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Andrew Sullivan writes that the war on terrorism has “discombobulated” libertarians. He has a point. Do defenders of liberty side with the state, because it is fulfilling its essential function? Or do they oppose it, because they are worried about imperialism? Ask Cato, the Objectivists, Virginia Postrel, or the contributors to Liberty and Reason: they don’t agree. Not at all.

The conservatives see many libertarians siding with the ‘left, and wag their fingers. Writes George Will: “Events since Sept. 11 have underscored the limits of libertarianism.” Andrew Sullivan writes, “Libertarianism – often allied to neo-isolationist foreign policy – has gained traction in recent years, and the war has shown how deep instinctive suspicion of government has become. [Rep. Bob] Barr recently told ABC News, ‘I’m not worried about tribunals, for example, overseas, but domestically we have to abide by the … Bill of Rights.’ … If you’d been told before September 11 that, one of the fall’s political fights would pit Bob Barr against John Ashcroft, you’d have dismissed it as a liberal fantasy. But the Barr-Ashcroft divide falls ominously along the conservative-libertarian fault line of contemporary Republican politics. Barr’s argument echoes other Republicans who harbor deep suspicions of the FBI and CIA, as well as the experts at the Cato Institute who worry about a new American imperialism if the war goes well. If the base of Republican support for the last decade or so has been what Grover Norquist has called the ‘leave-us-alone’ coalition, then a far stronger military, intelligence, and homeland security apparatus, however good for the country, is not the greatest of news for the conservative coalition.”

This does not prove that libertarians are wrong -… only that their position in this war will not be unanimous. Maybe, if they think it through, their position will be complicated, balancing long-term liberty with short-term liberty, liberty here and liberty there. The conservatives’ position is not

complicated. It can be asserted simply by swooshing a flag. One wonders what flag a libertarian should fly. The stars and stripes? It is ours, too. The peace symbol, as some sug- gest? The Confederate flag, also recommended by some? I’ve always liked the “Don’t Tread on Me” naval jack, the one with the snake on the stripes. But I am not flying it, either.

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