note: Joseph Stromberg has been working on a full-scale
study of the thought of the late Murray Rothbard, along
with other scholarly projects.
With Cruise Missiles: The Highest Stage of 'Liberal'
by Joseph Stromberg
IDEOLOGICAL POWER REVISITED
have alluded at times in this space to John A. Hall's
division of power into three types – ideological, political-military,
and economic.(1) I have also suggested,
over the past several years, that in our time, the first
of the trinity, ideological power, has risen in importance.
It is not that persons concerned with the other forms
of power have abdicated or gone on long vacations.
indeed. Our neo-mercantilist elites are busy as ever
turning political power into privileged market opportunities
for themselves and their friends. Political-military
and economic power, as we have known them, are alive
and well, but having won most of their gambles, stand
in more need than ever for comforting ideological cover.
With the sudden collapse of the Soviet enemy, the westward
American thrust across the Pacific meets – and passes
in mid-air – the eastward American thrust into former
other words, the arrival of ideological power at center-stage
is part of the quickened pace of US imperialism.
a long and active lifetime of reflecting and writing
on politics, the late Murray N. Rothbard paid much attention
to the role of ideology and, therefore, to the role
of intellectuals in state-level political systems. He
writes that the rulers' handing out of economic benefits,
"only secures a minority of eager supporters" and "still
does not gain the consent of the majority." Thus, "the
majority must be persuaded by ideology that their
government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable….
Promoting this ideology among the people is the vital
social task of the 'intellectuals.' For the masses of
men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through
these ideas independently; they follow passively the
ideas adopted and disseminated by the body of intellectuals.
The intellectuals are, therefore, the 'opinion-molders'
in society. And since it is precisely a molding of opinion
that the State most desperately needs, the basis for
age-old alliance between the State and the intellectuals
THE PHILOSOPHERS INTERVENE IN FAVOR OF IMPERIALISM
at least twenty years, political scientists and international
lawyers effectively in the employ of power have been
donning philosophical garments to justify great-power
interventionism, and a few philosophers have repaid
the compliment and taken up the same project. Here we
may name Fernando Teson, Michael Reisman, Thomas Franck,
the late John Rawls, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.(3)
According to Gerry Simpson, these developments are,
in the case of Rawls, linked to "liberal anti-pluralism
or the liberal intolerance of intolerant governments."(4)
in passing, I will remark one problem with Simpson's
formulation, namely the idea that tolerant governments
exist at all, and that, existing, such governments could
usefully be contrasted with intolerant ones. The proof
of the pudding comes when people get in the way of one
of the "liberal, tolerant" governments, as did the Branch
Davidians or Randy Weaver but let us leave that to
one side. We may stipulate for purposes of argument
– that, some governments preside, so to speak, over
more tolerant societies than do other governments.
may also leave the complex historical question, why
this might be, to one side.
is probably fair to say that if you obey your
liberal, tolerant government in every way, as fast as
humanly possibly, you will probably not be shot
down at high noon – outnumbered a hundred to one by
heavily armed technicians of compliance. For the record,
I admit that this is doubtless somewhat better than
living in the Soviet Union was.
if ideology is coming into its own creating well-crafted
confusion as far as other issues such as dominance
for its own sake, oil, neo-mercantilism, and the lot
go, it still might be asked, whether or not philosophers
and international lawyers, whatever their motives, have
any real impact on policy? The answer, I think,
is that whether or not these persons are important individually,
they play an important role in helping the overall imperial
project along, by giving high-toned reasons why
we must support, acquiesce in, or put up with the project
and its costs in money, blood, moral decay, and institutional
change. Anyone who has watched any of the endless array
of panels on C-SPAN of late on just these questions,
sponsored by the usual suspect institutes which grew
up like algae in the favorable hot-house climate of
the late, much-missed Cold War, cannot doubt it. (Lions,
foxes, and Strauss, oh my.)
the matter of empire, of course, the discussions are
not all that clear. First there is an empire, then
there is no empire, then there is. But on military
intervention anywhere and everywhere in the name of
doing good, there is little division. And it cannot
hurt a President, a Secretary of State, a Major General
in charge of really-really "small" nuclear weapons,
or an Undersecretary for Obfuscation, to be able to
wave his hand in the general direction of a body of
doctrine stuffed with philosophical pretensions which
sanction just the policies under review.
ARMED AND DANGEROUS NEO-KANTIANS
peculiar thing about some of the new liberal imperialists
is their attempt to ground their system on the philosophy
of Immanuel Kant [1724-1804]. Kant reasoned that in
the fullness of liberal time, more and more republics
would come into being. Republics would be unlikely to
wage war the sport of kings and therefore
the proliferation of republican forms of government
would spark a trend toward world peace. As he wrote:
"If the consent of the citizens is required in order
to decide that war should be declared… nothing is more
natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing
such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities
republicanism stand in for liberalism here – there is
no need to quibble about that – problems arise, nonetheless.
First, the assumption that under republicanism/liberalism,
the "people" somehow control the state seems naïve at
best. It ignores the incentives presented to politicians(6)
and the ability of small cliques effectively to control
policy from the top. Britain's entry into World War
I, where three ministers committed the cabinet, the
cabinet committed Parliament, and Parliament committed
the people to "the meaningless catastrophe of 1914-18"
(in Joseph Schumpeter's phrase), is Exhibit A.
of the people died; in general, the cabinet and Parliament
did not. Let us hear no more about how much more "democratic"
than Germany the UK was in 1914.
– and unforeseen by Kant, wars, if properly "sold" by
intellectuals, politicians, and the press, can be quite
popular. But popularity cannot be the final judge of
the justness of a war. Further, liberal states, by allowing
greater economic freedom, rule over more productive
economies out of which more revenue may be extracted,
making possible greater effective military power. On
this basis, one might expect republican/liberal/democratic
states to be in better stead economically for undertaking
imperialist projects and, given the incentives to which
I have already alluded and the functionally oligarchical
character of "democratic" systems, one might well expect
them to do so.(7)
imperialist successes of "democratic" states are of
course the centerpiece of 20th-century history
THE REPUBLIC OF GOD ON EARTH
it were true, that republics – or alternatively, "liberal
states" or "democracies" are inherently peaceful,
and never attack one another, then a world made up of
such states, and such states alone, would be a world
of perpetual peace. Hooray!
calls to mind Woodrow Wilson's vision, but some proponents
of similar notions distance themselves from Wilson's
"utopianism." For one thing, these theorists are not
entirely wedded to bringing about the Better World via
collective security. For Teson and Reisman, in particular,
any sufficiently high-toned Super-Power is morally entitled
to act as history's great agent and, entirely by accident,
the United States is available for the job. In addition,
these writers are less patient than Wilson. Rather than
wait for "democracies," or whatever they are, to come
into being and behave peacefully ever after, they lean
toward imposing proper forms of state by military
all "the busy little seminars" currently running on
C-SPAN about how to "build" civil society in Iraq and
Neo-Kantian imperialists would like to sail under the
flag of the United Nations; less moderate ones are happy
to rely on US firepower. The paradox of endorsing, in
effect, a long series of "elective" (= aggressive) wars
to install democracies as the precondition for later
eternal peace, has not been lost on everyone. The doctrine
of pre-emptive wars fought in the name of future
peaceful conditions, conditions obtaining, once the
Good have sufficiently bombed the Bad, manages to substitute
the question of who is Good and who is Bad for the old-fashioned
question of war and peace.
is a simple maneuver, brilliant in conception and fairly
successful so far in execution. Well-meaning Super-Powers,
after all, will have no problem in spotting that they
are the Good, and any destruction done by them in a
political-military crusade for a better world, is already
"justified" in the premises. The argument is so tightly
wound, that several Catholic Neo-Conservatives justly
famous for enlisting traditional Just War Theory in
the same project, will soon be thrown out of work.
is one of the first things that will happen, and who
says there isn't a silver thread, at least, inside the
darkest storm cloud or crisis?
WILL THE TOLERANT LIBERAL STATES PLEASE STAND UP?
appears that classical liberals like Kant were simply
wrong to assume that states with popular input into
decision-making would choose peaceful policies. Wars
can be popular and the process is easily manipulated.
This problem can now be sidelined.
sheer genius of the new liberal imperialism lies in
its decoupling of the allegedly inherent peacefulness
of "democratic" states from any real pursuit of actual
peace. The key is now said to be that such nice states
never attack each other. That they have attacked
and do attack non-democratic states may stand as further
proof of their moral bona fides.
such a tendentious doctrine should arise at just this
historical moment owes less to the real Immanuel Kant
than to the practical need of US policymakers to have
justifying doctrines to peddle. Into the valley of rationalization
ride the Kantian imperialists.
as the 20th-century collective security theorists
undid the older international law, which focused on
neutral rights and consensus about the rights of noncombatants,
so, too, do the democracy gangsters outbid the security
collectivists. One critic refers to the new position
as "liberal millenarianism," nicely capturing the sheer
scope of its claims.(8)
critic notes how the new liberal imperialism rides on
the corrosive heritage of American exceptionalism: "The
sense that the United States has a special moral status
and mission has resulted in an intensive engagement
by the United States in foreign affairs, predicated
on a belief that America has a unique mission to lead
the world. But even as it is a basis for the attribution
to the United States of a special right to propose rules
of international conduct, American exceptional status
is also invoked to 'plead the authority of its internal
law to mitigate its international legal obligations.'
The United States thus simultaneously asserts the right
to lead, but also to be exempted from the rules it promotes."(9)
looks like nothing more or less than an imperial claim
to world-rule, whatever the trimmings. An imperial power
always has a great mission entrusted to it by God, History,
or Philosophy. Just ask that power's apologists.
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT STATE BEHIND THE DEMOCRACY
advantage, to those in power, of the newest doctrinal
wrinkle is that we never need look into the content
of democracy; we never need undertake a critique of
the internal realities of any conformist welfare-warfare
state. Liberal corporatism and suffocating bureaucratization
of the life-world get a free pass. Simpson almost sees
this, when he refers, in passing, to systems having
"free periodic elections in which the government is
elected by the citizens of [the] state."(10)
In the sainted democracies, the government is
always re-elected. There can be no question of reducing
the scope and activities of any democratic state in
the brave new world. As José E. Alvarez writes of one
of the new liberals, "Slaughter's liberal theory is
millenist, triumphalist, upbeat. The examples being
set by liberal nations' treaties and their transgovernmental
networks in the wake of the victory over communism mark
the beginnings of a global 'new deal' or a 'new liberal
democratic order.' Liberal international law promises
to replicate the liberal welfare state."(11)
guess we won't be getting big government off our backs
any time soon.
looms on the horizon is the international Gleichschaltung
("co-ordination") by the Great World Hegemon of those
"tolerant, liberal" forms of bureaucratic rule and interest-group
plunder, which came to characterize certain advanced
states in the 20th century. The radiant future
comes down to periodic but pointless elections, under
cover of which the boot of well-connected, state-sponsored
corporations will stamp on the face of humanity for
quite a long while, helped when necessary by the "precision"
weaponry made possible by Big Science.
this view, the repackaging of longstanding US aspirations
toward empire as neo-Kantian, "liberal-democratic" world
peace has already slipped a few gears, and the clutch
of history is about to burn itself out in conceptual
the aggressive potential of powerful states on forms
of rule, e.g., democracy vs. lack of democracy, bypasses
the need to think about states as such. As always, I
suggest building on Murray Rothbard's analysis of states,(12)
if we wish to think our way out of these corners.
John A. Hall, Powers
and Liberties: The Causes and Consequences of the Rise
of the West (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin,
1986), esp. pp. 3-17.
Murray N. Rothbard, "The Anatomy of the State," in Egalitarianism
As a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays
(Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises, Institute, 2000), pp.
Gerry Simpson, "Two Liberalisms," European Journal
of International Law, 12, 3 (2001), p. 537. I have
commented on Professor Reisman elsewhere; see my "The
United Nations Charter and the Delusion of Collective
Security," pp. 11-13, available at http://www.mises.org.
Simpson, ibid., p. 540.
Quoted in Michael W. Doyle, "Kant, Liberal Legacies
and Foreign Affairs," Part I, Philosophy and Public
Affairs, 12, 3 (Summer, 1993), p. 229.
See generally Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy,
the God That Failed (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction
See Hans-Hermann Hoppe, "Banking, Nation-States and
International Politics," Review of Austrian Economics,
4 (1990), pp. 55-87.
Susan Marks, "The End of History? Reflections on Some
International Legal Theses," European Journal of
International Law, 8,3 (1997), pp. 449-468.
James C. Hathaway, "America, Defender of Democratic
Legitimacy?", European Journal of International Law,
11, 1 (2000), p. 132.
Simpson, "Two Liberalisms," p. 560.
José E. Alvarez, ""Do Liberal States Behave Better?
A Critique of Slaughter's Liberal Theory," European
Journal of International Law, 12, 2 (2001), pp.
See note #2, above.