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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Unlimited Government Abroad Means No Freedom at Home


I find it amusing when I see people who profess to favor a free society and a free-market economic system here in the United States while, at the same time, favoring unlimited government overseas. Why is that amusing? Because it can’t be done. Freedom and unlimited government are opposites. You can’t have both. Unlimited government overseas necessarily means no freedom at home.

Consider, first of all, the financial aspects of unlimited government overseas. Foreign military bases, foreign aid, Navy fleets, invasions, occupations, kidnappings, prison camps, CIA bribery of foreign officials, sanctions, embargoes., coups, regime-change operations. It all costs money — lots of money. As in hundreds of billions of dollars. Every year.

As libertarians understand, a genuinely free society necessarily presupposes the absence of income taxation. One of the basic principles of economic liberty is that every person should be free to keep everything he earns and decide for himself what to do with it. So, genuine freedom means no income tax, no IRS, no tax code, no deductions, no April 15 deadlines, or other such nonsense.

That’s, in fact, why our American ancestors lived without income taxation for more than 125 years. They understood that that’s what genuine freedom entails. That’s one of the big reasons they considered themselves to be a free people — because they were free to keep everything they earned and free to determine what to do with their own money.

Unlimited government overseas necessarily depends on an income tax at home. How else are they going to pay for the hundreds of billions of dollars in annual expenditures on the military and the CIA that comes with unlimited government abroad?

Thus, unlimited government overseas necessarily serves as a block to the achievement of a genuinely free society at home. That’s because unlimited government overseas depends on the existence of the income tax, which is antithetical to the principles of a free society.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. As we have learned, unlimited government overseas makes people over there angry. That’s because unlimited government over there inevitably entails the killing, humiliation, and abuse of people over there, especially those who begin resisting a foreign regime’s imposition of its will on them. As unlimited government kills, incarcerates, tortures, humiliates, and abuses increasing numbers of people over there, the ranks of those who resist swells, requiring the unlimited government to kill even more people, producing an endless cycle of imperial imposition and foreign resistance.

Initially, the anger is manifested in protests and demonstrations. Then, when that fails to achieve results, the anger manifests itself in violence against U.S. troops and diplomatic centers. Sometimes also against American citizens travelling in the affected areas. Ultimately, as we continue to learn, some of those angry people make their way into the United States, where they engage in brutal acts of terrorism against Americans.

The government’s response is predictable: It must act to keep Americans safe from these terrorist threats. To do that, the government inevitably adopts temporary, emergency, dictatorial powers, such as the power to incarcerate people, including Americans, in prisoner camps or military dungeons without due process of law. And the power to assassinate people, including Americans, with immunity and impunity. Torture is considered necessary, including the torture of American citizens. Secret searches without judicially issued warrants are conducted. The procedural rights and guarantees that were designed to keep people free are discarded under the rationale of keeping people safe.

When people are living under a regime that is wielding dictatorial powers, they simply cannot be living in a free society. Dictatorial powers and freedom are opposites.

Moreover, don’t forget that all this “homeland security” costs money. Lots of money. As in hundreds of millions of dollars. Every year. And the only way to collect all that money to pay for all that “security” is through an income tax, something that, as discussed above, is antithetical to a free society.

Many of the advocates of unlimited government overseas believe that as long as Americans are convinced, no matter how falsely, that they are living in a free country, everything will be fine. That’s one of the big reasons they resent us libertarians — because we tell people, especially young people, the truth. We give them a healthy dose of reality: This is not a free society in which they are living. We tell them that there is no way one can be living in a free society when they are living under a government that is taxing income and wielding dictatorial powers of  indefinite military incarceration, torture, assassination, warrantless searches, and the like.

Why is exposing people to such reality important? For one thing, because economic law works the same way natural law operates. If a person is drinking arsenic, the result is not going to be different if he’s falsely convinced that what he is drinking is actually castor oil. By the same token, the consequences of living in an unfree society are not going to be different if people falsely convince themselves that they’re actually living in a free society. The words of Johann von Goethe come to mind: None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

Thus, the real issue that Americans need to be debating and discussing is: How bad do you want to live in a genuinely free society? If you decide that that is what you want, then that necessarily means abandoning allegiance to unlimited government abroad.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.