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Mar 25, 2008 11:00 pm


Pacifism and War



Aeon echoed a critique I have often heard of the antiwar libertarian position. I wrote:

"I deny that someone who is pro-war can possibly be an anarchist."

Aeon responded,"Sorry, that's incorrect. Anarchism isn't identical with pacifism. Sometimes it's necessary to use force, which isn't immoral when it's defensive or retaliatory. It's not a matter of what _our_ views are, as long as _other people_ are statist collectivists, they will act accordingly, and that sometimes means warfare."

I don't understand this conflating of being antiwar with being pacifist. I know some people use the word that way, but I take pacifism to mean the opposition to violence across the board. I am not a pacifist. The right to self defense and even retaliation is something I fully accept.

But I also accept the right to give your money to charity, yet I oppose the welfare state. Why? Because, as a libertarian, I understand I have no right to take money from some people and give it to others.

Surely, this must carry over to all areas of life. If a neighbor attacks me, I have a right to fight back. But I can't steal my other neighbor's money to buy weapons to do so. More fundamental, I cannot, under libertarian ethics, bomb the whole street.

To be an anarchist, you have to, I believe, oppose the state. This would espeically include its enforcement arm – the police and military. For without the state's enforcement arm, its territorial monopoly would cease to be. Welfare doesn't bother me so much if its not backed up by guns.

Surely, US militarism is, just in the domestic sphere, at least as unlibertarian as welfare, since it is funded in the exact same, indefensible manner.

But war is of course much worse. In looking at the history of the US government in particular, it is hard to imagine an anarchist supporting it going to war. It is not as though the US government has never murdered anyone, and when the question of war arises, we are debating whether it should embark on some new project with every intention of avoiding the violation of people's rights. Given the actual history of the US government abroad, it seems to me particularly odd that any anarchist or libertarian would trust its actions overseas.

But back to the question of pacifism and war: I brought this to a new post because I think it's worth special contemplation. Who here thinks you have to eschew all violence to oppose all war? And who here believes, as I do, that you can believe in defensive violence, but that the inherent aggression involved in the warfare state, against taxpayers, soldiers who wish to quit their jobs and foreign victims of collateral damage alike, is enough for libertarians and anarchists to oppose government war out of principle?

And if this is not so, on what basis can we anarcho-libertarians oppose more mundane statism like welfare handouts, which are no more coercively financed than the military?
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Anthony Gregory - 3/27/2008

Sure, not all anarchists are libertarians. You can be an anarchist and favor aggression. But you cannot consistently be an anarchist, I believe, while favoring government war.

As for being a libertarian without being an anarchist, while this is assumed to be more common, I actually think it's a more illogical position than being an anarchist without being a libertarian. To oppose the state isn't necessarily to oppose aggression. But to oppose aggression, one must oppose the state.

Thus I think libertarians cannot consistently defend government war, or aggressive private war, and anarchists cannot defend any government war.


David Friedman - 3/27/2008

Are you limiting yourself to wars waged by governments? The Commanche were anarchists--they had nothing you could reasonably describe as a state. But they routinely engaged in offensive and defensive warfare--the latter basically as an entrepreneurial project, in which a leader proposed to attack someone and his war party was made up of whoever wanted to join.

They weren't, of course, libertarians. But then, not all anarchists are libertarians, just as not all libertarians are anarchists.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

Aeon writes, "If I'm an anarchist living in London 1940, I'm very much in favor of the British Army going to war."

Why?

"Part of the problem, and I mention this in the paper, is the very language of expressions like 'the war is unjust.' If Germany's aggression against Britain is unjust, then Britain's use of defensive force is just."

Its use of defensive force is just. But no use of aggressive force is just. The issue of individuals is what's important. Firebombing 100 German cities and killing all those innocent men, women and children was clearly murderous. It was deliberate mass murder. Those babies slaughtered in those firebombs were not threatening Britain. They were not aggressors. They were, just as Hitler's victims were, innocent individuals. No one had a right to kill them.

As I've said before, war can easily have two governments fighting each other, both of which are committing totally unjust acts. In fact, this is usually the case, even if one government is more evil than the other.

"So 'is the war just?' is a question that looks like it can be answered but actually cannot."

Usually, the answer is no. Once in a great while – maybe one out of a hundred times – one side has done nothing that a libertarian can disagree with. But in most cases, both "sides" — as in, both criminal organizations of illegitimate force, as all libertarian anarchists qua libertarian anarchists must categorically see states as being – are acting unjustly. And certainly, in all wars, at least one side is an aggressor.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

Aeon, I am not satisfied by this point: "That's exactly what it is. We've already paid to build a military force. The guns are paid for."

Are all the bullets paid for? Would you agree that once the US military runs out of bullets, it shouldn't be allowed to purchase more with stolen loot?


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

"Paradoxically, or ironically, it's the state that makes it necessary for me to depend on the state's mechanisms."

And yet this is part of the reason why the state will only be defeated if we resist all temptations to favor the state.

Calling 911 is sometimes quite prudent. But libertarians must agree that, even in the pursuit of actual criminals, the state inflicts violence on innocents. Thus, strictly speaking, I think libertarians should support the abolition of government police and the expansion of its activities in all respects. If police did not currently go after thieves, we should not call upon them to do so.

As for Darfur, the answer is to repeal the neutrality acts, not more government interventions that will almost certainly do more harm than good. I mean, what percentage of US wars do you think do more good than harm? Seriously?

Saying that the state's monopoly makes it so we have to support more state war is the type of reasoning that could be used, easily, to justify: Taxation, drug laws, immigration controls, gun control, health care regulations, and all sorts of other unlibertarian policies.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

"Of course it might be conceivably just for an individual citizen to support, say, intervention in Darfur or Tibet - with their own resources"
By this reasoning, it's only just to call the private fire dept., but not 911. The problem with relying on private intervention in Rwanda-type situations is that it's ILLEGAL. In ancap world, that's what we'd do. In the real world, if we tried to do it, we'd be accused of "raising mercenaries" and prosecuted. Paradoxically, or ironically, it's the state that makes it necessary for me to depend on the state's mechanisms.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

Yes, I think it's much more libertarian for the government to steal $3 trillion a year and spend it all on welfare handouts than it is to steal $3 trillion a year and spend it on the police and military. The police and military, after all, are what make the state an unlibertarian organization – without their guns enforcing the territorial monopoly, the state would be a big, voluntary club.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

"Then we can also argue that, in the overwhelming majority of the cases, government war is also totally indefensible based on its ends"
Sure, no argument there, subject to the lingusitic caveat in my previous comment.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

"We can agree, at least if we're anarchists, that all government war is necessarily illegitimate"
Actually, no, that's what I'm disagreeing with. If I'm an anarchist living in London 1940, I'm very much in favor of the British Army going to war. Part of the problem, and I mention this in the paper, is the very language of expressions like "the war is unjust." If Germany's aggression against Britain is unjust, then Britain's use of defensive force is just. So "is the war just?" is a question that looks like it can be answered but actually cannot.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

I don't think it's immoral for a fire fighter to put out a fire, any more than it's necessarily immoral for a welfare clerk to hand you a check. What's immoral is to expand the bureaucracy of the fire department, or increase taxes or inflate the money supply to fund the creation of another welfare office.

Unless you think government spending would have been identical had the US not gone to war, it is clear that the war constitutes mass theft of taxpayers.

Furthermore, just as libertarians should always support a separation of firefighting and state, so too would we, especially the anarchists among us -- I can't believe there is even any controversy here -- always support the abolition of the US warfare state.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

"failure to deploy military force in Rwanda or Darfur has surely resulted in far greater slaughter of the innocents than deployment would have."

I disagree. One US government attack on the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant alone already increased the horrors of that region a great deal – by wiping out their main way of handling malaria and destroying all their veterinary medicines. I see no reason to believe that the US government would have bombed that area into peace any more than it has bombed Iraq into peace. Iraq is now arguably the greatest humanitarian catastrophe on earth. The idea that the main government responsible for setting that catastrophe in motion should be trusted to help people around the world seems to me a bit naive.

Furthermore, the idea that "letting people die" is as bad as killing them is totally unlibertarian. Otherwise, I could justify stealing from you to feed starving people in the third world. By refusing to feed them, are you not starving them?


Andrew Roocroft - 3/26/2008

"Likewise, until they can actually manage to get rid of the state, it's legitimate for citizens to push their state toward less bad actions."

Agreed; "less bad" being those which least violate property rights. So, supplying a service to me after confiscating property from me for that end - it's a forced transaction, but at least I benefit. But I don't see how property rights have been violated to a lesser extent by spending money on a (beneficient) foreign intervention than were it embezzled by politicians.

"it might conceivably be just for citizens to support their state's going to war even though it's not just for the state to engage in the war."

Of course it might be conceivably just for an individual citizen to support, say, intervention in Darfur or Tibet - with their own resources. It is only legitimate, in your hand-example, for one to push the aggressor towards an action concerning my property - I can't justly ask him to cut off one neighbour's hands instead. It similarly does not follow that it is just to lobby the government or to vote in a specific way in order that the government will carry out some activity, since each new activity of government necessitates a fresh violation of property.

It might be claimed, "We've already paid to build a military force. The guns are paid for," but this is plainly false (have the soldier's salaries, or the increased R&D been paid for?), and certainly does not justify the initial theft. The *only* just action, if the state is deciding how to dispose of stolen property is to restore it to the rightful owner.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

Aeon, you write, "And we won't get very far disucssing what are legitimate versus illegitimate ends if we start from the premise that nothing could possibly count as a legitimate end, by definition, because it's tax funded."

I think we can do both: We can agree, at least if we're anarchists, that all government war is necessarily illegitimate, based solely on the means. Then we can also argue that, in the overwhelming majority of the cases, government war is also totally indefensible based on its ends, too. I have no problem with having two reasons to oppose government war.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

Both means and ends are important. Do you believe in increasing funding on firefighting, or erecting new welfare state bureaucracies? The case against doing so is no stronger than the case against war spending. But war ALSO has illegitimate ends – all US wars involved killing innocent people. In other words, murder.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

Last time I checked, the Iraq war increased state expenditures by quite a bit. We didn't already have all those recourses and men designated to stand around defending the country. A lot of new expenses came with the war. Last year, the US government used a billion gallons of oil in the Iraq war. You telling me that oil would have been used by the military regardless? I don't buy it one second.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

Ok, that's something I can work with. Let me think about the taxonomy here and get back to you. Thanks!


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

Sure, just as a rise in the arson rate would drive up the financial needs of the fire dept, or a population boom would drive up the financial needs of the school district. What's important here is that the military only be used for legitimate ends. And we won't get very far disucssing what are legitimate versus illegitimate ends if we start from the premise that nothing could possibly count as a legitimate end, by definition, because it's tax funded.


Roderick T. Long - 3/26/2008

I'll let Anthony speak for himself, but my own view is:

a) intentionally targeting noncombatants [as in Hiroshima and Dresden] is morally worse than merely knowingly/foreseeingly killing them as a byproduct of something else [i.e. collateral damage]

b) collateral damage is worse than letting die

c) collateral damage is morally closer to intentionally targeting than to letting die

So there will be cases where collateral damage is justified while direct targeting isn't; but most of the time, they'll both be unjustified. I talk more about this here.

One upshot of all this is that it will generally be better to let X number of people die than to save them in a manner that involves collateral-damaging Y number of people, even in cases where Y is much smaller than X.

[Utilitarians tend to find these distinctions bizarre; however, I suspect something like them could plausibly be defended even on rule-utilitarian grounds. However, my own reasons for them are mainly deontological/virtue-ethical, not utilitarian.]


Roderick T. Long - 3/26/2008

But I think Anthony is saying (inter alia) that calling for war drives up future taxes rather than simply calling on tax revenues already collected.


Roderick T. Long - 3/26/2008

it's legitimate for me to push him toward both

Duh, I meant "push him toward one."


Roderick T. Long - 3/26/2008

We need to distinguish the claim of what it's just for the state to do from what it's just for subjects of the state to push it toward doing. If an aggressor is either going to cut off one of my hands or both, it's legitimate for me to push him toward both. Likewise, until they can actually manage to get rid of the state, it's legitimate for citizens to push their state toward less bad actions.

So even if one think it's unjust for tax-funded fire departments to put out fires (because it's unjust for them to do anything other than disbanding and returning the funds), it can still be legitimate for citizens to call the fire department when they need it. The government's putting out fires presupposes injustice on it part, but my phoning it for help doesn't presuppose injustice on my part.

By analogy, then, it might conceivably be just for citizens to support their state's going to war even though it's not just for the state to engage in the war.

In fact I think it will very rarely be the case that citizens are justified in pushing their state into war. But that's because of specific facts about state warfare, not an aversion to calling the fire department.


Andrew Roocroft - 3/26/2008

It seems to me that you're again unjustly separating the means and the ends.

The end is a service which puts out fires. The means to fund this is confiscation of private property. The ends aren't subsequent to the means, in the sense that the state doesn't tax an arbitrary amount of money, and then allocate it to beneficient ends; it taxes in accordance with what it has decided it wants to fund.

So I'm not saying simply that "it's immoral for the fire department to come put out a fire on the grounds that they're a coercively funded monopoly." Indeed, I argued that if the state did steal your money, it was less of a violation of your natural rights if they supplied you with some services; but if they use your money to supply services for other people, then the extent of the theft isn't mitigated at all.

If there are three options: theft to fund activities which don't benefit me, theft to fund activities which do benefit me, and no theft, I'd say the last is the most moral and the first the least.

Your conclusion, it seems to me, can only be reached by falsely separating the confiscation of property with its disposal. This is plainly an error - if the state decides to pursue some beneficient end, it then appropriates the funds for that end from the general public. The justification for the means of financing war, or any other kind of government activity, must come prior to its implementation.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

You keep referring to slaughter of the innocents when you speak of war. I'm wondering, though, what do you make of the killing/letting die distinction? Simple example: failure to deploy military force in Rwanda or Darfur has surely resulted in far greater slaughter of the innocents than deployment would have.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

"Waging war is not simply the same as dispelling water out of a hose that's been paid for already, or calling upon government agents to do a task they're already paid to do."
That's exactly what it is. We've already paid to build a military force. The guns are paid for. (Coercively, to be sure, and we agree that's bad.) So whether it's permissible to use it will be determined by other criteria. E.g., it would be wrong to use the government police to (IMO) prosecute victimless crimes, but not wrong to use it to prosecute rapists. Similarly, using the military can be justified or unjustified. You say it NEVER is; I think it is sometimes, as e.g. in the Revolution.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

Well, that's an occupational hazard of reductio ad absurdum arguments: if you think it's immoral for the fire department to come put out a fire on the grounds that they're a coercively funded monopoly, we have deeper disagreements than be resolved in blog comment thread.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

If war can be defended on anarchist or libertarian grounds, surely so can universal health care.

Yes, in a perfect world, the market would handle health care. Unfortunately, government has monopolized certain aspects of the health care industry. It has priced people out of the market. It has made people dependent upon employers and HMOs. It has raised the retail price of pharmaceuticals and doctors visits.

Given all this, some poor people might indeed be better off with universal health care, than they are now. Sure, it means expanding the coercive state. But the free market doesn't exist in health care, so these people are being deprived of access they would have in either a free market or under socialism. Given that government has monopolized sectors of the health care market, many people's best hope is socialized medicine.

What's that you say? This cannot justify raising taxes? And we cannot expect the welfare state to handle health care, overall, in the long term, in a good way? Well, I'd say the same thing about national "defense."

It seems to me that if war, with all its slaughter of innocents, along with domestic violations of liberty and property rights, can be defended on libertarian grounds, so too can nearly any government program.


Anthony Gregory - 3/26/2008

The comparison to a fire department doesn't hold. The better comparison should be: Should we erect new fire departments, create new bureaucracies to fight fire, expand their "services," increase their activities, and raise taxes to fund them? If there is no government fire station in a given town, should we favor its creation?

Waging war is not simply the same as dispelling water out of a hose that's been paid for already, or calling upon government agents to do a task they're already paid to do. War expands the state. We should, as anarchists or libertarians, never favor the expansion of government firefighting services. Beyond this, of course, fire fighting is, generally speaking, a perfectly benevolent or at least benign service. War is mass murder. And the idea that US government wars have anything to do with legitimate defense of Americans on American soil strikes me as somewhat obviously absurd.


Andrew Roocroft - 3/26/2008

As I understand anarcho-libertarianism, if coercion against a non-aggressor is a necessary pre-requisite of any action, then it necessarily follows that the action in its entirety (not merely considering the ends) is immoral. So, whilst you're entirely correct that there is nothing wrong per se with the end of preventing genocide or some other beneficient outcome, if the achievement thereof needs force to extort money from an individual, it necessarily follows that the subsequent action is unjust.

It seems to me that this is the error in your argument: you've arbitrarily decided to separate the ends aimed at and the manner of achieving those aims, whereas the two should be viewed as components of one act. And just as if the end is immoral, the entire act is immoral, then if the means are immoral, the entire act is immoral.

If I claim, 'the state is unjust in taxing an individual', then whatever the state does, short of returning that money to the individual, is immoral. If the state supplies some service to the individual that it taxed, then the taxation is still qualitatively immoral but its extent is quantatively lessened. Hence, the provision of fire prevention services for my house is immoral if I am compelled to pay for it; but it is less immoral than the state taxing me and using my monies to fund the fire department for other people.

Foreign interventionism is an example of this latter case; whereas supplying national defence is, to some degree, a service to the taxpayer, preventing genocide elsewhere in the world is just as immoral as supplying fire services to my neighbours, or welfare cheques or any number of state financed redistributive activities.

Both instances of theft are properly immoral, regardless of the end to which the monies are put; but it seems to me that the libertarian should seek to abolish those which most violate the individual's rights first - or, at least, to insist that the two acts are equally unjust. A libertarian certainly should not defend one morally by disregarding the immoral means of its implementation. Were he to do so, as Anthony's post challenged you, "on what basis can we anarcho-libertarians oppose more mundane statism like welfare handouts, which are no more coercively financed than the military?"


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

Tom, I don't mean this in a derogatory way, but your comment fails to distinguish between the world we'd like and the world we live in. Like you, I'd prefer to hire my own agents of defense rather than have The State force these matters. But currently, I don't get to make that call. So does that mean that the State's defense agency can't do _anything_? No. Consider the analogy of the fire department: in my preferred ancap world, we'd all choose between competing fire-protection companies. In the real world, this is a coercively provided municipal service. Does that mean they are acting immorally when they come put out my fire? Or that I am when I call them? No. Because there's nothing intrinsically wrong with putting out fires. What's wrong is the government coercively setting itself up as a monopoly provider of the service - but the service itself is totally legitimate. So too, mutatis mutandis, with schools, police, courts, roads. And also, with large-scale defense, such as the military. Unless you're a pacifist, then the analogy applies to the military as well. We can criticize the fact that the government doesn't give us any choice in the matter, and of course we can criticize any particular policy for _using_ the military - e.g., getting out of Iraq -- but that doesn't mean pacifism.


Tom Ender - 3/26/2008

Since "war is the health of the state" opposition to the state should entail opposition to war.

If people initiate violence against a group of people who retaliate in kind, that doesn't necessarily qualify as war.

If the attacked people belong to a clan, their response might be better described as a feud, than a war.

In a war, states supposedly act as agents for their "citizens." I would prefer to hire my own agent rather than have one "chosen for me" based on the geography of my residence.


Bogdan Enache - 3/26/2008

Very interesting paper, but in my opinion it doesn't really go beyond the theory of just war but only restates the new, modern, democratic, Wilsonian or liberal internationalist form this theory has taken.

As mentioned in the paper the concept of sovereignty was developed during the monarchic age, but its substance is immaterial to this aspect. The three attributes of sovereignty listed originally by Jean Bodin (with regard to a republic in the Aristotelian mixed regime sense), namely indivisibility, absoluteness and perpetuity of power can characterize any type of regime.

In the monarchic age legitimate authority of a state meant indeed royal (or princely, depending on the form of the dominion) descendancy from a lineage entitled to the throne according to the acknowledge dynastic and inter-aristocratic rules (as oppose to an impostor claiming royal title) while in the modern, democratic age (when the sovereignty of the divine right of kings was replaced by sovereignty of the people) legitimate authority became synonymous with the existence of a representative or democratic government.

Consequently, the liberal internationalist/Wilsonian theory of IR is, essentially, nothing but the just war theory updated with regard to the change in meaning of legitimate authority and more optimistic with regard to the capacity of arguably freer individuals in more democratic regimes to translate their presumed love of liberty in a more peaceful world, if necessary through concerted wars against authoritarian/non-democratic regimes.

Under this perspective, only democratic regimes are considered legitimate and inclined to genuinely uphold peace, while non-democratic regimes were seen as destableizing, inherently aggressive and ultimately illegitimate. Empirically however, the Saint Alliance of monarchical and predominantly reactionary European powers and the Concert established in Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 managed to keep international peace in Europe far longer than the Wilson inspired League of Nations, for a number of different reasons.

The vision of a peaceful world that can only come about with the establishment of a democratic or people's legitimate government and the elimination of autocratic and authoritative regimes has, with very few exceptions, always underlined the rhetoric behind American foreign policy and continues to do so to this day. Both the post WW1 international order and the post WW2 international order, through the League of Nations and the UN, tried to institutionalised this "natural" pace between democratic nations that was meant to bar and if necessary eliminate illegimate and unpeaceful state entites, although this ideal never actually materialized and the inclusion of the USSR, the communist countries and dictatorial regimes for various reasons and in different circumstances, actually lead to formally recognizing non-democratic, thus in principle illegitimate states, as democratic, legitimate states which in turn lead to a purely formal notion of respect of sovereignty, devoid of any link to the legitimate authority issue.


Aeon J. Skoble - 3/26/2008

Anthony, thanks for continuing the discussion. You need not agree, but I do address just the questions you raise in the paper I linked to in the other thread.

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