I AM a libertarian. The murderous aggression perpetrated this Tuesday by terrorists therefore incenses me.
The most bizarre response to the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Pennsylvania massacres is an attempt by some libertarians to rationalize it as an entailment of American foreign policy.Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, writes in “Terror: The Price of Hegemony”:
Crashing down along with this symbol of capitalism [the World Trade Center], modernity, and civilization is the overweening hubris of a government – and a people – who thought themselves immune. It is the doctrine of “American exceptionalism,” the theory that the US – blessed by Providence and released from the travails faced by other nations – is immune, exempt not only from the rules that govern and limit the powers of other nations, but also from history itself. For history – and not only history but physics – tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
We stand at the apex of power, and the French have even invented a special term for the hubristic heights of the American Imperium: they call us the hyperpower. It was coined to describe a power outside human history, outside the ordinary rules and conditions attached to human existence, a power without parallel or precedent. We were all about actions, and not about consequences: unlike the empires of the past, America was thought to be exempt from any possible reaction to its imperial edicts. Now we know it isn't true: too bad we had to learn the hard way.
American foreign policy thus spawned the slaughter of September 11.The perpetrators acted less out of autonomous choice than as agents of historical inevitability who, Raimondo implies, taught America a salutary lesson in humility.
Former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne also describes September 11 deterministically in “When Will We Learn?” (also at Antiwar.com): “Our foreign policy has been insane for decades. It was only a matter of time until Americans would have to suffer personally for it. It is a terrible tragedy of life that the innocent so often have to suffer for the sins of the guilty.”Browne asks after citing American intervention in Sudan, Iraq, and elsewhere, “Did we think the people who lost their families and friends and property in all that destruction would love America for what happened? When will we learn that violence always begets violence?”
The arguments made to rationalize September 11 apply to another terrorist: Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh also perpetrated mass murder in response to an act of federal violence, and his slaughter too could be explained as having been begotten by federal slaughter. It is a contemptible illogic that denies human volition, and it is no less contemptible regarding Tuesday’s terrorists.
Murray N. Rothbard writes in the classic For a New Liberty, “The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: than no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else.”He observes of war, “War…is mass murder, and this massive invasion of the right to life, of self-ownership, of numbers of people is not only a crime but, for the libertarian, the ultimate crime.” The mass murder perpetrated on September 11 is antithetical to the libertarian creed, an act of war, and very much “the ultimate crime.” For a libertarian to soft-pedal it is obscene incoherence.
Going far beyond a sound opposition to the federal government’s aggression abroad, Raimondo and Browne have attempted to mitigate terrorists’ accountability for massacring thousands of Americans. Freedom’s ethics certainly entail denouncing the imperial presidency, and they sure as hell entail denouncing mass murder without equivocation or tacit exculpation. Libertarians of all people should not need to be reminded of this.