Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 12:11 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 13 Oct 2021 | 12:11 | SYDNEY

Is there a libertarian foreign policy?


Sam Roggeveen


5 March 2010 11:13

Canberra blogger Andrew Carr dispatches Peter Costello's argument about the home insulation fiasco:

...this claim by Peter Costello...takes the cake for ludicrousness: "But let us draw an additional lesson from this sorry episode. Both sides of politics are now flirting with the idea that the Commonwealth should take over and run public hospitals. Bear this in mind. The Federal Government could not run a home insulation program. Do you think it can run every hospital and hospital department in the country?"

The logic behind this argument is akin to saying if you have spent your entire life walking around and just once trip and skin your knee, you can no longer claim to be able to walk, let alone run...small government advocates do themselves no favours by making such child like use of inductive reasoning...

Andrew might equally have said that just because the Government could not run a home insulation scheme does not mean it should stop conducting foreign policy, or that it should immediately privatise the Australian Defence Force.

Which leads me to the question in my headline: what do libertarians believe to be the proper role of government when it comes to international affairs? Libertarians like their government small and out of the way, but they presumably agree that there are some things government ought to be good at, like defending the country and protecting its interests.

But that can take in an enormous range of activities, so do libertarians believe foreign policy should promote to the world their limited government vision, or should 'defending the country and protecting its interests' be defined very narrowly?

I should say that I tried to tackle this question many years ago in an essay in Policy, published by the libertarian-ish Centre for Independent Studies. The CIS has always had a strong attachment to the work of Hayek and Friedman, but I'm not aware that either had very strong views about foreign policy, and it has always struck me that for CIS, there are no foreign policy thinkers that fit their worldview the way Hayek and Friedman do in the domestic economic sphere.

Photo by Flickr user Rampant Gian, used under a Creative Commons license.