Drafting Libertarians

Thanks to Mike for his follow-up to my questions. Though enlightened, I am somewhat disappointed; I thought he was making a more radical argument, given his examples such as extending libertarian principles to foreigners wishing to enter this country (see the vigorous discussion on his original piece on immigration). I tried to base my observations solely on Mike’s own discussion, and not on opinions drawn from the vast libertarian conspiracy. I too affirm a “very moderate” libertarianism in one country, involving an “indirect utilitarianism.”

I raise the question of self-defense because I wonder how libertarians can feel they are part of a “self,” a nation, or any other association, without somehow violating their principles. What orders are given and obeyed in a regime of spontaneous order? But if one is a “fusionist,” as Mike says, that ameliorates a lot of difficulties, though he seems to raise them once again by emphasizing a “volunteer army … consistent with classical liberal principles.”

Briefly, one reason a draft may, at least at one time, have been justified is its patriotic egalitarianism in service of a free nation. Consider just an array of distinguished professors we have known who served as lowly privates in the army. Does such service restrict liberty? If it does, it also expands opportunity, elevates the lowly, affirms solidarity of all in service to the nation, and moderates our foreign policy. By giving people familiarity with firearms, the draft also helps reaffirm the central purpose of the Second Amendment, our Declaration of Independence-based duty to rebel against tyranny. (I may be the radical libertarian here!)

“When freedom has prevailed, people see that it is a good thing and they support it.” Yes, we all like our own individual freedom, but what about dying for other people’s freedom? That goes to the whole problem of governing by consent and of teleology.

Ken Masugi

Ken Masugi is a Senior Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He teaches in graduate programs in political science for Johns Hopkins University and for the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University. He has edited Interpreting Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, co-edited The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science, and co-authored and co-edited several other books on American politics and political thought. In addition, he has worked ten years in the federal government as a speechwriter and on policy issues, at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was a special assistant to Chairman Clarence Thomas, and the Departments of Justice and Labor.

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  1. gabe says

    Another great response.
    I can only add that and with respect to the draft / military service and any diminution of liberty, all of the benefits you mention are real; however, there is one more: Military service COMPELS you to CONFRONT your CAPABILITIES. If this is a restriction on liberty, then more of us are in serious need of such a restrictive liberty.

  2. David Frisk says

    Ken’s piece strikes me as a rather statist and consequentialist argument for the draft, or the beginnings of such argument. It does not justify forcing people to place their lives on the line, absent an existential threat to the nation.

    • John Ashman says

      As I understand it, I believe he is asking “how does common defense manifest itself in a libertarian society?” which is to say, “why won’t a libertarian society simply be invaded and destroyed by the first Saddam Hussein that comes along?”

      I think that perfect libertarianism can’t exist as long as there are real threats to your life and property from organized forces. So every society must have some sort of plan in place for defense, or else it won’t exist as a society for long and the freedom of every individual will simply be erased. We had such a system with the militias and then we turned it the military into a full time profession and weapons into an industrial complex.

  3. says

    Dr. Masugi,

    I support the hope of a “moderate libertarianism” – but I am worried about some of the reservations you bring up here. You write,

    “I raise the question of self-defense because I wonder how libertarians can feel they are part of a “self,” a nation, or any other association, without somehow violating their principles. What orders are given and obeyed in a regime of spontaneous order?”

    A libertarian takes the self – the individual unit – to be the core building block of all associations. The reasoning seems to be that placing an individual into association without his consent is akin to slavery; to get consent, you must first recognize an individual. But every individual is a political animal and so seeks political association: be that the politics of bowling leagues, love affairs, or universities.

    A libertarian then -affirms- the political nature of man, but he denies that a political nature justifies a tyrannous politics. Rather, he might argue that voluntary political associations would naturally give rise to things like defense: after all, everyone has an interest in their own safety. And, of course, I have interest in the safety of my neighbor, for I would prefer an enemy far away to one at my doorstep.

    So the “orders” obeyed in spontaneous order are the orders obeyed in any market. Consent, exchange, innovation, competition, on and on.

    I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this! I hope to write a more appropriate response tomorrow.

    • Ken Masugi says

      James: “The reasoning seems to be that placing an individual into association without his consent is akin to slavery….” But you don’t believe that a family is akin to slavery, do you? There is a reason statesmen try to compare the political association to a family, all the while noting the great difference (Plato’s Republic). Also, and this is another preliminary question, do you acknowledge a difference between tyranny and despotism? Or is all force tyrannous?

      • says

        Dr. Masugi,

        To your question on parenting – I would say that parenting is close to despotic, even down to the exasperated parent ending an argument with an authoritative “Go to your room because I said so!” In that sense, it is akin to slavery: the child does not choose his or her parent, but, by most reckoning, is bound to obey them. One difference is that most parents are benevolent despots. Another difference is, in the US, we use the state to punish abusive mothers and fathers (so the despotism is not absolute). Yet another difference, and probably the most important, is that the child is not capable of reasonable consent anyway… so there is no choice but to rule despotically.

        On Plato’s Republic, I’m sure I could benefit from your instruction here, but I’ve always been tempted to read the discussion of the city as a way of examining the individual. They start talking about just cities because they want to know about a just individual. Because of that, I’m hesitant to take any recommendation in the Republic as befitting an entire political association.

        To your questions: I would acknowledge a difference. A father who punishes a child with a “Time Out” is no tyrant – the same would probably apply to anyone who is incapable of consent. All that would be a… benevolent despotism or something close. And, of course, someone who justly punishes offenses with force is neither a tyrant nor a despot (Lincoln, for example, was within his rights and duties).

        Outside of those… they seem very much the same to me. Can a man capable of consent be ruled, without consenting to the rule, and be anything but a slave? And isn’t the slavemaster then both a despot and a tyrant? I would ask for your instruction here as well!

  4. John Ashman says

    People are rarely purists to the point of going down with the ship.

    When faced with great danger, people will naturally, and voluntarily come together to fight for common freedom, a freedom that is shared with all members of that community, a freedom that binds them…..freely….together. When the common freedom is endangered, they spontaneously order themselves to confront the threat, and then retreat to their normal lives when the threat is removed.

    The draft is only truly necessary when their is no obvious threat, and people must be forced to defend someone else’s territory who doesn’t share the same freedom sphere.

  5. Ken MasugiKen Masugi says

    Thanks, Gabe. John, I would like that to be true of the communities we live in. Jefferson spoke of such unity in his First Inaugural. But Washington also recalled the problem of keeping troops to fight the Revolution. Omitting for now the problem of rent-seekers who benefit from the national defense without participating, wouldn’t the spontaneous order require extraordinary enlightenment to recognize a common enemy, agree on strategy and tactics, and actually take the field?

    • John Ashman says

      I think you’re seeing a bit of a difference in that, to the common man, there was likely little difference between British rule and a new American government, and less reason to give up your life over it. In a sense, these folks were all convinced to switch sides to support freedom, whereas those who are born to freedom, and have it good under freedom, will naturally defend it against and outside threat. The problem is, they don’t fight it against the inside threat.

      I don’t think it takes anything at all extraordinary to recognize a genuine threat and quickly come to agreement (or agreements) on how to fight it. I think people do that every day when a crime is being committed or a terrible accident occurs and spontaneous order pops up. I think people naturally seek the benefits of being in a group any time danger arises and it is programmed directly into our DNA. Most all animals express this. But try to convince a bull that he should join the herd in crossing the mountain and attacking some plotting bison, and you’d probably get a big yawn.

  6. gabe says

    I am, at times, tempted to ask, Which eye is pointing up and which eye down?

    This notion of spontaneous ordering of resources to face an imminent threat is fanciful. We see cited as an example of its utility the response of some small number of citizens who respond to some common mishaps – a fire, an auto accident, etc.
    Yet, let us be honest here. Most of the citizens are basically rubberneckers – looking on to satisfy their curiosity while a small few do the heavy lifting, as it were. We will not diminish the value of those heavy lifters by recognizing that the task confronting them is rather mundane when compared with the effort required to confront a mortal threat to your society.
    Consider the condition of the Union immediately upon secession of the southern States. While, the North eventually triumphed, it took several years before a competent force was in place to effectually combat the confederacy. I ask, did “spontaneous ordering” really meet the challenge – and this in a time of rather simple weaponry and tactics. Just for a moment, consider the enormous logistical task of equipping the modern warfighter, the infrastructure required, the tactical training, etc, etc. then consider that this is an age of incredibly fast tactical / strategic movement of offensive capabilities. By the time we got around to “ordering” ourselves, we may not be in any position to protect what is precious / vital to us.
    In related postings, others have argued that all positions (“isms”) are, or should be situational. I agree and ask only that one consider the reality on the ground and not some theoretical stance / philosophy when considering where that particular stance leads you. In a nutshell, I believe that this, in fact, was the true wisdom of the founders – ground your government in a fair assessment of what mankind is – not what you hope it will be!!

    • John Ashman says

      But I think there is a false implication that a society with rules will stand by and do nothing when a threat is growing, simply because it is libertarian. Spontaneous order (bottom up) will lead to directed order (top down) in direct response to any threat. Wars are not things that happen by surprise, they are known possibilities well in advance and society orders itself to match, often well OVERmatch the threat.

      And, for instance, the war with the South was at the North’s choosing. Lincoln could have simply allowed secession, ordered American troops to return and could have lived in peace, even reunited in a few decades. But he CHOSE war. So, the lesson here is, if you want war, prepare for it first, because if you want war, you will have it.

      • gabe says

        I understand your point. However, I take issue with the notion that the war was of the North’s choosing. Of course, if one listens to Jeff Davis and his VP Stephens (followers of Calhoun) you may arrive at such a conclusion. But consider this: If in doing as you propose, you were to finally give up on the promise of the Declaration, how could you keep your own freedom. Also, I find it exceedingly odd that a libertarian would 1) accept Stephen Douglas’ position of “don’t care” regarding chattel slavery when libertarians professes to place such a high value on liberty (see related posts) and in fact have stated that others outside of the American community are to be treated equally with Americans and 2) to assume that the two sections of the country could or would be reunited in a few years when one denied natural rights (South) which was antithetical to the others core beliefs.

        With respect preparing for war, it is not as you say but rather, If you want peace, be vigilant and be prepared for war.

  7. libertarian jerry says

    As a libertarian let me first say that any kind of draft is involuntary servitude pure and simple. Despite the rhetoric of “common defense,” it flies in the face of our liberties and our right to self ownership. Second,except for the Revolutionary War,every war that America has entered could have been avoided without disrupting our nation or its citizen’s liberties. War is a racket and is the health of the state. Every war that America has been involved in has been either about territory expansion,a fight for resources or furthering corporate interests. Its never been about a threat to our shores. In today’s day and age the so called “War on Terror” is a fraud and should be shut down. It has not only helped to bankrupt America but it has stripped us of our basic rights. The only terror I see is the terror generated by our own government,and the elitists behind that government,that want to make America into a fascist police state.

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