The State of Internationalism

Internationalism has been an important part of our modern worldview. Behind Syria, Russia, North Korea and the fight against international terrorism is the belief that the basis for a successful solution to these problems is cooperation between nations.

The belief that the ‘international community’ should roll up their collective sleeves and sort these issues out is understandable. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR many people thought that things were going to get much better. Being born in the same year that the USSR crumbled. I grew up with a firm belief that there was this entity called the international community that could and would shape the world for the better.

Yet for the past decade, the trust that nations can come together and address the toughest problems we face has begun to disintegrate. The rise of China to great power status, the disaster of the Iraq War and Putin’s defiantly ‘east vs west’ stance have all contributed to the sense that the international community is now just a meaningless buzz word.

On the face of it this seems like a silly thing to say. The cooperation between different countries is perhaps greater now than it ever has been. Surely we should not let very public spats between the likes Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un hide the fact that the world is more interconnected than at any time in human history?

Yet, in a more profound way the internationalist dream is decaying rapidly. The philosophical ideal that nations (particularly America) should nurture peace and cooperation amongst other countries rightly causes eyes to roll these days. Most people no longer seriously expect countries to act outside of their own self-interest. Let’s take Syria as an example. Since the Syrian Civil War has begun there have been repeated cries for the international community to get involved and stop the carnage. But nobody has. For the helpless families living amongst the rubble of Aleppo and Ghouta the international community must be a sick joke.

That we expect countries to act in their own self-interest and not out of devotion to some ‘international brotherhood’ ideal should perhaps be a cause for celebration. The current conception of worldwide cooperation is a toothless facade of empty words and meaningless agreements. Perhaps out of the decay of the current internationalism a less fawning, more practical and directed spirit of cooperation can emerge.

To do this our politicians will need to face up to the cold realities of global politics. Profit and self-interest drive people; not goodwill. Sometimes there are people who cannot be helped, regardless of what is happening to them. Lastly, dressing up naked aggression in the guise of international brotherhood should no longer be tolerated.

Internationalism based on these principles might form the basis for a more sustainable path.


  1. In academia “Internationalists” in “Internal Relations” are divided into two main groups Jordan Lee.

    The “Federalists” (going back to Kant) believe in a formal World Federation – with elected government institutions.

    And the “Functionalists” – this latter group believe in a series of agreements that would “harmonise” such things as tax rates and government welfare benefits and “public services”, and regulations (especially banking regulations) whilst keeping the ILLUSION of national independence.

    I think it is obvious that libertarians have to oppose BOTH the Federalists and the Functionalists – so libertarians are not “internationalists” or “globalists” as these terms are normally understood.

    But clearly libertarians are not “nationalists” either – libertarians do not support taxes on international trade, or “my country right or wrong” (or, Rothbardians please not, “against my country – right or wrong”). Libertarians believe in individual NOT state “internationalism”. If an individual wants to (say) fight in Syria – that is not the same thing as the taxpayers being forced to fund a war there. Now it may sometimes be correct (the lesser evil) for governments to intervene against other governments (the Korean War – the American led opposition to Marxist aggression, springs to mind) but the burden-of-proof must be on the person who suggests war in Syria or elsewhere.

    If the-case-has-not-really-be-made then war is NOT the correct policy. Take the example of Iraq – both President Bush and his opponents were working on the same false assumption, the assumption being that the population of Iraq were mostly nice. Actually if that assumption was correct then PRESIDENT BUSH was correct – going in to remove the evil mass murdering dictator Saddam Hussain was the correct policy. And the reason I had nothing to do with the “anti war movement” (even though I thought the war was a bad idea) was because they SHARED this assumption of President Bush – indeed they were more militant about it than he was.

    Only if one understands what most of the population of Iraq (or Syria) are like does the case for military intervention collapse – as one will be overthrowing one tyranny simply to see another tyranny rise in its place, due to the BELIEFS of most (not all – but most) of the population in such places.



    1. Many people in this country do seem to have the assumption that the ‘international community’ has a duty to stop any bad things that occur in the world. The belief that is something goes wrong in the world- we MUST do something about it.

      To take a slightly Rothbardian line- the scale of international meddling done by this country (and others) is enormous. Even if we scaled back out foreign affairs in a big way, we would still be nowhere near an isolationist country. The fact that people calling for less involvement if the affairs of other countries are called inward-looking little Englanders is a sad reflection of our times.



      1. Murray Rothbard had no respect for the truth – he was prepared to use sources that were filled with lies, as long as they came to the conclusion he wanted. So he fell at the first fence as an historian and commentator on foreign policy.

        However, it is correct that the person who suggests war must present a good case – and the case must not be based on wishful thinking or fantasy assumptions. “The Iraqi people are basically like us – if it was not for the dictator and his thugs it would be a nice country” is a classic example of bad thinking based on false assumptions.


      2. Martin Keegan – Murray Rothbard even cited (as truth) the pro German propaganda of Harry Elmer Barnes. And he cited (again as truth) the demented claims that the Soviet invasion of Finland was just a border dispute (not an effort of conquest and the imposition of Marxism). These are just two of many (very many) examples where Rothbard showed he had no respect for the truth and was prepared to spread any lies as long as they supported the conclusion he wanted.

        As for the Iraqi people – I think the idea that just removing the “dictator and his thugs” would be produce a nice country has been refuted. This is not to deny that Saddam Hussain was a dictator or that it he did not have thugs – it is just pointing out that most (not all – but most) of the population of Iraq are Islamic (either Sunni or Shia), and the culture (their behaviour) is, in part, shaped by their beliefs. “Nation Building” may work in the cast of Japan, Germany and Italy after World War II – but none of these places were Islamic societies.

        Full disclosure – a family friend (alas dead now) served in Iraq long before Saddam was even born – so the nature of the society (the population) was not a matter of theoretical assumptions to me (unlike Mr Bush and Mr Blair – who ASSUMED the population was nice).


  2. How can I be sure that the late Murray Rothbard was a liar rather than making a series of innocent errors about historical matters?

    Because he would write the same false stuff AFTER he had been corrected. His problem was not ignorance – it was dishonesty.

    Take the example of Edmund Burke’s book “A Vindication of Natural Society” – Rothbard claimed that it was sincere anarchist book that Burke many years later claimed was a satire. Actually it was a satire of “natural religion” (using the example of a country without a government simply as way of satirising the idea of a religion without a creed or a church) and Burke pointed it out was a satire (to people who had not got the joke) the year after it was published.

    Ironically there was a work of Burke’s that could be argued has stuff in it of use to anarchocapitalists – but that is an Appeal from the New Whigs to the Old, written in his old age (not in his youth). Burke points out, against the French Revolution and its supporters, that private property (especially private property in LAND HOLDING) is not created by the state – and that the collapse of the governmental system does not refute the MORAL claims of private property. Therefore the de facto claim of the French Revolutionaries that because they had established a new government they had a right to share out land as they wished was false.



  3. Martin Keegan is quite correct – Mr Blair and Mr Bush were indeed both victims of the “Wykehamist Fallacy”,



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