Mises and Friedman were anti-war

Liberalism’s foreign policy has never been as widely appreciated as its domestic economic policy. Yet the principles are the same in both cases: voluntary exchange, cooperation and a bias against interventionism.

The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises writes of liberalism’s ‘unconditional’ extolment of peace. ‘[N]ot war, but peace, is the father of all things’, he explains. ‘What alone enables mankind to advance and distinguishes man from the animals is social cooperation’.

Mises understood wars were harmful to human progress and should be avoided unless in self-defense. As he writes:

The goal of the domestic policy of liberalism is the same as that of its foreign policy: peace. It aims at peaceful cooperation just as much between nations as within each nation…[T]he demand for peace within each nation was itself an outcome of liberal thinking and attained to prominence only as the liberal ideas of the eighteenth century came to be more widely accepted. Before the liberal philosophy, with its unconditional extolment of peace, gained ascendancy over men’s minds, the waging of war was not confined to conflicts between one country and another. Nations were themselves torn by continual civil strife and sanguinary internal struggles…It is from the fact of the international division of labor that liberalism derives the decisive, irrefutable argument against war.

Mises then goes on to explain that liberals must work towards peace by promoting free trade and reining in state interventionism – at home and overseas.

Modern-day adherents of liberalism have continued in this tradition. When it came to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, free-market economist Milton Friedman was firm, stating in an interview that he was ‘opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning’. Johan Norberg notes that Friedman was decidedly anti-interventionist:

[Naomi Klein] claims that Friedman was a “neoconservative” and thus in favor of an aggressive American foreign policy, and she argues that Iraq was invaded so that Chicago-style policies could be implemented there. Klein even goes so far as to suggest that Bush administration officials disbanded the Iraqi army and de-Baathified the government because they are neoliberals who dislike the public sector, but nowhere does she mention Friedman’s actual views about the war. Friedman himself said: “I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression.” And this was not just one war that he happened to oppose. In 1995, he described his foreign policy position as “antiinterventionist.” Speaking of the Gulf War, he said it was “more nearly justified than other recent foreign interventions,” but concluded that the arguments for it were “fallacious.”

Interpreting and translating

Whilst our system of government is a conservative enterprise, limited as it is by the rule of law and by a mostly static constitution, it is none the less an open system. There is a clear process by which the constitution, in light of new understanding or changed values, can be altered. It does not happen often but it does happen. This is the case with most modern democratic systems. Even the constitution of an oppressive nation like Iran has encoded within it the means for constitutional amendment. Although in the case of the Iranian constitution certain fundamentals, such as the state religion, can not be altered.

Much of religion has often struck me as a somewhat closed system of thought.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam and are each centered on a set of scriptures (the Torah, the Gospel and the Koran) that is closed to amendment and revision. They are not intended to be amended or updated. Although clearly the Gospel and the Koran are presented as extensions of the Torah.  Not being terribly religious I wouldn’t much care about any of this except for the fact that a large quantity of people on this planet are religious, some of them deeply so. It concerns me that people should wed themselves to a system of thought that is closed. In some regards it actually offends me. We should be open to new ideas and if the new ideas are superior we should abandon old ideas.

Over the last decade, whilst remaining an atheist, I have acquired a more nuanced understanding of the Christian faith. One thing that has become apparent is that whilst the written Bible is a closed text, the Christian faith relies on more than this written doctrine. It has a substantial oral tradition that evolves and supplements the closed text. The text of the Bible has an openness called “open to interpretation”. In fact a great amount of effort is expended trying to sell one form of interpretation over another. For instance whilst the Bible says that woman should not speak in Church (1 Corinthians 14:33,34) alternate interpretations based on the context of this passage allow contemporary churches to rationalize their way around the decree. Stories that if taken literally would represent quite a dire conflict with contemporary values are taken as allegoric or limited to a specific context and any such crisis is averted. To me it seems a strange system but who can question the enduring nature of something that has stood for over 2000 years. In one sense it creates a necessary illusion of consensus amongst people who in fact have quite a lot of disagreement. Continue reading

Parliament should wield the war power

ABC.net.au ran an op-ed of mine arguing that only Parliament, not the Prime Minister & Cabinet, should have the power to commit Australian troops overseas.

A longer more detailed version of my article that deals with most of the objections against war powers reform is in the most recent issue of Policy magazine.

This is such a commonsense reform that I’m surprised there is even any controversy over it. The fact that the Executive currently can take the nation to war after deliberating in secret is a relic of a monarchical past, when Kings and Queens ruled without accountability. It has no place in a modern democracy.

Ron Paul’s firing.

Shortly after the news that once again Ron Paul had won the CPAC straw poll, came the more negative news, that Young Americans for Freedom, (YAF) had fired him from their board of advisers, on which he has served for more than twenty years. On the surface it appears that there is a disagreement over his anti war stance, although indications are that it goes much deeper than that.

If it were really just a policy difference I doubt that the degree of vitriol involved in the announcements on the act would have happened. The language YAF have employed indicates that they do not simply wish for a parting of the ways, they want to ridicule and destroy him.

Senior National Director Jordan Marks said:

“It’s a sad day in American history when a one-time conservative/libertarian stalwart has fallen more out of touch with America’s needs for national security then our current socialist presidential regime.” “Rep. Paul is clearly off his meds and must be purged from public office. YAF is starting the process by removing him from our national advisory board. Good riddance and he won’t be missed,” added Marks. Continue reading