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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6599/the-war-the-government-cannot-win/

The War the Government Cannot Win

May 7, 2007 by

We would all like to see a world without violence and bloodshed. This hardly distinguishes our generation from any that preceded. What is unique about our moment is that we live under a regime that has come to believe that the government itself can produce this result for us if we only give the government enough power, money, and managerial discretion to accomplish this goal. The worst lie of the Bush administration doesn’t concern WMDs. The big lie is that government can accomplish wonderful things if we give it enough power, money, and discretion. No matter how many times we hear it, or in what context, it is always and everywhere a lie. FULL ARTICLE


Evans Munyemesha May 7, 2007 at 10:19 am

“We must regain our confidence in our capacity for self-governance.”

I think that it is a peculiar contradiction to believe both in self-governance while at the same time approving/endorsing such people as Ron Paul to run for public office. If self-governance means that an individual has power, just and right, only to govern oneself, no room is left for such things as a Libertarian Senator—-unless the aim of Lew, Ron Paul and their disciples is to teach one thing and practice another.

Ike Hall May 7, 2007 at 10:27 am


Brilliant and incisive as always. The only small thing you might have expanded on was McVeigh’s connection to the Gulf War, in addition to the Waco tragedy that partially inspired the Oklahoma City bombing. I’m sure many will try to further research it, but a lot of people might say you’re making unsupported connections. Here, though, is a place for folks to start:

“In a book based on interviews before his execution, American Terrorist, McVeigh stated he decapitated an Iraqi soldier with cannon fire on his first day in the war, and celebrated. But he said he later was shocked to be ordered to execute surrendering prisoners, and to see carnage on the road leaving Kuwait City after U.S. troops routed the Iraqi army. In interviews following the Oklahoma City bombing, McVeigh said he began harboring anti-government feelings during the Gulf War. Some question the veracity of this claim in light of McVeigh’s attempts to become a Green Beret after returning from Iraq.”

darjen May 7, 2007 at 11:41 am

I think that it is a peculiar contradiction to believe both in self-governance while at the same time approving/endorsing such people as Ron Paul to run for public office.

It is true that endorsing any government official isn’t exactly in line with libertarian ideals. But, there’s no denying that having Ron Paul as president would be a huge improvement over the status quo.

lester May 7, 2007 at 1:40 pm

that libertarians would be anti war seems so obvious. after all “war is the health of the state”. in the Boston Globe there is this columnists jeff Jacoby who occasionally phones in a decent libertarian rant, usually about our democratic local government. and yet he’s STILL promoting the Iraq war. he even did a column abuot what Amerca will be like if Islam takes it over.

I’m far to new to libertariasm to be any kind of purist, but if you believe in the principles why not apply them to everything rather than just people you don’t like? It shows a lack of faith

Christopher Hettinger May 7, 2007 at 2:17 pm

Lester, most liberals (not american liberals) believe in limiting government. Many of the newer variety secretly or openly desire a restoration of sorts of monarchy over democracy. Only a small fraction, the anarcho-capitalist wing of the libertarian movement actually think dismantlement of the state is possible and practical.

I reserve my judgements on them, due to the fact that I believe any effort to subvert the state is a good and worthy effort. Unless, of course, the ideal is adverse to the principles of liberty.

Gabriel May 7, 2007 at 6:31 pm

I think that it is a peculiar contradiction to believe both in self-governance while at the same time

approving/endorsing such people as Ron Paul to run for public office.

The issue is not as simple as that. Things get more complicated once you realize that “self-governance” in the strict sense is not a

viable option. You can demonstrate this for yourself as follows: (1) declare you are now governing yourself and (2) since you are no longer under their governance, stop paying taxes to federal, state, and local governments. You will soon find yourself tossed in the


You see, the folks in Washington believe that they have authority over you i.e. that they are your government. For better or for worse, as long as you live within the political borders of the United States of America, you will be subject to the authority of the governments (federal, state, and local) of the United States.

Libertarians of the anarcho-capitalism variety believe this set of circumstances to be unfortunate. However, when the time comes to

vote for a Presidential candidate, the question is not whether or not having a federal government is desirable. The fact is, the President, the Congress, and the gaggle of bureaucrats that come with them have authority (by authority I mean power, not necessarily moral authority) over our lives as Americans.

Given reality as it currently exists, voting for a Presidential candidate who will attempt to reign in the power of the government

and allow you the greatest personal freedom is better than ignorantly living your life as though you were completely “self-governed” and the United States government did not exist.

In real life, the consequences of your actions matter at least as much your intentions and goals do.

John Crossman May 7, 2007 at 10:19 pm

I thank you for the clear thinking in this article and I plan to “borrow” most of your arguments in my discussions with friends and colleagues who share my sense of frustration with the current state of the “War on Terror” in particular and our country in general. Like most Americans, we want to be supportive of our country but we have a nagging sense that we are on the wrong path.
The part which I liked the most was how you tied the war into other grand government schemes which often have the unintended consequence of harming precisely those who were targetted to benefit.
The second zinger (and one which the Democrats have singularly failed to pick up on) is how far this merry adventure has caused us to stray from our Constitution and all the assumptions which make it possible. Bush-hatred and the 24 hour news cycle has dumbed down the level of discourse at precisely the time we need to rethink our priorities.
I personally believe that the libertarian ideal is unachievable but that our country will benefit by heading in that direction.

Austin from Tuscaloosa May 8, 2007 at 3:58 am

Lew, imo that was your best article so far this year. This is a very important topic at this time, and you expressed your feelings to the point where they are neither radical or extreme but rather the only way of prudence.

M-la-maudite May 8, 2007 at 6:07 am

Thanks a lot, Lew,
Brilliant piece: i couldn’t agree more on, basically, every single point!

Concerning self-governance, Lew and Ron Paul’s candidacy:

I believe that anarchists or libertarians’ involvement in politics is not necessarily a sign of hypocrisy and i would surely not characterise it as teaching one thing and practicing another. It’s actually a matter of how to survive and be as free as we can, while remaining aware of the sorry state of the current world. When you live in a country controlled by a coercive and absolutely illegitimate state (which is, unfortunately, the lot of pretty much everybody today), you can of course always try to pretend that this is not the case. But that is just the ostrich strategy of closing your eyes on what’s really happening out there. And it’s NOT gonna give you any possibility to reclaim your autonomy and personal sovereignty from the hands of the tyrants.

The only alternative open, besides criticism and denunciation (in which most people here are quite involved anyway), is to support candidates that can restrain governmental powers over us.

I don’t personally agree with all of Senator Paul’s ideas. I have, in particular, a very different position on the question of abortion: being a woman and opposed to any state attempt at telling me what to do with my own body, i rather follow the line defended by Rothbard (in fact, for the exact same reasons he did). This being said, i think that Ron Paul is as close as you can get to an honest politician (obviously a species soon to disappear) and one that is very committed to protect US inhabitants from state-imposed slavery. We should be grateful for that, not dismissive of the effort…

Just for the fun of it, i can’t resist throwing in a few quotes, along the lines of Lew’s article; actually, quite an interesting company-:)

“State is a monster colder than the coldest monster. It tells lies in cold blood and the biggest lie that comes out of its mouth is: I am the state, I am the people. State lies in all the tongues of good and evil; and whatever it says it is lying; and whatever it has it has stolen. Everything in it is false.” – Friedrich NIETZSCHE, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

“It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist. Since each of the three super-states is unconquerable, each is in effect a separate universe within which almost any perversion of thought can be safely practised. War is now a purely internal affair. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word ‘war’, therefore has become misleading.” – George ORWELL, 1984.

And, for all the economists here who are relentlessy pointing out to state faillures:

“Who ever heard of economists’ discussing ‘state failures’? If the state fails to deliver on its claims, let’s call it a state failure. Police claim to protect us from criminals. Social spending is supposed to end poverty. The armed forces say they protect us from hostile foreigners. The school system pretends to educate the entire population to a twelfth grade level. All these claims are absurdly impossible, but no one calls them state failures.” – Allen Thornton, Laws of the Jungle.

Continue the good fight, M-

Evans Munyemesha May 8, 2007 at 11:11 am

dargen: “It is true that endorsing any government official isn’t exactly in line with libertarian ideals. But, there’s no denying that having Ron Paul as president would be a huge improvement over the status quo.”

If it is generally admitted (particularly by Rothbard in his extensive writings) that the evil of political government lies not in the politician but in the structure or the institution of politics, what makes you believe that a libertarian candidate could effectively work within this political structure within succumbing to its overpowering immoral influences? If Rothbard has correctly pointed out government is a system of parasites, and politicians are nothing but a band of robbers (not exactly in the same words, and that taxation is robbery, on what firm or justifiable ground do these libertarian candidates stand to defend their position? If I don’t vote for Mr Ron Paul, which I won’t, where does he acquire the power and right to insist that I should still be governed by his dictates? We must, ladies and gentlemen infer here that some these libertarians are not opposed to government per se, but only to the government in which they do not share malicious power of governing others.

Evans Munyemesha May 8, 2007 at 11:38 am

“When you live in a country controlled by a coercive and absolutely illegitimate state (which is, unfortunately, the lot of pretty much everybody today), you can of course always try to pretend that this is not the case.”

A libertarian who joins the ‘coercive and absolutely illegitimate state’ is not only compromising his libertarian principles and embarrassing himself but as well becomes an abettor of the very thing that he knows to be illegitimate? The proper mode that true libertarians must pursue is that of education and resistance.

“…The only alternative open… is to support candidates that can restrain governmental powers over us.”

Are we to take it here that using coercive powers of the State by libertarian ‘saints’ will lead to our freedom? How? I don’t think, ma’am, that you understand that government once established could not be limited short of total abandonment. Your idea of ‘good’ candidates parallels the idea of the Founding Fathers where they thought that they could convince King George to cut down on his abuses of power but Paine made it clear that the only option, right and natural, was total separation from England.

“…i think that Ron Paul is as close as you can get to an honest politician…and one that is very committed to protect US inhabitants from…”

An ‘honest politician’ is not only an oxymoron but is a beast that has never been discovered under the Sun. A person could not be both honest and a politician for politics is the business of dishonest and immoralities. And, indeed, why should adults look for a political nanny to protect them from anything? How could a single man look out for the interests of over 300 million Americans? How could he know these interests? Are the interests of Americans uniform or divergent?

Michael Hargett May 8, 2007 at 12:09 pm

The candidacy and campaign of Ron Paul can, if nothing more, open a national forum, however briefly, on the rights of the individual and their diametric opposition to the authorized powers of the government.

Ron Paul himself will be viewed as either a villainous kook or quixotic hero by those paying attention to his campaign. The positive side is that his statements should garner attention in either case, thus giving proponents of true liberty an opportunity to further clarify the axiom of self ownership mentioned only in sound bite by Paul himself.

Another benefit of a Ron Paul campaign is an opportunity to meet and interact on a regional level with like-minded individuals. Such a psychological boost for people like myself, who cannot afford to visit the Mises Institute in Alabama, may offer the chance to form a local Austrian society, book club or think-tank whereby we can challenge city and state officials to embrace the principles of true liberty and kick-start a movement reclaiming natural rights in small circles.

Finally, I believe Ron Paul has an alternate agenda for his campaign. He wishes to make everybody aware of the looming threat of a national ID card. He mentioned it in the first debate and it will likely become a plank in his platform, along with part of his stump speech.

If he fails to become President and fails to halt the issuance of a national ID card, the people of the US cannot claim ignorance. He can point to them and say, “I told you it was coming. You could have beaten back this legislation. Your journey to serfdom has gained momentum and will be even more difficult to halt now.”

Jacob Steelman May 8, 2007 at 8:40 pm

The war in Iraq is all about oil and the control oil. War and continual upheaval in the Middle East will help to keep up the price of oil. An administration controlled by oil interests have no incentive for peace and that is why this administration will make sure the USA is entangled in Iraq and the Middle East so deeply that it will take years after this current administration is gone for the USA to leave Iraq no matter how committed a new administration is to withdrawing from Iraq. Consider how long it took for the USA to negotiate an end to the Vietnam war. The first president’s admonishment to avoid becoming entangled in foreign alliances was good advice then as it is now.

Paul May 8, 2007 at 11:12 pm

“..from Chapter 8 of Human Action: “A Critique of the Holistic and Metaphysical View of Society.”]5/5/07 blog, 3rd paragraph:
“This is the philosophy which has characterized from time immemorial the creeds of primitive tribes. It has been an element in all religious teachings. Man is bound to comply with the law issued by a superhuman power and to obey the authorities which this power has entrusted with the enforcement of the law….”

First paragraph this blog: “…That is because there is something more powerful than government: namely economic law.”

My question; How is your use of ‘economic law’ different from: “philosophy which has characterized from time immemorial the creeds of primitive tribes. It has been an element in all religious teachings.”

From my understanding of Austrian or any other approach to economics there is no body of work that can be called a ‘Law’. Your use of the term ‘economic law’ has an authority that must have been “issued by a superhuman power”

I like what you seem to be working towards but I don’t think it helps if we replace one slogan with another.

Michael Hargett May 9, 2007 at 6:23 am


If I were to speak of the power of the natural laws of motion, would I be invoking a supernatural force? What of the power of the natural laws of thermodynamics?

Laws of nature are universal and demonstrable and it follows that certain economic principles fit this mold of universality and demonstrability. Therefore, if the principle is universal and demonstrable then that principle fits into the category of a law of nature.

There is no mystical force in the orbit of planets, just as there is no deity meddling in the machinations of daily business transactions. When too many bank notes chase too few products and prices rise, it isn’t the dollar djinni at work, it’s a law of economics.

M-la-maudite May 10, 2007 at 1:35 pm


I never claimed that libertarians were saints, that the state would become acceptable if more libertarian leaning politicians were elected, or that any person or group of persons can adequately look after the lives of millions of individuals. I didn’t because i don’t believe in any such thing as an acceptable state, unless every person under its authority has given her personal consent to it (by actual/real and not tacit contract). I guess, we agree on this…

Now, i was just trying to point out that, between two evils, you’re always better off with the least. Seeing the gravity of today’s political and legal situation, a change of administration after the next elections could hardly worsen things. In particular, it wouldn’t be bad to see changes in the line of, say, respect for Habeas Corpus and abolition of the IRS, and to see the ID-card project repudiated; right? It doesn’t mean that everything would be perfect; yet, it means that things would be relatively better.

Because these and other similar measures would actually give more freedom to millions of people, even though (clearly) not complete freedom, it makes sense (for some of us) to support reforms and reformers rather than hinder them. I don’t see where the hypocrisy is. The question is not one of establishing a new libertarian state or of justifying (let alone aiding or abetting) any such type of institution; the issue is: who is gonna be elected at the head of the already existing federal government? Sad but true, we are not being offered the possibility to revoke it altogether.

This being, i am all in favour of education, resistance and (as i said earlier) denunciation myself. But using in addition alternative available strategies (including voting) cannot harm anyone, as long as it is done to get less government and more freedom. I think this is also Darjen’s point, and that of those people here who would rather see the most libertarian possible candidate get elected.

By the way, if you see this as compromising and embarrassing – what do you think of the LP, then? and of Rothbard’s involvement in it?

Finally, i’m personally an anarchist, but many libertarians (L. von Mises, for one) are/were minarchists. Do you really think that they should be condemned for abetting the current system? Personally, i would rather think that in spite of internal disagreements (about the exact limits of libertarianism, etc.) we all fight the same fight for the same aim; namely, reducing state-power.

Sans rancune, M-

Luke May 18, 2007 at 12:53 am

I’ve actually been quite surprised in general by the antipathy directed at Ron Paul and his campaign for the Presidency from people who advocate either limited government or market anarchism.

There have been some excellent points made in the posts above, but I think the arguments just really come down to strategy and how people believe we should get from here to a ‘better’ society.

I think Rothbard argues well in his discussion of a strategy for liberty and the characterization of certain libertarians into the camps of “left-wing sectarianism” or “right-wing opportunism” in the final chapter of For a New Liberty.

“In the field of strategic thinking, it behooves libertarians to heed the lessons of the Marxists, because they have been thinking about strategy for radical social change longer than any other group. Thus, the Marxists see two critically important strategic fallacies that “deviate” from the proper path: one they call “left-wing sectarianism”; the other, and oppos­ing, deviation is “right-wing opportunism.” The critics of libertarian “extremist” principles are the analog of the Marxian “right-wing oppor­tunists.” The major problem with the opportunists is that by confining themselves strictly to gradual and “practical” programs, programs that stand a good chance of immediate adoption, they are in grave danger of completely losing sight of the ultimate objective, the libertarian goal. He who confines himself to calling for a two percent reduction in taxes helps to bury the ultimate goal of abolition of taxation altogether. By concentrating on the immediate means, he helps liquidate the ultimate goal, and therefore the point of being a libertarian in the first place. If libertarians refuse to hold aloft the banner of the pure principle, of the ultimate goal, who will? The answer is no one, hence another major source of defection from the ranks in recent years has been the erroneous path of opportunism….

…If, then, the libertarian must advocate the immediate attainment of liberty and abolition of statism, and if gradualism in theory is contradic­tory to this overriding end, what further strategic stance may a libertarian take in today’s world? Must he necessarily confine himself to advocating immediate abolition? Are “transitional demands,” steps toward liberty in practice, necessarily illegitimate? No, for this would fall into the other self-defeating strategic trap of “left-wing sectarianism.” For while libertarians have too often been opportunists who lose sight of or under-cut their ultimate goal, some have erred in the opposite direction: fearing and condemning any advances toward the idea as necessarily selling out the goal itself. The tragedy is that these sectarians, in condemning all advances that fall short of the goal, serve to render vain and futile the cherished goal itself. For much as all of us would be overjoyed to arrive at total liberty at a single bound, the realistic prospects for such a mighty leap are limited. If social change is not always tiny and gradual, neither does it usually occur in a single leap. In rejecting any transitional ap­proaches to the goal, then, these sectarian libertarians make it impossible for the goal itself ever to be reached. Thus, the sectarians can eventually be as fully “liquidationist” of the pure goal as the opportunists them­selves.”

Browning May 23, 2007 at 3:59 am

Its a very nice article. But sometimes, Mr. Rockwell just goes too far in his rhetoric. Addressing the war of 1991, he writes “US-approved Iraqi invasion of its former province”.
Well, I am no friend of a state aggression, but small nations need bigger guys as friends in order to survive. Estonia, for instance, is a former Russian province. Would it be OK, according to Mr. Rockwell, for Russia to invade and re-occupy it?

Lauren July 22, 2007 at 3:02 pm

I am not a political analyst, but I’m not stupid. Since 9/11 I try to read everything I can regarding what may be in store for us as a nation of Americans.

Thank you for articulating what happened during that debate, as it pertains to Rudy and Ron Paul.

I don’t consider myself to be a purist in terms of selecting a candidate from one party over another. I am a registered Independent Voter.

I plan to campaign locally for Ron Paul in spite of what his detractors may say regarding his position on religion and some of the distasteful comments regarding people of color in the past. I believe those things pale in comparison to what our present administration has in mind for us.

James Mosher October 15, 2007 at 2:50 pm

Dear Messrs. Rockwell, Tucker et al.

Ron Paul is a fine man, probably the finest person in government today. I am glad he’s running and I’m supporting him (financially and otherwise). Ron is raising the quality of debate immeasurably. He’s saying things the public has needed to hear for a long, long time and needs to hear over and over again.

That said, I dislike the use of party politics with its overemphasis on campaign fund-raising as a platform for disseminating libertarian ideas. I’m reminded of what Hayek said about inflation and credit expansion…using the things that got us into the mess in the first place as the way out? Party politics as the means of restoring the free market and limited government? Not likely to succeed despite the wonderful of efforts of Dr. Paul.

Best, James Mosher.

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