War and the State

I want to talk a bit today about the State and war. In my lifetime the US Empire has always been at war. Sometimes the wars were “hot” and sometimes “cold”; sometimes covert and sometimes overt; sometimes brutal occupations and sometimes brutal bombing campaigns. But whatever form the war took; we have always been at war.

Libertarianism is the opposite of the State and its many wars. The entire body of libertarian law, philosophy, system of ethics, and our beliefs begins with the non-aggression axiom.

Murray Rothbard wrote:

The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence (“aggress”) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a non-aggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.

On an individual level, if I find that my property is being stolen by X, I have the right to use force to prevent the robbery or to apprehend the criminal. I don’t have the right to bomb a house that I suspect he is hiding in or to kill innocent bystanders by shooting at him into a crowd of people. Mr. X may have started the situation and I may use force against Mr. X to apprehend him, but I would be a bigger criminal than he is if I murder innocent bystanders. This situation should be about as non-controversial as any one could come up with. I know of no religion, system of ethics, or system of law that provides for the wanton killing of innocent bystanders just so some man may recover his property.

When one then looks at the bigger picture and sees that nation-States go to war with each other we see that the reality is that groups of people, real humans, go to war with each other in the name of their State. War then is just open violence between groups of people.

An individual may repel an attack by some person or group but he has no right of any kind to draft me into his violent confrontation no matter how righteous his cause. By the same logic we see that the State has no moral right to draft me into one of its violent confrontations — no matter how “righteous” the minions of the State claim it to be.

If an individual is engaged in repelling a violent attack on his person or property he may defend himself but he has no right to make me pay for any of that defense. I hope no one really thinks he does have any financial claim on innocent bystanders. And so it is with the State: it has no right at all to force me to pay for one of its aggressions.

If an individual is engaged in a war against the person or group that attacked his person or property we will freely admit his moral and legal right to conduct the violence against the aggressors. But if he kills any innocents in the process, no claim of “the other party started it” will excuse his murders.

As it is with the individual, so it is with the State. The state may not do other than defend itself against aggressors else it violates libertarian law, morality, and human decency. Rothbard put it this way:

The libertarian’s basic attitude toward war must then be: it is legitimate to use violence against criminals in defense of one’s rights of person and property; it is completely impermissible to violate the rights of other innocent people. War, then, is only proper when the exercise of violence is rigorously limited to the individual criminals. We may judge for ourselves how many wars or conflicts in history have met this criterion.

Following this logic one must conclude that a State has no right to bomb whole cities of innocent people even if those cities contain warriors of the other side.

Old fashioned “international law” had the concept of the “laws of war” and the “laws of neutrality” which held that a nation could not bomb any city that was not on the front line of the conflict. A nation could not use aggression to involve other neutral nations in the conflict. A nation could not block free trade by neutral nations even with a combatant nation in the conflict. The prohibition of the bombardment of all cities not in the front line was a rule of war that held in Western European wars in recent centuries.  That is it held until Britain launched the strategic bombing of civilians in World War II. Now the nations of the world accept the bombing not only of cities but wedding parties, funerals, private homes, and anything the president of the US decides to destroy with his drones or with his other military might.

International law in times past also prevented one nation from using “sanctions” against another nation by threatening the world community if they trade with the sanctioned nation. This well established rule was overturned, again, by the British embargoes against Germany in both world wars but has been taken to new and far reaching extremes by the USA in the last half century.

The State has no right to force me to pay for one of its violent, and illegal, aggressions against some other people — usually on the other side of the globe. This is on top of the fact the State does not have the moral right to use violence to make me pay for anything.

And finally, the US Empire has now reached the point where the government asserts the right to aggress against anyone on the planet using nuclear weapons, drones, economic sanctions, threats, or any other means deemed useful. We have reached a point where the USA sees no law or moral principle as an constraint upon its own actions.

With the rise of the nation-State we have seen war rise to levels of carnage and brutality worthy of a dystopian novel. It is time to recognize that the very concept of the State is at the heart of war. “War is the health of the state.”  If you love God, or the gods, or your children then you have to hate the State and its destruction of human happiness, peace, prosperity, and life.


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