Sunday, September 21, 2014

Spencer and the anti-militarist libertarian heritage

The Anti-Militarist Libertarian Heritage - - Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom Foundation:

September 21, 2014 - "With the United States on the verge of another war in the Middle East — or is it merely the continuation of a decades-long war? — we libertarians need to reacquaint ourselves with our intellectual heritage of peace, antimilitarism, and anti-imperialism. This rich heritage is too often overlooked and frequently not appreciated at all. That is tragic. Libertarianism, to say the least, is deeply skeptical of state power. Of course, then, it follows that libertarianism must be skeptical of the state's power to make war — to kill and destroy in other lands. Along with its domestic police authority, this is the state's most dangerous power. (In 1901 a libertarian, Frederic Passy, a friend of libertarian economist Gustave de Molinari, shared in the first Nobel Peace Prize.)

"Herbert Spencer, the great English libertarian philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th century, eloquently expressed radical liberalism's antipathy to war and militarism. His writings are full of warnings about the dangers of war and conquest. Young Spencer saw and cheered the rise of the industrial type of society, which was displacing what he called the militant type. The industrial type was founded on equal freedom, consent, and contract, the militant on hierarchy, command, and force. Yet he lived long enough to see a reversal, and his later writings lamented the ascendancy of the old militant traits. We have a good deal to learn from the much-maligned Spencer, who is inexplicably condemned as favoring the 'law of the jungle.' This is so laughably opposite of the truth that one couldn't be blamed for concluding that the calumny is the product of bad faith....

"He starts by pointing out that the 'parent' country's government must violate the rights of its own citizens when it engages in colonial conquest and rule. Spencer advocated just enough government to protect the freedom of the citizens who live under it ... and he claims that the money spent on colonies necessarily is money not needed to protect that freedom.

"Spencer proceeds to demolish the argument that foreign acquisitions increase the wealth of the parent society, as though such acquisitions are analogous to voluntary trade relations.... He invokes the law of comparative advantage to argue that the parent society loses, not gains, when the government coercively creates artificial foreign markets for products the society can't produce as efficiently as others can.

"As for those on the receiving end of colonial policy, Spencer was blunt: 'We … meet nothing but evil results'."

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