Land of the Free, Home of the Belligerent

To understand U.S. involvement in Ukraine and in the world in general, you must understand the Paradox of Imperialism.


Victory or defeat in interstate warfare depend on many factors, of course, but other things such as population size being the same, in the long run the decisive factor is the relative amount of economic resources at a state’s disposal. In taxing and regulating, states do not contribute to the creation of economic wealth. Instead, they parasitically draw on existing wealth. However, state governments can influence the amount of existing wealth negatively. Other things being equal, the lower the tax and regulation burden imposed on the domestic economy, the larger the population will tend to grow and the larger the amount of domestically produced wealth on which the state can draw in its conflicts with neighboring competitors. That is, states which tax and regulate their economies comparatively little — liberal states — tend to defeat and expand their territories or their range of hegemonic control at the expense of less-liberal ones.
This explains, for instance, why Western Europe came to dominate the rest of the world rather than the other way around. More specifically, it explains why it was first the Dutch, then the British and finally, in the 20th century, the United States, that became the dominant imperial power, and why the United States, internally one of the most liberal states, has conducted the most aggressive foreign policy, while the former Soviet Union, for instance, with its entirely illiberal (repressive) domestic policies has engaged in a comparatively peaceful and cautious foreign policy. The United States knew that it could militarily beat any other state; hence, it has been aggressive. In contrast, the Soviet Union knew that it was bound to lose a military confrontation with any state of substantial size unless it could win within a few days or weeks.

The above 292 words constitute one of the most important passages in libertarian scholarship to absorb in order both to become a consistent libertarian and to understand U.S. history. They are from a speech by social theorist Hans-Hermann Hoppe. If the reader has strong disagreements with Hoppe on other topics, those should not be used as an excuse to dismiss his insight on this one.

The insight Hoppe outlines above has been called the “Paradox of Imperialism.” This is the insight that is lost on prominent libertarians like Tom Palmer, on Koch-supported organizations like the Cato Institute and Students for Liberty, and on many non-American libertarians.

Such people are baffled by the positions of prominent libertarians like Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell, and of organizations like Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute. The Palmerites paint the Ron Paulians as reflexive anti-Americans and apologists for dictators.

Take, for example, the recent crisis over Ukraine. The Palmerites swooned over the cause of the Euromaidan protesters in Kiev who rose up against the regime of president Viktor Yanukovych after the latter rejected a diplomatic arrangement with the European Union in favor of one with Russia. The Students for Liberty Facebook page made several posts expressing solidarity with the protesters. Learn Liberty, the educational venture of the Koch-supported Institute for Humane Studies, even reposted the “grassroots” viral video “We Are All Ukrainians,” whose title has been echoed by Senator John McCain.

In contrast, Antiwar.com (especially Justin Raimondo) and the Ron Paul Institute (especially Daniel McAdams) have worked tirelessly to point out the deep involvement by Washington in what has been painted as a “local” and “organic” movement of freedom fighters.

As made plain by Antiwar.com and RPI, the key figure in U.S. meddling in Ukraine is the neocon Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. She has bragged about the U.S. spending $5 billion on bringing “democracy” to Ukraine.

She was also recorded trying to micromanage who would attain leadership positions in the “new Ukraine.” As Robert Wenzel pointed out, she got just what she wanted. The man she assumed would be prime minister is exactly who was elevated to that position by the new U.S.-allied government, once it took power.

She has even gone so far as to pass out cookies to the protesters in Euromaidan square.

When you have the #2 diplomat of the mightiest world power bragging about spending billions on regime change, hand-picking the next administration, and serving as a den mother to the opposition, it makes it hard to characterize the opposition as “organic” with a straight face.

That hasn’t stopped the Palmerites from trying.

Oh, and that supposedly “grassroots” viral “We Are All Ukrainians” video? It was basically Kony 2012 all over again. The video’s producers are funded by the Moroccan government, and its creators say its “inspiration” was Larry Diamond, who is a member of the enormously influential Council on Foreign Relations, and who has worked closely with the National Endowment for Democracy, the “mothership” of NGOs which funnels most of the State Department’s “soft power” regime change money throughout the world.

The Ron Paulians also pointed out that the contingent of the Euromaidan forces most willing to use force were antisemitic extreme right-wing nationalists who idolized a Nazi collaborator responsible for bringing the Holocaust to the Ukraine. Washington has reached the peak of hypocricy, as it funds radical Islamist terrorists in Syria in an effort to topple Assad, and fascist thugs in Ukraine in order to topple Yanukovych.

Matters were brought to a head when snipers took out over one hundred people, including both anti- and pro-Yanukovych forces. As it turns out, it was most likely the same snipers who shot at both sides, and they were most likely hired by opposition leaders, who must have figured you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, even if those eggs are your own front line of “useful idiots.” Suitably enraged, the protesters then let loose, and violently toppled the government, causing Yanukovych to flee to Russia.

Soon after, Russia sent troops into Crimea, which has been part of Ukraine since the 1950s, even though it is majority Russian, and Russia-oriented. A referendum was held today in Crimea, in which an overwhelming majority of the voters elected to secede from Ukraine and to join the Russian Federation.

With each Russian move, the Obama administration, prodded on by Republican accusations of “weakness,” wailed in protest, recklessly threatening to “isolate” the nuclear power with diplomatic and economic sanctions, and offering billions in support for the new government in Ukraine.

The Palmerites joined the U.S. government, not only in raging against the Russian bear, but in actively supporting and advising the new administration in Kiev. Tom Palmer bragged on Facebook about heading out to Kiev for the Atlas Economic Research Foundation to join the Cato Institute at a summit in a posh hotel to advise the new government on economic policy.

In contrast, the Ron Paulians trained their rhetorical fire on insisting that the U.S. government stay out of it, reminding the public that it was U.S. meddling that triggered this crisis in the first place, and pointing out the relative mildness of Russia’s moves as compared to the recent history of U.S. foreign policy.

For their pains, they have been branded by neocons and Palmerites alike as “apologists for Putin.”

Palmer has long accused Ron Paulians for being apologists for dictators. Why, indeed, in these geopolitical incidents, do Ron Paulians so consistently focus on critiquing the American side, as opposed to the regimes the U.S. government opposes?

For one thing, as Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald have pointed out, American intellectuals have more sway over and more responsibility for their own government’s foreign policy than the policy of foreign regimes.

But there is another important consideration. And that is the Paradox of Imperialism outlined above.

In international conflicts involving the U.S., it really is almost always the Washington who bears most of the blame. Now this is not because the U.S. is populated by Americans who are inherently evil; the Ron Paulian position on foreign policy is not “anti-American.”

And it is not because the Ron Paulians have gotten carried away with their critique of the Federal government to the point of believing that the U.S. is more despotic than foreign kleptocrats like Putin, Yanukovych, and others. To the contrary, as explained by the Paradox of Imperialism, it is because the U.S. is less domestically tyrannical than most other countries, while still being a state, that it has both the wherewithal and the ambition to be more externally aggressive (with both “hard” and “soft” power) and therefore is more often to blame.

Whether the U.S. actually is more to blame in the recent crisis is an empirical matter. The affirmative answer to this question is well established, not only by its documented soft-power intervention in Ukraine (which follows to a tea the methods of U.S.-sponsored overthrows in numerous other countries), but by its decades-long post-Cold-War march from the Balkans and the Baltic to Russia’s borders under the guise of NATO and NATO halfway houses like the “Partnership for Peace” programme.

But it should be no surprise that the U.S. government, in this instance as in virtually all others, is the furthest thing from the selfless, benevolent promoter of freedom and democracy that it claims to be. And the reason that this should be no surprise is not purely empirical, but rather theoretical.

It is the logical analysis of the incentives and growth-pattern of the domestically liberal state — the Paradox of Imperialism — that sheds necessary light on the historical foreign policy of the U.S., from its early efforts to conquer Canada, to its genocidal wars against the American Indians. From its provocation of the Mexican-American War so as to absorb California and the southwest, to its murderous occupation of the Phillipines. From its steering the public toward entry into the World Wars, to its post-War dominance of the First World. From its Cold War interventions and invasions, to its non-stop post-Cold-War efforts to leverage its role as the last remaining superpower into a position of complete global dominance.

The Paradox of Imperialism explains why Imperial America, like Imperial Britain before it, is both land of the free and home of the belligerent. Of course the American people are only relatively free, and it is the state that rules them that is responsible for the belligerence.

(Originally published March 18, 2014)