5 Must-read Libertarian Books on Foreign Policy

Kevin Doremus | @k_doremus

Megan Waardenburg from the Realist Review inspired me to create a foreign policy list for classical liberals and libertarians. Finding books on international relations and foreign policy can be challenging for noninterventionists. While there are libertarian works on foreign policy, those books are written by economists or journalists. Although those books are not bad, from an international relations perspective, there appears to be an underappreciation of anarchy and the realpolitik that underly the international order.

Here are some books I recommend for noninterventionists to further enhance anti-war/nonintervention arguments to challenge the idea of global leadership.

Classical Liberalism and International Relations Theory: Hume, Smith, Mises, and Hayek by Edwin van de Haar

Classical Liberalism and International Relations Theory is a rare book amongst international relations literature. Liberalism in foreign affairs is commonly associated with support for globalism, democratic peace, and US global leadership.

Through Edwin van de Haar’s reexamination of liberalism, authors such as Hume, Smith, Mises, and Hayek would not be liberals. He draws a connection between the classical liberal concept of spontaneous order and the English School notion of balance of power to describe the anarchic nature of the world. The book challenges the reader on topics such as if trade produces peace or whether global institutions can override the anarchic nature of global politics. For classical liberals and libertarians who want to learn how their ideology applies in the realm of international politics, Dr. van de Haar’s book is hard not to recommend.

The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics by Hedley Bull

The Anarchical Society by Hedley Bull is one of the founding books of liberal realism. Bull challenges thoughts that with globalization the state system would erode away. The book describes how an anarchical society has formed when there is no world government. International communities formed based on states’ interactions with one another and the common rules and institutions they form.

Bull goes as far back as Western Christendom to demonstrate how the Atlantic community (North America and Western Europe) has evolved over time.  While the book is nearly four decades old, readers can see how classical liberalism is compatible with Bull’s concept of anarchy.

The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities by John Mearsheimer

The Great Delusion describes the ideological foundation of U.S. foreign policy. While Dr. Mearsheimer may not be a libertarian, his work challenges the ideological foundation of interventionism. Influenced by John Gray, Mearsheimer argues that the U.S. interventions in The Greater Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America are based on progressive liberal values. The messianic quest for perpetual peace and justice is well-intentioned but it has only resulted in endless war and injustice.

According to Mearsheimer, the best alternative to progressivism is modus vivendi liberalism which takes into consideration the imperfection of human nature and promotes a more restrained form of government. The Great Delusion is a useful theoretical analysis of the flaws in progressive liberal foreign policy. While the book focuses heavily on U.S. foreign policy, the book is applicable to readers outside the country, too.

The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy by Stephen Walt

Stephen Walt’s The Hell of Good Intentions is a policy analysis of U.S. foreign policymaking. The current policy failures are a result of elites holding strong ideological beliefs that they were unwilling to change. The primary lesson from the book is the role civil society plays in foreign policymaking in liberal democracies.

Walt refers to a group of private and public organizations that focus on foreign affairs who lack any sort of accountability as the “blob”. The blob believes that the U.S. can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nuclear proliferation, and international terrorism. For people interested in how domestic politics can influence foreign policymaking, Walt’s book is the one to read.

Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Actions Fails by Christopher Coyne

Similar to Walt’s book, Coyne’s Doing Bad by Doing Good is a classical liberal analysis of state-led humanitarian aid. He argues that attempts to help people in need can sadly leave people worse off. The book analyzes UN peacekeeping missions, the intervention in Libya, and foreign aid to Africa. It ultimately finds that state-led or funded actions fail due to state planners being unable to allocate resources.

Coyne echoes Paul Collier and Alexander Betts’ argument that instead of treating Africa and The Greater Middle East issues as humanitarian problems, organizations should address the issues as development problems. He uses Iraq as an example of where economic barriers limit the development of the country. He theorizes if the country would loosen those barriers the standard of living would improve much faster.

Honorable Mentions:

The Logic of Anarchy: Neorealism to Structural Realism by Barry Buzan

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John Mearsheimer

Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics by John Mearsheimer

Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War by Robert Jervis

The Liberal Order and Its Critics: Civilisational States and Cultural Commonwealth by Adrian Pabst

Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan by Scott Horton

Dear Reader: The Unauthorized Autobiography Kim Jong Il  by Michael Malice

Over the Horizon: Time, Uncertainty, and the Rise of Great Powers by David Edelstein

Peace, War, and Liberty: Understanding U.S. Foreign Policy by Christopher Preble

Realist Constructivism: Rethinking International Relations Theory by J. Samuel Barkin


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