Most modern “liberals” believe that domestic economic problems are caused chiefly by unsavory characters – “business people” – who impose their destructive rule on masses of innocent workers and consumers yearning for more prosperity, and that the best solution to these problems is government force deployed using armies of regulators to subdue these bad guys and to keep close watch over them and their successors. Failure to intervene is immoral. These same “liberals,” though, believe that foreign problems are typically the result of complex forces that can be understood only poorly by American-government officials; it is naïve to suppose that even well-intentioned foreign intervention by Uncle Sam will not have regrettable unintended consequences.He calls such views inconsistent, suggesting that the only consistent and correct view is that it's all much too complicated for naive governments to manage and that any intervention itself is immoral. But it's not the only consistent view in town. The opposite proposition -- that all of it can be dealt with in small pieces as supported by modern academic system that sticks strictly to narrow disciplinary boundaries -- is equally consistent and a shocking number of people believe it more or less.
Most modern conservatives believe that domestic economic problems are typically the result of complex forces that can be understood only poorly by government officials; it is naïve to suppose that even well-intentioned economic intervention by Uncle Sam will not have regrettable unintended consequences. These same conservatives, though, believe that problems in foreign countries are caused chiefly by unsavory characters – “dictators” or “tyrants” – who impose their destructive rule on masses of innocent people yearning for more democracy, and that the best solution to these problems is government force deployed with armies of soldiers to subdue these bad guys and to keep close watch over them and their successors. Failure to intervene is immoral.
From a pragmatic standpoint, though, the dominant ideologies may have something to offer. It may really be the case that particular problems in society can be solved better with a little cooperative action (government being only one vehicle of cooperative action) but that outsiders should not go about meddling with other societies about which they know nothing. That's a very defensible proposition. There can be orders of magnitude difference in complexity between the two, and it is perfectly consistent to believe that you shouldn't meddle when things get too complex.
The conservative position (I think more neo-con) views the purpose of government to secure and defend freedom, liberty, and/or democracy. It's not about the complexity of doing so, it's about a moral imperative to preserve our own and others' freedom. That readily conceives of a government that is tamed at home (it's interventions in the market being seen as removing freedom) and a lion abroad in defending or creating freedom somewhere. We can't do everything -- and it's a more than reasonable argument that we're already stretched too thin and doing too much in too many places -- but we should do something somewhere.
My purpose is less to argue that our position on Libya is the right one, or a right one, but that the inconsistency Boudreaux sees is not very inconsistent. Not to the people holding those ideologies, at any rate.
I would also like to point out that libertarian thought is less isolationist than it appears from the above. Consider the example of Thomas Paine, whose views are often claimed by modern libertarianism. Rather than believing that foreign problems were the result of complex forces that could be understood poorly by Americans, he plunged into the fracas of the French Revolution himself, committing his wisdom and words, time and treasury to the relief of those whom he considered an oppressed people. If he is to be a model, the suggestion is not that people from one society cannot and should not meddle in the affairs of others in order to protect, but only that libertarians are wary of letting governments doing so. If some hot-headed young man wants to run off and help the Libyans, why that's his prerogative. He'd just better not try to use my money to do it.
Oh, except that Paine argued that Jefferson, as President, should support the rebels as well. Hm....