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With the United States on the verge of another war in the Middle East — or is it merely the continuation of a decades-long war? — we libertarians need to reacquaint ourselves with our intellectual heritage of peace, antimilitarism, and anti-imperialism. This rich heritage is too often overlooked and frequently not appreciated at all. That is tragic. Libertarianism, to say the least, is deeply skeptical of state power. Of course, then, it follows that libertarianism must be skeptical of the state’s power to make war — to kill and destroy in other lands. Along with its domestic police authority, this is the state’s most dangerous power. (In 1901 a libertarian, Frederic Passy, a friend of libertarian economist Gustave de Molinari, shared in the first Nobel Peace Prize.)

Herbert Spencer, the great English libertarian philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th century, eloquently expressed radical liberalism’s antipathy to war and militarism. His writings are full of warnings about the dangers of war and conquest. Young Spencer saw and cheered the rise of the industrial type of society, which was displacing what he called the militant type. The industrial type was founded on equal freedom, consent, and contract, the militant on hierarchy, command, and force. Yet he lived long enough to see a reversal, and his later writings lamented the ascendancy of the old militant traits. We have a good deal to learn from the much-maligned Spencer, who is inexplicably condemned as favoring the “law of the jungle.” This is so laughably opposite of the truth that one couldn’t be blamed for concluding that the calumny is the product of bad faith. As Auburn University philosopher Roderick Long writes,

The textbook summary is absurd, of course. Far from being a proponent of “might makes right,” Spencer wrote that the “desire to command is essentially a barbarous desire” because it “implies an appeal to force,” which is “inconsistent with the first law of morality” and “radically wrong.” While Spencer opposed tax-funded welfare programs, he strongly supported voluntary charity, and indeed devoted ten chapters of his Principles of Ethics to a discussion of the duty of “positive beneficence.”

Spencer jumped on the issues of war and peace right out of the gate. His first book, Social Statics(1851), contains a chapter, “Government Colonization,” that examines the effects of imperialism on both the home and subjugated populations. While formal colonization has gone out of style, many of its key characteristics have been preserved in a new form; thus Spencer’s observations are entirely pertinent.

Read more via The Anti-Militarist Libertarian Heritage – Reason.com.

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