A few days after the 9/11 attacks, I was attending a big libertarian dinner at an area hotel. As I was walking out at the conclusion of the dinner, a longtime libertarian friend approached me and said in an approving voice, “The American people are now going to see what Latin Americans had to do to deal with terrorism.”
For me, that comment didn’t bode well. I was familiar with the U.S.-supported military dictatorship of Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet, whose national-security state forces, with the full support of the U.S. government, had rounded up tens of thousands of innocent people, incarcerated them without trial, tortured or raped them, and disappeared or executed thousands of them, all in the name of the wars on communism and terrorism. I was also familiar with the history of U.S.-supported right-wing regimes in Latin America that were notorious for their secret death squads that engaged in kidnapping, torture, rape, disappearances, and assassination.
Then, as I was waiting for my car, I asked another libertarian friend who was working at a conservative educational foundation, “So, what do you think about all this ‘war on terrorism’ rhetoric?” Not hesitating a bit, he responded, “We have immediately jumped all over this. We have all sorts of position papers coming out in favor of the war on terrorism and the measures that U.S. officials need to take to win it.”
As I was driving home, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that 9/11 would be a real dividing line for the libertarian movement. Some people in the movement, especially those who had come into it from the conservative movement, would become ardent supporters of the war on terrorism, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, foreign interventionism, and an ever-expanding national-security establishment.
Others, including FFF, remained steadfast in their opposition to such things. Soon after the attacks, we were emphasizing what we had been saying before them: that they were a direct consequence of the interventionist foreign policy that the U.S. government had initiated in the Middle East, especially after the national-security establishment had lost its longtime Cold War enemies, the Soviet Union and communism, in 1989. We also emphasized that the war on terrorism would bring grave infringements on the freedoms of the American people as well as damage to our economic well-being through out-of-control federal spending and debt. None of this, we kept saying, was consistent with the principles of a free society.
But we were facing a tsunami of public opinion against us, including from many of our supporters. People were viewing the 9/11 attacks like some sort of Pearl Harbor attack on the United States, one that, in their opinion, required the entire nation to band together to fight those who had attacked us out of hatred for our “freedom and values.” They didn’t want to hear about blowback from U.S. foreign policy or about how crises inevitably lead to a loss of liberty and economic well-being.
Those were difficult times for FFF. I have never seen more hate mail in all my life. We were accused of being unpatriotic, even traitors, haters of America, cowards, lovers of terrorism, and terrorist sympathizers. We lost much financial support, with many donors abandoning us, unable to comprehend our position or simply disagreeing with it.
Over time, many of our donors returned to us, especially as the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq turned into deadly and destructive fiascoes and as our supporters saw the “war on terrorism” vesting U.S. officials, especially those in the national-security branch of the government, with extraordinary and permanent emergency powers that were characteristic of totalitarian regimes, not governments in free societies.
Nonetheless, there is still a major split in the libertarian movement, with many libertarians reluctant to call for an end to the “war on terrorism” and, even more important, the dismantling of the entire national-security state apparatus that was grafted onto our federal governmental system at the end of World War II.
How did this split come about? In the past several years, especially as a result of Ron Paul’s two campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, the libertarian movement has been flooded by conservatives of all ages and from all walks of life. Disillusioned by the passion for socialist and fascist programs demonstrated by the conservatives, as manifested by their devotion to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public (i.e., government) schooling, medical IRAs, farm subsidies, education grants, the Federal Reserve, and countless other statist programs, many conservatives have become attracted to libertarianism primarily because of libertarian economic principles, especially those of the Austrian school, as reflected in the works of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.
That migration into the libertarian movement has been, of course, a good thing. What is not good is that all too many of the new libertarians have been unable to let go of their conservatism in specific areas, such as immigration, where they continue to embrace the socialism of immigration central planning that comes with immigration controls, or in foreign policy, where they continue to support the enormous permanent standing army, the CIA, and the NSA, along with the war on terrorism, foreign interventionism, militarism, foreign wars, secret surveillance, and undeclared wars of aggression.
Libertarians who favor a large military establishment, the CIA, the NSA, and foreign interventionism have come to be known within the libertarian movement as “liberventionists.” They support the continued existence of the national-security state as part of the federal governmental system but want to reform it by making it more efficient as well as by intervening overseas only when it is “in our interests,” ignoring the fact that U.S. officials, who make the decisions on whether to intervene in a foreign country, always believe that their interventions are “in our interests.”
What the interventionists fail to realize is that the continued existence of the national-security establishment means the continued loss of freedom for the American people. That’s because the Pentagon and the CIA will do whatever is necessary to maintain a continued climate of crisis and war in order to justify their existence and the ever-increasing flow of taxpayer money to “defense” contractors. Those perpetual crises and wars, of course, are then used as the excuse for infringing on fundamental rights and liberties. In other words, freedom — genuine freedom — turns on dismantling, not reforming, the national-security apparatus that was grafted onto our original constitutional system at the end of World War II.
Knowing that some of their views are still conservative and not libertarian, many liberventionists remain silent and stay below the radar screen. Others, on the other hand, are constantly trying to subvert young libertarians into accepting their view favoring militarism, empire, and foreign interventionism. That’s in fact one of the reasons that FFF focuses much of its attention on college libertarians — to counteract what they are being quietly but persistently told by liberventionists about militarism, empire, and foreign intervention.
The greatest threat
As we study the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, as well as the events surrounding those three documents, one thing stands out above all else: Our American ancestors were firmly convinced that the greatest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people would be the federal government. That’s why they took such care to strictly limit the federal government’s powers to the few enumerated powers within the Constitution. It’s also why they demanded the enumeration of the express restrictions on federal power in the Bill of Rights.
It’s also why the Founding Fathers had such a deep antipathy toward standing armies. They knew that when governments do bad things to people, they use their troops to carry out those bad things. They also knew that when rulers have large military establishments at their disposal, they inevitably get the nation embroiled in expensive foreign wars and adventures that ultimately bankrupt a nation.
Prior to World War II, the enormous wartime military establishment was always demobilized at the end of a war, leaving a very small military force during peacetime. That changed after World War II, when America’s federal governmental system was fundamentally altered by making an enormous military establishment, the CIA, and later the NSA a permanent part of the federal government. Given the enormous power of this national-security establishment, both in terms of military might and information gathering, it effectively became a fourth branch of the federal government, one to which the other three branches increasingly deferred during succeeding decades.
In 1961, in what is the most remarkable Farewell Address in U.S. history, Dwight Eisenhower observed that this national-security state apparatus — or what he called the “military-industrial complex” — constituted a fundamental altering of America’s governmental structure as well as a grave threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people. Thirty days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, former president Harry Truman wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he stated that the CIA had become a sinister force in American life.
Some years ago, I was attending a libertarian function when someone approached me and asked, “What do you consider to be the biggest threat to our freedom today.” I didn’t hesitate. I answered, “The U.S. national-security state.”
That is what the liberventionists, unfortunately, do not understand. Having come into the movement owing primarily to an attraction to free-market, Austrian economics, they look on the military, the CIA, and the NSA as conservatives do — as a friend and protector of our rights and freedoms, when in fact they are, as our American ancestors understood so well, the gravest threat to our rights and freedoms as well as to our economic well-being.
Consider the fact that the president, the military, and the CIA now wield the omnipotent power to take any American into custody, incarcerate him indefinitely, torture him, execute him, or assassinate him, as a suspected terrorist. Deferring to the national-security establishment, the federal courts have upheld the power to do those things both to Americans and to others. Consider also the massive secret surveillance schemes, upheld by the secretive judicial court that deals with such things, by which the federal government monitors the most private aspects of people’s lives.
There is no way to reconcile those things with a free society. They are antithetical to the principles of a free society. They violate the most fundamental of libertarian principles. It’s not a coincidence that totalitarian regimes have national-security establishments as part of their governmental structure. It’s the way they enforce their tyranny. Look at China. Look at Egypt. Look at Chile under Pinochet. Look at the Soviet Union. Look at Nazi Germany.
If libertarians want a free society, then it’s not sufficient to simply dismantle the welfare state and adopt an economic system based on Austrian economics — not when government officials wield the totalitarian powers to detain, incarcerate, torture, execute, and assassinate anyone they want. A free society necessarily depends on dismantling both the welfare state and the warfare state.
The stakes are obviously extraordinarily high. The libertarian movement is the only hope that America has for achieving a free and prosperous society. The welfare-warfare state way of life that both conservatives and liberals have foisted on our nation has brought nothing but chaos, strife, conflict, crisis, misery, suffering, and impoverishment. It is only libertarianism that offers the way out of all this. Thus the fight is not only a fight for the heart and soul of the libertarian movement. It’s a fight for the future of freedom for America and, indirectly, for the rest of the world.
In the wake of the ongoing crises, fiascoes, and disasters in Social Security; health care; the drug war; immigration; federal spending; the national debt; fiat (i.e., paper) money; mortgage loans; public schooling; the drug war; and Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, every American should be asking himself the following important questions: What is the role of government in a free society? Should it be taking money from people to whom it belongs and giving it to others? Should it be punishing people for engaging in purely peaceful activity? Should it be owning and operating economic enterprises? Should it be engaged in invasions, occupations, wars of aggression, torture, rendition, and assassination; foreign aid; regime-change operations, coups, and partnerships with dictatorial regimes; empire; and foreign interventionism?
Additionally, every libertarian should be asking himself the following important questions: How much do you want to be free? Do you want freedom now or 40 years from now? What is the best way to achieve freedom — by leading people to question the moral and economic legitimacy of the welfare-warfare state way of life or simply by encouraging people to reform it?
Today, many older libertarians favor funding young libertarians because they’re “the hope for the future.” There is just one big problem with that concept: that’s what older people said to me when I discovered libertarianism 40 years ago, when I was in my late 20s. “We have to invest in you young people,” they said to us, “because you’re the hope for the future.” Well, we’re the older people today and yet many of us are saying the same thing that the older people said to us when we were young: “We need to invest in young people because they’re the hope for the future.” Who’s to say that today’s young people, 40 years from now, won’t say the same thing to the young people of their time, thereby making the achievement of freedom a never-never proposition?
I say: let’s not wait for another 40 years to bring a free society to America. I say: Let’s not be reformers of the status quo. Let’s instead be dismantlers of the welfare-warfare state. Let’s lead the world now to the freest, most prosperous, most peaceful, and most secure society in history.
Why don’t we compromise here at FFF? Because we want to be free, because freedom is possible, and because achieving freedom depends on adhering to principle.