Upfront: Debating Defense, Defending Debate


Whenever we publish an article on a controversial issue, we're sure to get a stream of letters to the editor. Several months ago it was a column defending, on federalist grounds, the Supreme Court's decision not to declare Georgia's sodomy law unconstitutional. This time it's Assistant Editor Bill Kauffman's recent cover story, "The New Antiwar Capitalists." The editors have again decided to devote the whole Letters section (beginning on page 6) to the issue to convey a good sense of the range of response.

It's inevitable that people with the same general framework will disagree on particular issues. REASON has a long and, we think, positive tradition of airing in its pages diverse conclusions informed by a broad commitment to reason as the means and liberty as the condition of the good human life.

On foreign policy in particular—a perennially sticky issue within every group across the political spectrum—REASON has published numerous views over the years. To cite a few examples: The July 1977 issue, "The Problem of Defense," was given over to a three-way debate on the pros and cons of intervention. A year earlier there was a ringing defense of noninterventionism in "Washington, FDR, and the Convoys." In February 1984 Senior Editor Tibor Machan argued against an isolationist position. So if you're worried—or elated—that REASON has, in publishing Bill's article, adopted one particular conclusion about the U.S. role in the world, consider the context.

An important element of that context, in addition to the magazine's own history, is the work of the Reason Foundation. Besides publishing REASON, the foundation conducts various activities as a public-policy "think tank." One of these, launched in 1982, was an 18-month project to develop an overall framework of defense and foreign-policy principles consistent with the values of a free society.

The 10-member project team included a political philosopher, a historian, an economist, a political scientist, a sociologist, a nuclear-weapons physicist, and myself—an aerospace engineer turned editor, publisher, and president of the Reason Foundation. These people wrote initial papers in their areas of interest and expertise, met for three days of intensive discussion and debate, and then spent more months revising and refining their positions. Remarkably, after a good deal of back and forth, they ended up coming to general agreement about the broad outlines of policy appropriate to a free society. The results are found in the 1984 book Defending a Free Society, published by Lexington Books.

The purpose of national defense, we agreed, is to protect the rights and freedoms of America and Americans—not to make the entire world safe for democracy or other such grandiose objectives. And the means used must be consistent with the principles of liberty—both organizationally (for example, no conscription) and strategically (for example, no use of terror and mass-murder). Some of the implications of these principles were also explored, and continue to be considered by the foundation and in the magazine.

It is within this general framework that "The New Antiwar Capitalists" appeared. Contrary to the fears of some, we are well aware of the serious threat posed by the Soviet Union and its designs on the world. What policy prescriptions follow from that threat is a matter of intense interest here and will continue to be addressed in REASON.