Blogs > Liberty and Power > A Scent of Lemon on the Waves?

Jul 6, 2004 8:05 pm

A Scent of Lemon on the Waves?

[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

My friend Jacob Levy, in answer to a query from my friend Aeon Skoble, writes that he won't be voting for Michael Badnarik because Badnarik's position on the War on Terror"falls below my threshold of a responsible understanding of the state of the world right now. It's out of the realm of policy disagreement and into the realm of a view of the world that I can't responsibly wish the inhabitant of the White House to hold."

The object of Jacob's condemnation is Badnarik's view that the 9/11 attacks were a response to previous U.S. interventions in the Middle East, and that continuing such interventions does more to exacerbate the terrorist threat than to combat it.

While I regard Badnarik's position on this matter as quite correct, my present purpose is not to defend that position (I think the antiwar libertarians have already made that case overwhelmingly), but rather to take issue with the way Jacob characterises that position.

Jacob describes Badnarik's position as a"silly Panglossianism about politics that says, 'Any wrong must be traceable to another wrong; if only we never did anything wrong, no one would ever do anything wrong to us.'"

That would indeed be a silly position. But it is not Badnarik's position, nor is it the position of antiwar libertarians generally. The following three propositions are distinct:

a) The kind of interventionist foreign policy the U.S. regularly pursues is likelier to provoke terrorist attacks than to deter them.

b) The specific attacks the U.S. suffered on 9/11 were primarily a response to its interventionist foreign policy, and the further interventions with which the U.S. has responded are making future terrorist attacks more rather than less likely.

c) The U.S. would never suffer any attacks if it did not have an interventionist foreign policy.
Note that (a) does not imply (b), and (b) does not imply (c). We antiwar libertarians have been defending propositions (a) and (b), but in doing so we are not committed to (c) -- and no antiwar libertarian known to me has endorsed (c).

Compare the following three propositions:

d) The kind of interventionist economic policy the U.S. regularly pursues is likelier to provoke economic crises than to deter them.

e) The Great Depression was primarily the result of the U.S. government's interventionist economic policy during the 1920s, and the further economic interventions with which the U.S. government responded served mainly to lengthen the Depression rather than alleviating it.

f) The U.S. would never suffer any economic crises -- i.e., there would be no earthquakes, no floods, no hurricanes, etc. -- if it did not have an interventionist economic policy.
Most libertarians accept propositions (d) and (e); but of course this does not commit them to the absurdity à la Fourier of (f). Isn't accusing antiwar libertarians of Panglossian silliness a bit like accusing libertarians in general of not believing in earthquakes and floods?

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