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Non-Interventionism ≠ Isolationism

This article was originally published on The Libertarian. If I may direct you back to my first post, where I explained why I started this blog in the first place, I wrote this:
Some months ago, while I was browsing reddit (which I do too much of– I must stop) I wrote a libertarian-leaning comment on a political thread. Another user, a writer for a libertarian blog, asked if I wanted to contribute weekly articles. I accepted and I got to work. Unfortunately however, I only lasted two articles until I got too busy, and starting procrastinating even while I was busy, and it was a hectic time as there was much testing going in school, so I stopped writing. While home from school over the weekend, I got bored and figured I wanted to do that writing thing again, so here it is.
This article was one of those two. 
 

Image Credits to fineartamerica.com

Many critics of the libertarian movement criticize our foreign policy as being “isolationist.” They say we believe in cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, they suggest we need hyper-interventionist policies, for we need to embrace our role as the greatest and most powerful nation on earth, as if the only way to demonstrate this is to invade foreign countries. But the myth that libertarianism is isolationist is as far as can be from the truth. A better word to describe our beliefs on how to deal with the rest of the globe would be “non-interventionist.” America should adopt a policy of non-interventionism, because it would eliminate negative reactions to our intervention from various nations without costing us a dime.

True isolationism violates the core beliefs of libertarianism because, among other things, it bars free trade. Isolationist doctrine consists of two policies. On one hand, it includes non-interventionism, the belief that governments should avoid alliances with other nations, as well as avoiding all wars, except in self-defense. This healthy policy, introduced into American politics by Thomas Paine, in his essay Common Sense,, prevents us from getting caught up with the complicated affairs of other countries. On the other hand, however, isolationism includes protectionism, the belief that there should be legal barriers controlling trade and cultural exchange. Protectionists support tariffs, embargoes, sanctions, and many other kinds of government meddling in the exchange of goods and wealth between countries.

Protectionism violates the principles of economic and social freedom. It should be a basic right of any American citizen to freely trade, travel, and peacefully interact with any country in any way he or she pleases.

At a more practical level, the problem with protectionism is that it just doesn’t protect. Take, for example, tariffs on imported goods. Say the government imposes a tariff on foreign automobiles, shielding American carmakers from foreign competition. If an American car is $30,000, and an otherwise comparable foreign car is $25,000, a tariff of $5,000 might be placed on foreign cars to even out prices. It could be argued that the government is protecting the American automobile industry by giving consumers an incentive to buy American.

However, America is not actually being benefited, nor is our economy being protected. The only thing this does is tax every U.S. citizen who wants to buy a foreign car an extra $5,000. The hypothetical foreign car is produced more efficiently; it is of equal quality yet produced more cheaply. Producers should, and otherwise would, be rewarded by the market for such achievements. Consumers would be able to recognize such an accomplishment simply by noticing the lower cost for essentially the same product. The more efficient producer would then attract more customers.

Such “price signals,” as they are known, create a vital incentive to improve efficiency, but the tariff would remove the appropriate price signal to consumers. By interfering with competition in this way, the government insures that American consumers will pay higher prices than necessary. Foreign companies will also receive less benefit from improving the efficiency of their production, and thus have less incentive to invest in such improvements. Domestic producers, then, will not need to compete with foreign producers on an equal footing. Without this competitive pressure, they too will be less likely to improve efficiency. The end result of any nation sheltering its industries from the competition of any other nation is less efficient industry and higher prices for the consumer.

Libertarian foreign policy is that of the Founding Fathers. In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson called for “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” These early Americans’ support for such a method of interaction with other countries is often dismissed as irrelevant with the excuse, “They lived in much simpler times.” It is easy to denigrate the wisdom of the past in this way, but it is not as easy to actually justify the policies that we operate under today.

As a Christian Libertarian, I like to point out the opinion that the medieval theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas, arguably one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the Christian faith, had on foreign military intervention. As Ron Paul writes in The Revolution: A Manifesto, there were certain conditions that Aquinas believed were necessary for a just war. His theological predecessors during the Roman Empire, Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine, agreed with these views. The war in Iraq, Paul writes, did not fulfill those criteria. First, there was no act of aggression on the part of Iraq. “We are 6,000 miles away from Iraq,” Paul writes, so they hardly posed a credible threat. The stories we were told about unmanned drones were, to say the least, not especially plausible. Secondly, diplomatic solutions had not been exhausted. “They had hardly been tried,” Paul goes on to write.

It should come as no surprise to Americans that negative consequences could arise as a result of disregarding these restrictions. Various other US interventions have produced terrible “blowback,” the CIA term for unintended negative consequences for the US caused by their covert interference in other countries. U.S. lawmakers should reconsider their actions and the reactions that result if they seriously wish to protect our nation.

 

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The Bible & Liberty

Before I get into the actual bulk of the post, I would like to retroactively wish you all a Merry Christmas. I hope you all had a good holiday and will have a Happy New Year. I know I had a good Christmas. I got what was perhaps the greatest gift in my life– a sitar! If I may direct you to this post, a sitar was number two on my list. I also got a few Pink Floyd and Muse records and various books. I still have no idea how to even begin playing the sitar, nor do I know anyone in my area who actually teaches it. Although I guess everything’s on the internet. But enough of this, I digress.

This is the sitar I got for Christmas!

This is the sitar I got for Christmas!

Now let’s get back to the post. One of my uncle’s much-appreciated gifts to me was an anthology of various liberty-oriented writings “from Lao-Tzu to Milton Friedman”, called The Libertarian Reader. It contains somewhere around 70 short books, articles, essays, etc. I figured every week I would read one and respond to it or delve more into its topic.

Some of you well-versed libertarians might be guessing from the title of this post that the first entry is 1 Samuel 8 from the Holy Bible. Regardless of whether or not you’re Christian, atheist, or voodoo, it is a very relevant piece even today. To those of you who don’t have the Book lying around, it reads,

Israel Requests a King

1 As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. 2 Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. 3 But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 Finally all the elders in Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. 5 “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.

6 Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. 7 “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8 Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9 Do what they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

Samuel Warns against a Kingdom

10 So Samuel passed the Lord’s warning to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 “This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. 12 Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. 13 The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. 14 He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. 15 He will take away a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. 16 He will take your young men and women and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. 17 He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. 18 When this day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. “Even so, we still want a king,” they said. 20 “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.”

21 So Samuel had repeated to the Lord what the people had said, 22 and the Lord replied, “Do as they say, and give them a king.” Then Samuel agreed and sent the people home.

The Bible, which until historically recently was used somewhere in most debates on government, political philosophy, and morality, explicitly told people, that unlike the Egyptian belief that the pharaoh is descended from the sun god Ra, there is nothing divine about the state. Undoubtedly, many European rulers conveniently forgot about this little passage, but this one chapter has been very important in the Judaeo-Christian tradition of the distrust of centralized power.

Although religion has in many cases been twisted by the ruling class, whether that be the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire or certain Republicans, Christianity is at its core more libertarian than any other major religion. To prove that I, being Christian, am not biased, I shall list my reasons below, with evidence from the text of the Bible. But before I start, I would just like to state that I do not believe that religion should not be involved in politics whatsoever, because much of the time the most Christian politicians are not very Christ-like at all.

I’d like to start with the Christian view on war and peace. Jesus was perhaps one of the most hard-core pacifists in history. In the famous Sermon on the Mount, he declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” [Matthew 5:9]. More anti-war passages are to be found in the gospel of Matthew: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword” [Mt 26:52] and “In everything do to others as you would have them do unto you” [Mt 7:12]; the latter know as the Golden Rule. The former is especially relevant today to the wars in the Middle East. Even 2013 years ago (or 2019, depending on what year Jesus was actually born– but this is irrelevant), Jesus and his disciples recognized the possibility of blowback in war. Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center, says that our problems in the Middle East are a direct result of our involvement there. I do not mean to criticize anyone’s views too harshly, but it is beyond stupid to believe that people will not want to exact revenge on a government that bombs there innocent people and props up dictators. Let us imagine, for a moment, that the U.S. is a small, impoverished country and Pakistan is a world power. We have someone here that Pakistan wants to kill, for whatever reason (this reason doesn’t matter in this case). Some Pakistani man in a bunker controls a PIA (Pakistani Intelligence Agency) drone and kills a number of Americans, many of them innocent. Now imagine you learn that one of those who died is your father, mother, sister, brother, daughter, son, spouse, or friend. Would not you want to take action against this evil government? This brings us to the Golden Rule. Just as Jesus says that we must do unto others as we would have them to unto us, the United States should not attack a foreign power if we would not have them do so unto us. Let he who is without sin cast the first drone!

Now what about the Christian view on big government? As evident from the 1 Samuel 8 passage above, Christians are to be distrustful of big government. Paul says in his letter to the Church in Ephesus, “All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature.” [Ephesus 2:3] Notice how it starts with ‘All’? This shows that government is not immune from evil just by being government; that it is just made up of humans and any human may be sinful. If the whole Original Sin part of Christian theology is true, then that means that the government too is made up of sinners, and they will inevitably misuse their power. More on corrupt power can be found in the Parable of the Trees in the Book of Judges. This creative little story reads,

The Parable of the Trees

8 Once upon a time the trees decided to choose a king. First they said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king!’ 9 But the olive tree refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing the olive oil that blesses both God and people, just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

10 Then they said to the fig tree, ‘You be our king!’ 11 But the fig tree also refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing my sweet fruit, just to wave back and forth over the trees?’

12 Then they said to the grapevine, ‘You be our king!’ 13 But the grapevine also refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing the wine that cheers both God and people, just to wave back and forth over trees?’

14 Then all the trees finally turned to the thornbush and said, ‘Come, you be our king!’ 15 And the thorn bush replied, ‘If you truly want to make me your king, come and take shelter in my shade. If not, let fires come out from me and devour the cedars of Lebanon!’ [Judges 9:8-15]

I am sure that regardless of political orientation, people will agree that power can and will attract corrupt rulers.

But what about all the scripture that talks about sharing wealth? How do those fit into a libertarianism? Many socialists use the fact that in the Acts of the Apostles, it said that those in the Christian community shared what they had. These Christian socialist forget that A) the sharing was voluntary, and that B) In the Ten Commandments, it explicitly says, “Thou shalt not steal.” In fact, Acts is very libertarian. Peter and John were speaking to a large crowd of about 5,000 people, and because of this were arrested by the authorities and put in jail until morning. When told that they shall not speak of Jesus, they voiced their disobedience, saying, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather then him?” Civil disobedience is about as libertarian as you can get!

Finally, what about those socially conservative passages? While certain parts of scripture are against certain acts, Christians are forbidden to correct sinners by force. John Chrysostom, a Church father during the early days of Catholicism, said pretty clearly, “Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force. It is necessary not to make a man better by force but by persuasion.”

Christianity has obviously not had a perfect record in the liberty department, but what sets it apart from other faiths is that it more than any other respected the individual, and valued freedom.

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