Richard Ebeling emails:
I participated in the January 4, 2017 “Libertarian Angle,” podcast sponsored by the Future of Freedom Foundation, with the Foundation’s president, Jacob G. Hornberger, on the topic: “Nonintervention.”
The seeming hysteria heard from both modern American liberals and conservatives about Donald Trump’s declared intention of reining back from as “activist” an interventionist foreign policy as in the past has raised fears of the return to American “isolationism” from the world.
First, the fears are clearly misplaced since president-elect Trump has made it clear that he does not advocate ending America’s political alliances with other nations or propose bringing the troops home from around the world. He only wants to cut better “deals” under which nations in alliance with the U.S. pay more for the costs of such alliances and any foreign military interventions should be more narrowly serving America’s “national interest,” – which, of course, all depends what is defined as in America’s “national interest,” and in whose eyes, which clearly means Trump’s.
Classical liberals and libertarians have never advocated “isolationism” from the world. This is merely a misplaced and pejorative term meant to discredit those who question and challenge the legitimacy and efficacy of America’s self-chosen role as policeman of the world and presumed guardianship of international order.
Friends of freedom have always taken a “cosmopolitan” view of human affairs and viewed borders and boundaries on political maps of the world as lines drawn in the past as the result of war, plunder, princely marriages or various accidents of history.
For the classical liberal such borders and boundaries are, in a free society, merely administrative demarcations for the securing of the individual rights of and the enforcement of justice for the respective citizens of various countries.
Beyond this, government leaves “international affairs” to private decisions of the citizens of each country. And by “international affairs” I mean the decision as to whether or not to buy from or sell to one’s own countrymen or those in other lands. Similarly, where to invest, trade, travel, reside or visit is, in a free society, a matter of each individual’s respective personal and private decision concerning what seems more profit, advantageous, desirable and enjoyable.
The world should be bound together not through political or military alliances between governments, but through the global social systems of economic, cultural and scientific divisions of labor from which and through which people’s everywhere gain from interactions with their fellow human beings regardless of where they work and reside on the planet, as opportunities for mutual betterment offer themselves and are freely and peacefully chosen and entered into.
What classical liberals and libertarians have traditionally opposed are government political and military interventions around the world, including by the United States government. Virtually all the reasons why friends of freedom oppose domestic government interventionism in social and economic affairs apply in the arena of foreign affairs.
First, it reflects the social engineering mentality extended abroad with the attempt to undertake nation building or nation remaking. Here is the political paternalist extending his confidence and hubris of knowing how to plan, direct and manage the lives of others in society to those living in other countries even more thousands of miles away from the social engineer’s seat of power.
It requires the sacrificing of the fortunes and too often the lives of the American people to fund or fight in wars and conflicts that have little or nothing to do with the legitimate role of government to protect the lives and property of the citizens from foreign aggressors.
Indeed, many if not most of the horrific acts of terrorism that have struck the United States or its allies are, themselves, a reflection of the American government picking sides to support or oppose and overthrow in disputes and conflicts in other countries. The old adage says: “the friend of my enemy is my enemy.” Whenever the government intervenes in the affairs of another country there is little way for it not to make enemies of all those in dispute or conflict with the side receiving American governmental support.
Furthermore, the backlash of terrorism in response to America’s global political and military outreach, especially in the Middle East, has then served as the rationale and justification of the loss of freedom at home in the name of “homeland security.” To “protect” the citizens from the violence of political and religious fanatics abroad, the U.S. government asserts the need and responsibility to intrude into the private and personal affairs and communications of virtually the entire population of the world. Domestic surveillance and intrusion into the nooks and crannies of everyone’s everyday life become part of the price for America to play political and military paternalistic master of the world.
What, then, about hardships, tragedies and conflicts in other parts of the world? Are American’s to do nothing? For the classical liberal and libertarian, the only appropriate answer is the right of each and every free individual to voluntarily offer their personal support to help alleviate the hardship or tragedy in a foreign land, or to offer their personal services or financial assistance to support an oppressed people from their own domestic tyrant or to fight against an aggressor invading and attempting to conquer some foreign country.
But it should not be the duty or self-appointed responsibility of one’s own government to take on this role, for to do so is for that government to threaten the lives, liberty and property of its own citizens in actions that have nothing to do with the appropriate governmental function of national defense under a regime of limited government and human liberty.