Neolibertarianism

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Neolibertarianism is a political philosophy combining elements of libertarian and neoconservative thought that embraces incrementalism and pragmatism domestically, and a generally interventionist foreign policy. Neolibertarianism holds that the best form of national government is one that promotes capitalism and strong national defense policies, including the use of pre-emptive military engagements if necessary. It also holds that the federal government should concern itself with these issues above all others, while leaving nearly every other issue to more local political entities: state/provincial and municipal governments, communities, and individuals. Neolibertarians are sometimes described as "pro-capitalist conservatives" or "libertarians who support the War on Terror."

The term neolibertarian is undergoing a shift in meaning post-9-11 and post-Iraq War. Originally it indicated a libertarian who embraced the alliance with the New Left, whereas now it is often used to describe a libertarian who favors an interventionist foreign policy, as opposed to an isolationist course of action. In this sense the term is related to neoconservative.

To describe neolibertarians, Dale Franks says this: [1]

When given a set of policy choices,
  • The choice that maximizes personal liberty is the best choice.
  • The policy choice that offers the least amount of necessary government intervention or regulation is the best choice.
  • The policy choice that provides rational, market-based incentives is the best choice.
In foreign policy, neolibertartianism would be characterized by,
  • A policy of diplomacy that promotes consensual government and human rights and opposes dictatorship.


Putting a different spin on it, the website "Neo-Libertarian" says that neo-libertarianism: [2]

...means making a political commitment to combat the initation of force and fraud by the most effective and moral route possible; paleo-libertarians deal in words and thoughts, while neo-libertarians commit themselves to expanding freedom from the rhetorical world to the real world. It's the difference between saying something for freedom and doing something for freedom.
Moreover, it's a commitment to the universality of freedom; just as calling oneself 'The Government' cannot legitimately add to one's natural rights, drawing an invisible line on a map and calling it 'The Border' cannot legitimately subtract from one's natural rights. People in foreign lands have the same natural rights as people in the house next door; neo-libertarianism is about finding the most practical ways to stop infringements against the liberty of those around the globe, including the use of force if necessary, just as we would use local police and courts to stop infringements of liberty next door.
Put more succinctly: Individuals are the only morally significant unit of political economy. Individuals are imbued with infinite liberties circumscribed only by the rights of others to not be coerced or defrauded. The central right of humanity is the right to resist an agressor, even if you aren't the victim.

A common critique of neolibertarians is that their core beliefs contain in themselves an inconsistency -- how can a government powerful and interventionist enough to fix problems abroad be trusted not to try to "solve" problems at home? Historically, there are no known examples of a State with "big" government abroad and limited government domestically. Critics often quote Randolph Bourne: "War is the health of the State." Neolibertarians typically respond to this criticism by saying they support military engagements that remove impediments to capitalism and only in the most extreme situations. This is an area where neolibertarians and neoconservatives slightly differ. Where neoconservatives strongly support the building of democratic governments in the wake of militarily defeated governments, neolibertarians are more concerned with letting capitalism operate after any military victory. If capitalism is allowed to operate, they argue, the former subjects of militarily defeated governments will naturally arrange governments (whatever the form) which are, if only out of political expediency, more friendly to their subjects' newfound economic freedoms and therefore much less likely to jeopardize the benefits which neolibertarians believe capitalism offers.


Hobbesian or Lockean?[edit]

Bruce McQuain of the QandO blog has used the following to describe neolibertarianism in general: [3]

-Pragmatic domestic libertarian; "Hawk" strong on defense
-Hobbesian libertarian
-Big-Tent libertarian
-Bonobo libertarian

Many pro-war libertarian bloggers have also indentified themselves as Hobbesian. But "Neo-Libertarian.com" countered this by stating that neolibertarianism is actually that of the likes of John Locke: [4]

I also have to protest the over-usage of Hobbes, both by Pejman and the folks at QandO. Hobbes was an asshole and a coward. He even bragged that he was a coward. He was a sissy little mama's boy who wanted a monstrous tyrant to scare away the mean ol’ men. He's a horrible person to base your views of the world on. His only solution to the injustices in the world was to make a dictatorship that was (quite explicitly only) slightly nicer than the status quo.
Locke, however, believed that people are basically good, but it takes some effort to smooth out the violence and injustice through a good system. He believed in punitive justice, explicitly including the death penalty, to weed out criminals. He believed that representative government could solve many problems in the administration of justice and that ultimately we just had to be fair about meting out justice - but that strength and deterrence were critical to dealing with criminals.
Locke is a much better role model, because he wasn’t a sissy pansy, he actually believed in liberty, and he thought fair but robust punishment was the solution to crime, not an absolute dictatorship. As a libertarian, a student of philosophy and an IR major, I have to strongly protest the trend of many libertarian pro-war bloggers to identify as Hobbesian realists. Saddam is Hobbesian. Chirac is a realist. Bush is a Lockean liberalist in the mold of Reagan, and so am I.

"Neo-Libertarian.com" also stated: [5]

Some people have equated neolibertarianism with conservatism, pragmatism and Hobbesianism. I could scarcely disagree more; neolibertarianism is liberalist, idealist and Lockean.
By liberalist, I mean ascribing to an ideology based on human liberty, human goodness, and market commerce. I believe that people are basically good, I believe that freedom is inseparable from a just and lasting peace and I think markets are a wonderful route to prosperity and understanding.
By idealist, I mean that a neo-libertarian view embraces an objective, universal, Stoic perspective of life and existence, and that ethical behavior is inherently valuable.
By Lockean, I mean I do not accept the Hobbesian view that the world is a cold, hellish, anarchical place that only a master despot can tame. I subscribe to the view, espoused by Locke, that people are basically good and that freedom and representative institutions are the best normal route for governing human interactions. However, also like Locke, I think that some people are cruel, evil and intolerably unjust, and that they can and ought to be captured, arrested or killed for their crimes. Idealism by no means equates to pacifism.

Those on the Lockean side of the definition argument often use this quote of Locke's to justify the neolibertarian interventionist position: [6]

"[A]s every man has a power to punish the crime, to prevent its being committed again, by the right he has of preserving all mankind, and doing all reasonable things he can in order to that end: and thus it is, that every man, in the state of nature, has a power to kill a murderer, both to deter others from doing the like injury, which no reparation can compensate, by the example of the punishment that attends it from every body, and also to secure men from the attempts of a criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind, hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tyger, one of those wild savage beasts, with whom men can have no society nor security... " -John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government

Neolibertarian websites[edit]