Tax time prompts many of us to ponder what our tax dollars pay for. This year I thought, just a bit, about the most recent significant (if still relatively small) addition to the U.S. budget. I came to the conclusion that--for various reasons--I know next to nothing about what is happening or is likely to happen. Men and women in power know much more about the situation than I do, and have decided that it is prudent to intervene militarily. I wish I knew why. I wish I knew why, this time, we should expect foreign intervention to succeed at regime change. But I don’t.
F.A. Hayek once argued, albeit in a different context, that such astounding ignorance as mine calls for staunch adherence to principles rather than the expedient pursuit of concrete objectives. I just don’t know enough to judge this or any prospective case for military intervention by its own merits. Lacking the detailed knowledge necessary to distinguish this from other cases of intervention, I am left leaning on what I know about the success and consequences of military intervention generally. But I can’t know beforehand whether Libya will be an exception.
So I’m stuck with my principles, like Jefferson’s recommendation of “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none,” along with some more basic rules. They don’t work every time. But that’s not the point. When they’re held firmly--even dogmatically--as principles, they do better than someone as dumb as me could manage.
All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.
- F. A. Hayek