Crises and Power
U.S. Foreign Policy
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Quotes on Power

About the book Crisis and Leviathan

Center on Peace & Liberty Blowback



The law of unintended consequences, so widely appreciated in economics, applies no less to a government’s conduct of foreign policy. The law grows out of the fact that highly complex situations cannot be fully grasped by one person or group, especially when human action is involved. Too many unpredictable elements stand ready to upset the expectations of would-be social engineers, the “men of system,” who rarely learn that lesson. Adam Smith captured this well in The Theory of Moral Sentiments: “The man of system . . . is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. . . . He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon the chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own . . . .”

In foreign affairs, one manifestation of the law of unintended consequences is known as “blowback.” In his book by that title, Chalmers Johnson wrote, “The term ‘blowback,’ which officials of the Central Intelligent Agency first invented for their own internal use, . . . refers to the unintended consequences of policies that were kept secret from the American people. What the daily press reports as the malign act of ‘terrorists’ or ‘drug lords’ or ‘rogue states’ or ‘illegal arms merchants’ often turn out to be blowback from earlier American operations.”

Blowback occurs when a foreign recipient of U.S. government largess and prestige acts against his former patron’s wishes or directly attacks American interests. Today the headlines are dominated by two such people: Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Osama bin Laden. Hussein was a friendly beneficiary of American assistance in the 1980s, when he was at war with Iran. Bin Laden had the same status when he was helping the Afghans repel the Soviet invaders during the same decade. It is no coincidence that, according to the U.S. government, these are now America’s most fearsome enemies. Blowback can also result from foreign hatred of the United States generated by its numerous interventions into the affairs of other nations. One manifestation of such hatred is terrorist attacks on U.S. targets.

Blowback, while often bringing horrible consequences—witness 9/11—also has its useful side for policymakers. The resulting crises furnish excellent justifications for the government’s acquisition of new powers over its citizens. Consult any newspaper for details.

Also, click here for Bibliography for Crisis and Leviathan.

Blowback in History:

Cobane, Craig T. “Review of the book For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush, by Christopher Andrew,” The Independent Review, Vol. I, No. 3 (Winter 1997), pp. 456-459.

Higgs, Robert. “The Cold War: Too Good a Deal to Give Up.” Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, 2002.

Jones, Virgil Carrington. Gray Ghosts, Rebel Raiders. New York: Henry Holt. & Company, 1956.

Kwitny, Jonathan. Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984.

LaFeber, Walter. Inevitable Revolutions: The United States and Central America. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.

Pearl Harbor Archive. Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institiute. Articles, books, documents, and other materials on the Pearl Harbor attack, December 7, 1941.

Raico, Ralph. “Review of the book Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776 by Walter A. McDougall, The Independent Review, Vol. III, No. 2 (Fall 1998), pp. 273-278.

Reitz, Deneys. Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War. London: Faber & Faber, 1983.

Stinnett, Robert B. “Pearl Harbor: Official Lies in an American War Tragedy?”, Independent Policy Forum, The Independent Institute, May 24, 2000. [Forum Anouncement, Forum Audio, Forum Transcript]

Williams, William Appleman. America Confronts a Revolutionary World. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1976.

Williamson, James J. Mosby's Rangers. New York: Time Life, 1983.

Domestic Blowback:

Higgs, Robert. Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).

—. “In the Name of Emergency,” Reason, July 1987.

—. “Some Other Costs of War,” The Free Market, March 1991.

—. “World War II and the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex,” Freedom Daily, May 1995.

Twight, Charlotte. “Conning Congress: Privacy and the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act,” The Independent Review, Vol. VI, No. 2 (Fall 2001), pp. 185-216.

—. “Watching You: Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans,” The Independent Review, Vol. IV, No. 2 (Fall 1999), pp. 165-200.


Bacevich, Andrew J. American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Blum, William. Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2000.

Eland, Ivan. “The Empire Strikes Out: The ‘New Imperialism’ and Its Fatal Flaws,” Policy Analysis No. 459. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, November 26, 2002.

—. Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2001.

Korb, Lawrence J. “Review of the book Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World by Ivan Eland,” The Independent Review, Vol. VII, No. 3 (Winter 2003), pp. 469-470.

Russell, James. “Review of the book Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World, by Ivan Eland,” Political Science Quarterly.


Ahmad, Imad-ad-Dean. Islam and the West: A Dialog. Alexandria, VA: United Association for Studies and Research, 1998.

Bandow, Doug. “Review of the book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire by Chalmers Johnson,” The Independent Review, Vol. V, No. 4 (Spring 2001), pp. 611-614.

Calhoun, Laurie. “Just War? Moral Soldiers?”, The Independent Review, Vol. IV, No. 3 (Winter 2000), pp. 325-345.

Gress, David R. “The Drama of Western Identity,” The Independent Review, Vol. IV, No. 3 (Winter 2000), pp. 463-466.

Hartung, William. And Weapons for All. New York: Harper Perennial Library, 1995.

Higgs, Robert, ed. Arms, Politics, and the Economy: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Holmes & Meier for The Independent Institute, 1990.

—. “Some Are Weeping, Some Are Not.” Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, April 26, 2003.

—. “A Strong Defense Against Whom?”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 6, 1995.

Hummel, Jeffrey Rogers. “National Goods Versus Public Goods: Defense, Disarmament, and Free Riders,” Review of Austrian Economics, Vol. 4 (1990), pp. 88-122.

Johnson, Chalmers. Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. Owl Books, 2001.

Kuran, Timur. “The Vulnerability of the Arab State: Reflections on the Ayubi Thesis,” The Independent Review, Vol. III, No. 1 (Summer 1998), pp. 111-123.

Lal, Deepak. “Does Modernization Require Westernization?”, The Independent Review, Summer 2000, Vol. V, No. 1, pp. 140-142.

Weaver, Mary Anne. “Blowback,” The Atlantic Monthly, May 1996.

Guerilla Warfare and Indigenous Defense:

Asprey, Robert B. War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975.

Benson, Bruce L. “Customary Law With Private Means of Resolving Disputes and Dispensing Justice: A Description of a Modern System of Law and Order Without State Coercion ,”Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2.

—. “Guns for Protection, and Other Private Sector Responses to the Government’s Failure to Control Crime,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. VIII, No. 1 (Winter 1986), pp. 75-109.

Ellis, John. A Short History of Guerrilla Warfare. London: Ian Allan, 1975.

Friedman, David. “Anarchy and Efficient Law,” from the book, For and Against the State, John Sanders and Jan Narveson, eds. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996.

—. The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism. New York: Harper Colophon, 1973.

Giap, Vô Nguyen. People’s War, People’s Army. University Press of the Pacific, 2001.

Guevara, Ernesto Che. Guerrilla Warfare. Bison Books Corporation, 1998.

Hoppe, Hans-Herman. “Fallacies of the Public Goods Theory and the Production of Security,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Winter 1989), pp. 28-46.

—. “The Private Production of Defence,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1.

—, ed. The Private Production of Defense: Essays in Political Economy. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, forthcoming.

Hummel, Jeffrey Rogers. “National Goods Versus Public Goods: Defense, Disarmament, and Free Riders,” Review of Austrian Economics, Vol. 4 (1990), pp. 88-122.

Joes, Anthony James. America and Guerilla Warfare. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000.

—. From the Barrel of a Gun: Armies and Revolutions. New York: Elsevier Science, 1986.

—. Guerrilla Conflict Before the Cold War. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1996.

—. Guerrilla Warfare: A Historical, Biographical, and Bibliographical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishin, 1996.

—. Modern Guerrilla Insurgency. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1992.

Kutger, Joseph P. “Irregular Warfare in Transition,” Military Affairs, 24, 3 (Autumn 1960), pp. 113-123.

Marina, William F. “The American Revolution and the Minority Myth,” Modern Age (1976).

—. “The American Revolution as a People’s War,” Reason (July, 1976), pp. 28-9, 32, 34-8.

—. “Militia, Standing Armies and the Second Amendment,” Law and Liberty, 2, 4 (Spring 1976), pp. 1-4.

—. “Revolution and Social Change: The American Revolution As a People’s War,” Literature of Liberty, Vol. I, No. 2 (April-June 1978), pp. 5-39.

—. “Weapons, Technology, and Legitimacy: The Second Amendment in Global Perspective,” in Don B. Kates, ed., Firearms and Violence: Issues of Public Policy. Lexngton, Mass.: Ballinger, 1984.

Marina, William F. and Diane Cuervo. “The Dutch-American Guerilla in the American Revolution,” Literature of Liberty.

McGrath. Roger D. Gunfighters, Highwaymen and Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Molinari, Gustave de. The Production of Security. New York: Center for Libertarian Studies, 1977.

—. The Society of Tomorrow: A Forecast of Its Political and Economic Organisation. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904. [Online Book]

Norval, Morgan, ed. The Militia in 20th Century America. Vienna, VA: Gun Owners Foundation, 1985.

Osterfeld, David, “Anarchism and the Public Goods Issue: Law, Courts, and the Police,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1.

Piao, Lin. Long Live the Victory of People’s War! Peking, 1965.

Rothbard, Murray N. “Society Without a State,” Nomos, 19 (1978), 191-207.

Stromberg, Joseph R. “The War for Southern Independence: A Radical Libertarian Perspective,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1979), 31-53.


Bergen, Peter L. Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden. New York: Free Press, 2001.

Betts, Richard K. Conflict After the Cold War, 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2001.

Bock, Alan W. “Critiquing U.S. Foreign Policy.” Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, March 5, 2003.

Eland, Ivan. “Containing and Deterring Saddam: If the U.S. Invades Iraq, the CIA Fears that Saddam Would Be More Likely to Carry Out Chemical and Biological Attacks,” St. Paul (MN) Pioneer Press, October 13, 2002.

—. “Does U.S. Intervention Breed Terrorism? The Historical Record,” Policy Briefing No. 50. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, December 17, 1998.

—. “Global Cop Role Carries Risk,” Harrisburg Patriot-News, March 9, 1999.

—. “Robust Response to 9/11 Is Needed but Poking the Hornets’ Nest Is Ill-Advised,” Foreign Policy Briefing No. 69. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, December 18, 2001.

—. “The Staying Power of Petty Tyrants.” Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute.

—. “The Terrorist Retaliation U.S. Risks in Attacking Saddam,” Sacramento Bee, February 1998.

—. “U.S. Arrogance, Intervention Fuel Anti-American Terrorist Attacks,” Greenburg (PA) Tribune, September 28, 1999..

—. “U.S. Ignores Bio-Threat at Its Peril,” Newsday, October 5, 2001.

Johnson, Chalmers. “Responding to Terrorism Without Committing Terrorism,” Los Angeles Times, September 30, 2001.

Kuran, Timur. “The Islamic Dead End,” National Review, December 12, 2001.

Rashid, Ahmed. “Osama bin Laden: How the U.S. Helped Midwife a Terrorist,” Institute for Public Integrity, September 13, 2001.

Stephens, Joe and David B. Ottaway. “From U.S., the ABC’s of Jihad,” Washington Post, Marsh 22, 2002.

Toft, Monica Duffy. Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests and Indivisibility of Territory. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Unintended Consequences of War:

Bandow, Doug. “Review of the book Isolationism Reconfigured by Eric A. Nordlinger,” The Independent Review, Vol. I, No. 1 (Spring 1996), pp. 147-150.

Dobbs, Michael. “U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup: Trade in Chemical Arms Allowed Despite Their Use on Iranians, Kurds,” Washington Post (December 30, 2002), p. A01.

Eland, Ivan and Bernard Gourley. “Why the United States Should Not Attack Iraq,” Policy Analysis No. 464. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, December 17, 2002.

Herold, Marc W. “A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting,” March 2002.

Higgs, Robert. “Collateral Damage: Two Venues, One Logic,” San Francisco Examiner, April 15, 2002.

—. “Military Precision versus Moral Precision.” Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, March 23, 2003.

Schwarz, Benjamin and Christopher Layne. “A New Grand Strategy,” The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 289, No. 1 (January 2002), pp. 36-42.