As I write this, protests continue to escalate in Hong Kong, protests widely described as “pro-democracy.” At the same time there are also reports of a build up of Chinese People’s Liberation Army forced nearby.
What should the U.S. do? Should we do nothing, say nothing, with a policy of total non-interference? Should we make a show of military force, and send an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea? Should we threaten economic sanctions if China reacts with force to restore order in their territory?
What is a libertarian to think? Surely, libertarians support freedom?
I think the wisest perspective on this was offered by John Quincy Adams, in 1821, when he was Secretary of State. In a speech honoring the 45th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Adams said:
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….
At nearly 200 years old, this remains the heart of libertarian foreign policy.