Recently Brink Lindsey has taken issue with peace-loving anarchist libertarians. "Denunciations of the war by people of libertarian views are splashed all over the web. Look, for example, at and What is going on? What's wrong with these people? One can dismiss particular individuals or groups as disreputable or crankish, but the fact is that anti-war views similar to those held by the loonie left are not uncommon among libertarians these days."

What is going on here? From Lindsey's point of view, it is something bad: peacemongering is "disastrously wrongheaded". But from my point of view, it is Mr Lindsey and the warmongers that are wrong, albeit not disastrously but tragically. This difference reflects a deep underlying cleavage, between pragmatic libertarianism and moral libertarianism.

Lindsey writes: "The first and most obvious problem is the dogmatically anti-interventionist foreign policy touted by many libertarians. There is a clear conflict between such a vision of foreign policy and the effective prosecution of the present war on terror... I've posted already about the shortcomings of ... principle... as a practical guide to sound foreign policy." (emphasis mine)

"Effective". "Shortcomings of principle". "Practical". All of these are earmarks of pragmatism. Pragmatists, like Lindsey, are concerned with what works. Well, as any libertarian would tell you, capitalism works. So we all agree on that. The pragmatics are often economists by training or inclination. But moralists are not necessarily pragmatic; we believe in doing what is right, regardless of whether or not it "works". Another way of saying this is: the ends do not justify the means. It so happens (and I doubt it's a coincidence), that the moral and the pragmatic are very often the same. But this is not necessarily so, or at least, not obviously.

For example, anarchists believe that killing innocent people, or exposing innocent people to the risk of death, injury, or property loss, is morally wrong. So it is wrong to fly airplanes into buildings. It is wrong to blow yourself up in a crowd. But it is also wrong to drop explosives where they will certainly destroy innocent lives and property. Dresden was wrong. It was evil. Hiroshima was wrong. It was evil. It's true that the Axis did things that were even worse, but that's immaterial to the case. Morality is absolute; not relative. Two wrongs don't make a right.

A pragmatist cannot issue a blanket condemnation like "Dresden was wrong" based on the simple fact of 100000 innocent people being burned alive or asphyxiated. Rather he must look at the context, and decide whether or not he thinks the results were good enough to outweigh the regrettable loss of life. But note that the context for any action necessarily includes the future, and at the time an action is decided on the future is always unknown and thus subjective. Perhaps burning those people to death shortened the war by a day or two, thereby saving more than 100000 lives of other Germans and/or Allied troops. Lindsey may well consider Dresden wrong now (I hope he does), but I doubt he would have at the time. And it is for that exact reason that the horror happened at all; the people who planned it, at least some of them, honestly believed that it would end the war faster; that it was pragmatically the most humane path! Here is one reason why pragmatism can fail as a philosophy: it may require too much knowledge to use correctly at the time of decision. Of course this is not fundamental argument against pragmatism; merely a pragmatic one.

There is an interesting angle here: just as a pragmatist cannot have passed judgement on Dresden when it happened, neither can he pass judgement on 9/11! Yet everyone did, instantly, of course (this makes us all moralists, not pragmatists). Why could we all judge so quickly? I suspect the main reason is rooted in biology: we are hardwired to experience certain things as injustice (this is the true origin of rights). It is also much easier to be moral with the crowd than against it. But clearly pragmatism in the case of 9/11 would never work "for" the ones we identify with - the victims. In other words, the deaths of 9/11 could never be seen as achieving anything good enough to justify them - from an American perspective.

But those deaths might have worked for the perpetrators. That is to say, that from the point of view of Bin Laden, pragmatically he might have "justified" perpetrating 9/11 if it brought about the change in the Arab world that he was trying to achieve. Put more generally, pragmatism is not a human universal. What was pragmatic for Bin Laden may not be pragmatic for America. This aspect of pragmatism makes it, to me and other moral libertarians, an unacceptable place to ground our philosophy. Interestingly, the fear of 9/11 "working" also seems to define the Western pragmatist response to 9/11: they are resolved that the killing will not achieve any end desired by Bin Laden and his gang. Thus the idea that if we do anything that Bin Laden demanded, it would be wrong, even if it is in our own best interest. And similarly, pragmatism inspires the idea that essentially no level of violence and "collateral damage" is too high to destroy Bin Laden and Al Qaeda; to allow them to persist any longer than necessary would be to allow them to "get away with it". This sounds good until you realize that killing innocents shortened the time necessary to bring down Al Qaeda. In principle, killing innocents might have been the only way to proceed.

Any libertarian, if pushed, will have to accept some "collateral damage"; our information is never complete, and the problem of the guilty sheltering among innocents may sometimes be insoluble. But in the real world, a lot of us think, we can push our tolerance for error to "beyond the shadow of a doubt" levels. I think that all libertarians would agree, when it comes to criminal justice, that the correct way to value life and liberty requires letting many of the guilty go free to save just one innocent wrongly accused. This is the reason why criminal trials require a high level of proof. I submit that the same is true in other circumstances.

Some of us will never accept a double standard for the value of human life. Consider the Afghan war. Not all of Al Qaeda knew of the bombing; in fact almost none of them did. That's how cell-structured organizations work. Only the topmost ring knew; perhaps 10 or 20 men. In order to punish these evil ones, America was willing to kill many thousands of innocent civilians, and did in fact kill at least many hundreds. Historically, the number of people killed in war is always less than the number wounded and/or maimed; so we can add a lot more people whose rights were violated. So America was willing to kill or maim on the order of 10 to 100 innocents to "get" each guilty party. (Of course we have not killed the guiltiest of them it seems, but I hope and expect that we will.)

If America was willing to accept that same ratio of "collateral damage" in our own law enforcement, our streets would run with blood. Imagine the police in hot pursuit, spraying machinegun fire down a busy interstate at a suspected getaway car. Imagine a crazed shooter holed up in a steeple; the police just call in artillery to blow up the church regardless of who might be inside. Imagine a suspected shoplifter beaten into a coma by security guards. These actions might well lower crime enough to be pragmatically justified, but I hope America will never accept them.

In its actions, America very clearly shows to the world that in our opinion, American lives and property are worth many times more than Afghan lives and property. Of course this is no new thing; in war democracy tends towards socialism which necessarily tends to total war. But total war, and its devaluation of innocent "enemy" life and property, is something that libertarians should reject.

It is also wrong to take money from innocent people by fraud, force or threat of force. This is robbery or taxation depending on who the perpetrators are, and I should think that any libertarian would oppose it. But Lindsey cannot. As he says, "huge armies with aircraft carriers and Apache attack helicopters and cruise missiles and tanks and a million young men in arms? That can't be in private hands, can it? War machines are creatures of the state". But he means this as a good thing; that the need for war machines justify the state. To an anarchocapitalist, war machines are bad things; not necessarily because of what they do (though that is sometimes bad), nor who owns them (contra Lindsey, I can imagine one raised and controlled privately). Rather, they are bad because of the way they are funded. Without theft, there will be few war machines, or none at all. Brink, it's not a bug; it's a feature.

Another thing it is morally wrong to do, is to forbid the peaceful dealings of others. If I try to forcibly stop Lindsey from selling books on the web, that's wrong. The UN trade embargo against Iraq is killing many Iraqis indirectly. Everyone knows that. But, terrible as that is, it is not a moral reason to oppose the embargo. No individual has a "right" for others to trade to support him; if an individual who used to trade with Iraq decides to stop, that's his or her right of voluntary association. Rather, the embargo is wrong because it is not, in fact, voluntary on the part of the would-be traders, who are wrongly denied their right to freely associate and trade.

Summarizing thus far, I have argued that no anarchocapitalist can believe in wars which involve extensive collateral damage, expensive standing armies, nor in coercively imposed embargoes. In my opinion, these views should apply to all libertarians, not just anarchists. I am curious which, if any, Lindsey rejects. But in any case, America was (and is) garrisoning Saudi Arabia with a standing army, and indirectly killing Iraqi kids with our embargo. And those are two of the three reasons that Bin Laden cited for attacking us. Given that, it is rather hard to see exactly why Lindsey argues that it's "delusional" to believe that "Swiss-style militias are all you need to get by in the world. And that any threats which might require a more muscular response would just go away if we'd only keep our nose out of other people's business." Swiss style militias have worked just fine for Switzerland, which was not, in fact, attacked by Bin Laden.

So Lindsey needs to make his argument. Show me a country that Bin Laden has attacked for no reason. Show me any historical terrorist attack where the targets were not in any way affiliated with the enemies of the perpetrator. I know it is a hard thing to cast aside the idea of peace through superior strength, but I and many others have done so. Think about it. Switzerland exemplifies a kind of peace through weakness, or at least inoffensiveness, that anarchists think we need to adopt ASAP. I don't think 9/11 would have happened but for America's previous actions. (And to head off critics, no that doesn't mean I think it was "justified" or any such nonsense.)

Be that as it may, I also take exception with Lindsey's idea that anarchocapitalists would have no response to events like 9/11 if they happened in spite of our peaceful posture. He writes, "The first and most obvious problem is the dogmatically anti-interventionist foreign policy touted by many libertarians. There is a clear conflict between such a vision of foreign policy and the effective prosecution of the present war on terror...". I agree with Lindsey that many libertarians are against the present war and interventionalism in general. Most libertarians see, in contrast to the general public, that war is the health of the state and that in wars we always lose liberties permanently. So we think that even in pragmatic terms, war is almost never a good idea. And moral libertarians, as I have shown, are deeply concerned with the slaughter of innocents implicit in war.

But 9/11 might possibly be a case where the vengeance is worth the cost. Recall in late september the huge voluntary outpouring of support for the victims. There was also a tremendous demand for vengeance. This was supplied, of course, via the state, so no private competitors appeared. In anarchy the demand for vengeance would just as great; and supply would rise up as it will. Bounties might be set, or entire private armies formed for the purpose of vengeance (and I do hope they would be moral about collateral damage, but I am afraid they would not be). Or perhaps arrangements would be made that we cannot currently imagine. Any such undertaking would be voluntary. If I thought it was wrong, I would simply not contribute my time or money. By way of contrast, this year I am paying many thousands of dollars that will go to the Pentagon, despite my wishes.

Of course, since we have no real examples of capitalist anarchy, and none of an anarchic society producing retaliatory warfare, Lindsey is within reason to think that anarchy cannot by its nature produce retaliatory war. But he argues, rather improbably, that anarchy cannot produce any war: "If you don't accept the legitimacy of the state, you can never really embrace the necessity of war - since war is inescapably an affair of state."

War is inescapably an affair of state? George Washington led the army of which state? For that matter, what state were the Soviet-era Afghan "freedom fighters" inescapably part of? These examples, I hope, suffice to show a simple truth: that war is not inescapably an affair of the state. Offensive war - aggression - is. But defensive war, "freedom" fighting, and revolution, are acts of war that can be undertaken without rulers and without the sovereignty principle. Libertarian anarchists are not pacifists in the leftist sense.

So, the statement of Lindsey's is quite false. But it is a very interesting statement, as I believe it betrays a flaw in Lindsey's thinking, and the thinking of many warmongers, about the current situation. If war is inescapably an affair of state, and terrorist actions are acts of war (which is a reasonable interpretation), then terrorist actions must be affairs of state! So it was not just that the Taliban was protecting terrorists. 9/11 was war; therefore an affair of state; some state must therefore be guilty; the Taliban was the closest culprit; therefore war against Afghanistan was a morally acceptable defensive war. Afghanistan flew those planes; Afghanistan gets bombed. Tit for tat. Or, similarly, consider the idea that Arafat can stop the suicide bombings. Again, if bombings are an act of state, and obviously Palistinians are doing it, and the Palistinian Authority is closest thing to a state there is - then by Lindsey's logic, Arafat is directly responsible for the bombings, and can stop them as easily as Bush might stop patrolling of the no-fly zone in Iraq. In this logic, it makes sense to apply pressure on Arafat and his government.

Finally, we come to the denouement of Lindsey's argument. "Anarcho-libertarianism is delusional. We may claim our rights on moral grounds, but we enjoy them only by virtue of government." The conclusion makes sense coming from the point of view of a pragmatist. The state may be very dangerous; it may always crack up in time as it evitably slides to socialism; but if it is the only means to enjoy liberties (however briefly), it is still better than anything else, including anarchy. But this argument rests on two things. First, that "government" is the same as "the state". Yet we are governed by many private agencies even now; consider your relationship with your car insurance company and its incentives on you to drive safely. Anarchocapitalists don't believe in non-government. They believe in no state; the two are different. In anarchy, we will be governed by many different agencies.

Second, the idea that rights are a creation of the state, or even "government" seen broadly, is nonsense. (Though the sort of nonsense that has unusual currency in these statist times.) Most of the assertion of rights in this country is handled privately. Certainly, law enforcement has its role. But it is only the failure of the ordinary norms of rights-assertion that necessitates law enforcement action. What are the norms? Everyday actions that will never make the papers. I forget to pay the rent; a letter shows up from the landlord; I take my rent to her by hand and apologize. Or: I hit and damage a car by accident, violating the property right of the owner. We work it out between us, perhaps not even involving my insurance company. Or perhaps I do call the company - still no state involvement at all. Or: I am stopped at an isolated rest stop; a pair of large men start to approach me; I pull back my jacket and place my hand on my gun. The large men stay on the sidewalk, and walk on by. Or: a large group of armed men say I am not allowed to buy marijuana, but I find someone else who sells it and I buy a joint. In all of these cases but the last, the state is no direct party. Of course, the state is often there as a positive influence; the reason people settle out of court is that if they don't, they will be forced to the settlement found in-court. But as the last example proves, some of my rights are not recognized (and even denied) by the State; but that doesn't mean they don't exist, or that I cannot conceive of them, or that I cannot assert them by dint of my own action.

In summary, Lindsey is attempting to appeal to us anarchists using implicit assumptions that we have, largely, rejected. Pragmatism itself is a barren place to build philosophy, because what is pragmatic depends on the ends sought. Anarchists don't abjure all war or intervention blindly; rather we take our morality seriously and deduce the consequences. If you cannot morally tax, you cannot practically have a standing army with which to pound small countries into the stone age. However you can still intervene in many ways. Anarchists reject the idea that terrorists attack Americans for no reason at all. We find it logical to stop doing things that we should not, morally, be doing anyway. And finally, we reject categorically the idea that the state has any necessary relationship to rights. Rights preexisted the state; the state often opposes them; and regardless of whether it upholds them or not, rights are largely asserted privately. And rights will exist long after states, and the pragmatist apologists for states, have vanished into the past.

That said, I appreciate Mr Lindsey's evident earnestnest in worrying about us. "People who understand the moral and practical case for liberty are important. They're ahead of the historical curve, and therefore in a position to make a huge difference. It's a terrible waste to squander that opportunity by discrediting the case for liberty with the baggage of a flawed ideology." I would only add to this, for Mr Lindsey's consideration, that perhaps we have thought just as deeply, or even more deeply, than he himself has. We might find warmongering libertarians just as inexplicable, or even moreso, than he finds us.

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