By Rachel Burger
Libertarianism is fundamentally about maximizing freedom—having the ability to do as one chooses, as long as you’re not actively harming anyone else. Freedom translates into just about every jurisdiction, from owning a business to doing what one chooses to do with his or her own body. Freedom does not stop at American borders, and, thus, the libertarian desire for freedom extends to foreign policy as well.
As I read “The Libertarian Foreign Policy Spectrum,” I was struck by how anti-freedom most of the options Jake Braunger presented to his readers. The options Braunger are not at all inclusive of libertarian foreign policy, nor does he grasp what is at the roots of the philosophy he claims to support.
The United States has never been isolationist, though it is fashionable to claim it once was, and it has certainly never reached the level of isolationism seen in Mao’s China. Isolationism is inherently anti-freedom—it limits free movement of people within and outside of the state; not to mention it requires stringent business control practices to limit trade. Braunger’s definition of isolationism is not within the “libertarian foreign policy spectrum.”
Neither is neo-conservatism. Neo-conservatives argue that intervention in other states is necessary for the defense of the American homeland. They seem to have forgotten that the United States is surrounded by two enormous moats that ward off most actors (yes, including terrorists), that enforcing regime change in other states has a long history of failure, and that wars lead to the degradation of economic and personal liberties. In paying for these wars, the American people face a greater tax burden, which infringes on the distribution of commerce.
Let’s not also forget that James Madison once said, “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” That has indeed been the case with the PATRIOT ACT, drone strikes against American citizens, and unlawful detention without trial. What could be more of a violation of liberty? As I have pointed out before, neo-conservative policies don’t even keep Americans safe from terrorists. Neo-conservatism not only is an anti-freedom policy, it is an utterly failed one.
When Braunger presents his own view, I was saddened to find that he had succumbed to liberal imperialist foreign policy, that is, “don’t do anything unless there’s a genocide going on.” Braunger pays no mind to the knowledge problem of “liberating” these countries or to the fact that in “saving” these people, Americans are paying for it with defense spending and the lives of their own troops—not to mention a considerable cost to the people they are “saving.”
There is no cap on the injustices seen around the world, and thus, under this imperialist foreign policy, there is no end of wars for justice. You are not free when you are forced to fund intervention abroad. You are not free when a draft is in place. You are not free when the domestic policy of another country infringes on the policy of your own. Once again, Braunger’s own prescription for a libertarian foreign policy remains ignorant of what freedom actually means.
Ron Paul’s foreign policy can be summed up as “do not intervene.” Sounds good to me. Combine that with Rand Paul’s suggestion for immigration reform, and you’ve got a freedom-lovin’ liberty-totin’ foreign policy. Variation in libertarian foreign policy should come more in the form of how active the United States should be in the United Nations, World Bank, and other intergovernmental international organizations, not in what the best way is to stomp on other states’ sovereignty and rob people of liberty here at home.
Ultimately, Braunger’s “libertarian foreign policy spectrum” is little other than a review of popular contemporary foreign policy positions in the United States. The libertarian foreign policy spectrum—if there is even a spectrum to be had—is far smaller and nuanced than what he suggests. When considering libertarian foreign policy, let us not forget to remember: freedom is paramount; anything else is not libertarian.
Rachel Burger is the Associate Editor of Thoughts on Liberty. She just recently finished her Master’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago.