Exclusive Interviews
Tibor Machan: No 'Continued Militarism' in the West
By Anthony Wile - October 26, 2014

Introduction: Tibor Machan is Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Auburn University, Alabama, and until last summer has held the R. C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University. He was until recently a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Machan, who earned BA (Claremont McKenna College), MA (New York University) and Ph.D. (University of California at Santa Barbara) degrees in philosophy, has written numerous books and papers in the field of philosophy, including on issues surrounding the free market. Machan was selected as the 2003 President of the American Society for Value Inquiry, and delivered the presidential address on December 29, 2002, in Philadelphia, at the Eastern Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association, titled "Aristotle & Business." Parts of this interview were drawn from previous Machan editorials.

Daily Bell: Thanks for sitting down with us today. Any news? Any new books or projects?

Tibor Machan: My most recent book collects all the interviews I have given since about 1970.

Daily Bell: A recent editorial of yours that we posted was entitled, "A Bit of Nietzsche Will Help." In it you concluded, "The neo-Aristotelian selfishness … acknowledges that human beings are social … and to strive for one's own success in life must involve the social virtues as well as the personal ones – generosity and compassion, not only prudence and ambition. With such a morality at hand, the human race would be in far better shape than it is with all the scolding it receives for not being selfless enough." It seems you are suggesting a balance between enlightened self-interest and social virtues. Can you expand on this?

Tibor Machan: Yes. I also pointed out that the original sin notion is without any foundation at all. How could a baby come into the world already guilty of having sinned? We don't come into this world with some sort of bias toward selfishness or selflessness. We evolve in certain ways as we grow up, as I pointed out in several of my works, including Generosity (1998).

Daily Bell: That brings us to our larger topic of US imperialism and war. We understand you want to deal with this topic in a direct way so please go ahead. You won't hurt our collective feelings. Let's begin by pointing out that since you grew up in a communist country, you tend to believe that US militarism is not as widespread or fierce as some think it is.

Tibor Machan: Yes. I intend to be direct as possible. For my money, the expansionist geopolitics is found mostly with Russia, China, Japan and so forth. What else would one call Putin's stance? But such generalizations are nearly impossible to ascertain as either true or false. Some of the most influential political activists have tried to be near pacifists, while others have shown unrelenting aggression.

Daily Bell: You've written some 50 books on issues of ethics and political philosophy, specifically natural rights theory, as in works such as Individuals and Their Rights (Open Court, 1989) and Libertarianism Defended (Ashgate, 2006). How has your thinking about natural rights and libertarianism evolved within the context of the West's continued militarism?

Tibor Machan: This is one of those kinds of questions—"Have you stopped beating your wife?" "The West's continued militarism?" As far as I understand recent, modern geopolitics, there is no "continued militarism" in the West. Luxembourg? Hungary? Lichtenstein? France? Poland? Etc.? Etc.? How about the USSR? Based on its ideology, the Soviet Union had to expand both territorially and so far as its belief system is concerned. (I discuss this in my 2006 book, Revisiting Marxism: A Bourgeois Reassessment [Hamilton Books].) Without such expansionism its imperial ambitions, going back all the way to czarist times, couldn't be sustained. Marx himself noted that in order to fulfill its destiny as the leader of international communism, modern Russia/the USSR had to act as an imperial nation.

Daily Bell: Why do you think the West has so many wars – and not against other Western countries but against terrorism and "Islam"?

Tibor Machan: I disagree with your premise here.

Daily Bell: You emphasize human action and individualism as behaviors that society should support. You developed your full ethical position in your book Classical Individualism: The Supreme Importance of Each Human Being. Is the state in a sense at war with the individual – and is that war advanced by non-domestic military action?

Tibor Machan: The state is a collection of individuals with various more or less aggressive attitudes.

Daily Bell: Are most modern wars in a sense imperialistic? What is imperialism? Are humans naturally imperialistic? How so?

Tibor Machan: Wars nearly always involve imperialist designs, meaning expanding the realms of the ruling elite. And states are nothing but a bunch of individuals united for some purpose.

Daily Bell: Is the West still justifying war overseas as part of the "white man's burden"?

Tibor Machan: As someone who grew up under a communist regime, with no free press, no public debate of foreign affairs, with schools that were indoctrination camps and a nearly tyrannical bunch of rulers who seemed to believe that their destiny was to guide the workers of the world toward a utopian end state, I don't share your apparent assumptions and tend, in the main, to champion sound Western values.

Daily Bell: Does it seem to you that Western wars and especially US wars are getting more frequent? How long do you expect the war on terror to last?

Tibor Machan: No, it doesn't and this question echoes the attitudes I encountered under the Soviet regime from 1930 to circa 1957. You are entitled to your ideology but it doesn't look like I share much of it.

Daily Bell: In your view, is the war on terror justified – or justifiable?

Tibor Machan: Cannot tell as of yet but assuming there really is a concerted, united effort to murder me and my fellow citizens (which appears to be the case now), a serious defensive "war on terror" would seem to be justified, yes.

Daily Bell: The Pentagon just expressed the view that the US standing army should not be reduced but should be expanded. Are standing armies inevitably an invitation to war?

Tibor Machan: No more than guards at banks entice bank robbery.

Daily Bell: In using so much military force is the US in a sense acting like an empire?

Tibor Machan: I disagree with your premise but don't deny that there are some in the USA and the West who thrive on war. But this is true of every major nation and has always been since ancient Rome and Greece.

Daily Bell: Why are there so many wars going on in the Middle East?

Tibor Machan: I am no expert but it seems to me wars are routine throughout human history because people, especially so-called leaders or rulers, have major differences in how they want people to conduct themselves, each holding to the convictions that they are right and others wrong. Not really complicated. Also, read Efraim Karsh's Islamic Imperialism, A History (2006).

Daily Bell: Are they justified? What would justify a war?

Tibor Machan: Some are, some are not. Confidence in resolving disputes and differences peacefully, rationally, has never been widespread since people hold widely different views on what is right, what is wrong, and for some the matter is very important. The way to settle disputes is too often based on irrational ideas, feelings, methods—faith, magic, etc.

Daily Bell: What's the difference between "national interest" and national security?

Tibor Machan: The former is whatever influential folks consider important for a community, the latter a matter of what keeps members of communities free of strife, of hostile engagements.

Daily Bell: Who defines national security and national interest?

Tibor Machan: Often definitions arise from various more or less rational discussions, negotiations, scholarship, persuasive discourse, etc.

Daily Bell: Why is it that?

Tibor Machan: Most public discussions are carried on by those who have come to feel they and their compatriots are right, based on their "considered judgments."

Daily Bell: Some specifics. What is ISIS? What is Al Qaeda? Are these manufactured enemies of the West?

Tibor Machan: ISIS appears to be a collection of pre-civilized tribes confident that they can be soundly guided by Islamic philosophy even if brutal coercive force is involved.

Daily Bell: Is war in a sense a racket, as Smedley Butler called it?

Tibor Machan: Don't know or understand this.

Daily Bell: Is war the health of the state, as Randolph Bourne argued?

Tibor Machan: Such quips are usually appealing but also misleading.

Daily Bell: What are some just wars, in your opinion? Was Vietnam a just war? How about Korea?

Tibor Machan: Neither. The war that was mostly directed at liberating Jews in Germany seems to me to have been largely just. Or the war aimed at liberating Native Americans and America's black slaves. Or the Cold War in its aim to contain the Soviet Union.

Daily Bell: What is your opinion of the Cold War? Could a Cold War happen again?

Tibor Machan: If the Cold War was meant to resist the spread of communist tyranny it could be justified.

Daily Bell: What about big wars like the First and Second World War? Were they just? Were these wars in a sense manufactured?

Tibor Machan: In what sense? By whom? Who would do such a thing—must be insane!

Daily Bell: Assassination attempts were made against the Archduke Ferdinand and Rasputin at almost the same time. The assassination against the Archduke succeeded. The assassination against Rasputin failed. Both of these men were staunchly anti-war. Did someone WANT a war – World War I?

Tibor Machan: Sadly, I am not privy to the thinking of those involved but what I know of Rasputin, he was no peacenik!

Daily Bell: Have human beings always fought wars?

Tibor Machan: Yes.

Daily Bell: Are the wars increasing as the human population expands?

Tibor Machan: I am no expert at this – Malthusian doctrine – but doubt it. Reading Professor Steven Pinker suggests that the world is getting more and more peaceful, contrary to your intimation.

Daily Bell: The US seems almost constantly at war now. Why is that?

Tibor Machan: The US is a very mixed society with many who love peace and many who don't, all of them influencing its public policies. Its enemies are varied and of greatly varied motivation – ideological, religious, economic, racial, etc.

Daily Bell: What about other nations joining the US in "coalitions of the willing"? What is their moral responsibility?

Tibor Machan: The answer to this question requires extensive research and is probably very messy.

Daily Bell: You look at war from an individual rights perspective. Can you expand on this approach?

Tibor Machan: I look at all public policy issues from an individual rights perspective. The more respect for such rights, the less likelihood of aggression and war.

Daily Bell: Does the state have the right to draft people?

Tibor Machan: No. ("The State" is just a collection of more or less rational people.)

Daily Bell: Do people have the right to refuse to go to war at the request of the state?

Tibor Machan: Yes. (This concept, "the state," is highly problematic!)

Daily Bell: Is it moral to kill? When?

Tibor Machan: Only in genuine self-defense.

Daily Bell: Should nations retain standing armies?

Tibor Machan: Depends—if they are objectively in danger of being attacked, yes.

Daily Bell: Is it moral to make a career in the military?

Tibor Machan: Yes. Just like in preventive medicine or local police.

Daily Bell: Is it moral to kill civilians in a time of war?

Tibor Machan: Very rarely.

Daily Bell: Is it moral to kill?

Tibor Machan: Only in bona fide self-defense.

Daily Bell: Any other points you want to make? Thoughts you want to add?

Tibor Machan: Since I have written some 50 books on these topics, it would probably be redundant for me to say more.

Daily Bell: Thanks for addressing this difficult subject.

After Thoughts

In this latest interview with our friend, libertarian philosopher Dr. Tibor Machan, we can see clearly the fault lines that run through the libertarian movement. Tibor, as erudite a person as you will likely ever run into, understands the full gamut of libertarian philosophy but, as is evident, this is a direct and hard-hitting interview.

Simply, Dr. Machan believes the US-military industrial complex, if controlled and properly moderated, is a necessary element and support of a free society. Murray Rothbard might have disagreed, but Tibor is firm about this, as you've noticed for yourself if you've read the interview.

What comes across is his determination not to compare the West with Eastern Europe, where he grew up, or other totalitarian giants like the USSR and China. He sees little or no moral equivalence between the US and Russia or China.

The determination to reject this sort of moral equivalence almost takes the form of a restrained contempt for those who believe the West, and specifically England and the US, are at all comparable to the hell that Tibor experienced as a young man.

It is this perspective, in fact, that has informed much of his writing and perhaps given him an affinity for Ayn Rand (a favorite of his, in our view) who also sincerely hated post-World War II Eastern Europe and likely would have been offended if one had, while she was alive, compared the USSR to the US in terms of elemental freedom.

In fact, what Ayn Rand was doing and what Dr. Machan has spent his life pursuing is sounding the alarm in various ways to ensure that the US does not make a fascist progression toward a USSR-style political and economic system.

You can see for yourself that Tibor doesn't believe that fear has been realized as of yet. We are not so sure, unfortunately. But hey, different opinions make horse races – and allow, or not, for designations of authoritarian regimes as well. We know where we stand, and it's not aligned with Dr. Machan in this case, but perhaps you feel differently ….

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