- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Death by Democracy

However, on foreign policy the libertarian, with some exceptions, is an isolationist, fundamentally opposed to foreign involvements and interventions. Let international relations also be free, the libertarians say, which means free trade and commerce, and freedom for other countries to do whatever they want with their people. Not our business.

On this, the libertarians are blinded by their desire for freedom, not realizing that everything, including freedom demands contextual qualification (should those with a dangerous infectious disease remain free, when they could spread it far and wide, killing maybe hundreds with it?). By their isolationism, libertarians are making the world safe for the gangs of thugs (called dictatorships) that murder, torture, and oppress a people, and rule by fear.

Not our business, the libertarian still will say, although his fundamental belief in freedom is being violated in the most horrible ways. By implication, his isolationism is declaring that since it’s some body else that’s suffering, not me, my loved ones, or my friends, it’s okay. But besides this basic human me and mine, it is also a blindness to his own welfare. For in an age of readily transportable biological weapons, such as anthrax, and nuclear weapons, no longer can a country like the U.S. sit back and ignore what goes on elsewhere in the production and deliverability of such weapons. In the hands of those who hate the democracies and their libertarian values, democracies have too much vulnerability to attack. Now, involvement and intervention in the rapacious affairs of thug regimes is of necessity a protection of democracies, not to mention advancing human rights and the freedom libertarians praise. Quite simply, no thug regimes can be trusted with either the possession or the capability of producing such weapons.

So, then what am I? Why, a freedomist (ist is a suffix meaning a follower or believer in certain beliefs, such as is a socialist or feminist). This is a belief not only in freedom at home, but unlike the libertarian, democratic freedom abroad. This is not only for the sake of advancing freedom for others, but also to protect our own freedom. ~R.J. Rummel [1]

One does not know where to begin with this pell-mell of confused concepts and lazy thinking. If his remarks seem unexceptional, it is because we have been so saturated with this sort of tired politics that we can scarcely step outdoors without being assaulted by some cult member chanting, “Freedomdemocracyfreedomdemocracy” at us, as if it will induce a state of enlightenment if repeated often enough.

First, “democratic freedom” is a contradiction in terms, as I and all what I might call real phileleutheroi (lovers of freedom) are growing very, very tired of having to remind our democratist and, now, ‘freedomist’ opponents. It is nonsensical to refer to the “libertarian” values of democratic countries–where are these utopias? It will not do that libertarianism exists in such countries–they exist, as we all know, as a fringe marginalised and cut out of all significant arguments (not unlike real conservatives). Ask a libertarian in any democracy today if he thinks his values are the dominant values of the society and just watch his perplexed reaction! One may as well say that the land of promiscuity, self-indulgence, consumerism, Lawrence v. Texas, the mass slaughter of abortion and endemic divorce is a conservative, Christian country because a few pockets of that country might still fit that description and a large number of people still go to church.

Ancient democracy was viewed by the philosophers who hated it as an excess of liberty in a very precise sense of this liberty as moral and intellectual disorder, but none of them would have for a moment imagined that a democratic polis was less intrusive or less coercive than alternative regimes–on the contrary, democracies could regularly degenerate into despotisms that were capable of far worse abuses than the oligarchies they replaced. (One might think that Mr. Rummel would know that any form of government, once endorsed as synonymous with freedom or some other political good, can become obnoxious and abusive, precisely because its subjects have lost all ability to recognise its proper limits.)

Everything remotely good about political liberty, as understood in the Anglo-American tradition, has come down to us from historical accident (e.g., if John wins at the Battle of Bouvines, then the whole constitutional history of England would have been completely different), traditional accretions of customary right, the privileges granted by kings and the codification of restrictions on government power by fundamental law. Needless to say, any proper conservative understanding of these things is as different from ‘freedomism’ (what a ghastly word!) as night is from day. Had any of the construction of liberty been left to “the people,” it would never have happened, and we retain what little we still possess through a variety of fortunately relatively undemocratic institutions and structures. Obviously, I cannot share with my genuinely libertarian friends the conviction that all people everywhere desire freedom in the very specific, post-1688 Whig and Enlightenment sense that it held for our Founders.

They may desire to be generally left alone to tend to their affairs in peace (and prior to the mass regimes of the 19th and 20th centuries, they enjoyed considerably greater laissez-faire policies, as far as the center was concerned, than anyone alive today), but the impulse to regard government itself as a bane, albeit a necessary one, only arose in an age when states became larger and more centralised. This process of enlargement and centralisation was not checked by liberal and democratic enthusiasms, but accelerated by it many times over, even as these enthusiasms deadened all appropriate fear of a government that was becoming immeasurably more pernicious and intrusive than anything that had existed before. Once the government had become “ours,” there was no longer anything to fear (or so we are supposed to imagine), and the hostility once reserved for our own government can now be happily diverted to ‘enemy’ states, whose destruction is simply the occasion for the further tightening of the screws of domestic control. If anyone believes that killing some tens of thousands in another country makes anyone anywhere more politically free, then he is a fool.

War has never, and I do mean never, made anyone more free. It may sometimes be necessary, but there is no need to insult everyone’s intelligence by pretending that it has improved the political conditions of a given country in the direction of being less constrained by government (except in the entirely negative sense of introducing anarchy, warlordism and pillage). The best that can be said for warfare on this point is that it may destroy certain impediments to the realisation of a small-government, liberal regime, though generally warfare has the effect of driving the best educated and most skilled out of the “liberated” country, and usually the war itself destroys much in the country in terms of social order and political stability that might have made that realisation possible.

Whenever ordinary people have been given the more or less free choice, they do not select the slate or party that represents relatively limited government, but quite understandably choose those people who will bestow largesse and benefits upon them. This is the characteristic of dependency, to which Thomas Fleming [2]recently referred in the writebacks to one of his latest posts on the Chronicles site, that the common people, God bless them, possess in abundance. I do not ridicule them for it, as it has always been the case, and good government would have long ago taken this into account and kept them as far from the deliberative process as possible. It is the common view of Byzantine political theorists, for instance, that demokrateia could only mean people acting in their own interests, while the good of the commonwealth would be neglected to the detriment of all.

For most people to resist this relatively universal temptation to profit at the expense of someone else (which is all any democracy provides, even when it is working ‘properly’), they have to have cultivated a vigorous contempt for government power and a fear of encroachment upon their rights: they must despise the expansion of government more than they desire its support, which is such a remarkably unusual political attitude that it has scarcely ever arisen on the earth or, having arisen, quickly vanishes again. Except as the result of a fairly unusual, contingent historical process leading up to the formation of our original Confederation, this attitude is very rare and ephemeral.

As for Mr. Rummel’s aggressive foreign policy, it is all very well to prattle on about bringing freedom to other nations, but it seems to miss the point that in virtually every instance the pleasant rhetoric of the liberal idealist has become, in practice, the offensive justification for the exploitation and murder of other people. The happy, German liberal vision of a free trade sphere of influence extending to the Black Sea, c. 1848, gave way to the Drang nach Osten and all the familiar atrocities–freedom simply becomes the word with which states co-opt the men who ought to be in the opposition. As I have already tried to say before in my post “Failures of Liberation, Failures of Domination,” there are no real liberations accomplished by foreign invasion and domination. It is a dirty lie, a shell game designed to trick men of good conscience into supporting moral abominations without realising the evil they are empowering.

At what point do the indigenous casualties of the anti-dictatorship wars cease to be an acceptable price for that people’s own erstwhile liberation? Leave aside for the moment that the freedom of Arabs (or Afghans or Iranians, etc.) is literally not worth the life of one American (just as any patriotic Iraqi would not risk the lives of Iraqis on behalf of Americans, unless it directly served his own country). If one of the chief evils of the dictatorships is their abuse of their own populations, can it make any sense to unleash such chaos and violence on a country through its “liberation” that those killed by post-liberation violence will probably come to equal, given enough time, the number of those killed by the previous regime?

To be quite frank, what is the difference between Hussein devastating Halabja and our devastating Fallujah? Let us not fall back on the ideological myth that the justice of turning a city into rubble is acceptable when done in the right cause–it can only possibly be justifiable when it is done as part of legitimate retaliation or self-defense. The more one is willing to justify battering Fallujah, the closer one comes to accepting the legitimacy of a Baghdad regime crushing a separatist revolt (Hussein did nothing in principle different from Ataturk in 1924 in southeast Turkey, just as the Turkish government did nothing substantially different during its war with the PKK–Hussein is guilty chiefly of being more successful in killing the rebels in his country). Of course, one does not need to defend the local dictator to recognise that the foreign invader certainly has no more right to use force against the people in that country than the dictator did, and obviously it possesses less right.

The biggest empty idea of all in Mr. Rummel’s post is the notion that we will somehow be “protecting” our freedom if we toppled a sufficient number of governments. How are the dictators on the other side of the world going to threaten our freedom? It is our government, not theirs, that has all the potential for encroaching on our freedom. When has it ever happened that the zealous revolutionary state, spreading “freedom,” has better secured such freedom at home? In every case, the fanaticism, war hysteria and perpetual conflict of the effort to expand ‘freedom’ have empowered a series of dictators to take power and embark on equally ideological restructurings of the home front, just as they had been ‘fixing’ other countries. In every case, the country is less free than it was before, it is very often occupied by enemy armies and its society is in tatters.

Even if such a state were to be theoretically victorious and ‘successful’, the power the government would require to accomplish its goals abroad would be so great as to overwhelm any constraints that still exist on it at home. Today, it is a few cases of torture and wrongful detention that the ignorant majority shrugs off as unimportant (besides, it’s only happening to those nasty sorts of people), and tomorrow it will be the internment and execution of dissidents for jeopardising state security and the success of the world revolution. And it will be the R.J. Rummels of the world who will hold the coats of the executioners, because they have told him they are doing it to keep him free.