Thursday, August 10, 2006

Libertarians and the Middle East distraction

Over at The Sharpener, Jarndyce considers the attitude of so-called libertarians over the current Middle East distraction.
Why have almost all the supposed “libertarian” sites come out firin’ for Israel? It can’t just be the comfort of the electronic echo-chamber. A random sample of actual libertarians would likely show a scattering of reactions, up to and including compassionate indifference.

I left a comment there which, inevitably, I thought about as I went along, so I thought that I'd post it here for your delectation (with a few modifications). I started off by referencing Nosemonkey's comment.
Israel - claims to be trying to avoid civilian casualties, but used missiles and bombs to attack Hezbollah because it’s easier and safer (for them) than street-by-street clearance, which could reduce civilian casualties but would increase their own.

Yes, although the fact that the Lebanese said that the army—the official one, I mean—would fight against the IDF if Israel tried an invasion may well have been a factor. Presumably, Israel—naturally wanting to safeguard the safety of its own citizens—preferred not to fight two armies and also realised that high-level bombing was going to cause less casualties to their own side.

You know: like we did when we (illegally) bombed the shit out of Serbia. Or is it not "disproportionate" when we bomb the crap out of civilians?

As for your main thrust, Jarndyce, well, maybe I should reclassify myself as a "libertarian pragmatist". Or, of course, look at the Wikipedia definition of libertarian, which contains the following definition [emphasis added]:
Libertarianism is a political philosophy[1] advocating that individuals should be free to do whatever they wish with their person or property, as long as they do not infringe on the same liberty of others. Libertarians hold as a fundamental maxim that all human interaction should be voluntary and consensual. They maintain that the initiation (or threat) of physical force against another person or his property, or the commission of fraud, is a violation of that principle. Some libertarians regard all initiation of force as immoral, whereas others support a limited government that engages in the minimum amount of initiatory force (such as minimal taxation and regulation) that they believe necessary to ensure maximum individual freedom (negative liberty). Force is not opposed when used in retaliation for initiatory aggressions such as trespassing or violence. Libertarians favor an ethic of self-responsibility and strongly oppose the welfare state, because they believe forcing someone to provide aid to others is ethically wrong, ultimately counter-productive, or both.

Of course, in this case the important line is:
Force is not opposed when used in retaliation for initiatory aggressions such as trespassing or violence.

Obviously, there are those of us who believe that this principle is not inconsistent with Israel's actions. In fact, if a libertarian were to believe that Israel was attacked first (something, of course, that is far from clear) then we would have to support her over her aggressor.

There is, of course, more to it than that. It is really about degrees, I suppose; ultimately, a democracy such as Israel fundamentally allows more personal freedom than the fundamental theocracies that Hezbollah represents. If one believes that there is a wider conflict between democracy/the West/Israel/whatever and Islamist theocracies (which many do; not least since, just before the Iraqi elections in January 2005, Al-Zarqawi declared "a bitter war against "the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it") then a libertarian will always be biased towards the democracy, for reasons which should be patently obvious.

The sheer awfulness of the repressive, totalitarian, theocratic regimes which are represented by Hezbollah makes it impossible, I think, for anyone with a conscience to declare themselves pro-Hezbollah—especially since it is not we who will have to wear the burqa should Hezbollah and their paymasters win. Ultimately, it is a question of democracy versus fundamental theocracy: a conflict that should pose no problems of allegiance for a libertarian.

Or would you disagree?

This is, I think, how I feel about the matter. I don't necessarily condone Israel's retaliatory action but, then again, if the Lebanese government had forced the disarmament of Hezbollah as per UN Resolution 1559 (which, I will admit, is easier said than done and may have run the risk of a civil war) we might not be in this situation.

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