Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, July 24, 2006

Robert Higgs wants to expel libertarian hawks from the movement. Key paragraph:

First, what makes anybody think that the state will protect us, as distinct from the state's leaders and its apparatus of rule? For more than a century, nearly all of the U.S. government's military activities have been devoted to protecting someone or something other than you and me (or, earlier, our forebears). Spain did not threaten Americans in 1898, and the Filipinos did not threaten them between 1899 and 1902. Germany did not seriously threaten any genuine American right in 1917 – the right to travel unmolested in a war zone on munitions-laden British or French ships does not qualify, despite Woodrow Wilson's tortured logic – and the Kaiser's government made conciliatory efforts repeatedly to maintain peaceful relations with the United States from 1914 until 1917. Germany did not seek war with the United States in 1940 and 1941 (until its alliance with Japan tipped it into a declaration of war on December 11, 1941); indeed, Hitler's regime, hoping to keep the United States at bay, displayed remarkable forbearance in the face of Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempts to provoke a war-justifying naval incident in the North Atlantic. In more recent decades, North Korea, North Vietnam, Panama, Serbia, and Iraq, among others, did not threaten American rights before the U.S. government launched wars against them. If, in making war, the government intends only to protect Americans from foreigners who threaten their lives, liberties, and property here on our own territory, then we must conclude that the government has displayed astonishingly bad judgment in choosing its targets. Why would anyone want to rely on a protector who manifestly does not shoot straight?


The weak point of this argument is World War II (which the blog at Reason magazine, linking to this article, cleverly omits from the quotation). Did Hitler show "forbearance" in not letting FDR start the war in the Northern Atlantic? No; he realized he had enough on his plate without fighting the US... for the time being. After Germany had conquered Britain and Russia and absorbed them into the empire, well, that's another story.

Of course, Britain and France had also hoped that German aggression would come at someone else's expense. For a while, it did. And when the Germans attacked them, they had a lot fewer allies. Nonetheless, the conservative US Senate refused to let the US become involved, confidently predicting right up to Dec. 7, 1941 that we could be safe while the Axis overran the rest of the world.

On the morning of Pearl Harbor, isolationism was discredited for a generation, and despite a partial revival, after Vietnam the 1930s-style isolationism that insists that the US should defend only US interests, narrowly defined, has ceased to be tenable, as every other US political grouping knows. Libertarian doves linger on, in a curious time warp.

By the way, none of this has much to do with my reasons for supporting the Iraq War, or US interventionism in general. I have many faults, sins, and moral failings, but to regard the well-being of non-Americans as of zero worth is a form of immorality that does not particularly tempt me. I supported the Iraq War because it benefited Iraqis. But even if you're skeptical about altruistic foreign policy, Robert Higgs' view is unsound.

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