War Thoughts

This is a comment of mine on Samizdata last summer, which I think is worth posting:

The problem I see with the libertarian pro-war position is that libertarians don't have recourse to the most powerful argument for the war: that it made the world a better place. Non-libertarians can yammer on about freeing poor Iraqis who were crushed under the thumb of Saddam Hussein, and that's definitely a benefit. But Libertarians don't believe it is OK to steal money via taxes and spend it on other people. Hence they can't use this argument.

Instead, they must argue that Hussein's Iraq was a threat to the US. Not merely a threat, but such a direct threat that its worth initiating force to stop it. And enough a threat as to outweigh the invasion's huge negative consequences in lives and money on the US.

This argument doesn't seem so unreasonable for the Taliban. Or for North Korea (weapons merchant to the world's dictators). But I don't see how this can be justified for Iraq. Iraq had no WMD's, almost nothing to do with 9/11, and no real capability to hurt the USA. Yet we've already spent a hundred billion and a thousand American lives.

If we count Iraqi freedom on the ledger, maybe its worth it. But libertarians don't get to do that. They don't believe its OK to steal taxpayers money to fight for freedom. Libertarians only get to check whether the "such an immediate threat that it's worth attacking" criterion was fulfilled. I don't think it was anywhere near fulfilled for Iraq.

I also find it laughable that libertarians, who normally believe the government is notoriously incompetent at even simple tasks, are calling for it to handle a massive, complex, difficult, multilayered task like eliminating worldwide terrorism. I wish that poverty could be eliminated - but I don't trust the government to do it. Same for infectious disease, lack of education, and all the other things that make the world an imperfect place. Why is terrorism any different? Is it really so much worse than the other problems facing the world that it's worth putting resources into this horribly wasteful, inefficient, plodding piece of crap that is government?

(The cost and death numbers are higher since I posted that in the summer of 2004, of course.)

If a libertarian wants to defend the Iraq invasion, they'd better convert to a utilitarian or a consequentalist. In which case, they may turn out to be right about the war, but now I have a much better chance to sell them the whole consequentalist memeplex . Not a bad gambit.

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They can do so in the case

They can do so in the case of fraud.

Right, but again that's only when fraud is implicit theft, e.g. I promise to sell you apples but deliver rocks. If someone promises to marry me, then doesn't do it, then I don't deserve compensation because no implicit theft occurred.

Do you believe that a libertarian can’t do anything if a neighbor decides to peacefully store explosives in a place that endangers his neighbors property?

Well, in a certain sense it can't be peaceable if it endangers your property. I think you're really asking what happens if A puts B at risk to injury via his ignorance, and the answer is that ignorance doesn't make aggression any less dangerous. If some blind person likes to shoot his gun a lot, then it's moral for me to attack him and take the gun, even if the blind man doesn't know I was being shot at. Of course it might not come to that; we could negotiate about the gun first, for example. But in the most extreme circumstances you are justified in defending yourself against aggressors, even if they themselves are ignorant that their actions constitute unjust aggression.

Market disincentives and boycott are really all a moral person can hope for.

So says you.

I do! The difference between these examples is that mere beliefs about things can't constitute aggression. Not even the mistaken belief that the dynamite in his basement won't harm me constitutes unjust aggression. It's more the act of placing the dynamite there so it endangers me that's the aggression. My neighbor may have all sorts of crazy, prejudiced beliefs, but it's only whether or not he intends to act on them that justice is concerned with. Racism is a belief, namely an unreasonable or prejudiced belief that one ethnic group is inferior to another.

You can't have it both ways I'm afraid; either your peaceful racist community really IS peaceful, in which case they cannot justly be attacked, or they AREN'T peaceful, in which case they can.

Well, in a certain sense it

Well, in a certain sense it can’t be peaceable if it endangers your property. I think you’re really asking what happens if A puts B at risk to injury via his ignorance, and the answer is that ignorance doesn’t make aggression any less dangerous

This is what drives me nuts about defining all wrongs in terms of aggression. Once you stretch the meaning of aggression so that it covers everything that you want it to cover, the word has essentially lost all of its meaning. Or, rather, the word 'aggression' now just means 'all those things that I don't like.' There is no reasonable sense of the word 'aggression' that would allow it to mean that I commit an act of aggression by stockpiling TNT on my property, even if that property sits adjacent to your new hospital.

Once we get the definition that broad, I can use it to justify all sorts of things. Why, for instance, isn't the racist aggressing against me when he refuses to let me eat at his lunch counter? He's actively violating my rights, or at the very least, he's stripping away my dignity. Those are harms even if they aren't physical ones. So if the racist harms me by his actions, he must be aggressing against me, even if harming me wasn't actually his intention. Makes aggression meaningless.

It would make far more sense to call a spade a spade. Aggression involves the use of force against another. Clearly aggression is wrong. But lots of other things are also wrong. Admitting that allows you to avoid all the verbal contortions.

Joe is right. Aggression is

Joe is right. Aggression is a specific concept, and storing TNT somewhere doesn't fit. But storing TNT in the middle of a neighborhood may still be unexceptable (unexceptable risk of danger to others).

There is no reasonable sense

There is no reasonable sense of the word ‘aggression’ that would allow it to mean that I commit an act of aggression by stockpiling TNT on my property, even if that property sits adjacent to your new hospital.

It is true that 'aggression' also denotes intent on the part of the person to cause harm. The problem that Brian has is what happens when two people disagree about whether something will cause physical harm (presumably what he meant by "peaceably stockpiling TNT"). Hence my example with the blind man with a gun, which demonstrates that libertarians need not only respond to aggression per se, but to rights-violating behavior. So you're correct, it's not technically aggression, but my point still stands that libertarianism justifies the use of defensive force even when the rights-violator is ignorant of the harm he causes.

Stefan, If libertarianism

Stefan,

If libertarianism justifies the use of aggressive force against rights-violators, then why can't libertarians force racists to serve non-whites? There are lots of different ways to violate rights, after all. Are you really willing to go with something that broad?

I wasn't too concerned about

I wasn't too concerned about what the TNT stockpilers estimation of the danger. I was using a reasonable person test and was assuming the stockpiler was being unreasonable. What I was concerned about was whether the neighbor had the right to initiate force.

I think intent matters in this case only to the level of crime being committed against the neighbor. If the intention was to harm the neighbor then the crime might be attempted murder. However if the intent was only say, to make fireworks, then perhaps a lesser crime like negligent endangerment (I'm making this up as I have no law background).

Be aware that I have not actually given any actual argument that I would use against "peaceful racist communities". If I have enough time in the next couple weeks I may take a crack at writing an article on my blog, but I don't have time right now. There are several unrelated arguments which I believe can be used to argue against allowing peaceful racist communities.

I only wanted to show in these comments that it doesn't all boil down to initiation of "force". I would go further though. I don't think it all boils down to "initiation of force or fraud" as some libertarians have posited.

I gave a hint on the land sales issue. Now here's another hint in the form of two questions.

Now what about the case of a fellow who builds a bonfire on his property. He does so in a very safe manner that no reasonable person believes would harm anyone. However he does so in the form of a thirty foot cross, and his neighbors are black.

How about if a person discovers that a neighbor has a spider phobia and builds a six foot high lifelike statue of a spider on his side of a boundary with the neighbors entranceway?

I think neither of the above constitutes force or fraud. Nor do they endanger someone, which is a separate concept. They do however cause fear. In one case reasonable fear and the other case unreasonable.

Another unrelated question that is actually rather deep though it seems shallow. Why do you think you have a right to exclude others from using certain physical objects that you call your property? Note that I am not asking why you think you own it but why you think you have the right to initiate force against someone for say simply walking on a piece of land. Suppose someone else just doesn't recongnize the idea of property. What gives you the right to impose your world view on them?

Note the similarity of this issue to the TNT with regards to assessments of danger. In this case it seems to be an assessment of what would lead to the least conflict over resources. Is it merely your assessment that everyone would be better off if we had property rights that is the basis for forcing a different system on the other fellow?

If libertarianism justifies

If libertarianism justifies the use of aggressive force against rights-violators, then why can’t libertarians force racists to serve non-whites? There are lots of different ways to violate rights, after all. Are you really willing to go with something that broad?

You'll have to be a little more clear what you mean by these "different ways". Both you and Macker seem to be carrying a mysterious assumption amounting to "racism violates rights" - which it doesn't, by itself, merely being a certain kind of nasty prejudice. I've already acknowledged that, like militant religious views and sexism, racism has a tendency in some situations to motivate rights-violations (the era of the lynch mob comes to mind). But to advocate attacking people "in self defense" simply because they hold racist beliefs is no different in kind from advocating the same for statists, or sexists, etc. There are better ways to fight such evils. I understand the moral opprobrium you guys feel toward racists, and I share it, but blithely tossing around remarks about attacking and/or injuring racists is not the right attitude to take.

As for breadth, I don't think you can just automatically shoot a blind guy shooting at you with a gun, anymore than I think you can shoot a baby if that's the only way to keep it from treading on your toes (Roderick Long's example). But like it or not, there are cases where people violate rights and are either unaware of it or deny it (a polluting factory comes to mind), and nothing of such cases magically absolves you of the right to defend yourself in earnest need.

I think neither of the above

I think neither of the above constitutes force or fraud. Nor do they endanger someone, which is a separate concept. They do however cause fear. In one case reasonable fear and the other case unreasonable.

I would disagree - the first example could be interpreted as a death threat, at least in the deep South of a hundred years ago (in point of fact you'll note that the KKK was not one of these hypothetical "peaceful racist communities"). As for the second case, libertarianism only asks if it's just to display the spider on your lawn, and I believe it is. It says nothing about how your action will make you regarded in the community, or even whether your action is good. It only asks if the action constitutes physical force or fraud. Why stop at displaying spiders? Imagine a person with a huge movie screen showing hardcore pornography 24 hours per day, or someone publicly eating the remains of his dead brother, et al.

However if the intent was only say, to make fireworks, then perhaps a lesser crime like negligent endangerment (I’m making this up as I have no law background).I only wanted to show in these comments that it doesn’t all boil down to initiation of “force". I would go further though. I don’t think it all boils down to “initiation of force or fraud” as some libertarians have posited.

I think this is the essence of libertarianism - what constitutes unjust violence against innocent parties. If you think that doesn't just reduce to force and fraud, then you have to show how force and fraud don't exhaust the boundaries of justice and rights.

Be aware that I have not actually given any actual argument that I would use against “peaceful racist communities". If I have enough time in the next couple weeks I may take a crack at writing an article on my blog, but I don’t have time right now. There are several unrelated arguments which I believe can be used to argue against allowing peaceful racist communities.

Well all I was concerned with was what I thought was the claim that libertarianism might allow you, Brian Macker (or your agents) to forcefully prevent peaceful racists from buying/homesteading land. If interfering with racists' rights can be justified, then I think all the ugly statist positions that most people take on limiting guns, prostitution, buying, selling, etc can also be justified for the same reasons. If you want to advocate that any behavior you dislike should be punishable by law, then just say so. That's at the very least a more consistent position than maintaining that everyone should have rights except racists.

Another unrelated question

Another unrelated question that is actually rather deep though it seems shallow. Why do you think you have a right to exclude others from using certain physical objects that you call your property? Note that I am not asking why you think you own it but why you think you have the right to initiate force against someone for say simply walking on a piece of land. Suppose someone else just doesn’t recongnize the idea of property. What gives you the right to impose your world view on them?

Yeah this is a pretty deep question. :sweat:

Well, to start off, exclusive access to a resource is traditionally part of what is meant by "ownership", along with the right to transfer and generally control the disposition of the property (this last point leads to trouble when people start imagining that ideas can be owned, but that's a story for another time). This may not be much of an answer, but exclusion is important because property, well, just isn't property without it. Imagine two confused people who both thought they "owned" a pair of socks; they would tear the socks apart trying to wear the same left sock on each of their left feet in the same respect. Or for another example, if you accept that property rights in things are a natural extension of our property rights over our own limbs and organs, then since I can justly exclude someone from trampling over my right arm and crushing my fingers, so I can exlude someone from trampling onto my lawn and crushing my daisies, although obviously a different degree of force is required in each case. That I can justly do so underlies the fact that justice is universal, applying equally to every man. Thus, if it's just for men to trample my fingers, it must be just for me to trample theirs. But since this kind of system is an affront to what goodness is, it must be that each man can exclude others from trampling on his fingers and toes equally AND fully; that is to say, completely.

This underlies the motivation that Rothbard gives for considering property rights in the first place; namely, that most resources have to get used by someone at some point, or else all humans would die of starvation and disease. For example, two people can't both eat a pizza at the same time and in the same respect. It sounds nice to posit a "communal world" where we all sort of own a part of everyone and everything, but I agree with Rothbard that any attempt to implement such a system will necessarily devolve into a system of class rule, of one group ruling another in some fashion, which again violates the logical requirement that morals are universal, applying to the same kind of beings in the same way (reminiscent of Kant's categorical imperative).

The utilitarian justification for property that you cite comes from Adam Smith, and is basically someting like a "stewardship system" where everyone is the "steward" of his property, and that it leads to benefits for everyone because each man has an incentive to develop and maintain his own property to the best of his ability. This is certainly a plesant consequence of a philosophy of liberty, but I'm not certain it represents a full and complete justification for it. At any rate, once again exclusion is necessary, because otherwise you cannot be expected to be a faithful steward if others can use your property with impunity (now imagine two farmers who are confused about property rights, and both try to plant their crops on each others fields, continually plowing up the other guy's seeds to plant their own).

The upshot of all this is that a system of property rights can indeed be applied to those who are ignorant of it; popularly known as "ignorance is no excuse". Indeed, you could even argue that thieves commit theft because in their ignorance they don't understand what property rights are. In your example, it's not just any piece of land, but MY piece of land that the foul cretin is daring to tread on with his toes. I can't shoot him for doing it, but I can respond with proportionate force to remove him. As you can imagine, identifying what is proportionate and what is not can be a tricky task (the abortion debate is partly a debate over whether killing and then shoving outside an unconscious stowaway on an airplane bound for a 9-month trip is moral).

I'm sorry if this isn't a complete answer, but I would encourage you to read up on Rothbard and the many scholars and writers who throughout the century of western thought have attempted to explicate and describe the nature of property, including but not limited to: Smith, Locke, Hobbes, Proudhon, Marx, Rothbard, Hoppe, Nozick, Bastiat, Spencer, Molinari, Mises, D. Friedman.

'Well all I was concerned

'Well all I was concerned with was what I thought was the claim that libertarianism might allow you, Brian Macker (or your agents) to forcefully prevent peaceful racists from buying/homesteading land. If interfering with racists’ rights can be justified, then I think all the ugly statist positions that most people take on limiting guns, prostitution, buying, selling, etc can also be justified for the same reasons. If you want to advocate that any behavior you dislike should be punishable by law, then just say so. That’s at the very least a more consistent position than maintaining that everyone should have rights except racists.”

If I wanted to lock racists up just for thinking they are better than others then I would have not have used the term “racist communities”. My presumption is that racist communities need to use exclusionary tactics, thus my reference to Hoppe. Not just the tactics that Hoppe specifies either. I used the term “peaceful” because it’s quite clear that Libertarianism already, at least philosophically, excludes the possibility of “violent racist communities”. There are exclusionary practices that are not “violent” and that don’t “initiate force” that I think do violate the rights of others. Racist land covenants among other practices. Setting up a "peaceful" racist community requires more than merely thinking bad of other people.

Getting back to Patri's

Getting back to Patri's original argument:

The problem I see with the libertarian pro-war position is that libertarians don’t have recourse to the most powerful argument for the war: that it made the world a better place. Non-libertarians can yammer on about freeing poor Iraqis who were crushed under the thumb of Saddam Hussein, and that’s definitely a benefit. But Libertarians don’t believe it is OK to steal money via taxes and spend it on other people. Hence they can’t use this argument.

As others have said above, this is a flawed argument. It suggests that libertarians can't argue in favor of any project undertaken by the government no matter how good. This is nonsense.

Consider three alternatives: A) Nobody does anything about Iraq. B) The U.S. Government steals money from taxpayers and uses it to liberate the Iraqis. C) Concerned individuals raise private funding for a military force to liberate the Iraqis. A libertarian could easily rank these in order of preference C, B, A without having to turn in his libertarian id badge and decoder ring.

A "pro-war libertarian" would then argue in favor of taxpayer-supported warfare ahead of doing nothing, while simultaneously arguing in favor of privately-supported warfare ahead of taxpayer-supported warfare. Is it any surprise that the discussions tend to focus on the merits of B versus A while ignoring the merits of C versus B? Why spend time discussing something that clearly is not going to happen?

Patri himself agrees that taxpayer funding is sometimes okay:

Instead, they must argue that Hussein’s Iraq was a threat to the US. Not merely a threat, but such a direct threat that its worth initiating force to stop it.

By Patri's criteria, even this would not be a satisfactory argument. The defense being undertaken on behalf of "the US" would still be financed by coercive means - which I thought all good libertarians (especially we anarcho-capitalist weirdos) were against. Presumably he means that coerced funding in the face of an imminent threat (B) is better than doing nothing (A), but worse than a voluntarily-supported defensive force which doesn't currently exist but would be nice to have (C ). This is a pretty sophisticated argument, one which he seeks to deny to the pro-war libertarians.

Patri: Bill might wish that

Patri:

Bill might wish that we had a private program for feeding the hungry, but if we don’t, he thinks its good to have a government welfare system fudned by taxes. [etc...] It seems to me that Bill is not a libertarian. [etc...]

How is the war on Iraq any different?

Jonathan:

My argument is that the current societal structure already exists - the Man already gots your money and has tanks and guns at his disposal.

Patri:

If we could use the existing military resources to increase freedom without increasing the future military resources, I’d support that. But this is not such a case.

I doubt there would ever be such a case. There isn't going to be any significant additional freedom to be had at zero marginal cost (in the immortal words of Neal Peart, "You can't have freedom for free"). Simply maintaining ongoing operations will have a cost. I think Jonathan's argument sidesteps the question.

How is the war in Iraq different from welfare, the FDA, and national parks? That's an easy one. Libertarians can make a reasonable case that if the government stopped providing charity, drug safety assurance, and park management that the private sector would smoothly and rapidly begin providing them. Privatization of these valuable services would be straight-forward and relatively free of complications. Furthermore, you could make a case that even if you simply halted the growth in these government programs, any increase in demand for those services would be met through private enterprise - more efficiently and effectively than through the government.

This is not the case with the military. An increased demand for military services (such as the invasion of Iraq and consequent liberation of the Iraqis, or if you prefer, the defense against a new and previously unanticipated military threat) cannot be efficiently or even effectively provided through private enterprise at this time. Right now, if we want military services on the scale of national defense or national invasion, the government is our only feasible choice.

The best option we have for non-coercive provision of military services is to defund the military through taxation and instead fund it through voluntary contributions. The next step would probably be splitting the military into various independently funded projects, much like a corporation spinning off subsidiaries. And finally, perhaps, evolving into for-profit organizations with subscription-based revenue, operating and capital expenses, and stock issuance. Poof, AnCapTopia! But don't pretend that it's remotely as likely as selling off Parks and Rec, or even cutting the Medicare budget by half.

Libertarians should be free to advocate for the better choices in an imperfect world without being stripped of their bona fides by the utopians.

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There are exclusionary

There are exclusionary practices that are not “violent” and that don’t “initiate force” that I think do violate the rights of others. Racist land covenants among other practices. Setting up a “peaceful” racist community requires more than merely thinking bad of other people.

Well first off I have to disagree with your terms; any rights violations are necessarily reducible to force or fraud, because libertarian rights relate to the security of your property, the violation of which by definition is force or fraud (implicit theft). If I read you right you're worried that a racist community will unjustly exclude people of a certain ethnic group from homesteading a house in their "peaceful racist city", in which case those people would be justified in calling their private defense agency and battling it out with the racists.

I think the problem here is that you and the hypothetical racists disagree on the role of public property. I realize some anarchists believe that a perfectly libertarian society would involve everything being privately owned, but I don't think that's likely or desirable for several reasons (for example it's not clear to me how it could even come about via homesteading, or that it would benefit society if a neighborhood could restrict you from leaving your house because they all own the property surrounding your house). But what of the rest of the land then? You could either say that it's literally unowned, or else you could postulate that "the community" (in this case meaning people close to the land in question) could "collectively own" it. I think your imaginary racists are taking the latter position and you're taking the former. To verify this all we need ask is what you think is justiied if the positions were reversed? That is, suppose a nasty racist wanted to homestead land surrounded by those he hated; in your opinion would the community be justified in excluding him on the basis of public property (or something similar), or not?

I personally am not sure either way of the role public property would play; I think it should play some role, but it would likely lead to the ugly scenario you describe if in fact a peaceful racist community existed.

The problem I see with the

The problem I see with the libertarian pro-war position is that libertarians don’t have recourse to the most powerful argument for the war: that it made the world a better place. Non-libertarians can yammer on about freeing poor Iraqis who were crushed under the thumb of Saddam Hussein, and that’s definitely a benefit. But Libertarians don’t believe it is OK to steal money via taxes and spend it on other people. Hence they can’t use this argument.

I think this is a mischaracterization of what "Libertarians... believe". Libertarians don't believe that money should be stolen via taxes in order to be preferentially distributed to other people. Being Libertarian (as opposed to anarchist) means that you think there are some legitimate exercises of government power.

If the protection of natural rights aren't a legitimate use of government power to a libertarian, then what is? What could we possibly agree on if we can't agree that murder, political imprisonment and theft (life, liberty and property) should be protected?

What this argument really comes down to is whether or not the US should protect citizens of other countries. There is no doubt that it has the right to -- we are simply arguing whether we should. I think that in this case, we should, because it can work, and it can spread. I think that taking this fight to China, on the other hand, wouldn't work right now -- not that it would be immoral.

Freedom is a human right, not an American right. If you think someone should live in tyranny simply because they were born in the wrong place, then perhaps you would be better off describing yourself as a libertine than a libertarian. Freedom for me, not for thee.