war in 1 lesson

Anthony Gregory writes:

I don’t think the concept of “disproportionality” enters into it. If you punch me in the shoulder, it would be (very) disproportionate for me to shoot you in the head. It would not be disproportionate, exactly, for me to respond by shooting an innocent bystander — that’s not “disproportionate”; it’s simply aggression. If I steal resources from a third party to help in my response to your aggression, that also is not “disproportionate,” but rather aggression too.

If two governments are at war with each other, they are both capable of committing aggression against individual property rights. In fact, it’s hard to think of many wars where this isn’t the case. Even in a “defensive” war, a government typically taxes and even enslaves “its” own people, and thus even when one government is much less guilty than another, its war power is not a libertarian program — at least no more so than, say, welfare, which is no more reliant on the aggression of taxation than government war.

But in discussing a modern war like World War II, the aggression on all sides is even worse. The crimes of a regime cannot possibly justify dropping bombs on innocent children, for example, since those children have an inalienable right to life that is not conditional upon the crimes committed by the state they happen to have the misfortune to live under. It is this principle that allows us to conclude, unqualifiedly, that terrorism is always evil and wrong. Just because the US government has engaged in aggression in the Middle East over the years (and I think this cannot be seriously denied) does not in any respect exculpate the terrorists who target innocent American civilians. Similarly, just because people live under an aggressive foreign government, doesn’t give any one on earth a right to kill them.

Our rights not to be bombed — not to be bombed by anybody — are not sacrificed by the mere fact that we live under governments that commit aggression.

War is not a conflict of rights between nations. Nations don’t have rights. Individuals do. War is a class conflict of states against individuals. During war, all civilians killed and taxed and enslaved are victims, and, typically, the states involved are all, to varying degrees, aggressors, not just against foreign subjects but also against “their” own subjects as well.

Robert Higgs replies:

Splendid post, Anthony. I’ve rarely seen anything that cut to the crux of the matter so well.

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