Objectivism and War
So the other day an Objectivist wrote this gem at their blog:
"On this Memorial Day, I would like to honor the three men of the American Civil War who understood the terrible need for total war: President Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses S. Grant, and General William T. Sherman. Their vigorous prosecution of the war preserved the Union, the very first nation founded on the principles of individual rights -- and, at the time, the only such nation. In so doing, they ended the most loathsome violation of rights ever known to man: chattel slavery. Without them, without the brave Union soldiers who fought under them, America would not exist today.*
So thank you, Mssrs. Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman. We are forever in your debt."
While a properly revised view of the so-called "civil war" renders this view highly absurd (since the civil war was not primarily fought over slavery so much as tariffs and secession, the war was essentially a case of the government attacking its own civilian population, Lincoln was a racist who more or less supported slavery and advocated deporting freed slaves back to Africa, Lincoln eggregiously violated the personal rights of both northerners and southerners alike in the process of executing the war, etc.) my concern is more broadly with what has unfortunately become the cliche objectivist view of warfare. Reading the commentary on this blog post by some of the objectivists is illuminating and disturbing.
Objectivists tend to blur the distinction between genuine defensive force and pre-emptive force or outright blatant initiations of force. They view outright invasions of territories as justified acts of "defense" or "retaliation". Due to this warped view of the legitimacy of force, many Objectivists not only legitimize the bulk of wars in America history, they also legitimize our current wars and call for further foreign interventions in places like Iran and Venezuela. This is absolute lunacy! Objectivists have apparently soaked up neoconservative premises with respect to foreign policy. And they have the pompous audacity to do so in the name of "reason", "objectivity", "individualism". Unfortunately, what they are really doing is diving head first into a sea of irrationalism and collectivism.
Objectivists assert that a tyrannical government loses its rights or legitimacy (which is true enough at face value, although all governments are tyrannical and illegitimate in my definition) and conclude that they may be "retaliated" against. From the standpoint of the people tyrannized over by the government, I agree that they can rightfully retaliate against their own government. The problem is that the objectivists draw insane conclusions from a seemingly true premise, as they seem to think that if a foreign government is "tyrannical", this justifies other governments not only "retaliating" against them but invading entire foreign territories and waging total war against not only the foreign governments but the civilian populations. This is an absurd justification for initiating force against innocent bystanders. It also opens up a subjective can of worms in which different governments are treated as being better or worse relative to eachother, and legitimizing otherwise illegitimate governments in the process.
Apparently objectivists have no qualms whatsoever with targeting entire civilian populations. They rationalize this by essentially saying that those within the "country" of the "bad guys" bear moral responsibility for what their government does. This is a blatantly collectivist viewpoint. Someone who just so happens to be born within the territory of a tyrannical government is not responsible for what some powerful men in an ivory tower do. Punishing people for the crimes of others is not justice, it's a monstrous injustice. Blaming and exercising force on entire populations within a territory for the actions of their governments, which they essentially have no control over, is collective guilt. Objectivists are supposed to be the ultimate opponents of collectivism, yet when it comes to foreign policy they appear to be die-hard collectivists, treating entire "nations" as bearing responsibility for the actions of a few powerful men within them. In the objectivist paradime, innocent bystanders can legitimately be murdered in the crossfire of conflicts between governments.
What is the objectivist response to libertarian criticisms of their highly disingenous pro-war views? They straw man libertarians as being pacifists. This is intellectually dishonest. Now, it is true that a libertarian can be a pacifist, but if one is intellectually honest it should be rather clear that what libertarians fundamentally oppose is not all force but the initiation of force and consequentially most libertarians are not pacifists. Most libertarians fully advocate self-defense. The problem is that what objectivists advocate is not self-defense but pre-emptive force and outright initiations of aggression. The accusation that libertarians advocate just sitting there and allowing oneself to be aggressed against by foreign entities is absurd. At least from the standpoint of the average America, they haven't been aggressed against by any foreign people. The objectivist view is totally warped, as it is the America government that is aggressing against the average people within foreign territories. It is precisely those people, the people the objectivists favor attacking, who have the moral right of self-defense.
It is interesting how objectivist premises that are correct in and of themselves at face value can be turned around to critisize objectivists, since objectivism as a political doctrine contradicts its own ethical theory in many ways. What immediately comes to mind is their criticism of altruism, which I more or less agree with myself. It is my contention that objectivists hold an altruistic view of the military. That is, they seem to buy into the nationalistic premise that soldiers (particularly ones from your own country) are virtuous and sacrifice themselves for the sake of our freedom. In this view, our freedom depends on the sacrifices of allegedly brave men in the military and in the state apparatus. In my understanding, the objectivist view of warfare and foreign policy actually contradicts rational egoism, properly understood.
Another contradiction is between the objectivist ideal of government and what they support with respect to currently existing governments. One of the more admirable traits of the objectivist political doctrine is that it is opposed to taxation. Yet the stance of objectivists on currently existing issues fully support making use of tax-funded government institutions like the military. How can people who proclaim that taxation is evil out of one side of their mouths simultaneously claim that tax-funded institutions are legitimate and advocate that they take particular policies? If objectivists were consistant, they would advocate the liberty of anti-war people to refuse to pay for their wars.
But while objectivism is supposed to be about objectivity and reason, consistancy is not a word that describes its political doctrine. The word hypocrisy describes it much better.