Blogs > Liberty and Power > Welfare and Warfare, Foreign and Domestic

Oct 17, 2004 12:05 pm

Welfare and Warfare, Foreign and Domestic

In a recent exchange here at L&P, William Marina laments the lack of"a real libertarian analysis of Empire," comparable to that offered by those of the New Left, like William Appleman Williams, and others.

I agree with Marina that a libertarian analysis of system is necessary, and I have suggested, in such books as Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, that a broader, comprehensive analysis of the workings of statism is crucial to our understanding of the current global crises. It is impossible to analyze foreign policy to the exclusion of domestic policy, or vice versa. It is crucial to understand how the system operates, and the historical conditions that have shaped it. Cliche though it may be, the past has implications for the present just as surely as the present has vast implications for the future.

It is comforting, therefore, to see some discussion of"The Election and America's Future," in the November 4th issue of the New York Review of Books. Some of the commentators, in fact, suggest a vague familiarity with the kinds of systemic issues I'm talking about. Mark Danner, for example, recognizes that the war in Iraq has now been institutionalized. Danner writes:

The war in Iraq, launched in the glamorous cause of ideological transformation, has now settled down into something bloody, murderous, and crude, fought on behalf of a people who are increasingly weary of its costs and bewildered by its stakes. There is no safe or easy way out, and the winner of this election, like the winner in 1968, will find his administration dogged by it from first day to last.

Gary Wills also sees similarities to the 1968 election:

What was the last election with great stakes in play? I suppose 1968. It was similar to this race, but (as it were) upside down. Both involve the problem of admitting a tragic mistake. The mistake in 1968 was a belief that where the French had failed in a long and committed colonial adventure in Indochina, we could replace them and succeed. We could do so, we thought, because we were not colonialists but supporters of indigenous freedom against world communism. We came with" clean hands." The current mistake is a belief that we could enter the Mideast with clean hands as supporters of democratic values in the whole region, in opposition to world terrorism. ... Both mistakes reflected an ignorance of the respective regions, a false view of America's reception by those being"helped," and an underestimation of American resistance to longer-term commitment than was first proposed.

It's ironic to read about Vietnam-Iraq parallels insofar as the current crop of neoconservative policymakers in Washington emerged in the period following LBJ's"Great (Welfare-Warfare) Society." As Mark Lilla argues in his essay,"The Closing of the Straussian Mind,""[t]he neoconservative impulse was originally a moderating one, arising from a sense that American liberalism needed a reality check." But if"traditional conservatism" was"anti-intellectual," Lilla writes,

neoconservatism is counter-intellectual. That is the source of its genius and influence. Unlike traditional conservatives who used simply to complain about left-leaning writers, professors, judges, bureaucrats, and journalists, the neoconservatives long ago understood that the only way to resist a cultural elite is to replace it with another. ... Neoconservatism began as an intellectual movement. It is now an essential part of Republican politics, and therefore American life.

The source of its genius and influence, indeed, and of its danger as well. (As an aside, there is little doubt that it is this sense of mission that attracts many people to Bush. The constellation of the administration's neoconservative convictions and Bush's own personal pietistic convictions may still hold the key to this election, insofar as people continue to perceive John Kerry as being a man without any convictions, NY Timeseditorials notwithstanding. Russell Baker remarks:"Years ago I heard Morris Udall, a liberal Democrat from Arizona, say that the same people who voted for Barry Goldwater, then the voice of conservatives, also voted for him because Arizonans liked candidates who told them, plain and outright, who they were and what they stood for.")

But if the neocon court intellectuals provide the ideological legitimacy for this nation-building mission, let's not forget that the mission itself is both a reflection and perpetuation of the corporatist system that the U.S. represents. We've seen the effects abroad in the government subsidies handed out to crony corporations intimately involved with Iraqi reconstruction. The administration talks about bringing freedom and democracy to the Iraqis, but the mission promises to make Iraq into a new Great Society project; the U.S. might very well succeed in this mission since the welfare state has historical antecedents in Iraq's past, antecedents which have engendered a" culture of dependency" in that country that continues till this day.

The mission also has vast implications domestically, not only in terms of the potential for increasing regimentation in civic culture and the growing threats to our civil liberties, but also in terms of the economic effects of war mobilization. Please note: This is not a rejection of the need for domestic security; it is simply an acknowledgment of the profound economic effects that war must have on civil society. In"Terrorbusters Inc.," an article published in today's NY Times, Louis Uchitelle and John Markoff tell us of the war's impact on the domestic economy, engendering a"Homeland Security-Industrial Complex." The emphasis on domestic security is having a huge effect on the shape of the economy as government subsidies are flowing into the coffers of corporate America:

Private-sector outlays for antiterrorism measures and to guard against other forms of violence may now be as much as $40 billion to $50 billion a year, or two or three times higher than the annual rate before 9/11. ... The federal government's contribution has also passed the $40 billion mark, double what it was before 9/11. As the spending soars, domestic security seems poised to become a significant factor in the overall economy, much the way military spending was during the cold war."The question is: What is enough security?'' said Gordon Adams, who oversaw national security spending at the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration and now heads a security policy studies program at George Washington University."The answer is, no one knows, and fear is a powerful driver here. Since we do not know who means us harm, where they are and how long they are going to continue to mean us harm, where do you stop?'' ...
As the overall cost approaches $100 billion, domestic security is beginning to take on the characteristics of military spending in the early years of the cold war. Just as an open-ended fear of Communism drove that spending surge, the open-ended terrorist threat is driving today's spending on domestic security. ... Spending on domestic security has the potential to become a similar albatross for the economy, although it has not yet reached the proportions of the cold war era. By 1953, military outlays had risen to 14.2 percent of all economic activity from a post-World War II low of just 3.5 percent in 1948. Following a similar trajectory, but from a much smaller starting point, spending for domestic security has risen from well under half of 1 percent of gross domestic product just before 9/11 to roughly eight-tenths of 1 percent three years later. One percent, or $110 billion a year, is the point at which spending on domestic security would begin to affect the overall economy. And the nation is quickly getting there. ...

The ideological veneer that allows Bush administration officials to speak of the"free market," also allows them to champion what they hope will be commercial"spin-offs from spending on domestic security that are likely to offset some of the drag. The Internet, after all, started life as a Pentagon-financed research project, connecting military and academic laboratories." Note, however, that the corporations involved in producing domestic security are now clamoring not for the free market, but for even greater government regulation. Joseph W. McGrath, President of the Unisys Corporation, for example,"favors more regulation. Most executives in the maritime industry do, too, he said, citing a recent survey of shipping executives that showed that 75 percent supported mandatory regulation. From the maritime industry's point of view, a regulated security system is likely to speed up the movement of cargo through American ports, freeing ships more quickly for their next journey."

There is an indissoluble link between warfare and the extension of the regulatory welfare state. Libertarians need to focus more on providing the kind of systemic analysis that makes this link transparent.

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