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War and the non-initiation of violence

There is something odd about some libertarians’ take on war and libertarianism, like Chris Demeyere does on his blog and in the latest edition of Blueprint magazine. He states correctly that “nobody has the right to initiate violence to another person. This naturally means that once violence was initiated, that person is in the wrong and the victim or any other person has the right to stop the violence, even if that means they have to use violence themselves”, but nevertheless, when applying this rule of thumb of libertarianism, Demeyere makes one mistake and strangely neglects a lot of things. The common mistake Demeyere makes is to imply that robbery is not an initiation of violence: “war requires a government, and that government must have an army and train and equip it with taxpayer money.” It does not seem to occur to Demeyere that taxation is nothing more than robbery by the State and therefore an initiation of violence. So far Demeyere’s defence of war making on libertarian grounds. Demeyere would probably argue in his defence that he is a libertarian minarchist, not an anarchist, but the contradiction remains; one can not favour the non-aggression axiom in one sentence and taxation in the next.

Joseph Sobran’s ironical quote on the topic is clear and correct:
If you want the government to intervene domestically you’re a liberal, if you want the government to intervene abroad you’re a conservative, if you want the government to intervene both domestically and abroad you’re a moderate, and if you don’t want the government to intervene either domestically or abroad you’re an extremist.
A second problem is Chris Demeyere’s neglect of the means by which modern wars are waged. He only considers the ends, toppling dictators, but nowhere does he address how these ends are achieved. Though the way wars are waged is not unimportant when it involves amongst others - in the Iraqi case - the killing of more than one million Iraqis and almost four thousand Americans, the distortion of the American economy, the loss of liberty for the American people, the growth of terrorism, the neglect of the constitution and a lot more tragic things. The only means to wage war Demeyere does mention is taxation (which he doesn’t consider a problem): for the American people this amounts to forking over a trillion dollar per year to finance the Empire (with more than 700 bases around the globe). Now let us go into all the other factors Demeyere doesn’t address (because he thinks the end justifies the means or because he considers these factors negligible?).

Primarily, the massive killing of innocent people, which is no mere accident as warmongers like to state. Robert Higgs states the following:
When U.S. forces employ aerial and artillery bombardment - with huge high-explosive bombs, large rockets and shells, including cluster munitions - as their principal technique of waging war, especially in densely inhabited areas, they know with absolute certainty that many innocent people will be killed. To proceed with such bombardment, therefore, is to choose to inflict these deaths.
I would like to see whether or not Chris Demeyere defends these murders. Maybe he would, arguing by the “doctrine of double effect” that killing some innocent Iraqis is defendable when it is necessary to topple a cruel dictator like Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, this doctrine contains two other conditions which must be fulfilled: the innocent dead must be proportionate to the lives saved and the attack itself - to topple Saddam - must be justifiable. These conditions are not met since at the time no one could know how many Iraqis would die and if the Iraqi people would be better off after the toppling of Saddam. When we continue with the economic consequences, there is not only the massive cost in (future) taxation plus the inflation created by monetizing the debt, but also the opportunity cost of using resources for war instead of civilian purposes.

As Seymour Melman writes:
Since 1951, the budget of the Department of Defence each year exceeds the net profits of all U.S. corporations. So, in finance capital terms, that means that the management of that budget controls the largest single block of finance capital resources.
Or Thomas Woods:
According to the U.S. Department of Defence, during the four decades from 1947 through 1987 it used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62 trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the Department of Commerce estimated the value of the nation’s plant and equipment, and infrastructure, at just over $7.29 trillion. In other words, the amount spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or modernized and replaced its existing stock.
On top of this, like any of the other parasitic components of government, the Pentagon only demands more and more, minimizing its expenditures by stating military spending divided by GDP (although a rising GDP obviously does not require more defence). Strangely, a lot of conservatives, who are trenchant critics of socialism, at least in theory, in practice fail to see or appreciate the consequences of their drunken-sailor spending when it comes to the military.

Let us proceed to the loss of liberty in wartime. During every crisis, people care more about security than liberty. Politicians smelling the fear of the populace, start taking liberty under the guise of delivering security. Every state thrives on crisis; no wonder Randolph Bourne said that “war is the health of the State”. The War on Terror is no exception of course, as judge Andrew Napolitano argues.
The Bush Administration has systematically attacked and diminished virtually every freedom and right guaranteed by the Constitution: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of association, the right to privacy, the right not to self incriminate, the right to counsel, the right to speedy trials, the right to fair trials, the right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment, even the right to be set free after acquittal!
The last thing I will be dealing with (the negative consequences of an aggressive foreign policy are endless, so we have to stop somewhere) is unintended consequences. When occupying other countries, one has to acknowledge that he might not be welcomed by the populace. In Iraq for example, five years into the war, 60% see attacks on US-led forces as justified. The growth of terrorism is another deplorable unintended consequence libertarians like Chris Demeyere tend to forget.

Robert Pape, author of the international bestseller “Dying to Win”, who collected the first complete database of every suicide-terrorist attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004, says the following:
The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. (…) Before the invasion in Iraq Al-Qaeda was not present, now it is full of those terrorists.
As a conclusion, it is safe to say that modern warfare is incompatible with libertarianism - even if we only consider the taxation necessary for it - and has lots of deplorable consequences for those who care about freedom. Libertarians like Chris Demeyere will therefore have to choose: rightwing-hawk or libertarian peacenik.

Dit commentaarstuk van Simon Van Wambeke verscheen ook in het magazine Blauwdruk en op de website van het LVSV Leuven.

Meer teksten van hem op

4 Reacties:

At 10:47 Vincent De Roeck said...

De tekst van Simon Van Wambeke is een reactie op deze eerdere tekst van Chris Demeyere op zijn blog.

I am sometimes described as a right-wing hawk by people. And maybe I am. I have a very specific view on war and conflict. It is one of the reasons why until recently I would not refer to myself as a libertarian without putting it in brackets or naming some exceptions. But that has changed. I now call myself a libertarian, because I realise there is no absolute definition, simply common ground. As far as war is concerned, I came to a realisation, the realisation that my view is not and never was un-libertarian.

I was in favor of the war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq. Or rather, I was in favor of A war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not because of revenge because the main people hit by the war had done nothing wrong, and revenge is rarely of any value. Not because of WMD’s because I think the U.S. would never have sent their soldiers in Iraq if there was any risk that they would be exposed to WMD’s and thus probably knew there were none. I was in favor of a war in Afghanistan to remove an oppressive, dictatorial regime that violated all Lockean basic rights with as only morality an outdated interpretation of a book that is about 1400 years old. I was in favor of a war in Iraq (not against Iraq) to remove a socialist dictator that committed genocide, tortured and murdered any opposition, real or fictive, and sucked his people dry to live in luxury. Removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein from power was a goal in itself. Although I will readily admit that the U.S. screwed most of it up by not having any idea what to do after the war in an artificial country they should in fact just break in three pieces if they expect to see peace there.

But that worldview was in conflict with one of the most important principles in the libertarian view on society. The principle of the non-initiation of violence. It is a very common sense principle that states that… well, you can actually tell exactly what it means by reading the words. It says that nobody has the right to initiate violence to another person. This naturally means that once violence was initiated, that person is in the wrong and the victim or any other person has the right to stop the violence, even if that means they have to use violence themselves. On top of that, war requires a government, and that government must have an army and train and equip it with taxpayer money.

How do you combine those? Actually, you don’t have to. It suddenly hit me that a war to remove a dictator is not an initiation of violence, but a reaction to an initiation of violence. The oppression and the terror itself were the initiation of violence. Dethroning the oppressor was a normal and proportionate reaction to the initial violence. From a libertarian viewpoint, dethroning Saddam and the Taliban was a good thing, without having to agree with all the methods, the consequences or even the reasoning behind it.

It seems I have re-discovered Grotius’ notion of the “just war” in a world where war is by nature unjust, and with quite a different meaning. War can be justified, but is not by nature justified. We need to look at every situation. Removing an oppressor is defendable since he initiated the violence, and there is no reason why the reaction should be only the privilege of the victims. Ludwig von Mises took “Tu ne cede malis” as his motto, a Latin phrase from Virgilius meaning “You will not allow evil (to happen)” and he did so because he believed that allowing evil is something no decent man should do.

I have defined liberty as a right I claim for myself and every other individual, and when another person’s liberty is attacked, all of liberty is under siege.

At 14:35 Henri De Paepe said...

Amerika is die oorlog inderdaad begonnen op valse voorwendsels, maar ook zonder dat is in libertarische kringen de discussie over de rechtvaardiging ervan nog niet helemaal afgelopen. Kort geleden was er immers een publicatie in de Wall Street Journal waarin professor Randy Barnett die oorlog verdedigde als een geval van "zelfverdediging", in de lijn dus eigenlijk van de tekst van die Chris Demeyere (die denk ik de mosterd eerder in dat gelijklopend artikel is gaan halen dan in zijn eigen gedachten).

Randy Barnett is nochtans ook een bekend libertariër in de VS. Het vergelijken van "zelfverdediging" met "oorlogvoeren" is ook niet echt naast het punt. Ook het tweede argument van Barnett: door tegen die oorlog te zijn, stoot het Libertarisme veel mensen af en verhindert het de samenleving zo zelfs om tot nog grotere welvaart te komen. Barnett ziet doorheen de geschiedenis "praktische oorlogen", gevoerd in naam van een grotere vrijheid, die niet geëindigd zijn in een grotere macht van de staat en minder vrijheid voor de burgers.

At 11:47 Evelyne said...

Henri, enkel Barnett van de heersende libertarische denkers en communisten steunen de oorlogslogica van Bush. Het Cato Institute heeft niet toevallig het woord "peace" centraal staan in zijn missieverklaring. Libertariërs zijn voor de vrijheid van iedereen, ook voor die van de inwoners in andere landen, zijn niet ethnocentrisch en zijn ergens sterk cultuurrelativistisch, niet omdat het hen niet kan schelen, maar omdat zij geloven dat "setting a good exemple" meer invloed heeft in de wereld dan de handhaving van westerse dominantie via wapengeweld. Een libertarische staat is zeer stabiel omdat alle personen binnen die staat uit overtuiging de libertarische idee omarmd hebben, en die niet opgedrongen hebben gekregen via de legers en bezettingen van anderen.

At 17:35 Chris Demeyere said...

@ Henri. Ik heb de mosterd niet gehaald in die tekst van professor Randy Barnett, ik heb die tekst namelijk nog nooit zelf gelezen. Waar ik in feite de mosterd haalde was bij Thomas Hobbes die in Leviathan stelde dat oorlog niet was toegelaten dan bij een overtreding van het sociale contract tussen heerser en volk. Een discussieavond over oorlog en interventie, waarbij Vincent en ik beiden brandhout maakten van de pacifistische non-interventionisten en cultuurrelativisten, wakkerde dat nog verder aan.

Mijn visie draait niet om zelfverdediging, maar om een verontwaardiging tegenover elke vorm van onrecht onderdrukking. Daarom steunde ik de oorlog in Irak voor ze begon, zoals je kan nalezen in mijn column voor Liberales op
En hetzelfde idee lag ook aan de basis van "volkssoevereiniteit versus mensenrechten" dat je hier vindt.

Sommigen vinden mijn visie niet liberaal, maar dat kan me eigenlijk niet zoveel schelen. Als iemand komt met een alternatief om onrecht dat anderen lijden aan te pakken, dan ben ik zeker tot luisteren bereid.


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