A smart and thought-provoking blogger I have recently come across, Perry Metzger, who seems to hail from the anarcho-capitalist bit of the libertarian intellectual universe, does not like the way this blog has supported the military ouster of Saddam Hussein. Now, of course another certain Perry (de Havilland) of this parish thinks rather differently.
Metzger asks how it is that folk who are so ardently opposed to the State can possibly countenance the use of force, including appropriation of wealth via taxation, to topple another regime deemed to be dangerous. Well, it is actually quite easy to answer that question in my view. First of all, not all libertarians believe a free society can exist without a minimal state, including one with the ability to provide external and internal security, which may include the need to take out violent and hostile foreign regimes.
Second, the supposedly sacred libertarian principle that thou shalt not initiate force against another is not very useful when it comes to judging whether regime X or Y poses your country a particular threat or not, and whether action of a Bush-style pre-emptive sort is justified and perhaps even more important, whether it is prudent. Good people will and do differ a lot about that.
Such disagreements cannot in my view be arbitrated solely by referring to abstract moral principles – although principles are of course crucial – but have to be also judged on events, by weighing up the possible consequences of an action or taking no action. In fact, taking no action and adopting a purely reactive approach to defence will also have consequences, not all of them necessarily good ones. There is no easy way to say which approach will always be better. So even two ardent libertarians who read a situation in the Middle East, say, could differ on fine points and end up having precisely the sort of heated debates we get in the comments sections.
I have changed my mind on so many aspects of the current war in Iraq that my head will probably explode at some point. At one point I felt the whole affair was a dumb mistake and we would have been better off leaving Saddam in his palaces and let things run on awhile. But regardless of what I thought about facts on the ground and the news reports I read, I honestly do not feel that appeals to higher tenets of libertarian theory really ever decisively swayed my mind about the particulars one way or the other.