as their citizens are obliged to follow our laws when here. We should seek non-aggression pacts with all who will treat us honorably, and alliances with those of good reputation whose interests align closely with our own and who can carry more than their own weight militarily.
With regard to nations that lack civilization, seek conflict with us, or simply wish us harm, however, a nationalist libertarian policy should have one overarching principle: if you lay a finger on one of our citizens — or otherwise violate their rights as we understand them — it will end badly for you. The nature, degree, and timing of your punishment will be of our choosing, and we will be less concerned about inflicting collateral damage or injustice on those around you than we will be in seeing you suffer for your wrong. Indeed, the harder you make it for us to punish you, the more likely it is that we’ll have to get sloppy about it. If that concerns you, we encourage you to reconsider your actions and refer you to infographics such as this for calm reflection.
It is of paramount importance that we avoid any policy that contradicts, impedes, or confuses this message. For instance, while the United States heartily approves of the spread of our small-l liberal principles, doing so is not a core function of our government (as John Derbyshire has put it, our government is entrusted with ensuring libertarianism in one country). Again, the United States government is not in social compact with the citizens of other nations and, therefore, does not have attending duties to them in the way it does to its own citizens.
Punitive campaigns against nations who harm their own citizens but do not otherwise affect the United States’ interests should, therefore, be avoided, unless cogent arguments can be made that failure to intervene will harm the United States. To take a recent example, consider the 2011 US bombing campaign against Muammar Gaddafi, which led directly to his overthrow and death. Stipulating that — in addition to being a world-class weirdo — Gaddafi was a wicked man whose actions against his people were in opposition to our values, and that he roundly deserved the ignominious death he soon found, libertarian nationalism would have argued strongly against our taking military action against him. Why? Because Gaddafi had been scared straight since the invasion of Iraq, dumped his weapons programs, and had, by and large, been behaving with regards to the United States and its allies ever since. This is behavior we should encourage, especially in a region where so many continue to wish us harm. Bombing Gaddafi showed others that there’s little to be gained by reforming one’s relationship with the United States, and that mistreating your own citizens is more important than threatening ours.
“Okay, Tom,” I imagine some of you may be saying. “This is all well and good, but how is it different than various strains of conservative hawkery?” First, I would say that it’s not that different; indeed, my point was less to delineate the differences between conservative and nationalist libertarian foreign policy, than to describe how the latter might work and what it would look like. That said, libertarian nationalism is a bit more cold-hearted, less interested in policing the world for its own sake, and less prone to messianic missions to bring civilization and/or freedom to the world, as typified by President Bush’s second inaugural address.
More simply, our foreign policy should be motivated solely by our interests and limited only by our morality, rather than the other way around. Judeo-Christian notions of charity, justice, self-sacrifice, and the general equality of man should be encouraged as much as possible, but cannot be the starting point in how nation states deal with belligerents and barbarians.