Professor Randy Barnett wrote an op-ed in Tuesday’s WSJ arguing that, philosophically and legally speaking, “libertarian first principles do not dictate a single stance towards the war in Iraq”. Scroll further down to see related discussion on Volokh, as well as Randy’s follow-up posts.
More than a few libertarians ardently disagreed — see Andrew Sullivan, David Beito, Julian Sanchez, Justin Raimondo, and my colleague Pete, to name a few — and the column provoked several not-so-kind responses including a few from people who know Randy personally. I don’t want to get into this too much, except to make a few meta-level points about the rebuttals:
–Ideological anarchists can credibly counter that state action is illigitimate, and if consistently held that is a defensible position. Arguing that intervention was illigitimate because a dictatorship such as Iraq is a legitimate state and a democratic republic such as the United States is somehow less legitimate is both false and absurd.
–Ideological pacifists can credibly counter that aggression is illigitimate, and if consistently held that is a defensible position. But it must be consistently held.
–Randy’s argument cannot be refuted on the grounds that the evidence to invade was insufficient or that the reconstruction was botched. Those are incidental to the central question of whether pre-2003 Iraq was acting in a manner that made it conceivable for a libertarian to believe intervention was warranted.
–If it is conceivable that state military action can be used to deter an imminent threat, then libertarians who supported the war in Afghanistan, or who would support a military response against Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda without prior authorization by the relevant sovereign nation, are no longer arguing as a matter of principle but as a matter of degree.
–Those who have decided to argue instead whether Randy can be a “real” libertarian are basically engaging in an ad hominem attack, regardless of how he defines himself. This how-purist-are-you crap is irrelevant to the larger question of how to move toward a more peaceful and prosperous society, and if the measure of a libertarian is ideological purity than I don’t see why a deliberative person would want to self-identify as one.
Finally, I want to again link to Randy’s follow-up post even though it’s included above, for a couple of reasons. First, I think his arguments about why there can be more than one position on Iraq are very good, some of which I’ve reflected above. But second, I want to draw attention to all the qualifiers and disclaimers he’s forced to throw into his piece in order to attempt to soften the hostility of the attacks, and what a travesty that is.
Some people have simply decided there’s no room for debate, and they’ve stopped listening to nuances in arguments. It’s particularly hypocritical for libertarians to do so, given how they’ve been the victim of such attacks by leftists for decades and by a growing number of conservatives over the last several years. The battle for ideas ought to be fought using the best arguments, not the loudest ones.