One Toke Over the Line, Sweet Reason
by Matthew Barganier
February 10, 2003

To: The editors of Reason

Re: Ronald Bailey's essay, "Libertarianism in One State?" (Reason online, January 30, 2003)

Following Trent Lott's recent stoning in National Review, some gloating conservatives advised libertarians to police their own movement with similar vigor. They were actually chiding you "good" libertarians for your failure to muzzle those government-hating antiwar troglodytes who threaten national unity in these troubled times. Well, before you buy any nightsticks, I suggest you get your own commune in order.

Ronald Bailey's "Libertarianism in One State?" is a case in point, mangling not only a political philosophy, but also logic and the English language. Behold: "A person doesn't have to wait until someone hits them (sic) or shoots them (sic) before they (sic) can defend themselves (sic)." Strunk and White must be twirling in their coffins. History fares little better than grammar. Bailey starts with a perfunctory nod to Washington's Farewell Address and Jefferson's first inaugural, but he only lingers for a second. Like tacky wedding gifts, those quaint warnings about "entangling alliances" must be dusted occasionally and put on the mantel when relatives visit. Once the bumpkins leave, you rush it all back to the attic before your bobo friends and neighbors see it. Anyway, Reason owes about as much to the Founding Fathers as Kid Rock owes to Delta blues: you rally 'round the reference without ever evoking the spirit. Let the entanglement begin.

According to Bailey, three arguments justify American action against Iraq. Now, no one has accused you guys of being libertarian purists, but your title virtue alone kicks all three points in the teeth. The first is that the triumph of "free market democracy" in the last century grew from the barrels of American guns. "Would the same fat happy complacent Europe that is hectoring the Bush Administration now exist had not the United States liberated that continent in World War II?" Aside from the smug jingoism, one marvels at the insecure author's need to quote the following from The Economist: "Europe has never met a dictator it didn't want to appease." What, exactly, does this hackneyed witticism add to the argument? Nothing, but those who have read Mises's and Hayek's critiques of central planning will be surprised to learn that Soviet communism was doomed not by any inherent weaknesses, but by the Reagan Doctrine of "direct confrontation." Bailey admits that the Reagan Doctrine "had some regrettable side effects," including "a cadre of rootless Mujahadeen in Afghanistan" (i.e., the once and future Taliban), "but it worked." Some success: our government has since told us that the Young Republicans in Afghanistan nurtured the killers of 3,000+ Americans, the ostensible reason that we must now conquer the pan-Islamic world. As Henry Hazlitt once observed, "The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences." The same is true in foreign policy. Sadly, the twin imbeciles of bad economics and bad foreign policy now smirk from the pages of an allegedly free-market journal.

Bailey's second argument approaches high comedy. He claims that the very existence of unfree nations forces "free" nations into militarism, loss of domestic liberties, and – get this – fulfilling the demand by "some conservatives for the establishment of an American Empire as part of a 'National Greatness' project." Now, either your science correspondent has missed his calling as a satirist of Nietzschean talents, or he should make haste to a detox clinic. Let me make sure I understand: we must remake the whole planet in order to avoid imperialism. Ohhhhhkay. It gets stranger. According to the author, our government's support for "unsavory regimes" in Saudi Arabia and Zaire "undermines whatever respect and affection for our country" oppressed peoples might have. True, of course, but how is this supposed to bolster the case for further intervention? It's actually a damning blow against foreign aid, and interventionism is to foreign aid what sloth is to obesity. Even hip neolibertarians should know as much. Public choice theory demonstrates that the presence of diffuse costs and concentrated benefits in a redistributionist system dictates where the money will go. Imagine U.S. puppets in "liberated" countries not clamoring for handouts. Imagine Congress refusing money to armed NEA performance artists. Now wake up. Acting imperial to stop imperialism (and its nasty side effects) lacks a parallel oxymoron of equal stupidity. Drinking for sobriety sounds sensible by comparison.

Bailey concludes his case where most intelligent people would begin, asking, "[W]hen is it legitimate for the United States to attack another country?" No one expects Reason to cling to the nonaggression principle or anything, but you guys seem a bit puzzled about traditional notions of self-defense. Let us return to this linguistic monstrosity: "A person doesn't have to wait until someone hits them or shoots them before they can defend themselves." True. If a stranger boots down your door, he or she should expect a bellyful of lead. If an angry mob shows up on your stoop, it's your prerogative to disperse them as you see fit. But you can't burn down another fellow's house because he doesn't like you and he owns a rifle. Oddly, Bailey concedes that "it doesn't look like Hussein has any intention of directly attacking the United States in the near future," but Hussein or his future associates might someday attack us. This supposedly supports Bailey's contention that "the existence of unfree regimes necessarily threaten (sic) the peace of free societies" by providing "justifications for an intrusive national security apparatus." Rather than pondering whether it's actually the other way around, that maybe our politicians justify their own Satanism by inventing foreign demons, Bailey accepts the official narrative and gives us the following "libertarian" foreign policy to deal with it:

1. "[I]t is clearly in the interests of the United States to foster the creation of a world populated by commercial republics."

Other than leading by example, what would this entail? The sort of state capitalism that would vindicate Lenin?

2. "[W]e need to encourage citizens from countries living under tyrannical regimes to come to the United States to be educated so that they can experience the operation

of our free institutions directly."

You don't have to be Pat Buchanan to discern the idiocy here. I believe Mohammed Atta and company fit this description. Unless the author really means . . .

3. "[W]e should support, train, and finance insurgent movements aimed at overthrowing authoritarian regimes. And not just military training, but also training in the advantages and operations of free institutions."

Now you're talking! It's time to expand the School of the Americas, with diversity measures to ensure that we don't exclude any promising young toughs from the eastern hemisphere. Who knows where we'll find the next Manuel Noriega? The old curriculum was a bit one-dimensional, however. In addition to Torture 101 and Advanced Drug Smuggling, we should throw in a Great Books course featuring Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill.

This is all nonsense, to be sure, but nonsense with a pedigree. The essay's title, for instance, alludes to Marxist theory and the feasibility of establishing "socialism in one state." Leon Trotsky argued that socialism could not truly exist until every spot on the globe from Moscow to Mexico City flew the hammer and sickle. Until that time, the mere existence of free markets anywhere would undermine the central planning authority. That is, Trotsky had more faith in liberty's ability to survive and even subvert tyranny than the Libertarian International at Reason does! Free societies can flourish in an unfree world so long as they resist the temptations of power that would destroy their freedom from the inside. Libertarianism in one state? Hell yes, although I’m curious to know which states Bailey thinks have so perfected liberty as to be above reproach. Which brings us to a final criticism of the Libintern. Internationalism is a particularly bad idea for anyone who is fanatical about freedom. Where does it end? Should we strafe the U.K. for its oppressive speech codes? Torch Canada for its nationalized healthcare? Nuke Sweden for its ridiculous taxes? Or should we douse our arrogance and peruse the mirror?

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Matt Barganier is a private-sector educator in Baton Rouge, LA. He will accept a free subscription from Reason as a sign of their penitence.

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