Tuesday, 2002 May 7, 15:00 — luddites, politics

Francis Fukuyama, stasist twit

Francis Fukuyama doesn’t think much of libertarians.

The hostility of libertarians to big government extended to U.S. involvement in the world. The Cato Institute propounded isolationism in the ’90s, on the ground that global leadership was too expensive. At the time of the Gulf War, Cato produced an analysis that argued it would be cheaper to let Saddam keep Kuwait than to pay for a military intervention to expel him – a fine cost-benefit analysis, if you only abstracted from the problem of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a megalomaniac.

Kuwait had weapons of mass destruction?

It’s shabby to suggest that penny-pinching (though valid) is the only reason to refrain from foreign adventures. Another is that they make terror-targets of people who, if it were up to them, might have backed nobody, or even the other side.

Collective action is legitimate when overwhelming consensus exists either on the specific policy or that division would be worse than the wrong policy (e.g. which side of the road to drive on). A case could be made (though I’d probably quarrel with it) that most of the powers listed in the US Constitution, Article I Section 8, fit this description; foreign intervention does not.

Contrary to Mr. Reagan’s vision of the U.S. as a “shining city on a hill,” libertarians saw no larger meaning in America’s global role, no reason to promote democracy and freedom abroad.

Fukuyama implies that G.I.Joe is not only our best missionary but our only one. What about simple leadership by example (which is what I understand by the “shining city” metaphor)? What about trade? What about cultural outreach through the movies enjoyed all over the world? What about offering a neutral haven to people like those who fled Europe to make such movies?

Sept. 11 ended this line of argument. It was a reminder to Americans of why government exists, and why it has to tax citizens and spend money to promote collective interests. It was only the government, and not the market or individuals, that could be depended on to send firemen into buildings, or to fight terrorists, or to screen passengers at airports.

Happy Fun Pundit neatly disposes of that claim – and of the bio-luddism that fills the bulk of Fukuyama’s essay.

The terrorists were not attacking Americans as individuals, but symbols of American power like the World Trade Center and Pentagon. So it is not surprising that Americans met this challenge collectively with flags and patriotism, rather than the yellow ribbons of individual victimization.

It is hardly a devastating or novel attack on libertarianism to point out that most Americans happen not to be political individualists, or that when a collectivist institution is attacked its supporters respond collectively. I hope Fukuyama is not such a simpleton as to argue that Leviathan must be good because it was attacked by the unambiguously bad.

(Both links are from Virginia Postrel.)

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