While I won't take issue with many of the good points raised in Christopher Preble's contribution to the debate on the relative merits of nation building, I will never quite grasp the mind-set of those who argue, as he appears to, that we should be circumspect in our attempts to "force democracy down the throats of the approximately 3 billion people who currently live under stone other system of government."
Is it not true in literally every such case that whatever system they may live under was, in fact, forced down their throats? Do the Chinese or North Korean Communists or the cronies of dozens of tin-pot dictators from Africa to Burma derive their just powers from the consent of the governed?
Nor is it at all clear to me how freedom can be "forced" on anyone. Don't most people want simply to live? Is this not true whether they're Christian or Muslim, Arab or Anglo? How can a system which allows this to happen to the greatest extent possible be any sort of "imposition" on any group of people?
If we're all largely the same when the window dressing of language, culture, and religion is removed, then I wonder why it is often argued that democracy won't work if a nation and its people lack democratic "traditions." Until 1945, Japan was first a feudalistic, then a rigidly militaristic society where questioning authority was unforgivable and the ruling class entertained itself testing sword blades by beheading peasants. But people are people, and look at the intrepid Japanese now! Freedom can envelop the world! It can be done, and it should, even with great sacrifice, if we are to say we love humanity.
Ronald Bailey's principal error in his advocacy of a coercive, democratizing foreign policy is to believe the myth that "the spread of liberal, free market democracy in the 20th century has been accomplished largely by force of arms--largely, in fact, by force of American arms." This is astonishingly incorrect, and from this bad assumption flows Bailey's unfortunate prescription for interventionism.
In Europe, even during the 19th century, the liberal order was established through internal reform. Violence motivated by democratic zealotry only encouraged the suppression of liberalism and the delayed creation of liberal societies. In the 20th century, one of the greatest liberations in human history--the freeing of Eastern Europe and Russia from communism--was accomplished without violence. Liberal society in India was achieved without recourse to a violent liberation, and those societies in the developing world that succumbed to the rhetoric of violent revolution have almost universally fallen under some form of despotism or dictatorship. No government has ever competently designed a blueprint for a free society, because such societies cannot be created by fiat.
Warmongering liberals have effectively been as great a bane to human liberty at home and abroad as any foreign dictator, and a considerable number of modern despotisms have emerged from the wreckage of misguided liberal zeal. Indeed, even the liberations of World War II and the Cold War were damage control of the mess made by the folly of Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George. It would be inexcusable to repeat those errors today with the false conviction that liberty will thereby triumph. No matter which side wins such battles, liberty will consistently be the loser.
I found Ronald Bailey's recent prescription for a libertarian foreign policy personally inspiring. In order to make sure that my neighbor never came over to rape my wife and burn down my house, I shot him. Then I figured that I could freely negotiate a contract with his son to mow my lawn. His son did seem a little upset, however, babbling on about eternal revenge and blood feud. No matter.
Bailey's call for the re-emergence of the Reagan Doctrine was particularly brilliant. If that ain't libertarianism, then I don't know what is. Pour an endless stream of taxpayers' dollars and debt into an endless stream of insurgencies, counter-insurgencies, and counter-counter-insurgencies. Most of the carcasses or mutilated survivors will be only Third World peasants. Their lives are of no consequence, compared to the free markets which would spring forth, along with regulation, taxation, subsidization, and other free institutions like we have here. And if some of those foreigners and Third World victims get mad and want to hurt us back, well, we may have to hold on to that intrusive national security apparatus, just for a little while.
Ronald Bailey replies: I find Mr. Larison's account of liberalism's progress a bit odd. The ideology of liberalism spread through Europe in the 19th century in the wake of Napoleon's armies. After Napoleon, the ancien regimes of France, Prussia, and Austro-Hungary did reluctantly liberalize under the pressure of a growing middle class. Mr. Larison confuses the last stage of a process with the whole process.
The notion that Russia and Eastern Europe were freed without violence is myopic. The Cold War was in fact fought with a succession of small hot wars in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua, among other places. And let's not forget the sustained buildup of nuclear and non-nuclear forces throughout Europe. The collapse of the Soviet Union occurred when the Communist elite, under relentless military and economic pressure from the West, no longer believed their system could win.
A liberal India was possible only because it was conquered by the British, who imposed liberal institutions on the subcontinent. The claim that World War I was fought over liberalism is simply wrong; it was a balance-of-power war.
As for Wilson and Lloyd George, they believed in the self-determination of states, but true liberalism believes in and promotes the self-determination of individuals. That's the policy I called for in my article. As for Mr. Spain, he should ponder deeply the excellent points made by Scan Smith above.
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|Article Type:||Letter to the Editor|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2003|
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