Fast forward to the 1960s where the beginnings of what is now the modern conservative movement were taking hold. Conservative founding fathers such as William F. Buckley Jr. and Barry Goldwater were preaching a more aggressive foreign policy.
The ideological split today between conservatives and libertarians can be illustrated by the split between conservative and libertarian youth at the 1969 Young Americans for Freedom convention in St. Louis.
Nick Gillespie, senior editor of the popular libertarian magazine REASON, describes the events and underlying ideological differences leading to the split in his article The Other Side of the Sixties: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of Conservative Politics:
“By the late ’60s, the ideological divisions in YAF between conservatives — who, heavily influenced by people such as Buckley in-law and Goldwater speechwriter, L. Brent Bozell, saw the state as a means to achieve a return to a “traditional” society — and libertarians — who championed individual liberty above all else — could no longer be masked over by an overriding commitment to anti-communism. The Vietnam War — or, more precisely, the draft — effectively split the organization. Conservatives felt the Cold War legitimized conscription; libertarians saw the draft as slavery.”
Gillespie’s last line, “libertarians saw the draft as slavery,” is key to understanding the libertarian view on war and force.
Libertarians subscribe to a non-interventionist foreign policy. Why? Because libertarians do not believe in force and coercion unless they are in defense of an individuals’ liberty. The only time libertarians believe government, a surrogate power, has the “right” to use force is when infringement on an individual’s liberty has occurred. Thus the government is only doing what the individual already has a right to do herself, and nothing more.
If one expands the libertarian’s view on individual sovereignty to the world abroad, it becomes clear that a noninterventionist foreign policy is the only logical conclusion for the libertarian. For how can one nation’s government, the surrogate power of that nation’s peoples, force itself on the government and peoples of a foreign land?
Not only does a libertarian consider foreign intervention unconstitutional, he considers it outside the rightful jurisdiction of the American government. For the American government represents the American people and the American people alone. Only the America people are subject to its force.
However, the libertarian does allow for self defense, as it is the inherent right of the individual. Once an infringement on an individual’s liberty has occurred, the individual then has the right to defend himself. In the same manner, the American government, acting in place of individual Americans, has the “right” to defend the nation.
Harry Brown, former Libertarian Party presidential candidate and libertarian philosopher, discussed libertarian foreign policy in his May 2003 article, Libertarians and War. Brown was surprised to see some self-described libertarians supporting the Iraq War, either arguing that A) Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat that demanded preemptive action, or B) the Iraqi people deserved to be liberated from such a dictator.
“Government is force, and libertarians distrust force. On every count of libertarian principles, we should demand that the use of force against foreign countries be reserved for response to direct attacks — not to be used for “regime change,” not for “democracy-building,” not for pre-emptive attacks, not for demonstrations of strength.”
It is possible to be a libertarian and believe in preemptive war and interventionism. But it is not libertarian to believe so.