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Does Liberalism Mean Empire?

Two libertarians familiar to TAC readers—Robert Murphy [1] and Sheldon Richman [2]—have lately offered critiques of my “Why Liberalism Means Empire” [3] essay. Libertarians consider themselves liberals, or at least heirs to classical liberalism, and have been among the most outspoken opponents of “empire” in contemporary American politics. So on the face of it, they have good reason to object to the connection I draw between their ideology and global power they abjure. The trouble is, the objections don’t stand up, and liberalism remains deeply implicated in the security conditions of empire.

Murphy attacks my argument at its strongest point, the case of World War II. “Look at what the Soviets did to Eastern Europe after the Americans provided them with all sorts of aid and attacked Germany from the west,” he writes. “If we dislike that outcome—and McCarthy and I do both dislike it—then to have achieved a more balanced outcome, surely the US should not have jumped in on the side that ended up winning.”

Soviet domination of half of Europe after the war is certainly an undesirable outcome. Can we imagine a worse one—or three? Easily.

Without the U.S., the outcomes available to Europe as a whole in World War II, West as well as East, were a.) Nazi control, b.) Soviet control, or c.) divided Nazi-Soviet control. Would any liberal prefer one of these outcomes to what occurred with U.S. intervention, namely d.) divided U.S./Western-Soviet control?

U.S. intervention certainly did strengthen the USSR. But strength in international affairs is a relative thing. A weaker USSR still strong enough to prevail against Nazi Germany without American help would have been more than strong enough to subdue war-torn Western as well as Eastern Europe. Stalin had fifth columns at the ready among resistance forces in France and elsewhere. As it happened, the USSR was in no position to claim France, Italy, West Germany, and Greece after World War II because the U.S. and the allies America rallied stood in the way. Without that check, little would have prevented Stalin from doing to Western Europe what he did to the East.

Alternatively, had a weaker USSR fallen to Hitler, the Nazis would have had an even easier time consolidating control of the Continent. What force could resist them? Franco and Salazar were not about to do so, whatever their differences with Hitler. Finally, had a USSR not supported by the United States fought the Germans to a standstill, the result might have been the worst of all worlds, with all of Europe unfree and the internal resistance to each totalitarian bloc being drawn toward the ideology of the other totalitarian bloc. A Cold War between the USSR and Nazi Germany would by any measure be worse than the one we had between the USSR and United States.

What of the hope that a draw might have brought anti-totalitarian revolution to Nazi Germany and the USSR? Murphy, Richman, and I all agree that war is bad for liberty and liberalism—but for that very reason, wars fought between totalitarian powers are unlikely to have a liberalizing effect on them. Quite the contrary: wars and crises tend to create conditions that allow totalitarianism to arise in the first place, and war is one environment in which the totalitarian ethos seems to thrive. The idea that the USSR and Nazi Germany, fighting one another, would each have collapsed, giving way to some tolerably liberal government, could only be believed by someone whose ideology insists that he believe it. It’s Lysenkoism applied to history.

Richman has better arguments, but they tend to be tangential to my points. He writes:

McCarthy has a rather liberal notion of liberalism—so liberal that it includes the illiberal corporate state, or what Albert Jay Nock called the “merchant-state,” that is, a powerful political-legal regime aimed first and foremost at fostering an economic system on behalf of masters, to use Adam Smith’s term. (The libertarian Thomas Hodgskin, not Marx, was the first to disparage “capitalists” for their use of the state to gain exploitative privileges.)

What Richman calls a loose, “rather liberal notion of liberalism” is intended to be a broadly accurate description of real-world, actually existing liberalism. A few years ago I commissioned Richman to write an essay on “free-market anti-capitalism,” [4] a term that might sound like a contradiction to people who equate capitalism with free markets. What we have here is a parallel case: just as capitalism in practice is often antithetical to market freedom as understood in theory, so liberalism in practice—a state system involving capitalism, free trade, representative government, legal individualism, religious liberty, etc.—often falls short of the tenets of liberal theory. The problem is, practice comes first.

My essay claims that the security provided by the British Empire and later U.S. hegemony—or American Empire, if we want to be indelicate—has promoted liberal practice, and liberal practice, messy and imperfect though it might be, has promoted liberal theory. The claim here is not deterministic at the individual level: it’s plainly not the case no one can come up with liberal ideas amid an illiberal environment. Rather, a liberal environment is more conducive than an illiberal one to the extension and refinement of liberal thought among a populace.

This is why the largest concentration of classical liberals in 19th-century politics and the greatest volume of classical-liberal literature were to be found in Britain, and it’s why libertarianism today finds the most followers and is most strongly institutionalized—in think tanks, magazines, and a nascent political movement—in the United States. Liberalism is a luxury security affords, and hegemons have the security in the greatest abundance.

Security by itself is not enough, of course: a state that enjoyed tremendous international security, as Japan did for centuries, might or might not [5] spontaneously develop broadly liberal ideas. Given the presence of liberal seeds, however, security seems to encourage their growth—this was true even in the Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc during the Cold War and in the USSR itself.

The extended Soviet Empire was distinctly illiberal in ideology but enjoyed supreme security: there was never much prospect that NATO would simply invade Eastern Europe. (Just as NATO deterred the Soviets themselves from doing any invading of the West.) What liberal ideas survived Soviet repression or otherwise made their way through black-market channels into Soviet-controlled domains often met with a welcoming audience, and over decades, under conditions of peace, those liberal ideas grew stronger while the totalitarian ideology of the USSR grew weaker, including in Russia itself. Ironically, the Soviet Union’s greatest success—its conquest of Eastern Europe and guarantee of Russia’s security—contributed to its undoing. It created conditions in which liberalism could grow.

(And note, alas, what is happening in Eastern Europe and on Russia’s periphery now that security competition has returned: nationalism and even fascism is gaining ground.)

Anyone as an individual may be able to hold almost any idea at any time. But of the many ideas to which our minds give rise, only a few find substantial political expression. “McCarthy is wrong in thinking that power, that is, force, rules the world,” Richman writes. “There is something stronger: ideas.” In fact, only some ideas rule the world—the ones that succeed in acquiring power.

But power is a protean thing; it doesn’t just mean state power but any kind of hold over human beings. This highlights one of the paradoxes of liberalism: the ideology gains more power in terms of popular appeal at the expense of the states that make it possible. This is a good thing to the extent that liberal attitudes check abusive government. It’s a bad thing to the extent that liberal attitudes deprive states and populations alike of the wherewithal to combat external threats when they do arise. Pacifism [6], as a cousin or acute manifestation of liberalism, is a case in point. It’s one of the ideological luxuries made possible by security, but if adopted generally there would soon be no security left to leave it a choice for anyone but martyrs.

What’s more, radical liberals may call for complete nonintervention, but most self-identified liberals, including a contingent of libertarians, favor humanitarian warfare and aggressive efforts to “liberalize” countries that are insufficiently liberal and democratic. This is another irony of liberalism: it was fostered by non-ideological empires—Britain obtained hers in a fit of absence of mind; America acquired hers with tremendous reluctance and a troubled conscience. But once non-ideological empire has promoted the growth of liberal ideology, that ideology takes on a more radical, demanding character: a liberal minority adopt the anarcho-pacifist position, calling for dismantling the empire today; while a larger number of liberals call for using the empire to promote liberal ideological ends. Reining in empire thus requires reining in the demands of liberalism—realism as an antidote to ideology.

Murphy and Richman both point to the ways in which war and empire have made the United States less liberal in practice. War’s illiberal effects are indeed a major part of my argument: war is the opposite of security, and conditions of war—i.e., the absence of security—are dreadful for liberty. The question is what minimizes conditions of war and maximizes conditions of security.

That’s not a question that can be answered in the abstract; it’s one that must be answered in the context of particular times. In the case of 19th-century Europe, a balance of power safeguarded by the British Empire as an “offshore balancer” seems to have done the trick. In the case of 20th-century Europe, a 45-year balance between the United States and a contained USSR kept the peace from the fall of Nazi Germany until the collapse of the Soviet Union. One thing I hope my essay will do is prompt libertarians to think more seriously about historical security conditions and what viable “libertarian” options there may have been in the foreign-policy crises of the past. If there were no viable libertarian options, that’s a problem for libertarianism.

It’s a practical problem being confronted by Rand Paul right now. What liberal or libertarian thinkers can he draw upon for practical foreign-policy advice? There are a few, but most radical libertarians are simply not interested in real-world foreign-policy [7] choices. And once libertarians do engage with reality, they start to seem a lot less libertarian.

Richman compares the hazards of foreign policy to those of domestic economic planning. In the case of the economy, the libertarian alternative is the free market; no planning. In the case of foreign policy, is the libertarian alternative also no policy? How can a state in a world of states—all of which, as libertarians know, have a coercive character—have no foreign policy? It’s true that the less power foreign-policy planners have the less trouble they can get up to. This is something on which libertarians and realists who favor restraint [8] can agree. But realists recognize that this tendency for too much power to lead to abuse must be weighed against the dangers of other states’ power. Libertarians seem to see no danger in that direction at all.

Any people that has ever been invaded might find that perverse—indeed, my libertarian friends are often confounded by how their fellow libertarians in Poland or Ukraine can be so hawkish. But the U.S. is in an exceptionally strong geostrategic position. Invasion is highly impractical, if not impossible. My essay, however, notes that world conditions can have a dangerous influence on the U.S. even without foreign boots on our soil. On the one hand, foreign ideologies exert a certain attraction to Americans; and on the other hand, Americans have historically been rather paranoid about foreign ideological influence. Threats both real and imagined attend insecurity, and both kinds lead to illiberal policies.

Luckily, there are at present only a handful of geostrategic positions around the planet that offer secure bases for power projection and ideological dominance. North America is one of them. The second is the European continent. And the third is East Asia, which of the three is by far the least island-like and defensible.

Preventing a hostile power from dominating Europe and keeping a balance in East Asia is “empire” enough. Beyond that, prosperity and industrial strength, along with our nuclear arsenal, are the keys to our security. This is a historically realistic vision, one that solves the great problems of the past—what to do about Nazi Germany or the USSR—and the otherwise insoluble problems of the present, such as what to do about the Middle East: namely, minimize our exposure to crises that we cannot fix and that do not affect the top-tier distribution of power. Today what is most ethical and what is politically and strategically realistic coincide reasonably well: we should not seek to enlarge our commitments; we should preserve our naval power; we should use diplomacy and economics to advance our interests and contain disruptive powers.

This is not a strategy of hard-heartedness toward the oppressed peoples of the world. A secure and prosperous U.S. is in a position to be an ideological counterweight to any illiberal state or insurgency, and it can act when necessary only because it does not act when not necessary. Morale is as limited as men, money, and materiel, and wasting any of these—on a strategic level, we wasted them all in Iraq, as the present crisis demonstrates—is bad for our prosperity, our security, and everyone else’s as well.

Realism and restraint are the watchwords. If libertarians have a stronger strategic argument, I’m eager to hear it.

26 Comments (Open | Close)

26 Comments To "Does Liberalism Mean Empire?"

#1 Comment By Robert Greer On September 26, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

Nice article. I think you could make more explicit the connection between liberalism and the inherent cosmopolitanism of markets — simply saying that liberalism is a luxury of the secure isn’t only unlikely to persuade many people, it misses important elements of the connection you’re trying to draw.

Markets functions best qua markets when their participants are deracinated and goods are fungible. In a certain sense, markets require that the world be “flat” in the Thomas Friedman sense. But generally there is resistance to this cultural flattening, and so historically this flattening has taken place by force. The force doesn’t even need to be direct: When economic relations create conditions where people can be stripped of social dignity because they command too little economic power, then economics takes on a dimension of direct coercion. James Kalb’s “The Tyranny of Liberalism,” recently touted by Rod Dreher, is excellent in tracing these connections, and may provide excellent material for your Liberalism -> Empire thesis.

Interestingly, it isn’t only English-speaking empires that have been especially liberal. The Roman Empire extended citizenship and its attendant rights in many places. The widest-ranging medieval caliphates allowed for pseudo-liberal “dhimmitude” and never really ranged farther than where non-Abrahamic religions dominated.

It’s also important to note how the supply lines of capitalist markets have necessitated far-flung military might and forged a link between liberalism and empire. Libertarians and big-government liberals alike require foreign wars to open stubborn traditionalist areas to “modern” commerce — the former because economic growth is the sine qua non of worthy human life, and the latter because “economic growth” is necessary to fund the state’s coffers.

This is especially the case for traditionalist areas that have valuable raw materials. Free trade in oil has annihilated the Middle East and nearly everywhere else it is found in large quantities. Oil is a valuable commodity that is readily centralizable — it’s easiest to control large quantities not by tradition or by evolutionary/incremental processes, but rather by force. The mobility of laborers that is required to introduce these materials into the flow of commerce uproots communities and disrupts familial relations. (I’m especially thinking here of boom-areas like 2014 North Dakota, where oil workers have drained the surrounding areas of their young men, and congregated them in oil-rich areas that are dens of social strife like prostitution and violence.) Because of both liberal groups’ need for raw materials, neither are able to function within “traditional” economies that hold sacred place, or ecology, or culture, and thus must subjugate them militarily.

#2 Comment By Brian Allan Cobb On September 27, 2014 @ 2:14 am

“…the outcomes available to Europe as a whole in World War II” include Nazi and Soviet regimes so exhausted by warfare with each other that independence movements spring up everywhere in the lands they try to occupy.

#3 Comment By Robert Greer On September 27, 2014 @ 9:26 am

Another argument: Any state large enough, and whose power is comprehensive enough, to effectively protect minority rights (or at least claim to comprehensively do so), is large enough to have empire-like tendencies.

Let’s take even the extreme example of minarchism. The protection of property rights, which libertarians conceive to be the most “natural” right and the simplest to enforce, entails the existence of a legal apparatus that is by necessity quite large and comprehensive. Property rights regimes by their very nature cannot allow for competing modes of allocation, otherwise the “rights” could hardly be secure. While it’s true that nominally property-rights-centered regimes have been small and not very intrusive, these regimes have either not been very secure in the rights they afford, or exist in a social environment where messier, traditional notions of rights predominate over the liberal uniformization and systematization that are theoretically necessary for a truly liberal system. Additionally, there may be a tendency for even these minarchist states to evolve into large welfare states: as “property rights” claims more social space for its sovereignty, traditional modes of caring for the vulnerable break down, and demand increases for the state to take its space.

#4 Comment By Aegis On September 27, 2014 @ 10:47 am

““…the outcomes available to Europe as a whole in World War II” include Nazi and Soviet regimes so exhausted by warfare with each other that independence movements spring up everywhere in the lands they try to occupy.”

As Mr. McCarthy said quite plainly in this very article, while that is a possible outcome it’s not a very likely one, given the nature of totalitarianism.

#5 Comment By SteveM On September 27, 2014 @ 11:14 am

Re: “Preventing a hostile power from dominating Europe and keeping a balance in East Asia is ’empire’ enough.”

Actually, that is still too much. Who is the “hostile power” that could dominate Europe? Russia? The E.U. has twice the population of Russia, more than twice the per capita GDP and a stockpile of nuclear weapons. It is well positioned to defend itself without the need for American taxpayer largess ladled out by the Power Elites in Washington.

And about this balance in Asia. Because of advanced missile systems, naval surface ships are sitting ducks when matched against a technologically advanced opponent. The Chinese could overwhelm ship missile defense system with barrages of missiles and sink U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups. Then what?

Moreover, as I had opined before, given the U.S. trade imbalance with China, could it feasibly attack Chinese assets and risk disrupting the massive supply chain of goods arriving from China daily? If China closed the store in retaliation, the American economy as we know it would shut down. Are there plans in place to deal with that obvious scenario? It is ludicrous to downplay the enormous unintended consequences that would result from a significant military engagement with China.

Lastly, “But the U.S. is in an exceptionally strong geostrategic position. Invasion is highly impractical, if not impossible.”

That statement alone suggests minimizing the American Global Cop model as much as possible, especially in regions with countries that can take care of themselves.

#6 Comment By libertarian jerry On September 27, 2014 @ 11:23 am

The use of the word “liberalism” with “libertarianism” is a misnomer in that they are 2 distinct different things. In the modern context liberalism is not used the same way it was 100 or so years ago. In today’s world liberalism,or for that matter progressive,is used in conjunction with collectivism,socialism,big government solutions and statism while libertarianism is aligned with liberty,free markets,anti-statism and a non-interventionist (not isolationist)foreign policy. With that said,trying to justify American foreign policy over the last 75 years or so based on the idea that America was destined to be the “policeman of the world” and that most of the wars after the 2nd World War,and arguably even the 2nd World War itself,were necessary for “preventing hostile powers” from dominating the world scene is ambiguous at best. In essence most if not all of America’s wars were fought for hegemony,world resources and world markets. At the same time most of these post WW2 wars,especially Vietnam,were fought for the profits of the American Military industrial complex. Going back even further,America’s entry into WW1 was basically done to save American bankers from ruin,especially the House of Morgan who had lent a fortune to the British and the French. America,today,would be a lot better off in most ways if we had kept out of foreign entanglements. We should have listened to George Washington.

#7 Comment By Aegis On September 27, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

@ Libertarian Jerry: “The use of the word “liberalism” with “libertarianism” is a misnomer in that they are 2 distinct different things.”

Sorry for just snipping out the one line, but this seemed to capture the essence of your whole post.

While what you say is true, it is completely inapposite. McCarthy’s whole point in this essay is that, as a practical matter, even classical liberalism in the mode that modern libertarians claim to adhere to necessitates a state and an empire more or less on the scale of what the British, and then later the Americans, ended up constructing.

In other words, Democrats and Republicans (and Tories, Labor, and Lib-Dems) are what you get when you start from more or less classical liberal assumptions and then add 200+ years of governments and peoples getting by generally choosing the least-worst option.

#8 Comment By JonF On September 27, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

Re: If China closed the store in retaliation, the American economy as we know it would shut down.

Hardly. We would have to get things from other sources, possibly costing a bit more, and in the long run we might actually have to make stuff for ourselves again.

#9 Comment By Darth Thulhu On September 27, 2014 @ 3:34 pm

SteveM wrote:

that is still too much. Who is the “hostile power” that could dominate Europe? Russia?

No. The E.U. itself.

So, we take enormous pains to only diplomatically interact with member nations, and never the E.U. itself. Moreover, we directly handle most of the functions that could ever transform the E.U. into hostile state: continental military defense, and practical control over resources (oil, gas, raw material inputs) that it depends upon to function economically. As much as we protest-too-much about them handling more of their own defense, we really don’t want them to actually be capable of handling Russia by themselves, because then they could be a threat to us.

Russia, of course, also strongly indulges in the game of “sideline them by controlling their inputs”, rendering the entire E.U. capable of little more than impotent spluttering at what Russia does.

China and the U.S. have rapidly approached a similar position with regard to one another. Both would suffer economic catastrophe from mutual warfare. The “missiles easily destroy boats” reality means that they can annihilate any Navy we project into the area, and we can easily do the same to them, while also annihilating their ports and shipping.

The E.U. has twice the population of Russia, more than twice the per capita GDP and a stockpile of nuclear weapons. It is well positioned to defend itself without the need for American taxpayer largess ladled out by the Power Elites in Washington.

But if we ever let them exercise that power on their own behalf, in a unified fashion, we risk them becoming hostile, in a unified fashion, to us. So we take pains to keep them disunited and dependent.

#10 Comment By ck On September 27, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

“In the modern context liberalism is not used the same way it was 100 or so years ago.”

Libertarian Jerry, you need to study classical liberalism more closely. It is a school of thought that originated with Hobbes, and has been refined since by others. Where liberalism is today, is not far off from where it started with Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau to where it is now with Rawls and others.

#11 Comment By ck On September 27, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

“we should use diplomacy and economics to advance our interests and contain disruptive powers.”

Perhaps the whole concept of looking toward interests (public, national) rather than the common good has been a major problem with liberalism in the first place. The common good as a political concept is more about what constitutes objective right and wrong, whereas the common interest is about what is subjectively right and wrong.

#12 Comment By redfish On September 27, 2014 @ 6:42 pm

What of the hope that a draw might have brought anti-totalitarian revolution to Nazi Germany and the USSR? … Quite the contrary: wars and crises tend to create conditions that allow totalitarianism to arise in the first place, and war is one environment in which the totalitarian ethos seems to thrive. The idea that the USSR and Nazi Germany, fighting one another, would each have collapsed, giving way to some tolerably liberal government, could only be believed by someone whose ideology insists that he believe it. It’s Lysenkoism applied to history.

I don’t agree with the libertarian perspective on this, but its a simplification to say wars and crises create totalitarianism, because they just as easily bring it down, by weakening the police forces through war, desertion, and rebellion. They’re catalysts of change, in one direction or another. And if we’re talking of a cold war of sorts, rather than a hot one, you’re talking about space and time for nationalist movements to seed and bear fruits. A Western Europe under Nazi rule would have eventually seen nationalist movements just like the USSR did, and they would likely bear the stamp of democrats.

So, I believe that libertarians have reason to say that the totalitarian regimes would have weakened over time, just like the USSR did in the real way history worked out.

Ultimately, I think these historical what-if games are a bit stupid, though, because I think history happens like it does for a reason. Ultimately, the reason the US intervened in Europe is not because of abstract ideological debates, but because of the more immediate demands of politics. Remember that Germany declared war on the United States, not the other way around. Libertarians also ignore that the South declared war on the North. Yes, in both cases, there were some provocations that could have been avoided, but some amount of provocation was impossible to avoid entirely while securing national interests. One issue involved in the lead-up to war with Germany was naval rights, for instance. Americans tried to stay out of the war as long as they could, but it would have been difficult for the United States though to remain neutral forever.

In turn, liberal democracy is also a product of politics; as you would put it: power. Although politics is never accidental: it serves socio-political interests, and collapses when it stops serving those interests. You admit as much, when you talk about the imperial interests of liberalism, vis-a-vis Britain.

But, the other side of this is its also served well internal, public interests. Totalitarian regimes are generally reactionary — and the theocracies in the Middle East *are* reactionary — and they start to disintegrate when there’s no justification for them anymore. The more totalitarian, and the wider the breadth of the power, and the larger the population, the quicker this disintegration happens.

So I think you’re both right and wrong. If by “realism and restraint” you mean a policy of pragmatism, I think you’re right. But, its also the status quo that political powers will do whatever seems pragmatic for them. Ideology follows politics, which follows pragmatic interests. If realism and restraint are the most pragmatic courses, they will end up winning the policy of the day. On the other hand, I think pragmatism will also end up sustaining liberal democracy, which, far from being a historical accident: it exists, because it serves peoples’ interests.

#13 Comment By Kasoy On September 27, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

There wouldnt have been a Cold War & Russia’s ideology wouldnt have spread worldwide had US & Britain insisted that Russia stay within its own border.

Russia is in no position to wage war against UK, Britain, France, Australia at that time. Only the US has the atom bomb & everyone knew US had the will & capacity to use it to stop any aggressor.

Russia would be foolishly suicidal to wage war with the only nuclear power nation. Moscow & its military facilities could easily be obliterated with two or three Abombs.

Politics of dividing the spoils among the ‘victors’ was what caused this misjudgment by US & UK political leaders. Patton was right. They should have waged war with Russia.

#14 Comment By Joe A On September 27, 2014 @ 8:53 pm

It’s not at all difficult to understand why the Soviets took over eastern Europe – two world wars in less than three decades and 23+ million dead. They wanted a buffer against future German aggression (which they had zero assurance might not happen again). If the positions were reversed, the US would have done exactly the same thing.

#15 Comment By William Dalton On September 28, 2014 @ 2:06 am

“What of the hope that a draw might have brought anti-totalitarian revolution to Nazi Germany and the USSR? Murphy, Richman, and I all agree that war is bad for liberty and liberalism—but for that very reason, wars fought between totalitarian powers are unlikely to have a liberalizing effect on them. Quite the contrary: wars and crises tend to create conditions that allow totalitarianism to arise in the first place, and war is one environment in which the totalitarian ethos seems to thrive. The idea that the USSR and Nazi Germany, fighting one another, would each have collapsed, giving way to some tolerably liberal government, could only be believed by someone whose ideology insists that he believe it. It’s Lysenkoism applied to history.”

My impression is that if the UK had made its peace with Hitler (as Hitler wanted, because he never wanted war with England in the first place), the Nazis would have withdrawn their forces from occupied France and left the whole country to the French government in Vichy to govern. Neither would there have been reason to retain a military occupation of the Low Countries. All of Hitler’s forces would have been focused on defeating the Red Army of the Soviet Union.

Even without fighting a war on his rear, however, Hitler would have been confronted with the same insurmountable task which confronted Napoleon nearly 150 years before – conquering a land mass bigger than the entirety of the remainder of all of Europe. Perhaps he would have prevailed, but more likely his armies would have been exhausted in the process (and being organized on Hitler’s racial principles could not have gone far in recruiting replacement battalions). It is true that a country exhausted by war is not a good candidate for generating a liberal democracy out of its own cauldron. However, it is in a good position to be made to submit to such a process, as West Germany was at the close of the actual war, particularly when social democracy lies in its heritage, as it did in Germany. Russia, too, had experienced a liberalizing politics prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, so the elements where there for liberal democracy to be imposed on their system of government, at least to the extent which that has, in fact, occurred in Russia since 1991.

And this is what would have happened in the Nazis and Communists had fought themselves to the point of standstill, their country’s armies and manpower eviscerated, by the war they had undertaken against one another. The powers of Western Europe and the United States would have come in to fill the vaccuum, just as the U.S. came in after the war which did occur, not only to fill the vacuum in western Germany, but in all the dissolved and dissolving colonies of France and the U.K., as well.

Even better would have been the object lesson drawn from the contrasting behavior of the world’s contending powers – the totalitarianism of left and right, all the way to the extremes of Nazism and Communism, bring death and destruction, while the non-interventionist ideal of the American Republic, which will not go to war unnecessarily, but will rush in to clean up afterwards, brings prosperity and peace.

Were that it could be made so in our era.

#16 Comment By spite On September 28, 2014 @ 7:07 am

“while the non-interventionist ideal of the American Republic”

I see this being mentioned so many times as if its dogma, but the evidence clearly shows none of this. Even before WW1 the US government was involved in numerous wars to both expand its territory and eliminate threats it saw to its interests. This started right after independence when the US decided to attack Canada.

#17 Comment By Aegis On September 28, 2014 @ 11:07 am

@ William Dalton:

If, as you said, the Brits had made a separate peace with Germany (allowing Germany to concentrate its forces on a doomed campaign against the USSR), what would be the basis for the UK or the US to turn around and “impose” liberal democracy in a German-controlled (but restive) Western Europe?

Moreover, on your bit about the Germans having trouble recruiting replacement forces on account of their racism, you know they did have a little something called the Waffen SS, right?

#18 Comment By Egypt Steve On September 28, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

Power means empire. When a state is powerful enough to dominate and conquer, it does so. It’s own internal ideology is irrelevant. That’s why Switzerland and Franco’s Spain did not have empires, but Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR and Roosevelt’s USA did.

#19 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 28, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

Empires are built for the advantage of those building them over those they rule. They are never benign, unless a very blind eye is turned to their real history. The 19th century rebellion against British rule over India was met with the most brutal violence imaginable, with people strapped to cannon muzzles and blown to pieces.

There’s also a difference between police and armies, which America has forgotten, internationally and domestically. Constant war-making, pre-emptive invasions and bombings with huge civilian casualties and no regard for legality or accountability are not “police” actions. That’s also why police at home who act like that in communities begin to create carnage that looks like battle, rather than the de-escalation of conflict that ought to be the methods of peace officers.

As for nuclear weaponry, it offers perfect security – right up to the moment of launch. Security through insecurity? For civilians in Japan, that was the peace of the grave, but this time, by aggression, miscalculation or error, it will be universal.It’s not as if there haven’t already been some very close calls involving all those already. They are built and maintained to be used and they are basically holding millions of civilians as hostages. And we have proven that even under some war duress, people will decide to use them.

#20 Comment By William Dalton On September 28, 2014 @ 8:46 pm

Aegis:

“If, as you said, the Brits had made a separate peace with Germany (allowing Germany to concentrate its forces on a doomed campaign against the USSR), what would be the basis for the UK or the US to turn around and “impose” liberal democracy in a German-controlled (but restive) Western Europe?”

My premise is that Germany would have bankrupted itself in its war against the Soviet Union, as so too would have the Communists in Russia. That being the case, the survivors in both war-ravaged land would have needed financing to rebuild their economies, as in fact the nations of Europe did after World War II as it was fought. The U.S. would have been the one available banker with the riches of a prosperous economy. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” This is the basis of American imperialism in the last half of the 20th Century until today. If we continue to waste our wealth in pointless wars that can’t be won and only make our country more enemies, we, too, will soon be seeking bankers in China and India to finance our reconstruction. And we will be dancing to their tune as they once danced to ours.

“Moreover, on your bit about the Germans having trouble recruiting replacement forces on account of their racism, you know they did have a little something called the Waffen SS, right?”

Yes, the Germans enlisted eager recruits in those countries they “saved” from Communist armies or threats. But you see how much good those Waffen SS did in their battle against Stalin. The Soviet’s snakeoil had far broader appeal, as was proven after the war.

#21 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 29, 2014 @ 7:23 am

Libertarians are very good at claiming what should have been done about a this or a that. The use of counter factual analysis can be helpful in understanding our strategic choices in the now and the future.

But for any counter factual to have salience, the premise has to reflect actual cases. The choice to side wit Europe is inaccurate. The soviets were allies, so there was no choice to side with as the winning side. They were on the winning side. Which of course was the side of Europe and the US. The actual line of analysis here might better be examined in light of the whether we should have heeded Prime Minister Churchill’s concerns (fears) about the Soviets and acted accordingly.

Pres. Roosevelt ignored his real friend.
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“Lastly, “But the U.S. is in an exceptionally strong geostrategic position. Invasion is highly impractical, if not impossible.”

We are in a strong position. But we are also inordinately stupid and arrogant. An invasion of the US is possible. I would not under estimate the vulnerability our southern border.

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The advance of libertarians usually require some reorganization of the Constitution and having had several of the conversations about some libertarian policy choice the end result is that I am anti-progress or an anti-intellectual or plane incapable of thought.

The problem is the not the idea9s). It’s the implementation that trips up libertarians.

So any suggestion here about how to respond to the war in WWI or WWII is puzzling since I would have expected to here first the rationale a libertarian would engage to enter either conflict in the first place.

Given what is layed out here, it seems to be market centered. But I think the US could have faired far better by selling to all parties without ever entering the conflict at aside from being mediators.

he read above sounds very much like the confused noncommittal world of libertarians when it comes to the ground game. A no applicable idea is of no use beyond intellectual teasing, expansion ad critical maneuvering , unless it is applicable.

Se. Paul, if he embodies such notions is the perfect libertarian fiol.

Give Israel carte blanche, regardless of what that means in consequence in the region —

Fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq which means intervention, violating one of the libertarian core foundations: mind our own business and stop meddling around in others affairs. But those affairs are directly linked to capital markets via oil and other goods and services any disruption impact our interests economically. The depth of thought into application and consequence just makes the libertarian advance in almost every avenue unpragmatic.

#22 Comment By spite On September 29, 2014 @ 8:55 am

“But those affairs are directly linked to capital markets via oil and other goods and services any disruption impact our interests economically.”

Care to be more specific ? However bad the fighting that is happening there now, it has essentially zero impact on oil markets.

This whole “impact our interests economically” is sounds like a cheap argument for wanting a global empire. Since everything can influence the economy that basically means everything can be made into to an excuse for American empire.

#23 Comment By Adrian On September 29, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

““…the outcomes available to Europe as a whole in World War II” include Nazi and Soviet regimes so exhausted by warfare with each other that independence movements spring up everywhere in the lands they try to occupy.”

I imagine any independence movements, in a context where there is no liberal intervention, would have been co-opted by either nationalists or socialists, depending on which enemy occupied the territory.

#24 Comment By Loic On September 29, 2014 @ 11:26 pm

A neoliberal union of fragmented and downsized Arab and ‘post-Iranian’ states constellated around the principal regional satellites of American hegemony: Israel and Saudi Arabia? In other words, a Nato and EU-like military and politico-economic Middle Eastern superstructure as imposed ‘teleological finish line’ of a CIA-midwifed Thirty Years War-type socially and constitutionally reorganizing process? Former Czech president Vaclav Klaus speaks of something similar, to be sure, when he says: ‘I’m not just criticising the EU arrangements — at the same time I’m very critical of global governance and the shift to transnationalism. A week ago I was in Hong Kong and I criticised the naive opening up of countries without keeping or maintaining the anchoring of the nation state. Doing this leads either to anarchy, or to global governance. My vision for Europe is a Europe of sovereign nation states, definitely. But we have already gone well beyond simply economic integration. The EU is a post-democratic and post-political system.’ http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9322652/europe-needs-systemic-change/

#25 Comment By Reinhold On September 30, 2014 @ 5:57 pm

Capitalism means imperialism by the wealthiest states, but I don’t see why liberalism means empire. The Scandinavian states are very secure and very liberal, and they’re not really imperialist nor do they have imperial aspirations.

#26 Comment By Winston On September 30, 2014 @ 11:18 pm

Days of empire are about t be relic of past. The old and the young will take care of that.