have been complaints that I have not named the "liberventionists." I do not see
the necessity for this, since I assume that readers of this website read widely.
For the record, however, let us stipulate that liberventionists include at least
the following: many Objectivists, the CATO Institute, several self-named "anarchists"
writing on the web, libertarians who harbor the illusion that the Republican Party
is worth more than the proverbial powder to blow it to Hell, and so on.
see no reason to name all these people. Everyone must have run across their
opinion pieces and "blogs" by now. I will not do PR for these characters.
GREAT THEORY ROBBERY
said, there is an amazing intellectual failure at the heart of liberventionism,
that is, the context-dropping erasure of any real distinction between the state,
on the one hand, and society – and, yes, individuals- on the other. I have said
this before, but it bears repeating.
are not the government. The government is not "us." Libertarians ought to be able
to understand that. Hell, conservatives sometimes understand it.
refer to the vast network of personal and impersonal relations and exchanges necessary
to our existence and happiness as "society." Society is not the state,
nor is the state the steering mechanism, "brain," or Great Macro-Organ of society.
The state is an ongoing organization of the "political means to wealth" and is,
therefore, necessarily made up of a minority of the individuals making up a particular
the state is "ongoing" is an interesting question, which I must leave to one side
for now. My point is that states are subsets of societies and impose costs on
society through force, threats of force, and ideological persuasion. And yet,
"we" are not the state, any more than "we" owe the national debt to "ourselves."
elementary distinction was crystal clear to Albert Jay Nock, H. L. Mencken, Frank
Chodorov, Felix Morley, and other founders of libertarian social analysis. It
has been understood, intermittently, by many other thinkers. The point at issue
transcends any present wrangle within libertarian circles, and ought to be of
interest to anyone who lives in a society on top of which there is a state apparatus.
AS MYTH AND JUSTIFICATION
brings me to someone who writes on a website
named for a famous pamphlet by a 19th-century
individualist anarchist. I know little about the website and nothing about
Mr. Tim Starr, whose essay I mean to interrogate in aid of finding key symptoms
of the liberventionist syndrome. The essay, "War
Is Not Criminal Justice," seems a perfect example of some libertarians’ flight
piece is also remarkable for its embrace, odd in a professed libertarian, of the
policy of Total War, an embrace which would be odd enough for someone who only
professed to be a human being. I hasten to add that, as a matter of historical
fact, that many people have embraced Total War, particularly in the lovely 20th
century. Whether that was the best thing they could have done is another matter.
essay claims to answer a
piece by Gene Callahan on Lew Rockwell’s
website. Callahan is quite capable of defending himself. Here I am only interested
in Starr’s doctrines as they emerge from his essay.
complains that Callahan mistakenly makes an issue of whether or not the hundreds
of thousand Japanese civilians done to death by US aircraft "were necessarily
to blame for their government and military’s war against the USA." They were not,
he says, but that doesn’t matter.
is all right to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people because that is
the nature of modern war.
an assertion might tempt one to ask if modern war is at bottom an inherently criminal
enterprise, but Mr. Starr is not troubled. No, he says, "because of the total
mobilization of the Japanese economy" and plans to involve the whole population
"in the event of US ground invasion," Japanese civilians "still contributed to
the Japanese military threat to the USA."
no one is really innocent in modern war, because the war-making state apparatus
- a minority of the population, remember – enrolls everyone in its projects.
us try this argument out in reverse. Once FDR had his war, he and his government
proceeded to their own national-socialist "total mobilization" of the American
economy. Under these conditions, every American employed in industrial production
was therefore a fair "target" for Japanese air attacks, had the Japanese been
capable of making them. I daresay it looks a little different from this end of
wait, Starr concedes that Japanese civilians "not engaged in war production or
in the militia" might not have been, strictly speaking, proper targets. Unhappily,
the bombs of the day were not all that accurate, so in practice everyone in Japanese
cities was a target anyway. It’s no one’s fault, really. We have to bomb and sauve
Could the Japanese government have made the same argument, had they been able
to obliterate all of Seattle while "intending" to take out some munitions factories?
Is this merely a question of whose ox was gored?
the common law principle of estoppel,
I submit that on the Total Warriors’ own theory, they cannot deny to Japanese
forces the "right" to obliterate Seattle if they
(the US Total Warriors) simultaneously hold that
US forces had a "right" to burn down most of the cities in Japan. Such a "right,"
on either side, did not exist.
defenders of Total War claim that, given industrialization and economic mobilization,
hardly anyone is a non-combatant, really. This is said to be the inexorable "logic"
of modern war. Under the plea of military "necessity" traceable to (among others)
Francis Lieber, a German immigrant who rationalized Abraham Lincoln’s experiments
in Total War, Total Warriors also claim that making war on the enemy’s entire
society is also "lawful."
if these are the "laws" or rules inseparable from modern warfare, both sides may
play by them. If they may not, some reason should be given why this is so. The
best that US Total Warriors, including liberventionists, seem to have to offer
is the claim that the Good may always kill the Bad out of hand.
the case of libertarian warmongers, the Good vs. Bad doctrine may have an organic
relation to the peculiar Randian doctrine of imperialism. Randians often maintain
that "free societies" may always launch aggressions against "unfree societies,"
when the busy schedule of the former permit such philanthropies. Libertarian deployment
of the Good vs. Bad card may also derive from the Neo-Conservative drive toward
exporting "democracy" worldwide by armed violence, as opportunities arise.
Starr’s commentary resembles those lifeboat arguments so loved by libertarians
of a certain mindset. His examples simply involve larger numbers fighting over
the one available raft or hanging from the flagpole five stories from the ground.
These are fun, I suppose, but don’t often teach us anything useful.
holds, as noted, that people producing war materials and those in the militia
were "fair game." It is nice to see a notion of fairness creep into American strategic
thinking, but it may not be enough. What about people making food, medicine, wool
socks? Might not those things be useful to the Japanese army? What about people
making things which kept the munitions workers alive? Are they fair game? After
all, the arms-makers could not make arms, if the farmers didn’t farm, and the
farmers couldn’t farm, I suppose, if the scythe-maker didn’t make scythes.
is no logical stopping point short of making war on the entire economy and society
of the enemy. That is pretty much what the United States did with its bombing
campaigns against Japan. Under Total War reasoning it is hard to see why every
Japanese should not have been killed.
Starr writes that any Japanese civilians killed, over and above those he has specified,
were – you guessed it – "collateral damage, whose death and wounding are properly
the fault of the Japanese government/military, not the US." As a substitute for
thought, as a mere slogan, "collateral damage" has certainly earned its keep,
but it does not seem a very satisfactory explanation of what happens when you
firebomb whole cities.
this argument, if, hypothetically, a subset of American society called the state
pursues policies that kill off half million or more Iraqis, this is morally the
fault of a subset of Iraqi society, i.e., the Iraqi state, aka Saddam Hussein
and his subordinates. On the face of it, it appears that the US government killed
off the Iraqis, however indirectly, and blamed Hussain for making them do it.
Well, they still did it. The US government then points to a smaller number of
Iraqis killed by the Iraqi government, as if this absolved the US from its policies.
the face of it, both governments have killed Iraqis, but at last count the US
government was responsible for a much larger number of deaths. Call me cynical,
but how else are we to read this? I suppose we could blame the Iraqis, dead or
otherwise, for the high crime of failing to overthrow Hussain at Uncle Sam’s behest,
but I would rather deal with serious arguments here.
again let us try the peacetime version of Total War reasoning in reverse. I say
"peacetime" because the US and British blockade of Iraq – an act of war
has been repackaged as "sanctions," which are allegedly an instrument of
peace. What if, as an alleged act of making peace, Iraq should blockade the United
States, having previously destroyed much of our infrastructure – water treatment
plants, etc. – and millions of Americans should die as a result of this embargo?
the Iraqi state be blameless in this?
under Total War reasoning, whole societies, rather than their state overlords,
are naturally in conflict, and if these conflicts are so fundamental as to admit
of no solution short of war, or disguised war, is not every American a legitimate
target of the victims of prior US policies? Has not the US government itself put
us in this awkward position?
not the US government logically "estopped" from saying it is wrong for others
now to follow its own bad example with respect to targeting civilians?
LININGS AND GOOD INTENTIONS
is a silver lining for Mr. Starr. After killing as many Japanese as possible
from the air – note that I do not say "necessary" , US occupiers handed
out chocolates, gave the Japanese a liberal constitution and land reform, and
quit killing Japanese. For Starr, this proves US good "intentions," and good intentions
prove conclusively the moral rightness of everything done up to the minute of
finds further proof of US benevolence in the fact that "MacArthur called for massive
famine relief to prevent widespread starvation due to the destruction of
the Japanese merchant marine and railroad networks during the war" (my italics).
Well, who could possibly have done all that and brought the Japanese population
near starvation? Blank out, as Rand used to say.
the ever-noble British government established the precedent by doing its best
to starve the German people, generally, in World War I. The US implicitly endorsed
the British policy. The Good may always starve the Bad.
PACIFIC WAR IN A CONTEXTUAL VACUUM
have said that Starr treats the Pacific war as a huge, if unreal, lifeboat dilemma.
Perhaps that is not quite right. He has, however, left it rather unexplained.
the Japanese just got up one morning, and hating us for our greatness, our democracy,
our liberal values, our superior grooming, up and attacked Pearl Harbor for no
better reasons than those. Or perhaps the US state and the Japanese state
developed imperial rivalries over control of the China market, among other things,
from the late 19th century onward. Perhaps this clash of imperial ambitions
had something to do with the origins of the Pacific war.
Japanese leadership had in mind to treat parts of East Asia much the way the US
treated Latin America. The US, Britain, and the Netherlands informed them that
only mature nations should have empires. The dull Japanese failed to see the logic
of that assertion.
is the general background. The specific background of the Pacific war, on the
US side, has to do with FDR’s desperate search for a means of forcing the American
people into wars they wished to avoid. In that search, he did his level best to
corner the Japanese state leaders so that they would strike back, giving him a
casus belli. Evidently, this worked.
out Japanese society from the Japanese state, and American society from the American
state, seems a good way to bring more realism into the discussion of the Pacific
Starr is more interested in taking up the case of José Padilla. I leave it to
others to argue about that. He does make an interesting observation, however,
in this part of his article: "Rothbardian libertarians like Callahan don’t seem
to understand the international laws of war."
not quite right. We do understand them. These laws have been cobbled together
over time by cynical state actors, who increasingly chose to shred the rules followed
in previous centuries. To the extent that provisions presently exist which might
actually limit the carnage of war, great powers ignore them. One need only think
of the real posture of the US toward the Geneva Convention, as opposed to rhetorical
poses sometimes struck by US representatives when the TV cameras are running.
the laws of war say there is a "right," or that it is "lawful," to obliterate
civilians by bombs or cruise missiles or to starve whole populations because a
state claiming to embody The Hopes of All Mankind doesn’t like some local despot,
the laws of war need renewed scrutiny, deconstruction, and criticism. Libertarians
do not appeal to imperial US rescripts or UN Security Council resolutions for
moral authority. They appeal to the older law of nations, the jus gentium,
grounded in the concept of natural law.
what might we conclude? Tentatively, I suggest the following:
No one should kill civilians.
If a state does kill civilians "belonging" to other states, it is illogical and
hypocritical for it to complain when other states kill "its" civilians.
The various killings referred to in point 2 are wrong.
Someone should set a good example in these matters.
The United States will probably not be the power that sets a good example in these
is needed is a re-evaluation of Just War Theory. By this I mean a discussion that
does not stop with jus ad bellum, i.e, whose cause is just, but takes in
jus in bello, i.e., the question of what means are moral, whether a cause
is just or otherwise. This would mean throwing overboard all that post-1945 pseudo-Christian
Just War theorizing which legitimated nuclear weapons and the like on the rather
thin ground that the hearts of one side were pure.
we need is a further escalation of the radical criticism
of states and state actions to which Murray
Rothbard contributed so much. Rothbard did indeed
understand the bloody 20th century, including
its so-called international laws. Quite rightly, he
rejected it and went back to the sources of Western
freedom and order.