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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5979/imperialism-and-the-logic-of-war-making/

Imperialism and the Logic of War Making

December 6, 2006 by

Commentaries on war stretching back more than two millennia to the Peloponnesian Wars have enshrouded the fundamental causes of war in an almost impenetrable fog of myths, fallacies, and outright lies. In most studies, war is generally portrayed as the inevitable outcome of either complex historical forces or accidental circumstances generally beyond the understanding or control of the human combatants. Fortunately, there exists a science of human action that is applicable to all purposeful activities. This science is referred to as “praxeology.” Although economics is its most developed branch, the basic principles of this science can also be applied to analyzing violent action including warfare. FULL ARTICLE

{ 68 comments }

RogerM December 8, 2006 at 12:49 pm

Reactionary:”Which government do you think would tax more: a government with only a small standing army and a few cannons in a nation populated by riflemen or a government with a large standing army, an air force, and nuclear weapons?”

Obviously the first one. But what does that have to do with the debate over monarchism vs. democracy?

Reactionary December 8, 2006 at 1:21 pm

RogerM,

It underscores my point that the threat of retaliatory violence is what keeps governments in check. When that threat is removed, bureaucrats are free to act without consequence. “Separation of powers” is really an empty concept in a democracy.

George Gaskell December 8, 2006 at 1:26 pm

What do you mean that there was no substantial increase in spending before the Depression?

You are aware of the government’s involvement in “internal improvements” from the 1830s through … well, today? Railroads? Road building? There was no such thing at the federal level before Lincoln.

Lincoln did everything he could to create a Hamiltonian central bank, which did not actually succeed until 1913. He was also a fan of protectionist tariffs.

I realize that corporate welfare, central banking and protectionism may not fit your conventional definition of socialism, but it is functionally socialistic nonetheless.

Today, we’d call these things right-wing socialism, maybe. It is really no different in character than the left and right wings of the French Assembly that Bastiat railed against 150 years ago — two factions appealing to a central government for special economic favors, which come at the other side’s expense. This was the same division that we see in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, with the right and left factions slugging it out, often brutally. Hitler was a socialist, just a right-wing socialist, along with Mussolini.

One of the reasons that monarchies are marginally preferable to democracies, especially in financial terms, is that the debt that private governors who go into debt tend to lose their property when they get overextended. Democratic governments actors don’t risk their personal wealth when they borrow, so they have a less immediate sense of potential loss. Instead, social-democratic governments tend to print their way out of debt, which is the reason that the ascendancy of social-democratic government and central banking are pretty much in lock step — democratic governments create and empower autonomous central banks for the purpose of having a ready source of easy credit they couldn’t otherwise get. Private governments that borrow from private banks have to actually pay their debts back, which means that when time comes to pay, they have to impose taxes or start selling off property, both of which are inherently difficult.

You still have not given me a serious answer to my question about social-democratic governments that exceed their Constitutional authority. They don’t get fired, do they? I mean, do you think that Medicare and Social Security are Constitutional? If not, then why haven’t those who created and operate these illegal operations been “fired,” as you say?

RogerM December 8, 2006 at 2:40 pm

George:”You are aware of the government’s involvement in “internal improvements” from the 1830s through … well, today? Railroads? Road building? There was no such thing at the federal level before Lincoln.”

Just look at the actual figures for government spending. Isolated anecdotes don’t prove anything.

“One of the reasons that monarchies are marginally preferable to democracies, especially in financial terms, is that the debt that private governors who go into debt tend to lose their property when they get overextended.”

Look at the historical facts. Kings who got overextended didn’t suffer at all; their creditors went bankrupt. I can’t think of a single example of a monarch being deposed because of his debts. Never happened!

“You still have not given me a serious answer to my question about social-democratic governments that exceed their Constitutional authority. They don’t get fired, do they? I mean, do you think that Medicare and Social Security are Constitutional?”

I think a lot of what the US government does is unconstitutional. The list is too long for this web site. But the Supreme Court has the job of interpreting the Constitution and they disagree with me. The President appoints the members of the Supreme Court and the majority of voters elect the president. So the Supreme Court reflects the opinions of the people. We have a socialist Supreme Court because we have a socialist majority of voters.

Hoover was the nation’s first socialist president and he got fired by the people for not being socialist enough. The socialist voters then elected the greatest socialist of all, Roosevelt. Had he not implemented socialist policies, they would have fired him, too.

A slim majority of Americans have elected Republican presidents over the past two decades in part because they’re tired of much of the socialism in government. We fired the Democrats.

Libertarians are frustrated at being right, but being in the minority. I share that frustration. I’m libertarian, too, on most issues. I try to convince people that free markets not only perform better than government at most things, but that private property and free markets are the only moral form of economic organization.

But I can’t go along with Hoppe’s attempt to distort the language and history in order to convince people that democracy is evil. Sound reason and honest history prove the opposite.

Reactionary December 8, 2006 at 2:58 pm

“But I can’t go along with Hoppe’s attempt to distort the language and history in order to convince people that democracy is evil. Sound reason and honest history prove the opposite.”

What are you talking about? Your own examples prove Hoppe’s point. I do think Hoppe engages in some romanticism but I think he would agree that the point is not so much that monarchy is a qualitatively better form of government, but rather that monarchy means government will be treated with the mistrust that it deserves. Under monarchy, the British had the Magna Carta and derelict kings could be beheaded. Under democracy, there is literally no aspect of human existence that the British government will not regulate, and the US is right behind them. Under democracy, government is transformed from at best a necessary evil to a positive good. The will of the people! What could be better?

RogerM December 8, 2006 at 3:38 pm

Reactionary:”…there is literally no aspect of human existence that the British government will not regulate, and the US is right behind them.”

You’re right there. Actually, my understanding of US history is that people distrusted government from the beginning. That’s the reason for the checks and balances. The change in the West came about with the abandonment of fundamentalist Christianity for German “higher” criticism. Fundamentalist Christianity had given natural law and property its moral force. People abandoned natural law for positive law, making anything the state did legal and moral.

The perception of the nature of man changed from one of free will to one of determinism, specifically Marxist materialism, which teaches that people are born good and go bad only because of economic oppression. Poverty creates crime, for example. The step is short from those assumptions to socialism, which most Americans embraced in the 1920′s, whether they called themselves socialist or not.

If you believed that government had the power to change human nature, perfect it by removing economic oppression, and thereby create a perfect society, wouldn’t you go along?

But the same thing would have happened whether a monarch, dictator, democracy, republic or anarchy ruled at the time. When the thinking of the people goes bad, everything goes bad.

George Gaskell December 8, 2006 at 3:40 pm

I think a lot of what the US government does is unconstitutional. The list is too long for this web site. But the Supreme Court has the job of interpreting the Constitution and they disagree with me. The President appoints the members of the Supreme Court and the majority of voters elect the president. So the Supreme Court reflects the opinions of the people. We have a socialist Supreme Court because we have a socialist majority of voters.

The Supreme Court does not have the authority to represent the opinions of voters (ignoring for the moment their multi-step isolation from actual responsiveness to those who are affected by their proclamations).

You said, above, that “the majority rules (except on matters limited by the Constitution).” Part of the basic source of legitimacy of democratic government, as you have argued, are the limitations on majority whim.

But, as you have just described, those limitations are illusory. Even the judges, who are selected to do a specific legal function, not to enact their personal agendas, are representatives of some majority (as you see it).

To the extent that they act contrary to their authority, on majoritarian preferences rather than the actual law, they are exercising nothing but raw power.

A majority also does not have the power to amend the Constitution. It must be ratified by the States, for example. To the extent that the Supreme Court purports to amend the Constitution, it is acting unconstitutionally.

The fact that we have too many examples of unconstitutional government activities to even list demonstrates that self-enforced, written limits on majoritarian power are essentially meaningless. Since, as you have said, those limits are part of the source of legitimacy of democracy in the first place, then the disregard of these limits de-legitimizes democracy.

In other words, you cannot simultaneously believe that our government is acting unconstitutionally, at the direction of a majority, and also believe that majoritarian government is legitimate.

You may, for practical, utilitarian reasons choose not to openly defy such a government (i.e., not wanting to get shot or imprisoned), but you cannot actually believe, on principle, in the legitimacy of democratic government that flagrantly, repeatedly violates its own limits.

I can’t think of a single example of a monarch being deposed because of his debts. Never happened!

Of course it has. Hereditary aristocrats (not limited to monarchs) have lost property to money lenders for thousands of years. Charles I would have kept his head if he could have managed his finances a little better. Much of the time, cash-poor aristocrats end up losing wars to other aristocrats because of their inability to borrow enough money to pay for as many soldiers as the other side can. That describes pretty much every war in Euro-American history for the last 1000 years.

Libertarians are frustrated at being right, but being in the minority.

I’m not frustrated at being in the minority. Being in the majority does not make anyone’s position any more legitimate. A position is no more or less correct, just or legitimate by virtue of the number of people who believe it, how loud they are, or how many bullets they have.

I’m frustrated that otherwise at least nominally intelligent people can’t see when they are being robbed.

I can’t go along with Hoppe’s attempt to distort the language and history in order to convince people that democracy is evil. Sound reason and honest history prove the opposite.

Your view of history is selective.

Do you have any idea how many people have been murdered by democratically supported governments?

Do you have any idea the amount of wealth that has been stolen by democratically elected governments?

Sam December 8, 2006 at 9:10 pm

With regards to whether Democracy or Dictatorship/Monarchy is better, isn’t one of the greatest rags to riches stories of the 20th century for a nation goes to Singapore? A nation that enjoys great economic freedom but has limited civil freedom. Does this suppose that then a Dictatorship or Monarchy is better provided it protects economic freedom?

Hence doesn’t mean that when civil freedoms overtake and displace economic freedom (i.e. Socialism) that only chaos will ensue? If so then it shows why Dictatorships and Monarchies have been the staple leadership for humanity for aeons and I would’t be surprised if the Democracies of the world dissipate over the 21st century. If these the new Dictatorships of the 22nd century respect the concept of economic freedom, like Singapore, then humanity could be in for a Golden Era.

By the way what is meant by the term ‘Government murder’? Are you talking about capital punishment, sending troops to war, or what?

RogerM December 9, 2006 at 8:56 am

Sam:”…isn’t one of the greatest rags to riches stories of the 20th century for a nation goes to Singapore?”

Very good point! Of course under the rules of anarchy, historical evidence doesn’t mean a thing. You have to show that their logic is wrong.

However, the anarchist haters of democracy should consider that the three nations that led the world into freedom and economic growth for the past four hundred years, the Dutch Republic, England, and the US, were essentially democracies.

Many people have pointed out that the Asian tiger nations developed economically under dictatorships and that shows you don’t need a democracy for economic growth. And they’re right to a degree. As China has shown, capitalism isn’t an all or nothing proposition. If a nation starts with pure socialism, any addition of freedom will produce astounding economic results. Where the tigers have stumbled, and China will too, is the lack of the rule of law, incorrupt police and courts, and continuing government control of the economy. Japan is a good example of the latter. It has relatively free markets, the rule of law, honest courts and polic, but too much control over the economy by the government which led to a 10-yr long recession.

“By the way what is meant by the term ‘Government murder’?”

Generally they mean war is murder.

Sam December 9, 2006 at 9:28 pm

Oh so war equates to ‘government murder’. I think that is spurious. As I pointed out in my previous blog somewhere near the top of the page that, depending on the type of war, a lot of men actually volunteer to serve. Apparently many Libertarians must have bad memories from the Vietnam War with young men getting arrested for resisting the draft. How must the same folk must feel when not long after Sep. 11 did a great many young men volunteer to join the army for ‘payback’?

For me, to class war as ‘government murder’ is a bit too convenient for my liking.

averros December 10, 2006 at 2:33 am

How must the same folk must feel when not long after Sep. 11 did a great many young men volunteer to join the army for ‘payback’?

Can’t keep young idiots from getting themselves killed for no good reason.

However, when these same idiots are armed and glorified at the expense of people who didn’t want their war (by literally threatening these unwilling with murder – or do you claim all of us pay taxes volutarily?) this becomes far from the personal affair of abovementioned idiots, and becomes the murder organized by the government and sustained by the extortion by the same government.

And, yes, I think anybody volunteering for military duty is a complete and total moron (and wannabe murderer). Sorry if I offended your patriotic sensibilities, but that’s just how it is. There’s no other way to describe someone willing to kill and be killed just because a bunch of known liars and scoundrels calls some other people enemies.

Sam December 10, 2006 at 4:27 am

Don’t worry averros. My previous blog wasn’t from a sense of great patriotic duty. I was just pointing out that many people on the street agree with war at times and therefore the few at the top are not alone to blame.

Rather I was pointing out that enough people at times support war and therefore support such taxes. Perhaps a big question is why there are no protests towards the Iraq War on the scale as there was during the Vietnam War?

Don’t you suppose that wars could be funded by voluntary ‘war bonds’. Where only those who want the war can pay for it? I’m not holding my breath easier . . .

averros December 10, 2006 at 10:07 am

Rather I was pointing out that enough people at times support war and therefore support such taxes.

This makes one to wonder if the main point of monarchists – namely, that the common people are too stupid and cannot be allowed to make decisions for themselves, has some validity to it. If so, well, what we should do is not to miss the right moment for running away from an oncoming train wreck. If not, then we have to keep telling them that they’re being had, and hope that a sufficient number of them will understand. I’m, personally, cautiously optimistic.

Don’t you suppose that wars could be funded by voluntary ‘war bonds’. Where only those who want the war can pay for it? I’m not holding my breath easier . . .

This is one of the many libertarian points – that if the people who want to wage the war had to pay from their own pockets for their wars, there will be an awful lot fewer wars.

On the other hand, when the war is just – meaning when people defend themsevles from aggression, the history shows that they will contribute, and not only money but also their lives. And they will be inventive and highly motivated to fight – as is being currently demonstrated by the dirt-poor barely educated Iraquis managing to hold their own against the (by far) strongest military machine ever built by a State.

The right response to 9/11 wasn’t to make war – but to collect funds from the volunteers, world-wide, to pay for the delivery of the heads of the masterminds of this atrocity by whomever manages to get them. With sufficient renumeration there’d be no shortage of willing bounty hunters.

And, yes, those on the top are to blame – because the war-like hysteria is entirely the work of the state-controlled propaganda machine (which masquerades as “free media” – and which, by now, has about as much integrity as Pravda used to have).

George Gaskell December 10, 2006 at 3:57 pm

This makes one to wonder if the main point of monarchists – namely, that the common people are too stupid and cannot be allowed to make decisions for themselves, has some validity to it.

I suppose I would be one of the “monarchists” you are referring to. But, I should say that I am not actually a monarchist; I simply believe that monarchies, in general, for economic reasons, tend to permit their subjects more economic freedom, tax productive people less, and are for that reason preferable to a democracy.

That doesn’t make me pro-monarchy. I am pro-liberty, nothing more or less, and am simply comparing the relative merits of various (bad) forms of government.

To that end, setting aside the mountain of propaganda and sentimentality about the American experiment, even a cursory review of the economic system of incentives and disincentives of government shows that democracy was a step backward for the cause of liberty, as our unrestrained, ever-growing federal government, which taxes us at rates that George III never dreamed of, demonstrates.

And, this progression, from the government in 1783, which England recognized our independence, to the socialist, consolidated government we have today, was pretty much inevitable. Maybe it didn’t have to happen exactly as it did, on the time-table that it did, but the economic pressures that favor an ever-expanding socialistic government are inherent in any democracy. To the extent that our republican government was democratic, it was doomed to ultimate failure.

It will collapse, of course, eventually, the most immediate cause probably being currency manipulation. It is only a matter of time. Socialism is not sustainable, to borrow a term from the enviro-nutters.

Sam December 10, 2006 at 11:58 pm

Why does war have to come from the top down averros? Why would the masses be hynotised into some state propagana to throw away their lives for the benefit of the few? I would believe in the great imperialist armies that soldiers had their own selfish reasons for participating. Last time I looked the spoils of war were shared amongst the victorious army (not equally of course).

Indeed in Roman times the men who had the best life expectations were the soldiers. Isn’t your argument along the Nuremburg lines of ‘I was only following orders’?

P.S. If Monarchies are supposedly better because the people are ‘too stupid’ and it ‘doesn’t bode well for Democracy’, then I’d say it bodes even worse for ‘Self-Rule’.

averros December 11, 2006 at 4:57 am

George –

well, I have a lot of experience with real monarchist mindset – my girfriend is one (which is not surprising giving that her family tree goes back nearly fifteen centuries).

I am (obviously) an an-cap libertarian. What’s surprising is that we don’t really have many things we disagree about (in the blogosphere she’s considered a libertarian – which is downright funny). As I said it’s a matter of optimism vs, well, long memory of atrocities committed by “freedom fighters”.

That the socialism is not sustainable I learned not from the books of learned academicans, but rather by the living through the agony of the Soviet Union. Mises was absolutely correct in explaining why and how it collapsed.

Sam –

Why does war have to come from the top down averros?

Because common people have no resources, no reasons, and no will to wage the wars. Those have to be created – by collecting taxes to make arms (common people don’t really need tanks and missiles for the personal defense), by manufacturing reasons (by pushing the ideas of national unity, national pride and by feeding people outright lies painting enemy de jour as monsters and agressors), and by marshalling common people into armies.

Wars are always organized by the rulers.

Why would the masses be hynotised into some state propagana to throw away their lives for the benefit of the few?

Because to believe without much thinking and to wish to belong to a strong crowd are universal human desires.

Last time I looked the spoils of war were shared amongst the victorious army (not equally of course).

What spoils? State pension and disability benefits for Vietnam vets? What spoils did the American soldiers bring back from Afganistan? Some dust, perhaps? Lifetime of nightmares?

The benefits of modern war are not in spoils – there isn’t really much worth taking home from the bombed-out streets, and bringing home slaves is passe. The benefits the rulers are getting are in the increased ability to plunder their own people while they are distracted by the war and are amenable to “making sacrifices”.

Isn’t your argument along the Nuremburg lines of ‘I was only following orders’?

Not at all – if someone joins an army out of stupidity and then goes to foreighn land to kill and burn – he’s a murderer and a bandit, and deserves to be treated as such. Stupidity is not commonly considered an excuse for capital crimes.

If Monarchies are supposedly better because the people are ‘too stupid’ and it ‘doesn’t bode well for Democracy’, then I’d say it bodes even worse for ‘Self-Rule’.

If the “self-rule” is a system where every yahoo has a say in what other people are doing, then it does not bode well, indeed.

If the “self-rule” is a system where the same yahoos are disorganized and can only meddle with other people lives by engaging in petty crimes (and risk being shot by the victims who weren’t disrmed by the State and are not afraid to be punished for defending themselves) – then the agressive idiots will tend to have relatively short lives.

Besides, having to bear full consequences of one’s actions tend to improve one’s ability to think straight.

The problem is not in the stupidity of the people, but rather in the collectivist belief held by these people. If they (with just as little thought) will hold the belief that every collectivist demagogue’s rightful place is dangling from a lamppost, then they will live peacefully.

George Gaskell December 11, 2006 at 9:17 am

Why does war have to come from the top down averros?

If I can add to averros’s answer, I’d ask you to look at the historical examples of organizations that are voluntarily organized (i.e., where the members not only join voluntarily, which we have in the US military today, but also where the failure to remain in the organization is punishable only by a claim for breach of contract, not imprisonment, which is the way the US military operates), but also are voluntarily funded (also contrary to today’s supposedly “all voluntary” US military).

Truly voluntary organizations do not go to war the way that governments do — the system of incentives and disincentives is all wrong. Voluntary organizations are organized the way that churches are organized, civic groups, private schools, and businesses. Everyone in these organizations cooperates toward a common goal because it is in each person’s interest to do so.

What does the phrase “top down” really mean? It means that at one or more points along the way, someone who is contributing to the effort is not doing so voluntarily. This is the only way that war can be accomplished effectively. War depends on coercion for either manpower or funding, and coercion is precisely what government (as a mode of organization) exists to provide.

If Monarchies are supposedly better because the people are ‘too stupid’ and it ‘doesn’t bode well for Democracy’, then I’d say it bodes even worse for ‘Self-Rule’.

I strongly disagree with the idea that people are “too stupid” to rule themselves, as I said above. People may vary widely in their intellectual abilities, and their types of interests, but one universal truth about humanity is that people know what’s good for them. It is Mises’s basic axiom that all people act to improve their condition, with each person defining improvement by subjective terms. The real differences among the population is not intelligence/stupidity, but time preferences — how long one’s time-scale for obtaining one’s goals may be.

I have a lot of experience with real monarchist mindset – my girfriend is one (which is not surprising giving that her family tree goes back nearly fifteen centuries).

As far as I know, everyone’s family tree goes back the same length of time. :)

But I know what you mean — her family has done something other than anonymous agricultural labor for longer than most.

Sam December 12, 2006 at 12:08 am

I’ll try to point to make some points about my stance:

1. People tend to congregate into tribes. Self-Ruling Hermits are far and few between.

2. Each tribe is concerned with its own preservation. Tribes are generally not that concerned about other tribes.

3. Each tribe likes to be independent of other tribes.

4. If there is drastic shortage of resources then tribes fight it out to see which tribe gets the control of the remaining resources.

5. In tribal conflicts winners takes all, tough luck to losers.

6. Tribes can be in larger forms such as city-states, countries, monarchies, nation, etc. I don’t see why a nation-state is that different from a simple tribe except in numbers.

7. Individual particaption can personally profit by scavenging deceased losers for their possessions say gold and silver.

8. Perhaps the traditional way the average person (those from the winning side and may have not fought as such) can profit is access to property and land of the newly annexed territory (a.k.a settlers/pioneers).

9. Some folks might not like imperialism, but not-nice as it is, it has given us the varous nation-states that exist today. Do those Libertarian who prattle on about their own plot of land consider that the land once belonged to native folk and they were usually forcibly removed from their land?

10. Do Libertarians believe that nation-states created from imperialism, as found in North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, etc., should have a big Sorry Ceremony, return property rights to the native folk, and then trade peacefully to see if they get the property back?

11. Personally, I believe there are ultimately three groups of people: average, strong, weak. The average must be where Libertarians are, too strong to pushed around, not strong enough to desire pushing around others (not that I am saying pushing anyone around is a good thing). The strong obviously have such imperialist desire to bully, rule and be served. And finally the weak are too, well, weak to stand up for themselves and are willing to serve those strong folk who provide, for a fee, protection from other strong folk.

Unfortunately, the strong are few, the average are not so few, but the weak are many. Everyday proof of this is the way that few people are rich business-employers, not so few people seek self-employment, however most seek employment from the rich employers.

12. A ray of hope though: as the world does become interconnected and interdependent, hopefully war become unacceptably expensive to everyone. The quagmire that is the Iraq War does seem to show this might be happening. Oh well time will tell though . . .

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