Humanitarian Wars can be Unjust too

If you hate evils committed by individuals as much as you hates evils committed by institutions, and vice versa, as I think most people who are even remotely libertarian — wait, no! remotely human! — do, does it truly follow that you must condone one in order to combat the other? Maybe it does, at least in the short term, in a place and time where relationships between all these things have been so distorted. In this case, the distortion is caused primarily by the monopolization of not only judicious force, but very nearly all force, initiative and responsive, at every level, by a single institution (with many manifestations and interlocking jurisdictions). If you haven’t guessed already, that institution is the state.

Taking my cue (I swear there was no collusion!) from Brandon and going with the flow. Jacques Delacroix of Facts Matter and Notes on Liberty has this to say:

No one doubts that the Taliban, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and Islamists in general, want to implement barbaric policies and that they do implement them whenever they have a chance. (Remember, their harsh, extremist rule in parts of Iraq contributed to turning the Sunni population against them.) Among other rolling atrocities, the Taliban close, and often firebomb schools, overwhelmingly girls schools. They are overtly working on perpetuating obscurantism and the savage treatment of women that is undeniably common in much (but not all) of the Muslim world.

He then asks:

If you are a conservative, can you really read the short statement above, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “ I don’t care; none of my business”?

I do think that certain isolationist conservatives and utilitarians and egoists can look at themselves in the mirror and say that. More power to them. But a libertarian that cares about justice can not say this. Dr. Delacroix, apparently, is (as am I) a libertarian (hesitantly so, I gather) that cares about justice. But to what end? At what cost? Does he value justice so much that he would condone the theft of money and loss of innocent life to achieve it, to say nothing of the expansion of the state and loss of civil liberties here at home, the ill-gotten gains, or the economic distortions involved? I think that, unfortunately, the answer is “yes”. Perhaps I am wrong. If so, it is on Delacroix and like-minded libertarians or conservatives to show how a ten-year long conflict that has cost billions or trillions of dollars (if I give a more precise number, J.D. might get distracted by whether it was accurate or not) did not somehow involve the theft of those funds (the social contract, perhaps?) and/or how none of the thousands of lives lost were worth being spared.

I know, some people gave their life voluntarily, and were fully informed of all the risks and possibilities. But others may have signed on voluntarily not thinking they would be called up for a pointless conflict, and later realized that they had done this to themselves. And still more might not have ever warmed up to the idea of being sent to the meat grinder. This is all very sad, but at the same time no one is obliged to honor their cause (or mishap, as it were), particularly if their cause is a fools’ errand such as the War in Afghanistan.

How is a humanitarian war different than any other redistribution of wealth? Why can’t the type of arguments that Jacques Delacroix is employing be used to justify food stamps? Or Federal Deposit Insurance? Or affirmative action in everything from education to employment to moneylending? Or section eight housing? Or agriculture and energy subsidies? Or interest rate manipulation? Or foreign aid? Or quantitative easing?

I don’t exactly have a dog in this fight. I’ve probably paid much less than $100 of direct taxes in my life while I was briefly employed as a surveyor. Neither I nor any of my immediate relatives were fooled or fooled themselves into fighting in any of these recent wars of aggression. No one I know has been killed or injured in any recent conflict. At least, not that I am aware of.

One need not be a hear-no-evil-see-no-evil pacifist, a miserly curmudgeon, or a victim in order to oppose something that is all at once a miscalculation, a boondoggle, and an atrocity. One can vehemently oppose it on those grounds alone.

So seriously, what is with small government types who go down the checklist of the things the state does, selecting the “bad box” all the way down the line until they get to foreign policy? Does the same logic not apply to both? Come on guys!

More on this soon I hope, in several pieces on “the Evils of a Standing Army.” The first one will be addressed to those I refer to as Anti-Government Pro-War Conservatives.

6 thoughts on “Humanitarian Wars can be Unjust too

  1. To my way of thinking, no war is ever just unless it is a war fought in response to the initiation of force. All wars under the Bush doctrine, in my mind are unjust wars. Going after bin Laden & Co. in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks was justified and Afghanistan invited conflict by supporting him and his terrorist bands with refuge, camps for training, and failing to do their part in ridding the world of terror driven criminals. Korea/Vietnam were also unjust wars, as well as being undeclared wars due to Congressional cowardice and Presidential hubris. The sooner America returns to its handling of conflict as followed in WWI and WWII, (with overwhelming and unrelenting retaliation) the more hope America has of encouraging people to seek their own freedom no matter where they live.

    • Well I’d say WWI and WWII, on the whole, were worse than Afghanistan. And not much better than Korea or Vietnam. That’s not to say there weren’t some good things about them. There were quite a few, in fact. But most of those benefits came at greater cost than they were worth. Some of the time those costs were unnecessary but were carried out for political expediency or lack of foresight. I’m certainly glad they were both Constitutional, though. And I’d agree that going after Bin Laden (though not necessarily the way it happened), et al, was justified. I’ll have more to say on all this in the coming weeks.

  2. […] Instead of taking the usual tactic of trying to explain what I think the US could do (see Rick’s piece on this), or why I think another war in the Middle East would be a disaster, I’m going to take a different path altogether and offer a defense of both the Hussein regime and the Assad regime, thus rendering the US wars, or potential wars, in the region immoral and unjustified. […]

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