Libertarianism and the War

In my review of Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism I mentioned the Cato Institute’s online symposium, which utilizes the book as a take-off point for a discussion about the libertarian movement in general, and I note here the posting of Virginia Postrel’s contribution, which takes the “pragmatist” line: Rand and Rothbard are “dogmatists,” and really, in Postrel’s view, religious rather than political activists. This is nonsense, of course, and the whole thing is really a set-up for La Postrel to wonder why most libertarians aren’t “freethinkers,” i.e. more like herself:

“There’s no libertarian hierarchy to excommunicate heretics, but within libertarian organizations free thinkers do feel informal pressures to conform. It’s safest and most rewarding to stick to a straightforward anti-government script.”

Too bad for those who, like Postrel, yearn for another, more pro-government script. This may be a bit odd coming from a former editor of Reason, supposedly the premier libertarian magazine, and yet when you think about the one big issue on which many alleged “libertarians” have allied with the State — the Iraq war, and the larger “war on terrorism” — this longing for “complexities” and “trade-offs,” as Postrel puts it, isn’t all that hard to explain. If you’re trying to make it in the world of journalism, and selling yourself as a quasi-libertarian pundit, then you don’t want to offend the delicate sensibilities of newspaper publishers and other potential markets by all that “deductive” “dogmatism,” but you still want to somehow preserve your “libertarian” bona fides. What to do? Why, sell out on the war, which Postrel — in the hallowed tradition of Reason magazine — has done with alacrity.

After all, what are you, one of those hated “deductive” “dogmatists”? Why not be a “freethinker” and contemplate the aesthetic glories of state-sponsored mass murder?

Come to think of it, none of the commenters on Doherty’s book so much as mention the Iraq war — and Brink Lindsey was openly supportive of it, as Tom Palmer, another self-styled “moderate,” was supportive of the U.S.-installed “democratic” government, going so far as to travel to Iraq to “advise” the Iraqi parliament. Postrel cites this as an example of how “libertarians” doing meaningful political work may sometimes find themselves in the business of “state-building” — although she doesn’t mention if these “libertarians” will be working under a government contract.

What seems truly odd, however, is that these people are discussing the past, present, and future of a movement — libertarianism — that came to prominence in the modern era largely in opposition to the Vietnam war (along with Nixon’s wage and price controls). Yet one searches, in vain, for so much as a mention of the current war in their commentaries.