Libertarians: “Terrorism Poses No Existential Threat to America”


In an article posted on the website of the Cato Institute, John Mueller (a senior fellow at Cato) and Mark G. Stewart (a professor at the University of Newcastle) claim that “terrorism poses no existential threat to America” and that “we must stop pretending otherwise.” Their article begins: “One of the most unchallenged, zany assertions during the war on terror has been that terrorists present an existential threat to the United States, the modern state and civilization itself.”

In reading their piece, one is immediately struck by the fact that Mueller and Stewart are not concerned with the objective unit of moral and political concern: the individual. If they were concerned with individuals, they could not conceivably say or imply that Islamic terrorism poses no existential threat to America and the civilized world. Islamic terrorists, after all, murdered (i.e., put out of existence) nearly three thousand American individuals on 9/11 and have murdered many thousands more individuals in America and other parts of the semi-civilized world since then.

In their Cato piece, Mueller and Stewart ignore all such murders. They also ignore the existential threat posed by jihadists to Americans who have not already been murdered for “Allah.” The authors instead focus on whether Islamic terrorism—which they irresponsibly refer to as “terrorism,” with no mention of the motive behind it—will put America out of existence, and they assure us that it will not.

Well, if the standard for determining whether a foreign aggressor poses an actionable threat to America is whether the aggressor will put the nation of America out of existence, then we can all sit back and relax; there is no such threat to speak of. If, however, the standard is whether the aggressor credibly aims to kill or otherwise violate the rights of individual Americans, then Islamic terrorism, the jihadists who engage in it, and the regimes that sponsor it pose a clear and serious threat to Americans—and thus to America.

It is true that Islamic terrorists won’t eliminate America (at least not anytime soon). But to imply that they pose no threat to America because they won’t eliminate America is absurd. A threat to the lives and rights of Americans is a threat to the very values that America exists to protect. The phrase “threat to America” means “threat to Americans.” It has no other relevant meaning.

Why do purportedly pro-liberty intellectuals writing for a think tank as well-funded and renowned as the Cato Institute fail to acknowledge this vital and relatively obvious fact? That’s a subject for a separate post.

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7 Responses to Libertarians: “Terrorism Poses No Existential Threat to America”

  1. adam.bauthues@gmail.com'
    Adam Bauthues March 19, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

    Thank you Mr. Biddle. You never cease to amaze me with how you are able to cut through the crud and get to “the heart” of an issue. I am equally appalled, though not surprised that something like this came from the Cato Institute. America, long thought of as the land of “rugged individualism” needs to regain the true meaning of the concept “individual”. Understanding the term in the political sense is the last step in the process. To get there Americans need to be able to defend the individual at the metaphysical level on up to even arrive at a moral and honest politics…which we, unfortunately, have allowed to slowly fade over the last 239 years.

  2. barrie.schaef@gmx.com'
    BS61 March 23, 2015 at 4:38 am #

    As a former Dem, I thought I was a Libertarian, until I got informed on Islam & found Objectivists! I appreciate you consistently taking it down to the Individual level

  3. mkkevitt@yahoo.com'
    mkkevitt May 22, 2015 at 10:34 pm #

    Islamic terrorists want to make America quit protecting our rights and values and to be a party to establishing sharia law. If they can make that happen, they won’t care if the U.S. exists or not. If we’re ruled by sharia instead of the Constitution & Decl. of Indep., that’s all they care about.

    • Visigoth@aol.com'
      William556 July 18, 2015 at 9:09 pm #

      That is what Bin Laden said around 9/11. Our politicians and the bureaucrats in the agencies they creating have been doing a very good job of making it happen. We do need security, but they have gone far overboard regarding making all Americans suspects and potential enemies of the state when the real enemy is known but they are too afraid to name.

  4. Visigoth@aol.com'
    William556 July 18, 2015 at 9:07 pm #

    Libertarians would only care about terrorists once they were knocking on the libertarian’s own front door, or maybe take out the power grid and they can’t watch the tube, etc. Anything else might mean they’d have to spend a little money toward a reasonable national defense, roads they won’t personally use, etc.

  5. skysis@gmail.com'
    Sergi Yavorski November 24, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

    Stop the nonsense, Biddle. Every individual can’t be protected from terrorism. You seem to have gotten lost in the terminology. CATO stated “no existential threat”. Apparently you don’t understand the meaning.

  6. jhunt@camryn-limo.com'
    John Hunt November 25, 2015 at 10:02 am #

    Terrorists are relatively weak. They try to magnify their apparent power through co-opting the media and governments of their stronger enemies. Our media and government have been the
    greatest ally to the terrorists, by magnifying their apparent power on the one
    hand, and by accomplishing for them what they seek–the destruction of individual
    rights and the worship of false gods (like the greater good). Our government
    has been quite effective at unilaterally deciding what our remaining rights
    are.



    Which is more of an existential threat to individual “Americans” I ask? The weak terrorists who occasionally kill innocent people (bad!) , or the powerful US government–funded by fiat
    currency–empowered to forcibly steal our property–that does steal our
    property every day–gradually enslaving us while they hacksaw our rights out
    from under us under the excuse of protecting us from terrorists and under the
    banner of a backward patriotism. 



    The US government has an ever-present, constant destructive influence on individual Americans. In contrast, the terrorists are something most of us see in the news, whose adverse power over
    each of us as individuals on a daily basis occurs ONLY via the catalytic intermediacy of the US government. Which is more likely to destroy me as an individual American? Which is the greater existential threat to America and to me as an individual American?

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