Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Why Liberalism Means Empire

I suppose I could be considered a “non-liberal anti-imperialist.” The libertarians’ admiration of Singapore and Hong Kong is overstated as is the progressives’ admiration of the Scandinavian countries. The problem with both libertarianism and progressivism is their universalism, which is not reconcilable with anti-imperialism. I tend to think the city-state is an optimal model of government (if we must have government) but a world of city-states would be decidedly non-universalist. It certainly wouldn’t involve the universalization of Lockean property theory or Swedish social democracy.

By Imaginative Conservative

History ended on October 14, 1806. That was the day of the Battle of Jena, the turning point, as far as philosopher G.W.F. Hegel was concerned, in humanity’s struggle for freedom. Once Napoleon triumphed over the reactionary forces of Prussia, the ideals that post-revolutionary France represented—not just liberté, égalité, and fraternité, but the modern state and its legal order—would serve as the model for Europe and world.

When Francis Fukuyama revisited this idea in “The End of History?”—with a question mark—in the pages of The National Interest a quarter century ago, he had to remind readers what Hegel had meant. Events would still happen, including big events like wars. What had ended was a sequence of political and cultural forms whose internal contradictions each gave rise to the next step in freedom’s development: from the ancient world to medieval Christendom to, finally, what one 20th-century interpreter of Hegel called “the universal homogeneous state.” Or as Fukuyama called it, “liberal democracy.”

By 1989 it was obvious that Hegel had been right: the long series of rear-guard actions attempted by Europe’s reactionary powers came to an end after World War I. Fascism and Soviet Communism thereafter proposed themselves as alternative endings to history—competing modernities—but neither could prevail against liberal democracy, whether on the battlefield or in the marketplace.


7 replies »

  1. Being a Stirnerite I naturally have nothing but ridicule for universalism. And any kind of real understanding of the problem of how to define basic issues such a property acquisition, obscure points of contract, etc. makes the idea of some universal set of legal norms preposterous. Even if we go in assuming muhNAP or whatever you can get profoundly different interpretations of legitimacy, ownership, etc. with no objective solution. The unwillingness to acknowledge this even exists as a problem is something that I find really annoying about normie libertarians and Objectivists, most of whom have never read a single book about law that wasn’t LOLBert propaganda.
    I am not necessarily against overthrowing some government (even a city state) if they do things I don’t like to people who didn’t agree to it, but I still wouldn’t want it to be a political act by a community – in other words, not a war. Instead it should be insurrection, terrorism and financing them. Otherwise, if people want to live in Stalinist shitholes, stone adulterers, pretty much anything I just don’t care. The desire to impose one’s pet ideological fixations on the world is an inheritance of Christianity, and almost never accomplishes anything good.
    Personally I’d like to live in a city where advocating communism, welfare or public works is a crime that can get you banned from entering it, and which has universal surveillance with public access to prevent all conspiracy to do so. But if some weirdos want to live in a failed state utopia I fail to see how that’s my problem.

  2. By the way I mentioned the section of Liberalism in this article, and another where Mises says that countries which adopt anti-capitalist policies may provoke countries to invade them to have access to their resources, and Carson basically denied they existed. He’s got to manage that cognitive dissonance!

      • No, it was an email and I doubt I have it saved. I was talking about how Bohm-Bawerk trashed Marx, but making the point that under statist capitalism the financial elite have an incentive to attack primitive societies that are inefficiently exploiting their resources, specifically in Liberalism but there is another from perhaps Human Action that is even more direct. He took umbrage at the description of these societies as primitive and said that he didn’t recall Mises writing anything like that. Either he’s forgotten it or didn’t read as much Mises as I have.

  3. I have some criticisms of him and Mises. First of all, I don’t support free trade at gunpoint. But I’m also not intrinsically opposed to mercenary adventurers carving out their own ports and kingdoms in despotic, premodern states.
    If the British East India company had been a genuinely private enterprise and conquered Indian Rajs in its own name, rather than that of the Queen of England, we would have (at worst) a conflict between two bad, militaristic governments and possibly a new, more liberal government to replace an old one.
    The same goes for expansion into the American continent, I don’t support the US army backing settlers, and the US government incorporating the territories they annexed, but if settlers want to take the risk and cost on themselves then they might be perfectly justified in their actions. At worse you have a small group behaving in beastly ways toward the Amerindians, and dealing with the repercussions. Without US taxpayers and military forces backing them they’re more likely to reach accommodations rather than engage in pure conquest.
    In a conflict between people, none of whom I subsidize, I no longer have to worry as much about blowback or being entangled in wars between them.
    Criticizing the author himself, a sort of libertarian free trade does not insist on government navies creating the conditions for global trade. Merchants should arm themselves and conduct trade at their own risk. In areas where it is profitable to adequately arm themselves trade will be established, where it is not, trade will desist or be diminished. If some resources remain outside of our markets, so be it. We will adjust.
    A society which made people be self reliant, take their own risks and didn’t impose state controls, costs and inefficiencies upon the population would be much richer overall and would thus be better capable of self defense and financing self protection at sea. A real laissez-faire America (or part of it) would have a rich and heavily armed populace capable of self defense and having a vibrant market economy without military subsidies, and this compounds with time. Without the cost of the US military and the social and economic damage of the wars and state they require would make us richer overall, even if we didn’t find it profitable to engage in massive trade with China or India.
    Thus I would support a tacit toleration of private ‘imperialism’, a truly laissez-faire approach to markets rather than mercantalism, and a confederation of territories based on strict self defense rather than anymore general alliance of military support. If the rest of the planet doesn’t want to get in on the game that will not be nearly so bad as the cost of state imperialism.

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