The other day, I was scrolling through YouTube and watched an hour and half long debate at the Libertarian SoHo Forum. Two libertarian activists, Dave Smith and Nicolas Sarwarck, were sparring over whether the LP should ever run candidates like Gary Johnson and Bill Weld at the top of the ticket. Considering the fact that the Johnson/Weld ticket won almost 4.5 million votes in the last election (which is an astounding feat for a third party), I was given to think that more candidates like them should run in the future. Gary Johnson is not Ron Paul, he’s not kind of like Ron Paul, and he’s not in the same football stadium as Ron Paul. The latter is a firebrand who took stands on the issues, while the former is not an intellectual and supplemented his deficiencies with eyebrow-raising gaffes (think Aleppo). Bill Weld is a lukewarm Republican who is about as energizing as a dead catfish lying on a beach.
That being said, they did better than any other candidate in the history of the LP and that’s says a lot. The facts are that there aren’t that many libertarians in America, which precludes them from running firebrands for the Oval Office. Republicans and Democrats have a huge, (perhaps soon not insurmountable) advantage in manpower. Because of that, they can afford to run the radicals. Even so, that often fails; look at the Goldwater campaign. Therefore it made little sense to me for the LP to do anything but run Johnson/Weld like tickets even though they are lightyears from perfect, otherwise, they would have no chance of ever winning.
I mentally mused on these points throughout the debate and was not swayed throughout its course. While watching it, I couldn’t help but notice the rhetoric they used with regards to foreign policy and the military. It is a policy plank of the libertarian movement that they are anti-war and are for a limited international role for the United States. That is all well and good, but the phraseology they use is troubling at the highest order. When I listen to them talk on this subject, they talk more like revolutionary Marxists than rightists. They are, of course, not rightists, but libertarianism is fundamentally a lot closer to conservatism than leftism. With that in mind, I did not expect rhetoric invoking Hitler and Stalin when talking about the US government’s security infrastructure and vitriolic attacks on the US military.
In the first ten minutes of the debate, Dave Smith said the following:
- “we’ve got a warfare state that can’t find a conflict that it doesn’t want to get bogged down in … and a police state that would make Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin impressed”
- “You think that Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler wouldn’t look at what we have and go ‘god damn, they gave the department of education a SWAT team. These bastards are good.’”
- “Do you guys remember the George W Bush administration? ‘[Imitating George Bush] Ooh, the terrorists are wrong and the troops are the good guys’ and he [Ron Paul] went ‘eh not so much. The troops are kind of the bad guys in this fight and the terrorists are kind of acting how any of us would if someone did that to them.’”
I feel compelled to respond these claims so, one by one, responses follow. To the first part of point one, it is indeed true that the US is involved in a large amount of global conflict. That’s an objective reality. Why is this? The US is by far the strongest power in the free world and no other nation comes close. She is the international vanguard of liberty. America does the hard jobs around the world that no-one else wants to or is able to. Lots of mistakes have been made and no one is going to say otherwise. The 2000s Middle Eastern wars were beset with blunders –mostly by Washington bureaucrats sticking their nose into the military’s sphere. The profuseness of America’s campaigns abroad is not indicative that they are about shoring up an empire or subjugating foreigners; rather, they could be chalked up to fighting the global war on terrorism that no other nation seems to want to help in.
The Hitler and Stalin references are completely uncalled for. A long time ago, my high school AP European History teacher had a saying that goes like this, “Don’t talk about Hitler in politics unless we’re actually talking about Hitler. The first person to bring up Hitler loses.” In other words, if a person starts talking about Hitler when the subject is not history, or the political theory of the Nazis or the like, it is an act of desperation. It is a last ditch appeal to emotion made by a losing party. With that aside, the reference is not even accurate. It is very true that the technology the state can use for surveillance has rapidly increased from the 1930s, ‘40s and early ‘50s. Governments around the world have webs of surveillance that are far too expansive. Those two dictators would be impressed, but they would be impressed by the technology – not how we use it. If America is a totalitarian state comparable to the Soviet Union’s Stalinist era, then we are making really bad use of our technology. How many political prisoners are sent to gulags every year? How many dissidents are shot in front of bullet-riddled brick walls every day? Most importantly, do we the people have to live in fear of the state because of this? Those questions have self-evident answers. America has all a lot of surveillance tech, but they don’t use it in a way that would constitute totalitarianism. If that were not the case, Freedom House which is the preeminent watchdog group for democracy and freedom would not be producing more or less glowing report on America’s situation. If Hitler and Stalin had this kind of tech, the story would be different. If that were the case, then the history of those two bastions of evil would be significantly worse than the Orwellian nightmare 1984. That being said, a lot of work has to be done to dismantle much of the surveillance apparatus the state has accumulated. This includes getting rid of that Department of Education SWAT team.
I can stomach the Hitler and Stalin references and the criticism of American foreign policy as a “warfare state,” though I patently disagree, but I draw the line at what came next. When I heard what Dave Smith said in point three, I said something completely unprintable. Saying that the troops are the bad guys is my line in the sand. When that is crossed, I can’t in good faith, support that figure or what he represents. There are, indeed, some instances where American forces have committed atrocities; take the Biscari massacre in WWII where dozens of Axis prisoners were killed. Wanton acts of violence against prisoners like that are unconscionable and no one would defend them. The commission of atrocities is the only case where specific US troops should be called “bad guys.” But that is not what this libertarian activist meant: He was saying not only were the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan wrong (a fair position), but the troops themselves were the “bad guys,” which then leaves the terrorists as the “good guys,” (a completely unfair position). Forgive me for believing that the terrorists who suicide bomb civilians, drive trucks into crowds, and fly planes into towers are the real “bad guys.” Forgive me for believing that upstanding men and women sometimes, not out of their teens who join the armed forces to defend freedom and justice, are the “good guys,” even when the mission they are sent on falls short of the high ideals they signed up for. There can be legitimate disagreements over the necessity of a military operation, but one has to realize that the US does not embark on manifestly unjust campaigns. America does not go around annexing countries, going to war with other democracies, and outside of instances of total war, (such as the WWII carpet bombing campaigns), She does not kill civilians just to kill civilians. Those actions are unjust, but the United States does not do things like that. Without doing things like that, in what world would those men and women who joined the armed forces be the bad guys?
My family has a long history of military service in this country going all the way back to the days of WWI. I love America because I learned about the sacrifices they made to defend freedom and justice at an early age. Those veterans are all long since dead now, but the sacrifices they made do not die. Freedom has not been consigned to books long since burned by one totalitarian power or another because the international vanguard of liberty that is America was there when the world needed Her. Without men and women like those who served in my family, the world today would resemble a dystopian Hell as envisioned by Ray Bradbury or George Orwell.
The libertarians that I watched on the SoHo Forum don’t seem to see this and that is a reflection of both the LP and the wider movement itself. Voting for LP candidates, doing activist work for them, donating to them, or doing anything that would give them material support is, thus, untenable for me. I’ve always considered myself a conservative with some libertarian leanings and I probably still will, but I will make two changes from now on:
- I will need to forever make the distinction that I support the libertarian movement only on the basis of freedom and economics – never on foreign policy or the military.
- I will never vote for a candidate running on the LP ticket because that would imply my endorsement of not only the freedom and economics angle, but also the foreign policy and military angle, which is unacceptable.
Photo credit: “Libertarian dream ticket stumbles at convention” via Legal Insurrection
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