A Critique of Latin American Neocons

In attempting to counter Marxists, some libertarians inadvertently align themselves with statist institutions and support immoral war efforts. This concession to evil contradicts the foundational principles laid out by authors like Murray Rothbard and should be challenged.

A couple of months ago, I heard such a naïve perspective from an Argentinian libertarian in an X Spaces, reflective of a broader trend within the libertarian liberty movement. Recent foreign policy decisions made by prominent Latin American libertarians show how this view is prevalent.

In this text, neoconservatism is not used to label people who merely have traditional conservative views. As demonstrated in a recent Ron Paul interview, it’s entirely possible to be a pro-market Christian without embracing neoconservatism, an ideology that is distinguished by its belief in America’s role as the world’s police, advocates for a totalitarian surveillance state, and supports preemptive and disproportionate wars abroad. Furthermore, neoconservatives often endorse a mixed economy model restrained by national security concerns or interventionist policies during busts, as exemplified during George W. Bush’s administration both before and after the 2008 financial crisis.

Therefore, my critique of the local Right’s embrace of neoconservatism stems from its unconditional support for America’s foreign policy in past and present conflicts and its alignment with a philosophy at odds with genuine antistatist principles. However, this was somewhat provoked by other concerning trends in Latin America.

Rather than promoting genuine antiwar and anti-imperialist views, Marxists in the Latin American region often adopt positions akin to those of neoconservatives, albeit from a different ideological standpoint. In Brazil, for instance, the ruling party has been embroiled in corruption scandals, funneling public funds to governments like those of Cuba and Venezuela, which have, as expected, failed to repay their debts. Latin American socialists advocate for a proactive” foreign policy aimed at strengthening entangling alliances with other socialist governments, all funded by taxpayers.

Former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who basically did everything the Austrian business cycle theory advises against and whose policies created a huge economic crisis, was appointed to a lucrative position at the BRICS Bank in China—a country over ten thousand miles away—instead of being imprisoned for her destructionist policies.

Leftist politicians in Latin America justify such foreign policy adventures by citing the supposed benefits of nation building and by deflecting attention from domestic issues through references to American imperialism, with not only war crimes seen as imperialist, but also anything coming from America—even authors like Rothbardfar from a friend of the military-industrial complexseen as a CIA regime-change plot to destabilize the region. As a reaction, the Latin American Right often tries to debunk socialists by turning to pro−American empire sources, engaging in war crimes apologetics. This approach, however well-intentioned it might be, can backfire and should be challenged by the historical and theoretical framework established by the Austrian School of economics and libertarianism in general, as explained below.

The Economic Calculation Problem and the Private Production of Defense

Hans-Hermann Hoppe argues in The Private Production of Defense that the state is not necessary for national defense and may actually be harmful. He points out the contradiction of peaceful relationships between individuals compared to states constantly being at war:

However, before the arrival of a single world state not only are S1, S2, and S3 in a state of anarchy relative to each other but in fact every subject of one state is in a state of anarchy vis-à-vis every subject of any other state. Accordingly, there should exist just as much war and aggression between the private citizens of various states as between different states. Empirically, however, this is not so. The private dealings between foreigners appear to be significantly less war-like than the dealings between different governments.

Individuals familiar with the dynamics of state authority and its associated motivations are not shocked by this fact. The state actors exclusive control over force escalates the expense of providing protection against potential threats, while diminishing efficiency—as alternative security mechanisms are not allowed to compete—just as in any other monopoly. Moreover, given that they do not directly bear a significant portion of the war-induced lossespassed on to those subjected to taxation and conscriptiongovernment agents face fewer restraints in entering conflicts compared to private individuals.

As expected of any system of collective ownership, national defense also suffers from a problemof economic calculation. Assume, for example, that an army has only five weapons, seven military personnel, and ten warsranging from attacks on cities in its own country by violent gangs to terrorist attacks on an allied country thousands of miles awayto resolve. Since the means are not privately owned, there is no market price for them, which makes it impossible to calculate the costs and benefits involved in each war. Nor is it possible to know which resolution would bring the greatest value to the population, which also cannot be solved through public-private enterprises and defense contractors.

War as the Most Used Weapon for Political Power Grabs

Since national defense cannot be carried out efficiently through the state, other questions can be asked about the outcomes involved in wars. In this sense, the economist Robert Higgs in Crisis and Leviathan shows how crisis, combined with existing ideological inclinations, increases the power of the government, with a ratchet effect after its end.

In chapter 7, “The Political Economy of War, 191618,” Higgs analyzes how the United States entry into World War I led to the creation of various regulatory agencies and the nationalization of previously private economic sectors. These measures, despite being partly reversed after the conflict, had permanent effects on the regulation of the economy and society, as well as setting important legal precedents.

Of the various precedents upheld by the US Supreme Court in the war scenario, one may be of interest to those concerned about today’s growing censorship regime. The famous you cant yell fire in a crowded theater decisionmuch used by those who want to silence speech they do not agree with—led to the censorship of a pamphlet opposing the draft during World War I, showing once again how individual liberties, once limited during times of war, can be infringed upon afterward.

Blowback and When the Enemy of My Enemy Is Not My Friend

Reading the previous section, some libertarians in Latin America may wonder why they should worry about the increasing size of the military-industrial complex, since only American citizens would suffer from the consequences of this phenomena. This question can be answered with two examples from Brazil.

During the Cold War, Brazil went through a military coup with the help of the American government, which resulted in several violations of individual rights. Even if one does consider that some of those who were politically persecuted had intentions of establishing a socialist government in the country, the twenty-one years of dictatorship resulted in a blowback afterward, with left-wing ideas becoming the unquestioned mainstream for a long time.

A more recent case can be seen in Brazil’s current censorship regime, as exposed by journalist David Agape. Agents linked to the FBI have contributed to the restriction of expression in Brazil, especially during the 2022 Brazilian presidential elections. Just as the war on terror came home to restrict the freedoms of the American population, the same state apparatuses strengthened during that period are now helping to implement the Brazilian censorship regime.

The Path Forward: Between Neoconservatism and Marxism

With these challenges in mind, many libertarians may wonder what a viable alternative to the region’s socialist plans could be. Would supporting an external enemy power to combat this threat be necessary? Beyond blowback, revisiting the economic calculation problem is crucial. State-owned external forces are plagued by the same bad incentives as its institutions and are inefficient.

Private forces, like Elon Musk’s efforts through the Twitter files, are better at revealing the truth to the public. Additionally, establishing parallel institutions and gradually persuading more individuals of libertarian beliefs are a more sustainable approach in the long run.

In practical terms, a noninterventionist foreign policy applied to the Latin American context involves strongly opposing the expansionist desires of the Marxists and standing against sending money abroad and forming political alliances to integrate the region that aim to create an increasingly centralized government but without an unconditional alliance with the opposing side. The Marxist polylogism of criticizing everything from Western countries as not applicable to Latin America must also be rejected, as brilliantly done by Wanjiru Njoya.

To conclude, it is important to express that these criticisms are made with great respect and admiration for many Latin American libertarians, who have achieved significant victories, particularly in Brazil and now in Argentina. Exactly for this reason, I ask that they apply the defense of private property rights and methodological individualism—foundational principles of libertarian philosophy—consistently in all areas. The enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends.

Originally Posted at https://mises.org/

By Mises