A Libertarian Foreign Policy – Freedom Philosophy

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From an outsider perspective, the American 2016 election was fascinating. Two things shocked me; firstly, the one with the most experience within governmental success and with the highest moral standing didn’t win by a landslide, and two, that he didn’t know what Aleppo is.

Emperor Constantine had a dilemma to be overcome. After having enshrined Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, there were still wars to be fought. It would be difficult to make the claim that Christianity is strictly a pacifist religion, yet some of Rome’s war tactics were hardly in line with “Love thy neighbor” or “Love thine enemy,”. His solution was to have Roman commanders, who often had to order the torture of others, wait until retirement for their baptism.

I’m skeptical of the theological soundness of the solution. However, Thomas Aquinas put more thought into the issue and gave us the just war theory. Although aspects of it can be compatible with libertarianism such as peace as the ultimate goal, there are many aspects of his criteria for what constitutes a just war that involves anti-libertarian ideals such as the state must be the authority.

We must revisit this concept with our own ethics. Bastiat laid the foundation for modern libertarian thought when he spoke of state coercion for taxation. If one person robs another, we view it as a crime. If two forcibly remove his property, we likewise call it theft. If three, four, five, or six, do the same then it’s theft. But if an entire society uses force to steal a person’s money, we lose interest in the ethical nomenclature and dismiss it as for the common good.

Libertarians have a knee-jerk reaction to foreign policy in that we shouldn’t be involved with matters that don’t concern us. And yet most libertarians I’ve spoken with would be the first to rush to the aid of their neighbor, perhaps a wife being abused by her husband. In fact, if there were two of them they would do the same. If three, four, five, or six, were present they would use force to prevent the act of aggression. But if an entire society uses force to prevent the barbarisms of ISIS, for example, libertarians protest.

Let me suggest sample criteria for libertarian warfare:

  1. The non-aggression principle must have been violated by the one we got to way against. Border wars that have complex geopolitical causes aren’t clear violations of the principle, whereas genocide is. Thus, one is a cause for war, and the other is not.
  2. The war must have a utilitarian argument. It does no good to prevent domestic violence by setting the house on fire, killing everyone inside. But if A is inflicting harm on B, and C can reasonably intervene to bring about less harm, C has a moral obligation to that effect.
  3. The participants must be voluntary. Conscription is little more than slavery. In spite of the moral obligation, no one must be forced to participate.
  4. The motivation must be the restoration of non-aggression – peace. If the motivation is self-interested, perhaps the economy of a few, then it will be we ourselves who warrant forceful correction.

Given that most global conflicts fail to meet these criteria I’ve never felt it necessary to write on the topic before. But the policy can be used to outline specific reasons as to why we disagree with a conflict just as much agree with another conflict.

A robust foreign policy is necessary for ethics and for our self-interest. Particular conflicts mandate criticism. But as libertarian it is our fundamental duty to pursue peace, liberty, and justice. Libertarians support gun ownership for a reason – to protect ourselves and those around us. Our foreign policy should follow the reasoning of Bastiat and pursue non-aggression.

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Brandon Kirby

Brandon Kirby is a philosopher, financial adviser, a founder of a local investment club, and he hosts regular symposiums in philosophy. He is also a member of Canada’s Libertarian Party.

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