I have a strong affinity for lists and ranking things so lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what the most important problems are from a libertarian perspective. Libertarians have a whole ton of problems with modern institutions and society but just which are the most pertinent? My friend, Thomas Michie posed a similar question on Facebook, so I decided to write up my top 5.
I tend to be a bit harder on war than the average libertarian as both an anarchist and a pacifist. I’ve long been against pre-emptive war, interventionist foreign policy, and standing armies. I’ve also recently started to identify as a pacifist, in the sense of being against war, not any individual instance of self-defense, as I found Bryan Caplan’s “Common-Sense Case for Pacifism” strikingly compelling and…well, implied by basic common sense.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise I think war is the most important issue for libertarians. In fact I think it should be the most important political issue for anyone with a conscious and I don’t think it’s particularly close. It’s obvious that war is the biggest threat to humanity. It causes the most destruction, damage, chaos, and death than any other institution we have. This is even more apparent after the 20th century; the era, as Jeffrey Tucker calls it, of the “total state.” The century where totalitarianism was widespread and mass murder was common. The time period with more war than peace. The amount of pure awfulness caused by war was, and will continue to be, unmatched. The problem of war and foreign entanglement is further complicated by technological advancements such as nuclear weapons and biological warfare. These issues, to me, only give us further reason to be adamant that war is not, and never will be, on the table.
My preference for peace underlines all my political thought. My support for strong private property rights, markets, and the division of labor are all strongly based on my belief that these institutions are favorable towards peaceful resolution and social cooperation. My disgust for states, monopoly, and centralization are all rooted in my belief that those institutions are more conducive to war-making and make peace less likely and/or more difficult to maintain. A large reason I’m an anarchist is that I think markets are a levelling force; that competitive forces create accountability and checks and balances. That is, that markets, especially in the legal and defense industries, would promote non-violent conflict resolution by forcing firms to internalize all their costs. The state socializes the costs of war and intervention through taxation and inflation, making war much easier to pursue. If there were, instead, competitive forces governing the defense sector, the costs to violence would be obvious and apparent, and therefore serve to make war less appealing.
But even if you aren’t an anarchist, war is still the most awful thing ever. Even if you don’t think that abolishing the state is the best answer, common decency says that war is just the plum worst and should be avoided. This is something all libertarians ought to agree on, even if we all have slightly different conclusions about what really prevents war most effectively. Is it a market in defense? Is it a minimal state with no standing army? Is it a non-interventionist foreign policy? These questions are vital as they address the biggest threat to human life and flourishing on the planet, but regardless of how we all answer those questions I hope we all have the same end or intent in mind: peace.
I think there is a bonus reason why this issue should be especially important for libertarians: we have been historically too soft on this issue. Many historical libertarians and a few big modern libertarian organizations have been entirely too easy on mass murder. They have either said things friendly to certain instances of war making or outright advocated for war. To further drive the point home and to make up for our predecessors past mistakes, libertarians today ought to make war our biggest concern, bar-none. We need to be unwavering and principled in our opposition to war lest we go down in history as another hypocritical, failed social movement. The libertarian movement needs to be synonymous with the peace movement.
2. Foreign Policy
4. Mass Murder.