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Making the world a better place?

The problem I see with the libertarian pro-war position is that libertarians don’t have recourse to the most powerful argument for the war: that it made the world a better place. Non-libertarians can yammer on about freeing poor Iraqis who were crushed under the thumb of Saddam Hussein, and that’s definitely a benefit. But Libertarians don’t believe it is OK to steal money via taxes and spend it on other people. Hence they can’t use this argument.
- Patri Friedman

There has been a lively discussion in the comments section of Johnathan Pearce’s article here on Samizdata.net When libertarians disagree. It has thrown up so many interesting points that I felt a new article on the issues might be a good idea. It is pleasure to see so much intelligent discussion of strongly held views without the acrimony and name-calling that so often characterises debate on the internet.

We have a problem that the label ‘libertarian’ sometimes it does not really inform as to what a person thinks, something which September 11th 2001 brought starkly into view, and I am not just referring to the more absurd uses of the term. For example a frequent commenter here on Samizdata.net, Paul Coulam, is a prominent libertarian and anarchist, well known in pro-liberty circles in London. He is also a friend of mine and has been known to get plastered at Samizdata.net blogger bashes. I too am fairly well known in the same circles and describe myself as a ‘minarchist’, or social individualist or ‘classical liberal’ or a… libertarian. I see Paul as a ‘fellow traveller’ of mine but clearly we have fairly major disagreements of where we would like to end up. We just agree on the direction we need to move from where we are now. I regard the state as probably indispensable, albeit a vastly smaller state than we have now, whereas Paul sees no state as the final destination.

In my view the minarchist ‘classical liberal’ view to which I subscribe means the only legitimate state functions which can be funded via some form of coercive taxation are those which can only realistically be carried out by a state, and which are essential to the survival of several liberty. The military seems a fairly clear cut example of that to me (with the proviso I would like to see the state military as only ‘first amongst many’) and possibly a very limited number of other roles, such as (maybe) a centre for disease control function to prevent plagues, and some form of superior court function.

So once you get over that core issue of small state or no state (no small feat), the rest is arguing over magnitude (also not a trivial issue), rather that whether or not you even have a military funded by some form of coercive action: that also means ‘how you use that miltary’ is an argument over degree rather than existence. In short I see the difference between a ‘libertarian’ (or whatever) of my non-anarchist ilk, and sundry types of non-libertarian statist as being one of the degree to which the state is allowed to accumulate coercive power. Certainly some libertarians fall at the trap labelled ‘magnitude’ as they cannot bring themselves to see the moral or sometimes even practical differences between the USA and Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. As I want a ‘vastly better state’ rather than ‘no state’, and as I also regard the process of getting a vastly better state involves holding ‘the state’ and its borders in considerably less regard, the idea of using’ less bad states’ to overthrow ‘much worse states’ does not really pose a great moral dilemma for me, particularly in the here and now of 2004.

I am not suggesting wars and struggles between states are a generally Good Thing but at the ends of the continuum, the moral and practical calculus does not seem that hard to me. Sure, the justification ‘it makes the world a better place’ is used by left and right statists all the time for all manner of things and sometimes they are even correct… but for me the test is ‘but would the world be an even better place if the state had got out of the way and left private individuals to sort things out?’ On that test, the state fails pretty consistently, which is why my ‘ideal state’ is one where it is permitted to act in only those very few core functions where private non-coercively funded action cannot do what must be done for the survival of life and liberty.

So yes, I supported war by the bloated regulatory nation-states of the USA and UK (and others) against Ba’athist Iraq and doubly so against the hideous national socialist regime in Belgrade, whose works I saw first hand in Croatia and Bosnia (a process that not only inoculated me against the Murray Rothbard virus once I was exposed to it years later but also left me with an abiding hatred for ethnic nationalism, a fondness for 338 Lapua and ‘smile reflex’ whenever I see an F-16). My view is that it is only a matter of practical consideration whether or not one should be shooting at tyrants and their servants and using other people’s money to do that. My friend Paul is not a pacifist so I am sure we would agree that ideally tyrants should be overthrown locally and, ideally, for profit: where we depart is over when it needs to be done on the taxpayers dime.

Left to their own devices, tyrants accumulate to themselves the means to spread tyranny and so the notion that offensive war against a tyrant is morally wrong seems bizarre to me, particularly as I am not too hung up on the whole national borders thing when it comes to spreading liberty. The utilitarian consideration of ‘are they too strong to just attack’ is rather important of course, which is why I rather like the idea of attacking North Korea before they get nuclear weapons.

Why? Because it makes the world a better place.

38 comments to Making the world a better place?

  • Jacob

    “Why? Because it makes the world a better place.”

    It makes the world a better place, and thus **I** am safer, less exposed to hazards.

    “Making the world better” is an endless task but our resources aren’t endless. So that is a necessary condition to intervention, but not a sufficient one.

  • I would have thought that goes without saying, Jacob. That is why I am not arguing for war with every nasty regime in the world. I just want to see the worst ones done in when the opportunity presents itself to do so at a supportable cost. Hence much as I dislike the Chinese state, I like an exchange of nuclear missiles even less.

  • Wild Pegasus

    Your reasoning is open to endless interpretation.

    People have different ideas about what freedom and liberty entail. A leftist could very easily think that the US is undemocratic and ruled by oligarchic corporations, and that a country with substantially more democracy is considerably freer, and hence, justified in invading America. Now, neither you nor I agree with that, but they are able to use your reasoning from their leftist perspective as well as you are able to use it from your libertarian perspective. (“Invade the US, overthrow the corporations, install democracy!”)

    There’s a further problem, too, because you have problems in drawing lines. When is a state too tyrannical to be allowed to continue? What countries are free enough to have the right to overthrow them? Do they have to meet some absolute standard of freedom or just be freer? How much freer? And so on and so forth.

    The problem with your reasoning is that it can be used by anyone of any political persuasion to justify the invasions of regimes whose politics they admire. It’s also far too vague to serve as a coherent system of judging whether a war is god or bad.

    – Josh

  • Your viewpoint is pretty reasonable, and my disagreements are subtle, so I will have to ponder them before responding. I’ll probably do so in a blog post over on Catallarchy.

    It is a pleasure to see such reasonable discussion of the war here. I read Samizdata regularly for a while, but stopped after I got tired of ad hominem attacks on the anti-war position. The clothing and physical appearance of protestors is irrelevant to the validity of their ideas, and I believe that mentioning it reduces rational discussion and increases groupthink.

  • Your reasoning is open to endless interpretation

    That is without doubt true and I have said as much. However the trouble with more simple reasoning, like basing one’s views on a straightforward axiom like the often quoted ‘non-aggression principle’ is that it does not survive contact with reality. The world really is a messy place filled with ‘least bad’ choices based on imperfect information.

    To actually develop views that have any basis in objective reality, one simply has to form a critical preference for the best moral theories based on the available information and proceed from there. That may not satisfy the need in many for a more doctrinaire process of logical and/or emotional reductionist infallibility, but such is life. Reality is indeed open to endless interpretation, but that does not make all interpretations as valid as each other.

  • Well, *I* am arguing for explicit desire for regime change for all dictators on earth — I want a world without dictators.

    I realize the USA can’t take them ALL on, at the same time. I support a (NATO or someplace) Human Rights Enforcement Group, which would coordinate democracies into coalitions of the willing to enact regime change on places that violate human rights; especially free press.

    I don’t believe other violations ever last long where there’s a free press.

    Iran, No Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia … and Sudan.
    In the next 4 years. Or months, in Sudan’s case.
    And the world would be MUCH, MUCH better, and safer.

  • Isn’t the point about overthrowing Saddam that you have to keep him (and his potential tyrant successors) overthrown?

  • reader

    The distinction between limited government and no government seems so profound as to relegate libertarian styled thought to ideological influence rather than any elected significance. In doing so, though, libertarian thought makes an impact , a timeout, to call into question the ceaseless petitioning of government for solutions – the subject matter to what is in its entirety: the human condition – which necessarily encompasses non-governmental facets, one would think.

    Of course, with the necessary feking ying & yang of everything, this would also call into question whether or not people were participating within the governmental process enough to bring forth topics worthy of public debate. This, unfortunately, can have the effect of coloring the lens of one’s perspective, politically – eventuating a political communication style and thought process, that contrarily so, begets politics .

    [below is a test. Same with the above formatting]

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  • A nice article and a subject that I think most libertarians grapple with.

    However, one quibble – it’s too late to attack North Korea before they get nukes. (link)

    However, we may not have yet passed our window with Iran…

  • Jacob

    What I was trying to say in my remark above is that the goal of making the world a better place is good and fine, but not enough.

    I invest resources and make sacrifices to make the world a better place for me. I would not support disinterested, altruistic wars, just to save some poor souls out there. Maybe I would help them in some way that is not too burdensome for me, but if the investment is heavy, in blood and treasure, there must be a proportional benefit too, for me not only for them.

    When this abstract principle is applied to the messy world there are many difficulties. You must estimate a complex situation, future developements, the costs, the benefits – a real hard task.
    I supported the war in Iraq, but I can understand those who say the cost is too great, the benefit not great enough. Their estimates are different from mine, though, maybe, the basic principles are not.

    On the other hand – many say: the war is illegal, immoral, Bush lied, it’s just for Halliburton, or for oil, or for imperialism, there was no danger, etc. These people live in an universe totally different from the one I live in.

  • mike

    On the question of how to export ‘democratic and free-market constitutional forms’ (for want of a better catch-all phrase) to places like the ME, there are two sorts of self-interest involved. The first is a more immediate kind (foreign state in question has dangerous capabilities and is hostile to us), while the second is wider in scope (reduced risk of any threats appearing, plus new trading fronts) and longer term. I supported (and still support) Blair’s decision to invade and think of the Iraq invasion as potentially justified on these utilitarian grounds (I use the word potentially, as we still can’t be sure whether the Iraqi society to emerge will be good or bad from our point of view – if it becomes a nightmare from beyond, perhaps the invasion will not have been justified). Having said that there is still the negative argument that previous policies seem to have been uniquely ineffectual at exporting ‘democratic, free-market constitutional forms’. So I prefer the risk-taking approach.

    However, there has been a huge moral cost in making the decision (lost lives of soldiers and innocents as well as some failure of sincerity about the strength of intelligence claims by our [UK] government). To set against this cost – and it is a cost, even if you think it outweighed by a utilitarian justification for the invasion – might it be worthwhile to think about appropriate forms of compensation to be taken by the government? Aside from the sensitive issue of reparations to bereaved families of soldiers, is the very question of ‘government compensation’ for its failings in sincerity (should I dare mention Hutton and Butler?) – completely out of the libertarian universe (since any costs come from the taxpayer)? Forms of compensation (preferably involving as little taxpayer cash as possible) do at least seem like one significant moral question about government behaviour that don’t necessarily involve abstact moral theorising. What about a truth-commision for Blair and co once they’ve left office? Or am I just talking bollocks?

  • veryretired

    I got a new laptop for my b-day, so this is my first post wi-fi’ed from my easy chair. Please excuse any typos I miss, as I am not used to the keyboard yet.

    When one is committed to an alternative view of “how things should be”, esp. something so far out of the current mainstream as the extremely limited gov’t mindsets that frequent this venue, it is not surprizing that there are disputes about something as statist as warfare. There are, however, certain key distinctions that need to be kept in mind.

    There is a critical difference between any government which acknowledges the primacy of individual rights, and those which consist of whatever gang has been able to kill its way to power. The latter were the norm for most of human history, and, indeed, I remember reading about the limited number of representative systems during the ’70’s, compared to the hundred and more which were openly Marxist/socialist/authoritarian, and made no bones about it.

    The trend of the last few decades has been away from totalitarianism, and most states at least try to pretend they are representative. It is crucial that this movement continue. It will falter, however, if the advocates of a limited state walk away from the fray because the process is drawn out and imperfect.

    Politics is based on compromise, incremental changes, and building coalitions to achieve specific objectives. The statists have understood this, and flourished over the last century by happily accepting even a small slice of the salami, as long as they could envision a larger slice in the future. This was how the current statist edifice was created, when the prevailing intellectual/political climate approved of more and more government.

    That era has run its course. We are at a critical turning point in history, in which major political movements that were once powerful have been discredited, i.e., Marxism and Fascism. We are engaged in a contest with a form of theocratic absolutism not seen in the West for centuries, but powerful in the cultures which have not yet entered the 20th century.

    We, as members of a basically free society, even with all its obvious and galling shortcomings, cannot allow our distaste for the imperfections to paralyze us in the face of an aggressive and thoroughly repressive system which does not even admit the rights of man at all.

    Free men and women have the right to combine their efforts and join together politically, and militarily, to defend their best interests. It was the basis of the Revolutionary war. This was true in the 19th century, to preserve the Union and abolish slavery. It was imperative in the 20th century, when freedom truly faced its darkest hour, and the forces of Nazism, Stalinism, and Japanese militarism spread across the globe.

    To look at the world now and complain that the US and its allies have become too involved in other countries’ business is to ignore a century long context, and contest, whose outcome will determine the course of human society for the foreseeable future.

    Is there anyone who would say that the US should have stayed within its borders and allowed the rest of the world to be divided up between the Nazis and the Japanese? And who would further assert that the US could have maintained its own freedom and independence when the rest of the world had plunged into “a new dark age”.

    Is the steadfastness of the Swiss the reason the Soviet divisions pulled back, and the Marxist horror that had caused the deaths of millions upon millons around the world now resides in a few isolated patches of misery in Asia and the Carribean?

    There is no doubt in my mind that the governments of most democratic countries are much more intrusive and expensive than they need to be. That is certainly true of the US. But the way to reform this excess is to become consistently involved in every possible activity and intellectual movement which might help to minimize the state and its activities, not surrender the field to those for whom no amount of government is ever enough.

    I firmly believe that we are approaching a pivotal moment in human history, when the very idea of theocratic statism will be discredited. I include Christian welfarism in this school, as well as the Islamic and Jewish states. But the debate, and certainly the military conflict, will be lost if those whose touchstone is the rights of the individual abdicate their role, and abandon the chance to influence the result.

    The demand for perfection before action is, in fact, a form of paralysis whose outcome will inevitably be the triumph of all we hold most objectionable in human society, and the marginalization, if not destruction, of all we hold dear.

  • I rather like the idea of attacking North Korea before they get nuclear weapons.

    I understand airfare to Seoul is rather cheap these days, Perry.

    Get off the plane and head north. You’ll know North Korea when you get there. I don’t know where you’ll get your rifle and grenades, though.

    <Miracle Max>Have fun storming the castle!</Miracle Max>

    Oh, you mean you want OTHER people to attack North Korea.

    <Emily Latella>Never Mind!</Emily Latella>

  • Shawn

    Chris have you actually got something to contribute to the debate apart from sneering and childish comments like that?

    I dont care what your opinion is, but try to at least construct an intelligent rational argument as to why you think your right.

  • Guy Herbert

    Perry: “I just want to see the worst ones done in when the opportunity presents itself to do so at a supportable cost.”

    I fear that’s not what’s on offer. You get to choose to support wars made by states for other reasons–or not, as the case may be.

    My somewhat regretted support for the Iraq war was because (1) I thought (and still think) getting rid of Saddam was a good thing; and (2) because I believed that the neo-con pre-emptive strategy of “democratising” the Arab world against radical Islam was the real motivation, was worthwhile, and might be well carried out; and (3) because strategically it will be important to have bases in Iraq when Saudi Arabia becomes an unsustainable as an ally.

    It wasn’t because I believed the transparent nonsense of the ramping up of the WMD case by Bush and Blair. Nor did I or do I believe the purported “moral” force of their foreign policies. They have assisted and supported rather more many nasty dictators than they have undermined. They ignore even quite weak tyrannies that are not more than an inconvenience. (Sudan has been ignored for 20 years already, only arousing brief interest when it offered shelter to bin Laden.)

    Being able to supporting the traditional state when it is doing some of the right things overseas for the wrong reasons is not any particular comfort to me, when I am unable effectively to oppose it doing all the wrong it does even domestically. Apart from anything else, partial support for part of a policy is likely to be accepted as wholhearted support of every aspect.

  • Jacob

    “Making the world a better place” includes also the oil.
    Imagine: if the ME sinks into chaos, the oil stops flowing, and oil peices hit the ceiling, the whole world will suffer. It will suffer badly. Drastic reduction in living standards and, for many, outright starvation.
    So, keeping the oil flowing is also something that goes under the “making the world a better place” heading.

  • Chris Tucker: If you have the ability to make a coherent argument, kindly do so and spare us the purile playground behaviour. Last warning.

  • Lorenzo

    The idea of no government at all is only useful as a unpolluted ideological view point through which you can judge the merit of other ideas. It is in other words an unrealistic ideal. After all government is just an organizational form, without it we would soon find other ways to organize ourselves that would sooner or later start to take on many aspects of government, including coercive taxation.

    I believe, like Perry, that government is a necessary evil that needs to be kept as small as possible with as few powers to automatically renew itself as possible. To that end I generally support direct democracy initiatives, pay for what you use taxation and taxes that are dedicated to an initiative/project/government function.

  • Richard Garner

    The anti-war argument is not the same as the anarchist/minarchist argument. However,

    “After all government is just an organizational form, without it we would soon find other ways to organize ourselves that would sooner or later start to take on many aspects of government, including coercive taxation.”

    Would this not imply that all organisational forms are governments, a claim which is clearly false?

  • Jacob

    In the post above, when I said that keeping the oil flowing makes the world a better world – I mean a better world not only for the West but for the inhabitants of the ME too. Oil is the only thing that stands between them and starvation. It is well possible that left alone they will be unable to avoid inner struggles and chaos. (See the Iraq-Iran war, and the instability of many regimes there).

  • editors note: Comment deleted.

    Your remarks bear little relevance to the article and addresses questions answered before at great length and ad nauseam. More importantly, we have no problem with many people airing dissenting views here but if you cannot be civil, and clearly you lack the maturity to do so, then kindly get lost, we have no intention of indulging you here.

  • limberwulf

    I tend to agree with Guy H on this one, particularly reasons 1 and 2. I am a little shaky on reason 3 because I dont think international bases are necessary for our defense, nor for our economic status. The military is like Karate – Karate for defense ONLY. I would only add the reason that since we were instrumental in Sadaam’s power, we were partly responsible for his removal. Sadaam did not get his authority from us, but he did reach a higher level of military ability because of some foolish alliances we made with him in the past. Were it not for those alliances, the Iraqi people may well have been able to handle things on their own.
    The hindsight solution would have been to do the overthrowing as a supporter of the populace right after the first Gulf War, but hindsight is easy. I still think knocking out Sadaam was good, I jsut think that we should have left as soon as we had found him and his sons, and let the chips fall where they may. Unfortunately that would have likely been political suicide in the current global culture.

    As for the issue of using other people’s money, I divide the line in a similar fashion. Defense is something that all benefit directly from, so taxation for that purpose is acceptable. Making the lives of others better is a bit more touchy, and it becomes especially annoying when it comes to the “rebuilding” aspect. Private industry could do that more effectively and efficiently and at a profit, there is no need for the government to be doing that at all. “Spreading democracy” has great economic potential, but I am not certain that we are in a position to do that justifiably with tax money, because it is a bit speculative. I personally supported the war on this basis, but I would understand that others may not wish to have their resources used on proposition that is admittadly a bit of a risk. Free nations are always more productive, but the risk is in the question of how “free” Iraq would actually become. The “nation building” aspect that I dont particularly like, may actually be the way to make that risk a bit less extreme, but Im not so sure considering its current handling.

  • limberwulf

    Richard G –
    True, not all organizational forms are governments, but all that use laws I beleive are. The question is could a society operate without the rule of law, and if so would we like the result. A law is a useless thing if it is not enforced, and I question rather the market would indeed be able to the the sole purveyor of enforcement, particularly against those who would use force. If it were not for the concept of the use fo force, there would indeed be no need for laws or governments, because people would have no need for united defense against a physically superior individual or group. Such a world would be ideal but hardly plausible, IMHO.

  • The problem with the idea of private tyranny overthrow is that to do so pretty much requires a base from which to operate, most likely on foreign soil to plot, raise funds, and train for your eventual attempt to do the deed.

    Hosting such groups on your territory is generally considered a cause of war so the anarchist solution is plain out so long as the actions of a small group can embroil the larger polity in a costly, bloody war. Imagine, for example, if the US did nothing to stop IRA support efforts among the ethnic irish. Eventually the UK and the US would have warred over the subject.

    Essentially there are three states, the private warfare model that embroils states in general wars, not of their own choosing, the national sovereignty model which just lets the tyrant oppress whoever they want, however they want, and the third model which is picking your fights and, step by step, destroying all the tyrannies out there.

    I’ll take that third model, thank you.

  • Hosting such groups on your territory is generally considered a cause of war so the anarchist solution is plain out so long as the actions of a small group can embroil the larger polity in a costly, bloody war. Imagine, for example, if the US did nothing to stop IRA support efforts among the ethnic irish. Eventually the UK and the US would have warred over the subject.

    Surely you jest. The U.K. has not been in a position to fight the U.S. in at least fifty years, and it probably has not had a government that thought that it could in at least as long.

    Lets say that anti-Baathist forces had trained in the U.S. — would Saddam Hussein have been in a position to attack the United States? Surely not, just as he was in no position to attack the U.S. or U.K. when we invaded last year.

  • Cobden Bright

    veryretired wrote – “We, as members of a basically free society, even with all its obvious and galling shortcomings, cannot allow our distaste for the imperfections to paralyze us in the face of an aggressive and thoroughly repressive system which does not even admit the rights of man at all.

    Free men and women have the right to combine their efforts and join together politically, and militarily, to defend their best interests.”

    Correct. But where do free men and women get the right to enslave other free men and women to achieve those ends?

    The ultimate problem with the micharchist foreign policy is that you are enslaving other people via taxation, and in serious cases consciption (i.e. mandatory suicide/murder), purely to achieve goals that you and your friends find important.

    What if someone does not choose to be a member of your society, and does not feel like supporting your favoured government versus another one? If I want to take my chances of being enslaved by dictators by not lifting a finger to stop them, then surely that’s my right? After all, I bear the consequences. I was not put on this earth in order to serve you and your political goals.

    I put the same point to Perry et al. What moral claim do you have on my life and labour, such that you feel justified in forcibly seizing them to serve your own security interests?

    There is an apparent contradiction in your beliefs here. If it is legitimate to enslave people to improve your security, why stop at invading tyrannies? Why not tax me at 50% to pay for more police or medical insurance? Aren’t you now forced into a *utilitarian* debate in order to fend off such clearly statist measures? Your only recourse is that such a state of affairs would not be optimal, on your utilitarian assessment of whether it makes the world (or society, or yourself or your favoured group) “a better place”. Hey – what if it makes *my* world a worse place? I thought libertarians did not allow one person to infringe anothers’ rights in order to improve their personal situation?

  • Shawn

    Cobden wrote:

    “The ultimate problem with the micharchist foreign policy is that you are enslaving other people via taxation, and in serious cases consciption”

    Two points in response to this. I disagree that legitimate taxation for the puposes of national defense is slavery. No person is forced to live in the US or Britain. They are free to leave. Therefore it cannot legitimately be called slavery. Now we can debate about what level of taxation, and for what purposes, is just, fair and necessary. But to claim your a slave because you have to pay tax in a country you choose to live in of your own free will is ludicrous.

    The issue of conscription is a non-issue as far as the thread subject goes. An assertive national defense that seeks to prevent events like Sept.11 by dealing with the threats at the source does not require conscription, so conscription is really a seperate issue.

    “What if someone does not choose to be a member of your society, and does not feel like supporting your favoured government versus another one? If I want to take my chances of being enslaved by dictators by not lifting a finger to stop them, then surely that’s my right? After all, I bear the consequences. I was not put on this earth in order to serve you and your political goals.”

    Then as I said above, you are free to leave and live in a country more to your liking. And yes, there are countries in the world that would not require you to do what you are opposed to in this matter, so you do have a choice. But if you choose to stay, you cannot claim to be a slave, and you choose to assent to at least the basic requirements of citizenship.

    “What moral claim do you have on my life and labour, such that you feel justified in forcibly seizing them to serve your own security interests?”

    By choosing to live in the US/Britain (I dont know where your from), you choose to be responsible for the national defense. As you are enjoying the freedom and rights paid for by the blood of patriots, you are morally required to help in the continued defense of those freedom and rights. Otherwise you arguing for the “right” to be a freeloader. Worse in fact, your arguing for the right to be a vampire, living off the blood of those who died for your freeedom and rights.

  • Guy Herbert

    Shawn: “No person is forced to live in the US or Britain. They are free to leave.”

    Not true, I’m afraid. There are problems both leaving and finding other places to go.

    The US takes an extraterritorial interest in its citizens (as well as others), and disclaiming the power of the state over you is not as easy as leaving. Britain it appears one can no longer leave without state approved travel documents, and shortly those documents will cease to be freely available but restricted to those who “voluntarily” subordinate themselves to an international surveillance system.

    Finding places to go is difficult too. The search for freer polities than the UK and US preoccupies a lot of libertarians, but I have yet to hear a convincing case for anywhere–let alone anywhere one might be able to gain admittance to.

    That the US is freer in many respects than other parts of the world, and the UK in some others, doesn’t mean we have to accept and praise them as they are. It is for example, often suggested that the British police are the best in the world, being the least brutal and least corrupt, the least likely to regard themselves as above the law. It may well be true. But that’s not an argument for approving the rare corruption and slightly less rare unlawful conduct that does exist.

    That isn’t an argument against giving support to the national defense and social order. But I’d be very wary of the suggestion that there is a single consumer-like choice in residence, let alone that that choice compels us to support particular policies. An all- or-nothing illusory choice leads down the road of “my country, right or wrong”.

  • “The US takes an extraterritorial interest in its citizens”

    Too true as the case of Bobby Fischer shows.

  • Shawn

    Guy,

    Your essential argument as I understand it is that it can be difficult to leave the US/Britian and find citizenship somewhere else.

    Two points. First difficult is not impossible, therefore it remains true in my opinion that taxpaying citizens are not slaves. A slave has no choice. A citizen does have a choice even if that choice is difficult.

    Secondly, I’m a little skeptical about your claim in the first place. I have known and do know many Brits and Americans who have moved to another country and renounced their prior citizenship without any problems.

  • ds

    ” I would only add the reason that since we were instrumental in Sadaam’s power, we were partly responsible for his removal. ”

    This may be the most over-stated idea that I have seen repeated ad-nauseum. Saddam was armed and supported by the Soviets, those were not American tanks destroyed on the road to Bagdad in 1991. America had a brief association with Saddam as the lesser of 2 evils during the Iran-Iraq war. To imply that America in any way was responsible for his rise to power, the building of his army or giving him carte-blanch to do whatever he wanted in the region is pure BS.

    “Were it not for those alliances, the Iraqi people may well have been able to handle things on their own.”

    Huh? This is just silly talk.

  • Guy Herbert

    Shawn:

    If some people manage to sever their connection, it does indeed prove they are not slaves of a particular state, but doesn’t say anything about the status of those who remain. That something is difficult suggests that it may be impossible for some, maybe many, people. The fact that some people escape doesn’t mean that everyone can.

    I also had, at least implicitly. a quibble with: “choose to assent to at least the basic requirements of citizenship”. The problem is who decides what the basic requirements are. The state does.

    That problem is no different in a relatively liberal state or a rampantly totalitarian one, because the choice of citizenship requirements can never be ours unless it becomes sufficiently easy able to shop around that lots of states need to compete for citizens. On that score, it looks to me very much as if as travel and communications have improved there’s been a strengthening tendency towards regulatory cartel and common standards, driven often by pressure from one powerful state (usually the US) on others, or joint resolution to avoid competition by groups (the OECD, EU, etc).

    If the world is full of notionally distinct states but in none of them are certain life-choices permitted, then to that extent at least we are universally slaves.

  • Secondly, I’m a little skeptical about your claim in the first place. I have known and do know many Brits and Americans who have moved to another country and renounced their prior citizenship without any problems.

    And moved to countries with no taxes and no armies? I’m all ears…

  • Richard Cook

    guy:

    What you are looking for does not exist on any appreciable scale. You will always be viewed as having some obligation to the state no matter where you go. Slavery is an overused word whos meaning has devolved to “not being able to do what ever I want to do.” There is a galaxy of difference in slave and restricted choice. You have a choice in the U.S., stay or leave. In a certain sense state compete for citizens now. Usually the “freer states” on the basis of a citizen being able to practice their life as they see fit usually migrate (if they can), to the more attractive country.

    In the U.S. the citizens through their reps determine the citizenship requirements. The mechanism of voting determines “the state”. I think you are looking for something that will not exist for millenia to come.

  • limberwulf

    DS –
    I specifically stated that the US had nothing to do with Sadaam’s rise to power, only that they had a hand in arming him. Sadaam was in power long before that. I do not imply that the US has some sort of total responsibility. I do imply that the less armed Sadaam was, the more potentially successful an internal revolt may have been. There is no garauntee of that of course, but remember the fundamental reason for the 2nd amendment in the US constitution: the founding fathers did NOT want the government to be armed and the people unarmed. Ability to wage physical power and force permits tyranny, the more ability, the more potential for unbridled power.
    And yes, Russia did far more to arm Sadaam than we did, but I am not Russian, nor can I speak for any responsibility on their behalf. I can say with some solidness that our “breif association” did involve some rather major interaction in Sadaam’s support, regardless of the motivation. The level has been overstated by many, but it has also been understated by some. Past administrations have inadvertantly involved themselves in some rather awful situations by following “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” type of logic. That is generally a mistake, an enemy of an enemy is not always an ally, to assume otherwise is to proceed unwisely. Government involvement in the ME has been predominantly improper from a libertarian perspective. Once again good intentions, such as attempting to maintain stability in OPEC for the sake of economic stability in the US, have met with bad results. Government generally has bad results, in spite of the most stellar of intentions. If a wrong can be righted, I think it should, although, based on the above sentence, perhaps the government should not be the ones to do it.

  • Guy Herbert

    “What you are looking for does not exist on any appreciable scale.” – That’s why I’m seeking it. If it did exist I would (along with the rest of humanity) enjoy the benefits. There seems to be an assumption abroad, despite the evidence of history, that the world can change only change very slowly.

    The cartelisation of the world took the short 20th century to come about, most of that with vastly slower communications and transport than we have today. It would only take one significant country to break the accepted rules and we could move rapidly to a different attractor. It could happen. A libertarian-inclined government with the will and wile of Blair could still do it with Britain. I’m just exceedingly pessimistic that it will.

  • Gorblimey

    I know a better refuge for libertarians than New Hampshire.

    Andorra has no army and no taxes to speak of. It’s white, quiet and cultured. The main drag is full of hideous gift shops and French and Spanish tourists honking in the traffic jams. But ten minutes’ walk up the hills, all is pure air and Pyrenean peace.

    Andorra is supposed to be a joint possession of France and a Spanish bishop, but it has its own Olympic team and it stayed out of the French Revolution *and* the Spanish Civil War. Only natives (about one-quarter of the population) can vote, there is no party politics, the nearest airport and rail line are miles away and foreign banks are not allowed to set up (to stop mob money sloshing through the economy). It’s like Monaco, only quieter, prettier and less poodle shit on the pavements. Don’t all rush at once.