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David Mayer's Annual Report on "Prospects for Liberty"

Readers should check out historian David Mayer's whirlwind annual survey of the "Prospects for Liberty." Mayer examines everything from the "welfare-state mindset" and "the disappointing Bush presidency" to the threats posed by various stripes of fundamentalists (Islamic, Christian, "radical environmentalist," etc.). He also focuses some attention on the "Demopublican/Replicrat Monopoly" and the "Collectivist Bias of Intellectual Elites."

I always enjoy reading Mayer's work, and find myself in agreement with him on so many significant issues. Hardly surprising since I'd certainly qualify as among those he characterizes as "Radical Individualists."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that he cites my own work in his most recent survey. Mayer writes:

In an insightful essay, "Understanding the Global Crisis," published in the May-June 2003 issue of The Free Radical, Chris Matthew Sciabarra has written persuasively about the reasons to be wary of any long-term U.S. expansion in the region. As he has noted, "The lunacy of nation-building and of imposed political settlements – which have been tried over and over again in the Middle East with no long-term success – does not mean that there is no hope for the Arab world." Citing evidence suggesting a rising revolt against theocracy, especially among a younger generation of Iranians who "eat American foods, wear American jeans, and watch American TV shows" and thus are fed up with oppressive government, he adds, "I don’t see how a U.S. occupation in any part of the region will nourish this kind of revolt. If anything, the United States may be perceived as a new colonial administrator. Such a perception may only give impetus to the theocrats who may seek to preserve their rule by deflecting the dissatisfaction in their midst toward the 'infidel occupiers.' I can think of no better ad campaign for the recruitment of future Islamic terrorists." Sadly, the story of the U.S. occupation of Iraq seems to have proved Sciabarra’s prediction to be right.
The United States and the rest of the Western world must use military force, as appropriate, to defend themselves against the threat posed by fanatical Islamists. Our past policies of appeasement toward Islamic terrorism have proven to be failures, but we should not adopt policies of overreaction that will be failure in the opposite direction. Of course, we are right to strike back against those who initiate force and even to strike preemptively or unilaterally against imminent threats to American security, as Chris Sciabarra notes. Nevertheless, I also find persuasive his argument that "America's only practical long-term course of action is strategic disengagement from the region," meaning the entire Middle East. Like Sciabarra, "in the long term, I stand with those American Founding Fathers who advocated free trade with all, entangling political alliances with none. If that advice was good for a simpler world, it is even more appropriate for a world of immense complexity, in which no one power can control for all the myriad unintended consequences of human action. The central planners of socialism learned this lesson some time ago; the central planners of a projected U.S. colonialism have yet to learn it."

Go read the whole of Mayer's article here.

Comments welcome.


This is very interesting considering that Mayer tended to be in the pro-war category not too long ago. Looks like he has had a chance of heart after reading your analysis.

I bow to you as I do to Alec Guinness in Star Wars.

Thanks for your vote of confidence, Technomaget! And I really love Alec Guiness too!

If my expressed views had anything to do with David's thoughts on this, I'm delighted!

"Sadly, the story of the U.S. occupation of Iraq seems to have proved Sciabarra’s prediction to be right."

If the opinion to the contrary last May by the independent London based International Institute for Strategic Studies, three increasingly successful elections in 2005, recent Iraqi opinion polls, declining US causualties, and dimminishingly successful terrorism within Iraq itself can't dissuade Mayer's opinion - surely nothing can.

The problem with libertarians' is to assume that Muslim's, especially those in tribal dominated and uniformly authoritarian Arab speaking world, are just like us. They aren't. We haven't been saddled with a religion where, in place of crucifixion, the downtrodden are offered "martyrdom operations" instead of benign symbolic sacrafice. That totalitarian regimes exploit this difference, sending venom to repeatedly attack (1993) and destroy (2001) our symbols like the World Trade Center, ought to teach us something about them if we had a mind to hear it. Yet we do not. Instead, Bush's Iraq policy has forced the region to have the civil war Islam requires to modernize, given their tradition of Jihad (see David Cook's "Understanding Jihad," 2005). Islamic exceptionalism remains the planet's enemy of peace and progress.

Furthermore, focusing on the uniqueness of American evil or its occasional military provocations does nothing to answer the violence and reactionary terror that surrounds the Muslim world and generates Islam's resistance to ongoing and successful economic globalization. This leaves libertarians' looking as irrelevant and anti-American as lefties, when we ought to stand empowered by our own unique alternative voice on the vital issues of the day.

Isolationism made sense when "liberty hath been chased round the world" and had but one home. Now it has many and an expanding domain. But in a day where the institutions of freedom like more capitalism and more democracy are seen as far more desirable in the less developed world than in the so-called "developed," our ears are too closed to other crying voices and we don't see how our interests coincide with their needs.

Only when libertarians' are allied with the liberation of the oppressed of the world will we stand for true liberty. As it is, we stand with the evil reactionaries and our voice is sadly silenced and missed.

I don't think that "three increasingly successful elections in 2005, recent Iraqi opinion polls, declining US casualties, and dimminishingly successful terrorism within Iraq" is proof of US "success" in the region, because any "success" needs to be measured long-term, and the long-term "unintended consequences" or "blowback," if you wish, of this kind of intervention have yet to be felt.

Mind you: At this point, I am not even sure what "success" is in Iraq. If it is to "bring democracy" to Iraq and to the region, then, I actually agree with you: "those in [the] tribal dominated and uniformly authoritarian Arab speaking world, are [not] just like us." And until or unless there is a cultural transformation in that region, there is not likely to be any political transformation of lasting worth.

Moreover, I'd be a lot more optimistic if the US were promoting "institutions of freedom like more capitalism and more democracy," which, you are correct, seem "far more desirable in the less developed world than in the so-called 'developed,'" because the US, by contrast, promotes a warped neocorporatist political economy that is partially to blame for having propped up authoritarians in the Arab world, and for having given political impetus to the forces of fundamentalism.

On this last issue in particular, see my comments on, for example, the history of US-Saudi relations.