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Sep 13, 2004 6:52 am

Libertarian Hawks?

David Beito has commented on Thomas Paine within the context of the discussion over libertarianism and imperialism. I agree with David’s comments and would like to add a few notes.

Paine was a classical liberal in the Lockean tradition. Basic to his ideology was the notion that Nature had endowed everyone with individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that they had a right to overthrow governments that failed to protect these rights.

In addition, in ways similar to Albert Jay Nock, Franz Oppenheimer, and many others, Paine believed in an essential conflict between State and Society. The State was a parasitical class that used war and taxation to exploit the productive classes of Society. Paine advocated war against Britain in 1776 in these terms. American society had to fight to stop its exploitation by the British state.

Paine believed that the American Revolution had launched a new world order of peace and free trade that would sweep away an old world order of war and mercantilism. Oppressed peoples would rise up against their rulers and replace monarchies with democratic republics. Vigorous international trade would bring the world into harmony through the invisible hand of the marketplace. Private enterprise and free labor would create abundance, and society would provide for the needs of the poor.

In the 1770s and 1780s, Paine believed that the mere existence of the American model would bring about this new world order, and to him the early stages of the French Revolution confirmed his view. By 1792, however, while residing in Paris and serving in the National Convention, he started becoming more aggressive. He eventually began to call for French military campaigns intended to impose republican institutions on Continental peoples. In the late 1790s, he worked closely with Napoleon and the Directory on plans to invade England and place himself and three others in command of his homeland. In America from 1802 until his death in 1809, he bitterly denounced the Federalists and recklessly encouraged the Republicans to make war on England. Thomas Paine envisioned a world of perpetual peace among nations, but he usually advocated warfare as the means to fulfill this millennial dream.

In short, by the 1790s, Paine believed that republics should launch wars to impose their political model on others.

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Kenneth R Gregg - 9/13/2004

There are several books available on the Filibusters. Following the American Revolution, there were numerous attempts up and down the American (and South American)coastline and a few interior ones where American revolutionaries attempted to form states which would either ally themselves with the United States or apply for membership into the U.S. of A.

Some were successful, many were not. Some people looked at the Carribean as an "American Lake", others to form states within the interior continent. The bulk were driven by the Jeffersonian vision of an "Empire of Freedom".

Just a thought.
Just Ken
Ken Gregg

Aeon J. Skoble - 9/13/2004

I'm always a little bemused by the use of "imposing" with respect to freedom. The idea that it's an imposition to topple a dictatorship and replace it with a free-ish republic presupposes that dicatorships have some sort of right to exist in the first place, or that its subjects tacitly consent to it, neither of which is true.