War Socialists

Olly Neville January 29, 2013 33
War Socialists

To take the massive simplification – socialists on the left (liberals) want the state to interfere in the boardroom but not the bedroom, socialists on the right (conservatives) want the state to interfere in the bedroom but not the boardroom and libertarians want the state to interfere nowhere. This is all well and good for domestic politics but foreign relations too determines how pro-big government you are.

They go by many names; humanitarian interventionists, neo-conservatives, liberal interventionists, and foreign policy pragmatists or realists but really they can be grouped under one label – war socialists.

Libertarianism is simultaneously an incredibly simple and incredibly complex ideology; at its heart is the belief that force or coercion is illegitimate and only voluntary actions are morally permissible. You cannot call yourself a libertarian if you believe that force or coercion is ever a legitimate tactic to use. The brand of interventionists who are ‘libertarian’ at home and neoconservative abroad are not libertarians, they are just another brand of war socialist.

It is easy to show the more trigger happy elements of war socialism that their ideas do not work. Blowback – both the narrow and wide definition of the word – shows that their views don’t work on a practical level; just look at Iran for example. But for interventionists everywhere, your ideas don’t just fall down when they are scrutinised practically, they fall down morally as well.

It is never legitimate, under any circumstance, to initiate violence and aggression. Many ‘domestic libertarians’ agree with this, yet what is foreign policy engagement if it is not the initiation of coercion – not just against whoever you choose to bomb but against your citizens at home, when you force them to pay for foreign action many don’t even agree with. War socialists steal from people at home so they can kill people abroad.

Interventionism is not just about war, it is about propping up other governments that benefit you, or using the power of the State to win business favours in foreign land. Lee Jenkins claims that ‘you can call it corporatism or corruption but that’s reality.’ What this variety of war socialist fails to understand is that corporatism on the international level has just as much impact as corporatism on the domestic level. The state lobbying for companies, picking winners and favouring big business means that many companies continue to exist that in a free market wouldn’t and shouldn’t. Huge conglomerates that have the ability to schmooze the state benefit at the expense of smaller companies that don’t have government power. Lee uses the example of farmers – how Lee can think that it is a good thing that Britain has trade barriers against Africa I do not know. The British consumer is prevented from buying the products with most value for money and at the same time the British farm industry faces no incentive to be more efficient. A few farmers may gain, but the British consumer not to mention the African farmer lose out heavily.

Lee thinks we should congratulate states for coming together to satisfy their interests, saying it proves libertarians views of mutual co-operation. He forgets that the interests of the state and those that run it can be, and most often are, wildly different to the interests of its citizens. The most obvious example is the European Union, which both gives politicians a big stage, and simultaneously flatters them and gives them huge gifts. The result – that the political elite become completely separated from the wishes of their citizenship.

Having a large state never works. The bigger the government the smaller the man. Action in an international arena is another excuse for big government. The fact that Lee and those like him overlooks is that free trade is not just intellectual masturbation. It works. When a state puts up barriers to trade the biggest loser is itself. When a business does a deal for political, not economic reasons, it loses out. British business wouldn’t be adversely affected if the state no longer lobbied for it, or protected it with tariffs, it would flourish. Weaned off the teat of Government it would be forced to innovate, increase efficiency, cut down or waste and start to produce things that could actually compete in a global market. Maybe some of it would fail, but like HMV or Blockbusters the ones that die deserve to go. Propping up business with government benefits no one but the fat cats at the top of it.

War socialists can cover up their coercive tendencies in whatever language they like. The fact of the matter is not only do their policies either directly or indirectly lead to the death and suffering of millions, they steal from their own people so they can play the international statesman. The platform of foreign relations is the biggest and most complex of all; it is naive to think that any one person or government can mould anything. Unintended consequences are on a scale hard to imagine and the theft needed to fund the action is mind boggling. On a practical moral and economic level war socialists are peddling a bankrupt and naive ideology that benefits the elite few at the expense of the many. For shame.

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  • Lee Jenkins

    To start with, a quick administrative point; the article would make more sense if you had linked it to the article of mine on which you refer.

    You rightly claim that libertarianism is a complex ideology. But you then you run completely counter to this by sweepingly referring to every other world view as ‘socialism’.
    Come Olly, you’re better than this. The Sixth Former who cracks open his first copy of the Guardian might call everything to the Right of him ‘Tory’, while a screeching SWP local organiser will call everything ‘fascist’.
    Such gross simplifications do nothing to further the debate. You’re a supremely bright young man and an excellent writer, but hyperbole such as this does you a disservice.

    You pulled up the point about British farmers. If all barriers to trade were removed, tens of thousands of British farmers would be out of work, with an incalculably devestating effect on the rural economies. Entire swathes of the country would become husks, dependent on welfare to survive. We would also be even more dependent on imports of food than we are now, requiring an even more activist foreign policy as we attempt to secure new sources of cheap food, with an less favourable Balance of Payments.

    The world is not a level playing field, however much you want it to be. I am not going to play by an ideologically motivated self imposed set of rules that  nobody else is going to abide by.

    You’ve not said that anything I said in my article is factually wrong. It’s just the conclusions that you don’t like.

    International relations is a zero sum world of eternal competition between states and collections of states, with power ebbing and flowing between the protagonists. This is a truism recognized since the Assyrians were locking horns with the Pharoes. It will continue to be the case long after we are dead and buried.

    You may not like it but it will not end until the very notion of States themselves end.

  • Bob Foster

    I don’t even know where to start with this, but I think Lee has summed it up well enough.

    You are very passionate about your principles, Olly, which is admirable. Lord knows we need more principles in politics. However with the utmost respect you need to eat a big slice of reality pie and temper your ideology with some pragmatism. That doesn’t mean sacrifice your principles, but it does mean recognise that there are practical limits to their application. There’s the world that we want and the world that we have. As much as we’d like to act like we are in the world that we want, we have to deal with the world that we have. Fact. Unless everyone is willing to adopt the same totally free approach to foreign policy to which you subscribe it will not work.

    With regard to the following comment: “It is never legitimate, under any circumstance, to initiate violence and aggression” – I take issue with that most vociferously.

    It was the initiation of violence and aggression in response to the Axis that won us the freedoms to have this debate. The people of the Falkland Islands owe their freedom from Argentina to the initiation of violence and aggression by the UK in 1982. The people of Kuwait owe their freedom from the repression of the Iraqi regime to the initiation of violence and aggression by the US, UK and others in 1991. There are countless other examples throughout history. No, not all wars are legitimate. Some are illegal, some are misguided and all are bloody and destructive, but to make a sweeping statement that all are illegitimate is historically ignorant and intellectually bankrupt.

    • Aaron Darkwood

      Well said Bob!

  • http://libertarianhome.co.uk/ Richard Carey

    Bravo Olly,

    @ Lee,

    ” If all barriers to trade were removed, tens of thousands of British farmers would be out of work, with an incalculably devestating effect on the rural economies…”

    This is what was said in opposition to repealing the Corn Laws. It didn’t happen and it wouldn’t happen.

    @ Bob,

    “It was the initiation of violence and aggression in response to the Axis that won us the freedoms to have this debate. The people of the Falkland Islands owe their freedom from Argentina to the initiation of violence and aggression by the UK in 1982. ”

    I think you’ll find in both those cases, the initiation of violence was deemed to be by the other side, firstly by invading Poland and secondly by invading the Falklands.

    I am not putting words in Olly’s mouth, he can argue his own case, but there is a fundamental difference between aggressive violence and defensive violence, which you seem to be over-looking. Even the most hawkish war-lovers recognise this, and are careful to represent their acts of aggression as if they are defensive.

  • http://thebackbencher.co.uk James Snell

    I’m not mentioned at all, as a self-confessed ‘Libertarian Neoconservative’ I feel cheated!

  • Lee Jenkins

    Richard,
    No country, rich or poor, anywhere on the planet has completely free and open trade on all goods and services. This is the case for a reason. It may be car production, agriculture or defence manufacturerers, but the principle is the same; the acknowledgment that competitors enjoy the protection of their national governments and so anything less than an equally activist approach is foolhardy.

    We seem to be having parallel arguments, with me and Bob discussing how the world is, with Olly and Richard arguing for misty eyed view of how the world should be. Cold reality vs a bleeding heart wish list.

    Its very easy to whine about how the world should be, but I see a distinct lack of practical suggestions for how we are to reach this utopia of 193 sovereign governments voluntarily removing themselves from international trade, or convincing 193 governments to stop actively pursuing their own agendas.

  • http://libertarianhome.co.uk/ Richard Carey

    “the principle is the same; the acknowledgment that competitors enjoy the protection of their national governments and so anything less than an equally activist approach is foolhardy.”

    That’s the principle which economic science debunked 200 years ago. The argument for a nation to institute unilateral free trade is not that it is a selfless act, but that it is economically advantageous.

    “We seem to be having parallel arguments, with me and Bob discussing how the world is, with Olly and Richard arguing for misty eyed view of how the world should be.”

    We’re all agreed on how the world is. What is at issue is our own particular views with regard to the morality of various violent acts committed by the British state and others, in full knowledge (at least in my case) that our opinions will change nothing. The drones will keep bombing, whatever we say.

    The difference is that you are arguing that states act in some kind of moral vacuum, whereas I am arguing that states are not above the law, indeed states are merely collections of people like any other and should obey the law the same as everyone else. Secondly, I think the kind of actions which you are supporting are counter-productive to the general welfare of this country, and that the economic system implied by them is protectionist and mercantilist, and thus runs counter to economic science.

    “I see a distinct lack of practical suggestions for how we are to reach this utopia of 193 sovereign governments voluntarily removing themselves from international trade”

    No one’s arguing to end international trade. I think both Olly and myself are very much in favour of trade, but are opposed to the kind of mercantilist system you seem to favour.

  • Aaron Darkwood

    Oh dear oh dear. I feel like a mass murdering body count fiend who loves eating on the blood of others?

    In your street, where you live, if there are noises down the road, a fight about four doors down, do you do anything? There’s some shouting, some abuse, so I am guessing you close the window?

    A woman screams out, shocking horrific screams, and you turn the TV up a bit. A child cries out, screaming a high pitch squeal followed by a gun shot… you put your head under a pillow?

    No of course not. No human being is going to sit by whilst this is happening to another human being. But on the world theatre this is where we are at.

    We either:
    - Go to help others who are being invaded
    - We go to help others due to ethnic cleansing
    - We go to help others due to humanitarian acts
    - We go to help stamp out global terrorism

    We have people and places around the world that need the protection of our Armed forces. The Falklands being a perfect example as they pay into our economy and thus it’s their armed forces too.
    We are an island, we are dependant on supplies from around the world that we need to ensure stay safe.
    There are many reasons, including the ensured supply of oil that everybody thinks is a bad thing, that we need our military to go and fight for. Only a closed minded person would stick their head in the ground and think that this is not our problem.

    The Green party have this idea. That UK armed forces should never leave our shores. never go and help anyone. Never do out bit to fight off drugs entering the UK, or defending overseas territories. We would become a very small insignificant and isolated island very quickly. Turning our backs on all our own people around the crown dependencies. Turning our backs on NATO, on the UN and pulling out of every “world safety club” that exists.

    It is always the wish of every decent person not to go to war, but these things are thrust upon us. Like this Mali situation. Nobody saw this coming, but we are there now, and will soon no doubt be sending a brigade strong force to try and fight a jungle war that we can’t possibly win.

    Limiting the wars to places where we have an interest in, where our people are, and where it protects our shores by fighting on someone elses shores is where we are at now… but that still leaves a lot of fights to be dealing with.

    It is the way of the world, and to close your eyes to this is sticking your head in the sand of reality.

    • http://libertarianhome.co.uk/ Richard Carey

      I think you’re burying your head in the sand to the complexity of such matters. You are also making a different argument to Lee. In your case, you seem to be calling for the British military to intervene for moral reasons, whereas Lee seems to be arguing for intervention for the benefit of Britain’s interests (a defined by the state).

      Your analogies to crimes need examination. No libertarian denies that you can (indeed should) intervene to protect someone from aggressive violence. However, if I hear such a disturbance next door, and burst in with a machine gun and kill everyone, this will not be viewed as either helpful or lawful. Unfortunately the kind of intervention practiced by Nato is often along these lines.

      As for Mali, it is not a jungle but a desert. Also, it was predictable, from the moment Libya was bombed into anarchy by the British and French. At that time, weapons were supplied to the ‘freedom fighters’ notwithstanding the allegiance many of them professed to islamic fundamentalism. Therefore it is not surprising that such groups are now heavily armed and active.

      • Aaron Darkwood

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mali_sat.png Yep you are right, I misstook Savana for jungle on the Satalite image, and the fact that someone on the news had mentioned fighting a jungle war.

        When we liberated Kuwait, we didn’t go in and machine gun the populations. Libya had British population there initially, who were rescued, and then we assisted with air strikes to help the freedom fighters getting out from under the regime.

        Your view of Nato is not one I share. Inaction would generally have caused many more deaths than intervention.

        • Derek Barnett

          Well, one man’s ‘freedom fighters’ are another man’s group of power hunger rebels and Islamic extremists. Just because people oppose a dictator, doesn’t make them freedom fighters. I had your view on foreign policy when I was 17, then I joined the Amry, went Afghanistan and Iraq to help ‘liberate’ people, only to find that we were backing a new corrupt government that was just a little more willing to dance to our tune. And to top it all off, most of the native populations hated us for our involvement anyways. It is a lose lose situation. Not to say military intervention is never a good thing, but be a little more skeptical. The British media loves to beat that ‘humanitarian war drum’.

  • Lee Jenkins

    Richard I wasn’t saying you and Olly are opposed to trade, just that you are hoping for a fantasy world where all govts remove themselves from trade.
    Morality and law have nothing to do with international relations, thank goodness. The world is effectively in a state of anarchy, where the strong and rich are able to pursue their interests much more easily than the weak and the poor. There is no supreme authority to keep States in line or make them behave nicely.

    I, and every State, reserve to right to bomb, starve, poison, subjugated, impoverish and generally screw over any other state if needed. Equally I and every State reserves the right to befriend tyrants, prop up despots, and aid/brutal crack downs.
    The world is cold and dark. It is an endless contest. I love it.

    • http://libertarianhome.co.uk/ Richard Carey

      This is a totally amoral position, which, as I’ve noted above is different from the others here who are criticising Olly. The only mystery is why you would expect a libertarian to share this view?

      “Morality and law have nothing to do with international relations, thank goodness. ”

      Such is the result of the return to barbarism we witnessed in the 20th century. You are among the few who celebrate this terrible fact.

  • Lee Jenkins

    and I would never intervene for humanitarian reasons. The life of a British soldier is worth more and village full of dead civilians.

  • Lee Jenkins

    @Richard

    I am perhaps more open in that I genuinely don’t believe morality has any place in international relations. Does that make me callous? Debatable. Does it make the facts on the ground any less true? No.
    There are people who study and implement foreign policy for a living.
    None of them advocate a blanket policy of non-interventionism
    The reality is that the people who make the decisions agree with me. That can’t be because they are all amoral.

    • http://libertarianhome.co.uk/ Richard Carey

      “I genuinely don’t believe morality has any place in international relations”

      I’m not even sure if this is the case. You seem to be working to a moral code of sorts, indicated in this quote: “The life of a British soldier is worth more and village full of dead civilians.” As such, there’s some kind of hyper-nationalism at work, taking the place of morality.

      In this case, descending to your level (what circle of hell that is, I am not sure without consulting Dante) your dispute with anti-interventionist libertarians is only on the grounds of efficacy. If it could be proved that the British government minding its own business and not involving itself with coups, terrorism and ‘liberal interventionism’ was better for British business than the current embrace of those things, then you’d have to join us in advocating such a course of (in)action, although it wouldn’t be so exciting.

      As regards morality in international relations, you should bear in mind that over many centuries efforts were made to instill laws and morality into this area, in order to limit the harm of wars, by leaving non-combatants alone, allowing neutral countries to go about their business, treating POWs with respect, honoring agreed truces etc. You will, no doubt, be happy to learn the British were at the forefront of ushering in the modern era of disrespecting such inconvenient conventions.

  • http://www.thebackbencher.co.uk Lee Jenkins

    My dispute with non-interventionism is that it doesn’t work. It’s rather quaint and charming in its naivety, but is confined to the debating society.
    Supremely intelligent people who do foreign policy for a living advocate, in some form, an activist foreign policy.
    Do you not think to wonder why nobody has a blanket of policy of non-interventionism in the real world?
    And I wouldn’t describe myself as a nationalist. 1000 dead Brits are of no concern to me either, which is why, for example I would not have launched a rescue operation in Libya. We had an excellent relationship with Gaddafi but threw it away because spineless leaders weren’t willing to see some civilians killed in order to maintain stability.
    And on your last point, if states want to agree codes of conduct (we can’t call them laws because there’s no supreme authority to enforce them) then good for them. But states can and will ignore them if necessity dictates.

    • http://libertarianhome.co.uk/ Richard Carey

      “Supremely intelligent people who do foreign policy for a living advocate, in some form, an activist foreign policy.”

      Yeah, and if you ask a barber whether you need a haircut…

      “My dispute with non-interventionism is that it doesn’t work. It’s rather quaint and charming in its naivety, but is confined to the debating society.”

      Clever switch, but this is a debating society, a point I’ve made above. It makes no difference to the drone strikes whether I consider them wrong and you consider them impervious to moral censure.

      “And I wouldn’t describe myself as a nationalist. 1000 dead Brits are of no concern to me”

      Okay, what then? Amoral nihilist? Misanthrope?

      “I would not have launched a rescue operation in Libya. We had an excellent relationship with Gaddafi but threw it away because spineless leaders weren’t willing to see some civilians killed in order to maintain stability.”

      Oh really … so in the case of Libya, you would have advocated … non-intervention.

  • Bob Foster

    I’ve jumped in a little late, but seeing as someone fell into my trap I’ll respond anyway.

    @Richard – I was hoping someone would come back with “Those examples don’t count because we were responding to violence by someone else”.

    In the First and Second World Wars, we intitiated violence against Germany in response to their aggression against Belgium and Poland respectively. They did not attack us, nor did they declare war on us until we had declared war on them.

    In the 1991 Gulf War, we initiated violence against Iraq in response to their aggression against Kuwait. There was no violence initiated directly against the UK or the US.

    The Falklands War is the closest to following your argument, but even then it is shakey. Argentina used aggression against a British Overseas Territory, but did not use of threaten violence against the UK itself. Indeed, the violence of the initial invasion had ended before the Task Force even sailed. There was no declaration of war, but we aggressively initiated an act of violence to retake what is ours.

    I’m not over-looking any distinction between offensive and defensive violence (a distinction that Olly did not make either). On the contrary, by falling into my (slightly Machiavellian) trap you have helped to prove my point that Olly’s argument is hopelessly simplistic.

    In the real world, unfortunately sometimes it is necessary to initiate an act of violence against another State (or States) in order to protect our own interests. Equally, and perhaps more unpleasantly, it is sometimes essential to not intervene in situations where the potential consequences of us intervening are worse than if we just leave well alone. Syria is a good example of this.

    • Derek Barnett

      Your trap is a straw-man and you have failed to understand the libertarian principle of non-aggression. It is the initiation of violence that is morally wrong. To simplify your argument to a more detailed level, as Aaron has done above, you are equating joining a fight with throwing the first punch. Once someone has initiated violence, they have for a time surrendered their right to not be coerced. For example, if you were on the street, no one has the right to hit unless they are responding to a physical act of yours. However, if you and another guy are involved in a ruckus, anybody that jumps in to break it up is not initiating violence, they are responding to it. We recognize this principle in law. A police officer can’t rightfully throw you on the ground and arrest you (use force to take away you liberty) for simply being in public, however, if you committing an act of violence against another person, such actions would be totally acceptable. In all these cases, other initiated violence. It is not about offensive and defensive, it is about right and wrong. Hitler attacked Czechoslovakia and Poland. He was the clear aggressor and in violation of international law (and more importantly, peoples inalienable rights to government by consent, life and property). Similarly, Hussein invaded Kuwait and the Argentineans invade the Falklands. In all these cases, violence was met with violence. The UK was not the initiator of force, they were responding to the use of force by others.
      Secondly, these are all of a very international nature, but what these interventionists are mostly advocating is the insertion of the British government into the internal politics of foreign nations in order to secure resources and opportunities for British special interests. This is a very simplistic and imperialistic view of international relations. If they are the realists, they have failed to provide a clear view of the pragmatic necessity and advantages of intervention. You however seem to be more of a pragmatist, as you have weighed the advantages and disadvantages of intervention if Syria.

    • http://libertarianhome.co.uk/ Richard Carey

      You can play games if you want, such as indicated by “ho ho you fell into my trap”. If you see what I said, it was that the examples were deemed to be in response to violence, not the initiation and that ” Even the most hawkish war-lovers recognise this, and are careful to represent their acts of aggression as if they are defensive.”

      You seem to overlook that defensive violence can also be to defend others and not just self-defence. Whether the British should have got involved in any of the wars you mention, and if so, whether they should have done so at the time they did, is a long discussion. There are certainly reasons against declaring war on Germany over Poland, given that we were not at all prepared for war at that time. It’s also the case that, had we not given the guarantee to Poland there may have been less friction between Poland and Germany.

      As you are asserting here that your earlier arguments were not based on your opinion but rather an attempt to set a ‘Machiavellian’ trap, I shall not go any further. I shall assume that the rest of your weak arguments are also traps.

  • Bob Foster

    @Richard What can I say? When I see a childish argument I like to have a little fun with it. As for whether my arguments are based on my opinions, they are. The fact is I chose my examples carefully to solicit the very response that you gave, which in turn proved my original point that Olly’s argument is fundamentally flawed.

    @Derek I understand perfectly the libertarian principle of non-aggression. I understand the difference between offensive and defensive violence. I understand the principles in law around breaking up fights. I also understand that Olly never made any such distinction in his piece. He said, and I quote “It is never legitimate, under any circumstances, to initiate violence and aggression”. Not “initiating violence is OK provided someone else starts it” or “initiating violence is OK in defence of others”. No, he is quite clear and explicit when he states that It is never legitimate, under any circumstances, to initiate violence and aggression”. In all the examples I have stated we have initiated violence against another country. Yes, that violence is in response to another act of aggression, but nevertheless we have initiated violence against another country. Only in the case of the Falkland Islands can it be viewed as a direct act of violence against Britain.

    The point I have been making all along, and that both you and @Richard have helpfully proven for me, is that Olly’s argument, while admirable, is completely unrealistic and historically ignorant. Regardless of me having a bit of fun with this, nothing anyone has said has done anything other than confirm that.

    • Derek Barnett

      You are simply missing the point that the use of force had already been initiated. Initiate- meaning to cause to begin. That makes your statement “initiating violence as long as someone else STARTS it” rather ridiculous. Starting is initiating; it has already been initiated. In no case you discussed was violence initiated by the UK. You are ignoring the meaning of the word. If two people were having a converstation and you joined in, would you say you initiated the conversation? If someone was being assualted and you joined the fray to defend them, would you agree with the police if they said that you had initiated that instance of violence? You cannot understand the non-aggression principle if you don’t understand what initiate means.

      • http://libertarianhome.co.uk/ Richard Carey

        Derek,

        I think he’s just pretending not to understand the distinction, for his own amusement.

  • Bob Foster

    I do understand what “initiate” means. I’m not stupid. Let me explain yet again.

    Germany initiates violence against Poland. They do not initiate violence against Britain. Britain initiates violence against Germany in response to Germany initiating violence against Poland.

    Iraq initiates violence against Kuwait. They do not initiate violence against Britain. Britain initiates violence against Iraq in response to Iraq initiating violence against Kuwait.

    Argentina initiates violence against the Falkland Islands. They do not initiate violence against Britain (the Falklands are an overseas territory rather than part of Britain itself). Britain then initiates violence against Argentina in response to Argentina initiating violence against the Falkland Islands.

    You are working under the false assumption that as soon as one country initiates a war, then it is a free-for-all that anyone can join in without actually starting anything. That’s like walking into bar mid-way through a brawl, throwing a few punches and then saying “I didn’t start hitting people because they were already fighting”. It’s very different from your earlier example of breaking up a fight, which is the use of a limited amount of force to stop a larger amount of force.

    If we get involved in a war without being directly attacked first (or without having war declared on us first), we are initiating violence against another country. By definition that is the case. There’s nothing wrong with my understanding of the word “initiate” nor of my understanding of the principle of non-aggression. The simple fact is that history and real life has proven time and again that the libertarian principle of non-aggression is unworkable.

    • http://libertarianhome.co.uk/ Richard Carey

      “The simple fact is that history and real life has proven time and again that the libertarian principle of non-aggression is unworkable.”

      It does not prove this. It proves that the principle is not universally applied.

    • Derek Barnett

      It is unworkable, because you are lost in semantics. If libertarians believed in your definition of initiation, they would be against (private or public) police, courts and militaries. If a police officer has to wait for two people in a fight to attack him before becoming involved, then he is rather useless. Non-aggression is about protecting people’s rights. So if someone has not used force against someone else, they have not violated anyone else’s rights and therefore deserve to have their own rights preserved (i.e. to not be coerced). The situation is a lot more complex when dealing with large groups of people and governments, but non-aggression doesn’t mean one has to wait to be attacked. It is based on the principle that the use of violent force is a negative thing, which should then only be used to counter a use of force already taking place (already initiated). And your analogy of walking into the bar and starting to hit people is another straw man. The same could always apply to the use of force. If someone walks up and hits you, then you defend yourself, at one point you still started to use force against them. Does it contradict the non-aggression principle to defend one’s self? If initiating means ‘to start’, in the way you are suggesting, then under the non-aggression principle force would NEVER be acceptable. “We didn’t start shooting at them, because they were already shooting at us” is an equally invalid statement. To see how you have twisted the meaning, try replacing ‘start’ with initiate in your sentence: “I didn’t [initiate] hitting people because they were already fighting”. You can understand the meaning but it is very awkward and you can tell that it is not aptly used. Libertarians are not pacifist or isolationist. They understand war has its place in foreign policy and must be kept open as an option. The real question is how one justifies its use.

    • Derek Barnett

      And war doesn’t become a free-for-all once started by two parties under a libertarian philosophy, because the non-aggression principle is only one of many that form a rough criteria guiding decisions about whether to go to war or not.

  • Bob Foster

    @Derek – I’m not lost in semantics. You are, yet again, proving my point.

    To take your example of someone punching you. They have started a violent exchange against you. Therefore you can hit them back. You aren’t “starting” something because it has already started.

    If Person A hits person B, they are starting a violent exchange with person B. It has nothing to do with you, person C. If you then grab person A and punch them to protect person B, you are starting a fight between you and person A. I don’t think that’s a problem, in just the same way as I don’t believe it was a problem for Britain to declare war on Germany to protect Poland. According to the definition of libertarian non-aggression that Olly laid out, which was (and I quote, yet again) “It is never legitimate, under any circumstances, to initiate violence and aggression”, such an intervention is wrong. He is explicitly saying that “force is NEVER acceptable” (your words). I don’t for one second believe that, and it doesn’t look like you do either. Funnily enough that was the original point that I made before I was accused of not understanding things (which I actually do) or of being lost in semantics (which I’m not).

    It seems to me that you and I are in complete agreement and Olly is the one who is wrong.

  • Lee Jenkins

    @Richard I have NEVER described myself as an interventionist. It’s a clumsy label Olly slapped on me.
    I have long stated that my preferred option is for a clutch of compliant regional strong men maintaining stability. That way, I get to buy mangos for 40p from Asda and we get to flog them goods and services.

  • Lee Jenkins

    Non-interventionists want govt withdrawn from international trade. So do I, provided every other govt does the same thing.
    They won’t, and they can’t be forced to either. Until a non-interventionist comes up with a way to achieve that, their fantasy will stay a fantasy.

    And as for labels, well I leave that to you. As I said in my article, on which Olly based this, I like the idea of less ideologicy in international relations. I certainly don’t care for bleeding heart based ideoluges who get squeamish at civilians dying. Unless it effects you, they are just numbers. I don’t even see the utility in counting the civilian dead in Syria.

  • Storris

    Protectionism only ever serves to hurt the consumer. Using it a retaliatory policy doubles the pain the consumer feels. Does it protect British jobs? Only if you consider dwindling wages:cost ratios (increased poverty) to be a form of protection.

    As an aside, does anyone really consider British jobs to be more valuable than any other nation’s jobs? I hear the BNP are in need of recruits, you should seriously consider the position you’ve taken.

    Do we need regional strong-men to ‘maintain stability’?

    Was the cold-war the example of Stability you were looking for? A life lived in constant fear of total global annihilation is probably not the scenario any of imagines for our children.

    Is the current situation any more preferable? The global war on terror, made necessary by the policy of policing the world seems (to me at least chime in if you dis/agree) to have made the world considerably less stable than it was, even when facing a dying Soviet behemoth.

    Of course, we do have to protect ourselves from the policy/idiocy of other less rational actors, which is why libertarians see the need for a military force capable of defending the citizens against all attacks. Is this naivety or pragmatism?

    There is no shame it seems in wanting to be a ‘pragmatist’ but if you see a need for militarism beyond national defence or retaliatory economic policies then you have missed the most important lessons of libertarianism and you certainly shouldn’t be claiming to be a libertarian.

  • Storris

    For the Admin, is there any chance of getting Disqus on here to manage the Comments?

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