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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/16961/a-libertarian-theory-of-war/

A Libertarian Theory of War

May 16, 2011 by

War is only proper when the exercise of violence is rigorously limited to the individual criminals. How many wars have met this criterion? FULL ARTICLE by Murray N. Rothbard


BoombeeShark May 16, 2011 at 10:02 am

Great article…But, I still can’t get my head around the “real” situation where the enemy (as in a war scenario) hides amongst civilians (and children) and fires upon your civilians and children. What to do? The libertarian theory would suggest retaliation in kind is criminal, but without retaliation in kind (assuming this is the only possibility with modern weapons) the attacks would only continue. Maybe there is a solution I haven’t thought of. What to do?

Black Bloke May 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm

You should also read this:

jrtorres May 16, 2011 at 8:25 pm

rothbard misses the point. civilians are not innocent, they allow governments to act on their behalf. whether by democracy or by fear of tyrany. there is no such a thing as an innocent civilian.

Bob May 16, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Then it’s your position that you, yourself, are a legitimate military target?

Anthony May 16, 2011 at 9:45 pm

His children and grandmother would also be legitimate targets, of course.

jrtorres May 17, 2011 at 5:45 am

Yes, I am a target. I vote for the leaders of my country. My children unfortunately have to suffer the consequences of my decisions until they are of majority of age.

Based on Rothbard, you can never defend yourself because civilians may be hurt. Unfortunately, the rest of us have to live in the real world.

I love Rothbard, he is a superb thinker whne it comes to economics, but in warfare he is way out of his area.

jrtorres May 17, 2011 at 5:52 am

There are other qualifications to the legitimacy of a target, besides culpability. Legitimacy of a target also pertains to whether hitting it accomplishes the goal of the aggressor. Bombing targets is not only about retribution or punishment. Japan was bombed in order to make them surrender, not to punish them.

Bob May 17, 2011 at 7:07 am

Perhaps it’s self-serving, but I refuse to subscribe to a philosophy that grants moral license for people to kill me.

Black Bloke May 17, 2011 at 11:40 am

It’s pretty much exactly what the ARIans have been pushing. Their publications lead me to conclude that they think that UBL had the right idea.

jrtorres May 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Liscence of no liscence, according to Rothbard you can’t defend yourself unless no collateral damage is inflicted. That is the philosophy of someone who have never been shot at.

Black Bloke May 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm
Gil May 16, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I would certainly agree that when the whole population is “doing their bit” for the war effort then they aren’t “innocent civilians”. Women working in an ammunitions factory are no less a target than a female spy trying to get secrets out of enemy soldiers.

Carl May 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

What would the Libertarian approach to the atomic bombing of Japan be? Considering the fact that Japan would have enacted “total war”, and civilians would have taken up arms against US soldiers. Does the “capacity” of a civilian to use violence against foreign soldiers, who are moral in nature and not looking to kill civilians, permit the use of an atomic bomb, in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

If it was known that there was one, only one, Japanese civilian who had supplied the US government with secrets and was completely willing to surrender to US soldiers when the invasion came, is it “wrong” to bomb that city, even if he be the only one?

I guess what I am asking is, in the case of US dropping nuclear weapons, is the “capacity” of Japanese civilians to become a militia enough to use a nuclear weapon instead of using US troops in a ground invasion that was sure to kill many of them? How is that “capacity” identified? Is a civilian an innocent, no matter what?

J. Murray May 16, 2011 at 11:17 am

Japan was already willing to surrender at that point in the war, the US powers were upset that Japan wanted conditions (retaining land gains and such). The US wanted a total defeat and total, unconditional surrender. One of those “prestige” things. Japan was bankrupt and couldn’t have engaged in “total war” if it wanted to, but that’s besides the point considering an invasion and further attacks were unnecessary as the country was tired and unable to fight a war anyway. They didn’t even have a navy or air force left.

The libertarian solution would to have just accepted the surrender and not dropped the bombs.

Dan May 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Good reply. Also, have to consider the issue of whether or not entering WW2 was self-defense as well. It is pretty much commonplace information now that FDR provoked the Japanese into attacking the US, not a cut and dry (we were attacked!) situation at all.

Keith May 16, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Check out Raico’s “Great Wars; Great Leaders” (available as a download from this site) for a discussion of the frequently offered justifications for using nuclear weapons on Japanese civilians.

Raico also questions the wisdom of forcing the Japanese to unconditional surrender, and the results of their removal as a regional power;

Would we have had Mao taking power in China (and around 75 Million civilians murdered by that regime), and following from that, wars in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Chinese invasions of Tibet, East Turkestan, and part of Assam, along with Maoist inspired and supported insurrections in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philipines, Nepal and India?

Just as Mao was unfortunately a beneficiary of Unintended Consequences, So Bill Clinton’s rules of engagement against Serbia, have unleashed some very interesting Unintended Consequences.

Clinton targeted not only the Serb army and irregulars, but also the journalists, academics and other opinion formers who offered succor and (im)moral or propaganda support to the regime and its activities. Clinton even had cruise missiles targetted on the Serb TV studios, killing make-up artists and cleaning staff.

It seems that our own news media have still to wake up to Clinton’s “legitimizing” (for want of a more descriptive term) “shit stirrers” as targets of war. Had they woken up to it, I suspect we’d be getting very different news coverage of our 3 current wars.

Bob May 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. If we hadn’t demanded unconditional surrender, maybe history would’ve been better. But we’ll never know. Maybe it would’ve been worse.

Consider another scenario: what if we done something un-libertarian like conquering Russia after WWII (with nukes, if necessary)? Would we have avoided the Cold War, a nuclear arms race, 50 years of an enslaved Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Communist China? Probably, yes. Would we have a better world? Or would we get a tyrannical worldwide Pax Americana? We’ll never know.

It’s hard to prove the value of libertarianism with “what if”s.

RTB May 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Not really to the point, but rather a tangent. The gov would have simply found some other boogeyman to waste 50 yrs and uncounted resources and lives on.

kyoki May 16, 2011 at 10:37 pm

The value of libertarianism is in its ethical principles. And following that it can be shown through deduction, logic & evidence that there’s a strong case that it results in superior ‘ends’.
But we can know that history would’ve been better for at least a 200,000 whose deaths resulted from the bomb. Also any negative results for doing the right thing would fall at the feet of other nations(in the US case) & they’re bad choice;not the US’s.
And finally to paraphrase a quote from the bible “its better to be persecuted for doing good than for doing evil” & i would say the same; any negative effects for taking an more ethical action are better than being guilty of negative effects from doing an outright unethical act.
I believe the evidence does point to libertarian principles can be shown to lead to less violence, death & destruction w/o relying on criticism of other means.

Martin OB May 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm

I’d say a worldwide “Pax Americana” would be a far, far better and more libertarian world than the one we have now.

Nuke Gray May 16, 2011 at 7:39 pm

The allies were demanding unconditional surrender for all Axis powers, because of the belief that the conditional surrender of Germany at the end of WW1 gave Hitler the claim that Germany had not really been beaten- she had been betrayed from within. Only unconditional surrender would guarantee that this didn’t happen again.
Over at Samizdata, I pondered the possibility that the Allies should have kidnapped the Japanese Imperial Family, and blackmailed Japan into surrendering, or their Divine Rulers would be executed.
And could we have simply offered millions of pounds to any German who brought us the head of Hitler, with the hope that without Hitler, the Nazi leaders would fight amongst themselves?

Gil May 16, 2011 at 10:02 pm

The enemy wanted surrender on their terms? Gee I wonder why they didn’t get it?

ChevalierdeJohnstone May 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm

J. Murray,

yYur comment seems to imply that for the Allies to demand total defeat and total, unconditional surrender of the Japanese military government was either strategically unnecessary, unethical, or both. Explain why.

Please define “total war” as you use the term. “Total war” is ordinarily thought to mean “a war in which a belligerent engages in the complete mobilization of all their available resources and population.” (That is from Wikipedia.) You obviously use the term to refer to a different phenomenon, as there exists no logical reason why bankruptcy would prevent a belligerent from engaging in total war.

It’s laughable to think of a country as being “tired” and (thus?) “unable to fight a war anyway”. How many combat vets do you know who got 8 hours a day of sleep?

J. Murray May 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm
Gil May 17, 2011 at 9:47 pm

What was that letter supposed to mean? The American President knew the Japanese wanted a conditional surrender but rejected it?

integral May 18, 2011 at 4:50 am

It means that the japanese were willing to negotiate a conditional surrender, and therefore continuing hostilities to provoke an unconditional surrender was not necessary.

Bob May 18, 2011 at 6:56 am

“Continuing hostilities”, integral? You make it sound as if the Japanese had laid down their arms and it was just our fault the fighting continued.

That memo was dated Aug. 2 – and that’s the date of the English translation. We don’t know when the original Japanese memo was written. But by Aug. 6, the Japanese HAD NOT surrendered – to us or the Russians. By Aug. 9, they STILL HADN’T surrendered, despite the events of Aug. 6 and warnings from Truman of total annihilation.

The hostilities continued because the Japanese were merely THINKING ABOUT (and internally debating) surrender. They were also considering the possibility of NOT surrendering. And so the fighting continued.

Fabian_CH May 16, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Rothbard carefully selects his examples so as to avoid (it seems) the one perhaps most applicable to modern warfare.

If Jones is shooting at Smith, ought Smith to accept death rather than defending himself and endangering others?

Sure, one could answer yes to that as well, but it would be a lot more difficult to say with such clarity.

Stefano May 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

How about Smith learns to shoot straight, and only shoot at Jones, not Mustafa, Ping, and anyone else within range. I think that was presupposed by the notion of ‘defensive war.’

“If Smith and a group of his henchmen aggress against Jones, and Jones and his bodyguards pursue the Smith gang to their lair, we may cheer Jones on in his endeavor; and we, and others in society interested in repelling aggression, may contribute financially or personally to Jones’s cause.”

J. Murray May 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm

It’s closer to “If Jones shot at Smith, can Smith throw a grenade into the crowd that Jones is hiding in?”

Fabian_CH May 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Why are you changing the example instead of answering?

I can play this game, too, you know. If I can’t protect my own life and property unless no one else is harmed as a consequence of my action – is it illegitimate then to dodge bullets in a crowd?

Gil May 16, 2011 at 10:11 pm

But isn’t that Fabian_CH’s point? What if Smith can’t guarantee he’ll just hit Jones? If Smith can’t hit Jones then we might presume there’s a reasonable chance Jones won’t be able to hit Smith. But suppose there are innocent people near Jones- should Smith have the right to shoot back? If Smith hits an innocent bystander then he’ll becomes a villian in kind.

J_man86 May 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Nuclear disarmament? Terrible idea. While I agree that they should never be used offensively and only EVER considered in retaliation of nuclear attack (even then, it may not be the best idea), the main use of nukes today is bargaining chips. It puts countries into two categories: (a)those that have them and (b)those that don’t. If you are a (b) country, it means you can only go to war against other (b) countries. (a) countries can go to war with other (a) countries with the understanding that neither of them will use a nuke on the other. If an (a) country and a (b) country go to war, then (a) country calls the shots because they have the ace. Long story short, if all the good countries disarm, then only bad countries will have nukes and then they’ll be the ones calling the shots. It may be better if nukes didn’t exist but the fact is they do. If we disarm ourselves over some false notion of morality then we’re inviting our selves to get raped and pillaged by any country (the immoral ones) that didn’t.

El Tonno May 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Quite so.

Which is why Lybia is currently getting it but Pakistan is sitting rather pretty [though feverish minds plot on 'seizing' the Pakistani arsenal by force].

Gil May 16, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Actually a better reason is that of don’t blame the weapon, blame the people who use the weapon. If you outlaw nukes then only the outlaws have nukes. People can be wholesale massacred with machetes thus a machete is a weapon of mass destruction in the wrong hands.

Bob May 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I don’t think Buckley was shaking in his shoes at Rothbard’s analysis. Indeed, if they’re both in an afterlife now, Buckley is undoubtedly calling Rothbard an idiot. And in this case, I’d have to agree.

No one is arguing that killing non-combatants is moral. The argument is that it is often unavoidable if one is to mount an effective self-defense.

So don’t waste an essay lecturing us that killing innocent people is wrong. Tell us how a real-world libertarian government would mount an effective defense against an attack by another country.

integral May 18, 2011 at 4:53 am

With an armed populace?

Bob May 18, 2011 at 7:03 am

Rothbard’s essay is about the immorality of killing innocents. My question is not whether an armed populace can successfully repel an invasion (though that’s an issue that’s ripe for discussion) but whether any military action can be successful if it is unwilling to risk inflicting “collateral damage”. If the invaders used human shields, would libertarians be morally bound not to fight?

Black Bloke May 18, 2011 at 11:20 am

To quote what I wrote earlier on the thread, you should also read this:

Jake May 16, 2011 at 4:25 pm

“So don’t waste an essay lecturing us that killing innocent people is wrong. Tell us how a real-world libertarian government would mount an effective defense against an attack by another country.”

If you mean a defense of your own territory it seems pretty easy to me. If you mean “defense” involving invasion and occupation of other nations… well that sort of “defense” we can do without.

And in reality, a real world “libertarian government” would not need to mount a defense. A real world libertarian government is a contradiction in terms. Any army would have to be all voluntary and privately funded, for which a government is not needed at all.

If you think such an army or “militia” (hint). Is incapable of effectively defending the people and land it would protect I think you should do two things

A: Reconsider your implied assessment of modern state-run military as effective offensive/defensive forces. Ask yourself what evidence of their effectiveness do you actually have.
B: Study a little history on the effectiveness of voluntary militia in defending against such state-run forces. There’s a great resource on this very site, Rothbard’s history of the American Revolution call “Conceived in Liberty” that gets into this matter extensively in volume 4.

Bob May 16, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Defense of your own territory is certainly easier to do morally than invasion of someone else’s, but your enemy can take your neighbors hostage and again create the problem of human shields. Also, limiting yourself to repelling invading forces is a poor strategy. Fighting a successful war requires attacking supply lines and command & control that may be in the invader’s homeland. You have to take the war to them. And then you risk hurting their civilians.

A “libertarian government” refers, of course, to a minarchist libertarianism. Maybe that’s not “libertarian” in your book. Still, a minarchist government can aspire to fighting a war without killing innocents.

A: evidence of effectiveness of state run military is plentiful. The U.S. can destroy any gov’t in the world. The Chinese gov’t has crushed dissent; Tibet is helpless against it. The Libyan gov’t would’ve crushed dissent without NATO’s help. Iraqi and Afghan insurgents have done impressively well against gov’t militaries, but they might be getting state aid. And in any case, they seem to be losing.

B: The American Revolution?! Do you have any examples that are less than 240 years old? Besides, we had Washington’s gov’t-funded army and help from the French. We would’ve certainly lost without them.

Jake May 16, 2011 at 8:42 pm

You can take the war to them, assassination, targeted “special forces” attacks, and similar can be undertaken, dropping bombs on villages from 20,000 ft and launching cruise missiles, sending out armies of occupation and imposing martial law on (what would have been) indifferent villagers, namely all the stuff the US likes to do, is what is out of the question. Of course leaders of governments and armies don’t usually like assassinating their counterparts, kind of sets a bad precedent I guess from their perspective. Far better (from their view) for thousands of their young men to die in the process of killing thousands of the enemies young men in pointless combat.

I seriously doubt a minarchist libertarian government could support an armed force in a “hot” war. You either use coercion on a large scale to staff and fund the military (and cease to be minarchist) or you stick to voluntary means, at which point why should the government be involved in it at all?

As to A & B: That one state-run army is capable of beating another state-run army does not say anything about the efficacy of state run armies. Most of the examples you mention are governments suppressing their own population, something quite different from defending oneself against invasion, notably because the people were first disarmed. And Afghanistan and Iraq are excellent examples of how incapable a large state-military is against such “guerrilla” activity even if you somehow believe we’re winning there. The world’s only superpower, with the help and support of much of the rest of the most-developed nations, has spent a decade trying to establish control over two nation’s who’s government armies were easily licked in a matter of weeks, yet the struggle to successfully occupy them continues. As to the revolutionary war, Washington was a terribly inept commander who could have easily gotten the whole continental army wiped out on several occasions if the British commander weren’t almost equally incompetent (or possibly secretly sympathetic to the colonial cause). Washington should have been sent back to his plantation right after the battle of Long Island when he proved just how inept he was. Washington spent most of the war using his political clout to discredit and diminish all his most effective commanders and absolve himself of all responsibility. And when you concentrate all your fighting capacity into one place and under the command of one man you make it HIGHLY vulnerable to a fatal blow due to error or incompetence or bad luck. You also impose immense economic burdens on the population at large as that large army deprives the economy of thousands of highly productive workers and yet they still have to eat even if they’re no longer contributing to the production. The distributed model is far less burdensome on the population, far more difficult for an enemy to decapitate, and as has been proven many times, quite capable of beating back forces that APPEAR far superior to someone of a traditional state-military mindset. Most of the American colonies most effective actions against the British were NOT Washington’s continental army going toe to toe with the British regulars (they got crushed every time they tried this). But when (relatively) small groups of local militia men took up arms and exploited their superior knowledge and tactical sense to devastating effect. Witness Fort Ticonderoga, King’s Mountain, Concord, and dozens of other smaller engagements where the British were cut to ribbons by local farmers and towns people taking up their arms in small militias.

Bob May 16, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Re: governments disarming their own populations: so were the people of Iraq and Afghanistan disarmed, so that they couldn’t revolt against Saddam Hussein and the Taliban? They sure got a hold of lots of weapons when it suited them (i.e. when we invaded). One of the tenets of the RKBA community is that guns can’t effectively be kept out of a country, just as drug laws don’t keep cocaine out. I don’t think a disarmed populace fully explains a dictator’s power.

Whether we’re winning or not in Iraq or Afghanistan will be revealed in the fullness of time. It’s pointless for us to debate it. But the insurgents are getting support from other governments, so even if they drive us out, it won’t prove your point. Still, I admit they’ve done a very impressive job. They’re fortunate we’re not as mad at them as we were at Japan.

Re: Washington. So he wasn’t the greatest general. So what? Robert E. Lee was a great general and he was appointed by a state. Ulysses S. Grant was a great general, and he was appointed by a state too (after many inferior generals were tried and discarded). We can say that gov’t is inferior to individual action when it appoints an incompetent, but conversely we must admit that it has the potential to be superior to individual action when it lucks out and appoints someone with talent. (That’s not to say that I support coercion “if only it’s done by the right people”. Coercion is immoral, even if it’s harnessed competently.)

Look, you and I are fellow travelers. I want gov’t at least 80% smaller than it is. I want the troops home, I want our military to be oriented to defense instead of offense, I want foreign intervention to end. And truly, I’d like to believe that we could do away with a gov’t military altogether and still be secure. I’m not convinced yet that it’s possible. But I look at it this way: if and when the gov’t is 80% smaller than today, we’ll understand a lot more about privatization, the functioning of a free populace, and the operation of the world at large without our military presence, etc. than we do now. And at that point, I’ll be happy to revisit this with an open mind.

Martin OB May 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Exactly. If any of the crap in these articles were true no country would have ever won a war. America didn’t give a rat’s tail about winning the Japananese and German hearts and minds. They were defeated and forced to accept surrender. I’m sure many Germans and Japanese hated America and swore revenge, but there was nothing they could do about it, and they knew it. That’s the way to treat the enemies of freedom. Hit them hard, until they see themselves defeated, humiliated and hopeless. Terrorism comes from the hope of victory. At the end of the nineteenth century, the terrorist threat came from bomb-throwing anarchists. They called their crimes “propaganda of the deed.” They thought their actions would make the government get tougher on crime, and on this they were right, but they also thought the people would react with shock and horror to increased government power, siding with the anarchist terrorists (as some commenters do in this blog); in this they were as wrong, blind and stupid as they were despicable. Of course, the people wisely chose the lesser evil. The anarchists were crushed, their dreams of wiping out the State were shattered, and they became but a memory, at least for a very long time. No one gave a thought to reaching out to them or winning their hearts and minds.

That’s the way to go with Islamic imperialism as well. Show them who is the boss, and they will eventually get it, as they did when their Ottoman butts were kicked.Once they see the Caliphate destroyed and buried, would-be Islamic terrorists will adapt to reality as countless others did. In the meantime, throw political correctness through the window and let the American people do whatever it takes to protect themselves.

That said, there are plenty of opportunities for wealthy countries to minimize civilian deaths in future wars without risking their own troops. My bet is on infantry drones (yeah, terminators). If you search youtube videos about ETH Zurich quadracopters or anything by Boston Dynamics, you’ll know what I mean.

RTB May 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Just wondering. You say “they will eventually get it, as they did when their Ottoman butts were kicked.”

And yet, still…

And if I get your gist, I guess what your saying is that if I kick my neighbors ass he’ll fall into line, right?

Martin OB May 17, 2011 at 6:29 am

Still, what? They are emboldened now because the West let them think they are important and powerful. Now even bomb-throwing anarchists are coming back from the dead, in Greece and Italy. The current decline of the West is of its own making. It can be solved as soon as the defeatist liberal left is told to shut up.

I don’t mean you should punch your neighbor to solve any dispute. What I mean is, be reasonable with reasonable people, but stand your ground in front of thugs. Some people only respect force. Don’t let them think for a moment they can have their way through violence, especially if you actually are far stronger than them.

integral May 18, 2011 at 5:02 am

Should you also beat up a thugs wife if it means you can more effectively stand your ground against him? (Ie, if he’s hiding behind her.)

P.M.Lawrence May 23, 2011 at 11:05 pm

That’s the way to go with Islamic imperialism as well. Show them who is the boss, and they will eventually get it, as they did when their Ottoman butts were kicked.Once they see the Caliphate destroyed and buried, would-be Islamic terrorists will adapt to reality as countless others did.

Only that’s not what happened, was it? Once the victors started picking over Turkey, the Turks pulled themselves together and fought back, which was enough to persuade the British, French and Italians to pull out and enough to drive out the Greeks.

ChevalierdeJohnstone May 17, 2011 at 12:29 pm

“If you mean a defense of your own territory it seems pretty easy to me. If you mean “defense” involving invasion and occupation of other nations… well that sort of “defense” we can do without.”

No, you can’t.

This can be proved with a simple gedankenexperiment involving Smith and Jones, who are neighbors. Jones and Smith both own .22 caliber rifles.

From the privacy of his own rooftop, on his own land, Jones begins firing rounds over Smith’s fence and through the windows of Smith’s house – killing the family dog and putting the family in mortal danger.

By your logic, Jones is unjustified in projecting force onto Smith’s private property, such as by shooting Smith or going over and taking Smith’s gun away from him. You argue that Jones has a right to dictate that the Smiths board up all their windows and cower inside, hoping that Jones will not obtain a rifle in a larger caliber and begin shooting through the walls.

As to your misrepresentation of defense forces fielded by a “libertarian government”, you confuse “libertarian” with “anarchical”. These philosophies are in fact diametrically opposed. Liberty is not possible without the rule of law, and the rule of law is not possible without government. Self-government is still government, and there is no reason why a mutually beneficial organization of free individuals could not form a voluntary professional military defense force. In fact, in a free market all our theories pretty much guarantee that such specialization is exactly what we should expect to occur.

It might be interesting if you could cite actual examples of nonprofessional militia winning Military Campaigns against “state-run” professional military forces. I can’t think of a single example. There are certainly several examples of state governments deciding that prosecuting a war was no longer strategically politically viable and unilaterally deciding to recall its professional military forces. The American Rebellion/Revolution is obviously such an example. This capacity of a “government” force monopolizer to cease hostilities is one of many arguments in favor of such government. How do you tell an unorganized militia to go home and stop killing people? In fact, if we look around the world to where state governments do not have a tight hold on the use of deadly force, we inevitably see regions where personal feuds and violent murders are rampant.

ChevalierdeJohnstone May 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm

My mistake, the fifth paragraph should read “By your logic, SMITH is unjustified in projecting force onto JONES’ private property…”etc.

I got confused by the Anglo names. This would be a lot easier if I had picked Hymie and Abdul. And a bit more relevant.

Tony Fernandez May 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I love anything against war. Nothing else is so destructive to humankind. We need to end all glorification of it.

Dan May 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm

As a libertarian with veterans in his family, I agree. So many people glorify the act because the propaganda ministers always tell us it is needed, and that “we” are right, “they” are wrong, and you (the citizens) should not only tolerate it, but you should be at the ready to enter it at anytime we feel like forcing you to fight.

War is the most destructive, savage, and barbaric enterprise ever undertaken by man. Most of the people who spit on and insult people who do not agree with the war(s) our government is engaging in have never, ever come close to the violence they so loudly pronounce. They have never witnessed the destruction, the carnage, the brutality they support.

It would probably surprise people, but veterans are frequently very pacifist (except for defense). They have been there and done that. They know there is nothing to glorify.

No, the violence mongering war chanters are usually people who scream for blood by day and return to their comfortable home at night, untouched by the war.

Keith May 16, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Much as I like Rothbard, I do think that nuclear disarmament is utopian.

Kedaffhi surrendered his nuclear ambitions, rather than face the same end as Saddam – although it looks like he may well go that way anyway.

International treaties aiming at preventing nuclear proliferation have not succeeded in stopping China, India, Israel (and formerly South Africa), Pakistan, North Korea and anytime now, Iran from developing nukes.

Among that group, North Korea and particularly Iran are stupid enough to use nukes, Pakistan may be too, who knows, perhaps they really do expect it to bring the Mahdi back.

Swiss style militia is excellent deterrent against invaders, but only a nuke deterrent, or the capability of a Dresden like conventional reprisal can prevent an aggressor using nuclear blackmail, or a theocracy trying to bring forward their day of judgement.

T May 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm

The article was pretty weak for a supposedly intellectual description on the libertarian view on war.
War has one and one purpose only, enforce the will of a group on another. Like the concept “moral government” it is a fallacy to claim any philosophical right or moral high ground for war in any form.
Engaging in war is without doubt the most common activity of governments in all their forms- as governmental structures are a given, so is war.
Like government, it is the necessary evil due to the nature of human interrelations.

ChevalierdeJohnstone May 17, 2011 at 12:35 pm

It seems a lesson on basic morality is in order.

If Smith is throwing grenades at a city bus while hiding behind a crowd of innocent bystanders, and Jones has a rifle, and Jones’ best option of preventing the deaths of the bus full of people is to kill or incapacitate Smith, Jones is morally required to attempt to do so.

If, in attempting to incapacitate Smith so as to save the lives of a bus full of people, Jones happens to kill or wound the innocent bystanders behind whom Smith was hiding, THIS IS NOT JONES’ FAULT IT IS SMITH’S.

This is a basic tenet of true “just war” morality.

Verdict: Rothbard had many brilliant insights, but this time he is wrong.

Black Bloke May 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Where did all the warmongers and statists come from all of a sudden?

Sione May 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Lots and lots of big talk war wanking going on today. Is this peculiar to North American white guys?

First of all, quit with all the “we” stuff. You speak only for yourself.

Second, don’t depersonalise acts of violence by pretending that an entire geographic area or entire race or entire nation somehow acts. Each individual acts. You act. This is a matter of individual behaviour. Each person is responsible for his or her behaviour- not geography, not race, not nation…

Third, if you are a person who would initiate violence and murder upon other people because they happen to live in the wrong locale, or you don’t like their skin tone, or they speak the wrong language, or someone told you they are very naughty because of politics (so you are clear to apply punishment upon them by violence, rape, injury, death etc.), then be clear that you are engaging in criminality. There is no justification for initiating violence against those who have not committed violence against you- even if they have bad breath or are ugly or talk funny or you just dislike them etc.

Forth, if you involve yourself in the construction of weapons of indiscriminate violence (land mines, cluster bombs, etc) or weapons which you have reasonable grounds to suspect will be used for the initiation or perpetuation of indiscriminate violence, then you are engaging in a criminality for which there is no justification.

Fifth, avoid the imbecilic approach of dealing with history as though it were merely a matter of pugilists in a boxing ring- goodies and baddies. It isn’t.

Sixth, don’t pretend you are competent or knowledgeable enough (let alone morally qualified) to pretend you can address geopolitical matters by means of institutionalised and/or international violence (such as boasting which particular assembly of millions of people can “legitimately” be targetted for bombing or invasion or rape or shooting or whatever twisted idea you can bring to your imagination).

Seventh, discard propaganda and do your own research into what is real.

Eighth, foreign places are lived in by other people who own their own property and run their own lives. Leave them be.

Rothbard was accurate in his article. There are more than a few of you posting who need to read it and think about it seriously. The creed of violence you subscribe to is destructive and leads you towards acts which no-one should consider supporting, let alone committing.


Black Bloke May 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm

If I could press “like” or “+1″ on this, I would.

Bob May 17, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Sione, I haven’t seen comments here advocating starting wars. I think what people are wrestling with (at least what I’m wrestling with) is whether it’s possible to morally and effectively defend yourself when attacked by another country’s government. If your self defense would result in non-combatants being killed, is it still permissible to defend yourself? And if it is not, then isn’t our morality forcing us to surrender or die without a fight?

integral May 18, 2011 at 5:13 am

I think a good idea would be to analyze what situation you could find yourself in where your self-defense leads directly, or indirectly to the killing of innocents or noncombatants.

One situation I can see is where the aggressor holds non-combatants hostage and intends to kill them if you resist him. In such a case, I do not the death of those non-combatants a result of your actions, because the aggressor must individually act to destroy them, and therefore it is his actions and not your actions that leads to their deaths.

Another is a situation in which an aggressor attacks you from behind a human non-combatant shield, like a crowd of people. In such a case a retaliation from you that strikes the crowd is indeed a crime. (One I believe is recognized by the world court. That is, if you bomb a crowd of people to take out a single combatant, it is an inevitable consequence that the crowd will also be killed, and therefore a warcrime. Or something like that.)

It would also help to define what it takes to be concidered an accomplice. Growing food that the soldiers eat? Having built the roads that the soldiers travel on? Not speaking out against the aggressors? Not taking action against the aggressors?

Sione May 19, 2011 at 1:19 pm


As soon as you initiate violence against another person you are engaging in a crime. No exception to that.

What many are wrestling with here is an attempt to square the circle. They want to “defend” by attacking people who are not committing violence, by having a “representative” do it on their behalf. They seek a justification for all the military thuggery which they have a allowed themselves to identify with. Somehow marching soldiers in fancy-dress costume with plenty of bright ribbons and shiny merit badges along with lots of big machines and eye-wateringly expensive weapons that maim, cause suffering, injury and killing, somehow this nonsense becomes an extension of their identity- something that brings them a sense of worth, pride and a vicarious feeling of a power. The source of the unease which causes the “wrestling” is the realisation that Rothbard’s analysis eliminates the rationale that justifies the existence of that “representative” military in its present form and employment.

What you need to be very careful about is using an imaginary emergency scenario to build a system of ethics. This is putting the cart before the horse. Your system of ethics is not determined by an emergency. What happens is an individual brings his system of ethics to the emergency where he applies them.

There is no justification for initiating violence against other people. You defend yourself in such a manner so as not to intiate violence against those who have not initiated violence against you. In most instances you will not need to employ violence to defend yourself anyway.

As an interesting exercise. consider your own life experiences. Have you really needed to employ violence to defend your own life and property? Have you really needed to attack a non-involved party to defend yourself? Have you really needed to reign down indescriminant destruction upon many, many others in case they were feeding, supplying, housing etc the person/s who initiated violence against you?


Bob May 19, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Sione: no, I have not had to use violence to defend myself, though statists could argue that’s because of the gov’t police force. Whether that’s true or not, I’ve undoubtedly lived a safe, sedate life.

I agree that hypothetical emergency situations shouldn’t shape your moral system. That doesn’t mean that emergency situations can’t arise in which conventional morality would lead to a bad outcome. Consider the classic lifeboat example: do you kill and eat someone in the lifeboat, or allow everyone to die? Killing is not a solution we want to apply to everyday morality, but allowing everyone to die seems dumb. Yes, this is a contrived example but it’s not unheard of. In history, people have actually been faced with this sort of choice.

Now let’s consider an army invading the U.S. It’s not completely implausible. Is an organized defense more or less effective than a disorganized one? We could argue over it, but let’s concede that it’s PLAUSIBLE that an organized defense is superior. And from that, it’s not far to “marching soldiers in fancy-dress costume with plenty of bright ribbons and shiny merit badges along with lots of big machines”. A hierarchy is reasonable in an organization (even a private voluntary one), and an organization can acquire and use larger weapons than individuals alone can.

Finally, I still have the concern about the enemy using human shields to paralyze us with such moral angst that we can not defend ourselves. The use of human shields is not implausible; there’s countless examples in history. Human shields are used routinely by governments, terrorists, bank robbers, and even common domestic abusers. Must there be zero chance of collateral damage before we shoot back at an attacker?

Rothbard seems to be saying “yes”. I say that’s a recipe for defeat.

And back to the lifeboat example: I said that even if we decide to kill and eat someone, that doesn’t mean we accept that as a moral rule for day-to-day living. Likewise, if we’re fighting an enemy and we accept that there will be innocents killed, that doesn’t mean we’ve accepted the murder of innocents in day-to-day life.

Gil May 17, 2011 at 9:48 pm

By your reasoning if a war were forthcoming then you would need to learn to live off the land so you can disappear from sight lest you can be called up and pressed into service.

integral May 18, 2011 at 5:05 am

Sounds like a good idea.

arsenal June 14, 2011 at 11:31 am

A very interesting read, sounds good

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