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15. Reflections on State and War
Conventionally, the state is defined as an agency with two unique characteristics. First, it is a compulsory territorial monopolist of ultimate decision-making (jurisdiction). That is, it is the ultimate arbiter in every case of conflict, including conflicts involving itself. Second, the state is a territorial monopolist of taxation. That is, it is an agency that unilaterally fixes the price citizens must pay for its provision of law and order.
Predictably, if one can only appeal to the state for justice, justice will be perverted in favor of the state. Instead of resolving conflict, a monopolist of ultimate decision-making will provoke conflict in order to settle it to his own advantage. Worse, while the quality of justice will fall under monopolistic auspices, its price will rise. Motivated like everyone else by self-interest but equipped with the power to tax, the state agents’ goal is always the same: to maximize income and minimize productive effort.
I. State, War, and Imperialism
Instead of concentrating on the internal consequences of the institution of a state, however, I will focus on its external consequences, i.e., foreign rather than domestic policy.
For one, as an agency that perverts justice and imposes taxes, every state is threatened with “exit.” Especially its most productive citizen may leave to escape taxation and the perversions of law. No state likes this. To the contrary, instead of seeing the range of control and tax base shrink, state agents prefer that they be expanded. Yet this brings them in conflict with other states. Unlike competition between “natural” persons and institutions, however, the competition between states is eliminative. That is, there can be only one monopolist of ultimate decision-making and taxation in any given area. Consequently, the competition between different states promotes a tendency toward political centralization and ultimately one single world state.
Further, as tax-funded monopolists of ultimate decision-making, states are inherently aggressive institutions. Whereas “natural” persons and institutions must bear the cost of aggressive behavior themselves (which may well induce them to abstain from such conduct), states can externalize this cost onto their taxpayers. Hence, state agents are prone to become provocateurs and aggressors and the process of centralization can be expected to proceed by means of violent clashes, i.e., interstate wars.
Moreover, given that states must begin small and assuming as the starting point a world composed of a multitude of independent territorial units, something rather specific about the requirement of success can be stated. Victory or defeat in interstate warfare depend on many factors, of course, but other things such as population size being the same, in the long run the decisive factor is the relative amount of economic resources at a state’s disposal. In taxing and regulating, states do not contribute to the creation of economic wealth. Instead, they parasitically draw on existing wealth. However, state governments can influence the amount of existing wealth negatively. Other things being equal, the lower the tax and regulation burden imposed on the domestic economy, the larger the population will tend to grow and the larger the amount of domestically produced wealth on which the state can draw in its conflicts with neighboring competitors. That is, states that tax and regulate their economies comparatively little—liberal states—tend to defeat and expand their territories or their range of hegemonic control at the expense of less liberal ones.
This explains, for instance, why Western Europe came to dominate the rest of the world rather than the other way around. More specifically, it explains why it was first the Dutch, then the British and finally, in the 20th century, the United States, that became the dominant imperial power, and why the United States, internally one of the most liberal states, has conducted the most aggressive foreign policy, while the former Soviet Union, for instance, with its entirely illiberal (repressive) domestic policies has engaged in a comparatively peaceful and cautious foreign policy. The United States knew that it could militarily beat any other state; hence, it has been aggressive. In contrast, the Soviet Union knew that it was bound to lose a military confrontation with any state of substantial size unless it could win within a few days or weeks.
II. From Monarchy and Wars of Armies to Democracy and Total Wars
Historically, most states have been monarchies, headed by absolute or constitutional kings or princes. It is interesting to ask why this is so, but here I have to leave this question aside. Suffice it to say that democratic states (including so-called parliamentary monarchies), headed by presidents or prime ministers, were rare until the French Revolution and have assumed world-historic importance only after World War I.
While all states must be expected to have aggressive inclinations, the incentive structure faced by traditional kings on the one hand and modern presidents on the other is different enough to account for different kinds of war. Whereas kings viewed themselves as the private owner of the territory under their control, presidents consider themselves as temporary caretakers. The owner of a resource is concerned about the current income to be derived from the resource and the capital value embodied in it (as a reflection of expected future income). His interests are long-run, with a concern for the preservation and enhancement of the capital values embodied in “his” country. In contrast, the caretaker of a resource (viewed as public rather than private property) is concerned primarily about his current income and pays little or no attention to capital values.
The empirical upshot of this different incentive structure is that monarchical wars tended to be “moderate” and “conservative” as compared to democratic warfare.
Monarchical wars typically arose out of inheritance disputes brought on by a complex network of inter-dynastic marriages. They were characterized by tangible territorial objectives. They were not ideologically motivated quarrels. The public considered war the king’s private affair, to be financed and executed with his own money and military forces. Moreover, as conflicts between different ruling families, kings felt compelled to recognize a clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants and target their war efforts exclusively against each other and their family estates. Thus military historian Michael Howard noted about 18th-century monarchical warfare:
On the [European] continent commerce, travel, cultural and learned intercourse went on in wartime almost unhindered. The wars were the king’s wars. The role of the good citizen was to pay his taxes, and sound political economy dictated that he should be left alone to make the money out of which to pay those taxes. He was required to participate neither in the decision out of which wars arose nor to take part in them once they broke out, unless prompted by a spirit of youthful adventure. These matters were arcane regni, the concern of the sovereign alone.1
Similarly Ludwig von Mises observed about the wars of armies:
In wars of armies, the army does the fighting while the citizens who are not members of the army pursue their normal lives. The citizens pay the costs of warfare; they pay for the maintenance and equipment of the army, but otherwise they remain outside of the war events. It may happen that the war actions raze their houses, devastate their land, and destroy their other property; but this, too, is part of the war costs which they have to bear. It may also happen that they are looted and incidentally killed by the warriors—even by those of their “own” army. But these are events which are not inherent in warfare as such; they hinder rather than help the operations of the army leaders and are not tolerated if those in command have full control over their troops. The warring state which has formed, equipped, and maintained the army considers looting by the soldiers an offense; they were hired to fight, not to loot on their own. The state wants to keep civil life as usual because it wants to preserve the tax-paying ability of its citizens; conquered territories are regarded as its own domain. The system of the market economy is to be maintained during the war to serve the requirement of warfare.2
In contrast to the limited warfare of the ancien régime, the era of democratic warfare—which began with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, continued during the 19th century with the American War of Southern Independence, and reached its apex during the 20th century with World War I and World War II—has been the era of total war.
In blurring the distinction between the rulers and the ruled (“we all rule ourselves”), democracy strengthened the identification of the public with a particular state. Rather than dynastic property disputes which could be resolved through conquest and occupation, democratic wars became ideological battles: clashes of civilizations, which could only be resolved through cultural, linguistic, or religious domination, subjugation and, if necessary, extermination. It became increasingly difficult for members of the public to extricate themselves from personal involvement in war. Resistance against higher taxes to fund a war was considered treasonous. Because the democratic state, unlike a monarchy, was “owned” by all, conscription became the rule rather than the exception. And with mass armies of cheap and hence easily disposable conscripts fighting for national goals and ideals, backed by the economic resources of the entire nation, all distinctions between combatants and non-combatants fell by the wayside. Collateral damage was no longer an unintended side-effect but became an integral part of warfare. “Once the state ceased to be regarded as ‘property’ of dynastic princes,” Michael Howard noted, and
became instead the instrument of powerful forces dedicated to such abstract concepts as Liberty, or Nationality, or Revolution, which enabled large numbers of the population to see in that state the embodiment of some absolute Good for which no price was too high, no sacrifice too great to pay; then the “temperate and indecisive contests” of the rococo age appeared as absurd anachronisms.3
Similar observations have been made by the military historian Major General J. F. C. Fuller:
The influence of the spirit of nationality, that is of democracy, on war was profound, . . . [it] emotionalized war and, consequently, brutalized it; . . . National armies fight nations, royal armies fight their like, the first obey a mob—always demented, the second a king, generally sane. . . . All this developed out of the French Revolution, which also gave to the world conscription—herd warfare, and the herd coupling with finance and commerce has begotten new realms of war. For when once the whole nation fights, then is the whole national credit available for the purpose of war.4
And William A. Orton thus summarized matters:
Nineteenth-century wars were kept within bounds by the tradition, well recognized in international law, that civilian property and business were outside the sphere of combat. Civilian assets were not exposed to arbitrary distraint or permanent seizure, and apart from such territorial and financial stipulations as one state might impose on another, the economic and cultural life of the belligerents was generally allowed to continue pretty much as it had been. Twentieth-century practice has changed all that. During both World Wars limitless lists of contraband coupled with unilateral declarations of maritime law put every sort of commerce in jeopardy, and made waste paper of all precedents. The close of the first war was marked by a determined and successful effort to impair the economic recovery of the principal losers, and to retain certain civilian properties. The second war has seen the extension of that policy to a point at which international law in war has ceased to exist. For years the Government of Germany, so far as its arms could reach, had based a policy of confiscation on a racial theory that had no standing in civil law, international law, nor Christian ethics; and when the war began, that violation of the comity of nations proved contagious. Anglo-American leadership, in both speech and action, launched a crusade that admitted of neither legal nor territorial limits to the exercise of coercion. The concept of neutrality was denounced in both theory and practice. Not only enemy assets and interests, but the assets and interests of any parties whatsoever, even in neutral countries, were exposed to every constraint the belligerent powers could make effective; and the assets and interests of neutral states and their civilians, lodged in belligerent territories or under belligerent control, were subjected to practically the same sort of coercion as those of enemy nationals. Thus “total war” became a sort of war that no civilian community could hope to escape; and “peace loving nations” will draw the obvious inference.5
III. Excursus: The Doctrine of Democratic Peace
I have explained how the institution of a state leads to war; why, seemingly paradoxical, internally liberal states tend to be imperialist powers; and how the spirit of democracy has contributed to the de-civilization in the conduct of war.
More specifically, I have explained the rise of the United States to the rank of the world’s foremost imperial power; and, as a consequence of its successive transformation from the early beginnings as an aristocratic republic into an unrestricted mass democracy which began with the War of Southern Independence, the role of the United States as an increasingly arrogant, self-righteous and zealous warmonger.
What appears to be standing in the way of peace and civilization, then, is above all the state and democracy, and specifically the world’s model democracy: the United States. Ironically if not surprisingly, however, it is precisely the United States which claims that it is the solution to the quest for peace.
The reason for this claim is the doctrine of democratic peace, which goes back to the days of Woodrow Wilson and World War I, has been revived in recent years by George W. Bush and his neo-conservative advisors, and by now has become intellectual folklore even in liberal-libertarian circles. The theory claims:
• Democracies do not go to war against each other.
• Hence, in order to create lasting peace, the entire world must be made democratic.
And as a—largely unstated—corollary:
• Today, many states are not democratic and resist internal—democratic—reform.
• Hence, war must be waged on those states in order to convert them to democracy and thus create lasting peace.
I do not have the patience for a full-blown critique of this theory. I shall merely provide a brief critique of the theory’s initial premise and its ultimate conclusion.
First: Do democracies not go to war against each other? Since almost no democracies existed before the 20th century the answer supposedly must be found within the last hundred years or so. In fact, the bulk of the evidence offered in favor of the thesis is the observation that the countries of Western Europe have not gone to war against each other in the post–World War II era. Likewise, in the Pacific region, Japan and South Korea have not warred against each other during the same period. Does this evidence prove the case? The democratic-peace theorists think so. As “scientists” they are interested in “statistical” proof, and as they see it there are plenty of “cases” on which to build such proof: Germany did not war against France, Italy, England, etc.; France did not war against Spain, Italy, Belgium, etc. Moreover, there are permutations: Germany did not attack France, nor did France attack Germany, etc. Thus, we have seemingly dozens of confirmations—and that for some 60 years—and not a single counterexample. But do we really have so many confirming cases?
The answer is no: we have actually no more than a single case at hand. With the end of World War II, essentially all of—by now, democratic—Western Europe (and democratic Japan and South Korea in the Pacific region) has become part of the U.S. Empire, as indicated by the presence of U.S. troops in practically all of these countries. What the post–World War II period of peace then “proves” is not that democracies do not go to war against each other but that a hegemonic, imperialist power such as the United States did not let its various colonial parts go to war against each other (and, of course, that the hegemon itself did not see any need to go to war against its satellites—because they obeyed—and they did not see the need or did not dare to disobey their master).
Moreover, if matters are thus perceived—based on an understanding of history rather than the naïve belief that because one entity has a different name than another their behavior must be independent from one another—it becomes clear that the evidence presented has nothing to do with democracy and everything with hegemony. For instance, no war broke out between the end of World War II and the end of the 1980s, i.e., during the hegemonic reign of the Soviet Union, between East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, etc. Was this because these were communist dictatorships and communist dictatorships do not go to war against each other? That would have to be the conclusion of “scientists” of the caliber of democratic-peace theorists! But surely this conclusion is wrong. No war broke out because the Soviet Union did not permit this to happen—just as no war between Western democracies broke out because the United States did not permit this to happen in its dominion. To be sure, the Soviet Union intervened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, but so did the United States at various occasions in Central America, such as in Guatemala for instance. (Incidentally: How about the wars between Israel and Palestine and Lebanon? Are not all these democracies? Or are Arab countries ruled out by definition as undemocratic?)
Second: What about democracy as a solution to anything, let alone peace? Here the case of democratic-peace theorists appears even worse. Indeed, the lack of historical understanding displayed by them is truly frightening. Here are only some fundamental shortcomings:
First, the theory involves a conceptual conflation of democracy and liberty (freedom) that can only be called scandalous, especially coming from self-proclaimed libertarians. The foundation and cornerstone of liberty is the institution of private property; and private—exclusive—property is logically incompatible with democracy—majority rule. Democracy has nothing to do with freedom. Democracy is a soft variant of communism, and rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else. Incidentally, before the outbreak of the democratic age, i.e., until the beginning of the 20th century, government (state) tax-expenditures (combining all levels of government) in Western European countries constituted somewhere between 7 and 15% of national product, and in the still young United States even less. Less than a hundred years of full-blown majority rule have increased this percentage to about 50% in Europe and 40% in the United States.
Second, the theory of democratic peace distinguishes essentially only between democracy and non-democracy, summarily labeled dictatorship. Thus not only do all aristocratic-republican regimes disappear from view but, more importantly for my current purposes, so do all traditional monarchies. They are equated with dictatorships à la Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao. In fact, however, traditional monarchies have little in common with dictatorships (while democracy and dictatorship are intimately related).
Monarchies are the semi-organic outgrowth of hierarchically structured natural—stateless—social orders. Kings are the heads of extended families, of clans, tribes, and nations. They command a great deal of natural, voluntarily acknowledged authority, inherited and accumulated over many generations. It is within the framework of such orders (and of aristocratic republics) that liberalism first developed and flourished. In contrast, democracies are egalitarian and redistributionist in outlook; hence, the above-mentioned growth of state power in the 20th century. Characteristically, the transition from the monarchical age to the democratic one, beginning in the second half of the 19th century, has seen a continuous decline in the strength of liberal parties and a corresponding strengthening of socialists of all stripes.
Third, it follows from this that the view democratic-peace theorists have of conflagrations such as World War I must be considered grotesque, at least from the point of view of someone allegedly valuing freedom. For them, this war was essentially a war of democracy against dictatorship; hence, by increasing the number of democracies, it was a progressive, peace-enhancing, and ultimately justified war.
In fact, matters are very different. To be sure, pre-war Germany and Austria may not have qualified as democratic as England, France, or the United States at the time. But Germany and Austria were definitely not dictatorships. They were (increasingly emasculated) monarchies and as such arguably as liberal—if not more so—than their counterparts. For instance, in the United States, anti-war proponents were jailed, the German language was essentially outlawed, and citizens of German descent were openly harassed and often forced to change their names. Nothing comparable occurred in Austria and Germany.
In any case, however, the result of the crusade to make the world safe for democracy was less liberal than what had existed before (and the Versailles peace dictate precipitated World War II). Not only did state power grow faster after the war than before. In particular, the treatment of minorities deteriorated in the democratized post–World War I period. In newly founded Czechoslovakia, for instance, the Germans were systematically mistreated (until they were finally expelled by the millions and butchered by the tens of thousands after World War II) by the majority Czechs. Nothing remotely comparable had happened to the Czechs during the previous Habsburg reign. The situation regarding the relations between Germans and southern Slavs in pre-war Austria versus post-war Yugoslavia respectively was similar.
Nor was this a fluke. As under the Habsburg monarchy in Austria, for instance, minorities had also been treated fairly well under the Ottomans. However, when the multicultural Ottoman Empire disintegrated in the course of the 19th century and was replaced by semi-democratic nation-states such as Greece, Bulgaria, etc., the existing Ottoman Muslims were expelled or exterminated. Similarly, after democracy had triumphed in the United States with the military conquest of the Southern Confederacy, the Union government quickly proceeded to exterminate the Plains Indians. As Mises had recognized, democracy does not work in multi-ethnic societies. It does not create peace but promotes conflict and has potentially genocidal tendencies.
Fourth, and intimately related, the democratic-peace theorists claim that democracy represents a stable “equilibrium.” This has been expressed most clearly by Francis Fukuyama, who labeled the new democratic world order as the “end of history.” However, overwhelming evidence exists that this claim is patently wrong.
On theoretical grounds: How can democracy be a stable equilibrium if it is possible that it be transformed democratically into a dictatorship, i.e., a system that is considered not stable? Answer: that makes no sense!
Moreover, empirically democracies are anything but stable. As indicated, in multicultural societies democracy regularly leads to the discrimination, oppression, or even expulsion and extermination of minorities—hardly a peaceful equilibrium. And in ethnically homogeneous societies, democracy regularly leads to class warfare, which leads to economic crisis, which leads to dictatorship. Think, for example, of post-Czarist Russia, post–World War I Italy, Weimar Germany, Spain, Portugal, and in more recent times Greece, Turkey, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, and Pakistan.
Not only is this close correlation between democracy and dictatorship troublesome for democratic-peace theorists; worse, they must come to grips with the fact that the dictatorships emerging from crises of democracy are by no means always worse, from a classical liberal or libertarian view, than what would have resulted otherwise. Cases can be easily cited where dictatorships were preferable and an improvement. Think of Italy and Mussolini or Spain and Franco. In addition, how is one to square the starry-eyed advocacy of democracy with the fact that dictators, quite unlike kings who owe their rank to an accident of birth, are often favorites of the masses and in this sense highly democratic? Just think of Lenin or Stalin, who were certainly more democratic than Czar Nicholas II; or think of Hitler, who was definitely more democratic and a “man of the people” than Kaiser Wilhelm II or Kaiser Franz Joseph.
According to democratic-peace theorists, then, it would seem that we are supposed to war against foreign dictators, whether kings or demagogues, in order to install democracies, which then turn into (modern) dictatorships, until finally, one supposes, the United States itself has turned into a dictatorship, owing to the growth of internal state power which results from the endless “emergencies” engendered by foreign wars.
Better, I dare say, to heed the advice of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and, instead of aiming to make the world safe for democracy, we try making it safe from democracy—everywhere, but most importantly in the United States.
IV. Making the World Safe from Democracy or: How to Defend Oneself Against the United States
After this excursion into the theory of democratic peace I am back to the proposition that there is no greater threat to lasting peace than the democratic state, and in particular the United States. Thus the question is: how to defend oneself against the U.S.
Incidentally, this is not only a question for foreigners but Americans as well. After all, the territory constituting the U.S. too is occupied territory—conquered by the U.S. government.
Let us assume, then, that a small territory within the borders of the current U.S.—a village, a town, a county—declares its independence and secedes from the U.S. What can and will the U.S. do in response?
It is possible that the U.S. will invade the territory and crush the secessionists. This is what the French Republic did to the Vendée during the French Revolution, what the Union did to the Confederacy, and on a much smaller scale, what the U.S. government did in Waco. But history also provides examples to the contrary: the Czechs and Slovaks separated peacefully, Russia let Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia go; the Slovenes were let go; Singapore was even expelled from a previous union with Malaysia.
Obviously, the relative population size matters in the decision to war or not to war. Likewise it matters what resources are at the secessionists’ disposal. Also the geographical location can weigh in favor or against intervention. But this cannot be all. For how is one to explain, for instance, that France has not long ago conquered Monaco, or Germany Luxemburg, or Switzerland Liechtenstein, or Italy Vatican City, or the U.S. Costa Rica? Or how is one to explain that the U.S. does not “finish the job” in Iraq by simply killing all Iraqis. Surely, in terms of population, technology and geography such are manageable tasks.
The reason is not that French, German, Swiss, Italian or U.S. state rulers have scruples against conquest, confiscation, and the imprisonment or killing of innocents—they do these things on a daily basis to their “own” population. Bush, for instance, has no compunction ordering to kill innocent Iraqis. He does so every day. Rather, what constrains the conduct of state rulers is public opinion.
As La Boétie, Hume, Mises and Rothbard have explained, government power ultimately rests on opinion, not brute force. Bush does not himself kill or put a gun to the head of those he orders to kill. Generals and soldiers follow his orders on their own. Nor can Bush “force” anyone to continue providing him with the funds needed for his aggression. The citizenry must do so on its own. On the other hand, if the majority of generals, soldiers and citizens stop believing in the legitimacy of Bush’s commands, his commands turn into nothing more than hot air. It is this need for legitimacy that explains why state governments itching to go to war must offer a reason. The public is not typically in favor of killing innocent bystanders for fun or profit. Rather, in order to enlist the public’s assistance “evidence” must be manipulated so as to make aggression appear as defense (for what reasonable person could be against defense). We know the catchwords: Fort Sumter, the U.S.S. Maine, the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, 9–11.
It thus turns out that not even an overwhelming size advantage is decisive in determining the course of action. That David Koresh and his followers in Waco could be brutally killed by the U.S. government was due to the fact that they could be portrayed as a bunch of child molesters. Had they been “normal people” an invasion might have been considered a public relations disaster. Moreover, regardless of whatever disadvantage the secessionists have in terms of size, resources or location, this can be made up by a favorable international public opinion, especially in the internet age when the spread of news is almost instantaneous.
These considerations bring me to the final points. The new secessionist country can be another state or it can be a free, stateless society. I will argue that the likelihood of successful defense against U.S. aggression is higher if the secessionists form a stateless society than if they opt for another state; for whether large or small, states are good at aggression and bad at defense. (Granting, maybe prematurely, that the U.S. had nothing to do with 9–11 directly, the events of that day certainly show that the U.S. was not good at defending its own citizens: first, by provoking the attacks and, secondly, in having its population disarmed and defenseless vis-à-vis box-cutter wielding foreign invaders.)
How would the defense of a free society differ from that of a state?
As explained, the likelihood of an attack depends essentially on the ease of manipulating the evidence so as to camouflage aggression as defense—and to “discover” such evidence is much easier in the case of a state. Even the most liberal state has a monopoly of jurisdiction and taxation and thus cannot but create victims who, properly stylized as “victims of human rights violations,” may provide the “excuse” for an invasion. Worse, if the new state is a democracy it is unavoidable that one group—the Catholics or the Protestants, the Shiites or the Sunnis, the Whites or the Blacks—will use its power to dominate another—and again there exists an “excuse” for invasion: to “free an oppressed minority.” Better still: the oppressed are incited to “cry out” for help. Moreover, in reaction to domestic oppression terrorists may grow up who try to “revenge” the injustice: just think of the Red Brigades, the RAF, the IRA, the ETA—and both: their continued existence as well as the attempt of eradicating them may provide “reason” to intervene (to prevent the spread of terrorism or to come to the rescue of freedom fighters). In contrast, in a free society only private property owners and firms, including insurers, police, and arbitrators, exist. If there are any aggressions, they are those of criminals—of murderers, rapists, burglars, and plain frauds—and it is difficult to portray the treatment of criminals as criminals as a reason for an invasion.
What if the attack does occur? In that case it might well be best to give up quickly, especially if the secessionist territory is very small. Thus Mogens Glistrup, founder of the Danish Progress Party, once recommended that the Defense Department of tiny Denmark be replaced with an answering machine announcing (to the Russians) that “we surrender.” This way, no destruction occurs and yet the reputation of the invading government as a “defender and promoter of liberty” is soiled forever.
This leads to our central question regarding the effectiveness of states versus free societies in matters of defense. As a monopolist of ultimate decision-making, the state decides for everyone bindingly whether to resist or not; if to resist, whether in the form of civil disobedience, armed resistance or some combination thereof; and if armed resistance, of what form. If it decides to put up no resistance, this may be a well-meaning decision or it may be the result of bribes or threats by the invading state—but in any case, it will be contrary to the will of many who would have liked to resist and who are thus put in double jeopardy because as resisters they now disobey their own state as well as the invader. On the other hand, if the state decides to resist, this again may be a well-meaning decision or it may be the result of pride or fear—but in any case, it too will be contrary to the preferences of many who would have liked not to resist or to resist by different means and who are now entangled as accomplices in the state’s schemes and subjected to the same collateral fallout and victor’s justice as everyone else.
The reaction of a free territory is distinctly different. There is no government which makes one decision. Instead, there are numerous institutions and individuals who choose their own defense strategy, each in accordance with his own risk assessment. Consequently, the aggressor has far more difficulties conquering the territory. It is no longer sufficient to “know” the government, to win one decisive battle or to gain control of government headquarters. Even if one opponent is “known,” one battle is won or one defense agency defeated, this has no bearing on others.
Moreover, the multitude of command structures and strategies as well as the contractual character of a free society affect the conduct of both armed and unarmed resistance. As for the former, in state-territories the civilian population is typically unarmed and heavy reliance exists on regular, tax-and-draft-funded armies and conventional warfare. Hence, the defense forces create enemies even among its own citizenry, which the aggressor state can use to its own advantage, and in any case there is little to fear of the aggressor once the regular army is defeated. In contrast, the population of free territories is likely heavily armed and the fighting done by irregular militias led by defense professionals and in the form of guerilla or partisan warfare. All fighters are volunteers and all of their support: food, shelter, logistical help, etc., is voluntary. Hence, guerrillas must be extremely friendly to their own population. But precisely this: their entirely defensive character and near-unanimous support in public opinion can render them nearly invincible, even by numerically far superior invading armies. History provides numerous examples: Napoleon’s defeat in Spain, France’s defeat in Algeria, the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, Israel’s defeat in South Lebanon.
This consideration leads immediately to the other form of defense: civil disobedience. Provided only that the secessionists have the will to be free, the effectiveness of this strategy can hardly be overestimated. Recall that power does not rest alone on brute force but must rely on “opinion.” The conquerors cannot put one man next to each secessionist and force him to obey their orders. The secessionists must obey by their own freewill. However, if they do not, the conquerors will fail. Most importantly: civil disobedience can occur in many forms and degrees. It can range from ostentatious acts of defiance to entirely unobtrusive ways, thus allowing almost everyone to participate in the defense effort: the courageous and the timid, the young and the old, leaders and followers. One may hide armed fighters or not hinder them. One may publicly refuse to obey certain laws, or evade and ignore them. One may engage in sabotage, obstruction, negligence, or simply display a lack of diligence. One may openly scoff at orders or comply only incompletely. Tax payments may be refused or evaded. There may be demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts, work-stoppages or plain slacking-off. The conquerors may be maltreated, molested, ridiculed, laughed at or simply ostracized and never assisted in anything. In any case: all of this contributes to the same result: to render the conquerors powerless, make them despair and finally resign and withdraw.
As is often the case, the first step in the anti-imperialist-anti-democratic struggle is the most difficult. Indeed, the difficulties are enormous. Once the first step has been successfully taken, however, things get successively easier. Once the number of secessionist territories has reached a critical mass—and every success in one location will promote imitation by other localities—the difficulties of crushing the secessionists will increase exponentially. In fact, the more time passes the greater will the comparative economic and technological advantage of free territories become, and in light of the ever increasing attractiveness and economic opportunities offered by the free territories the imperialist powers will be increasingly happy if they can hang on to their power rather than risk whatever legitimacy they still have in an attack.
* A speech delivered in Auburn, Alabama, on the occasion of Professor Hoppe’s receiving the Mises Institute’s 2006 Gary G. Schlarbaum Liberty Prize.
- 1. Michael Howard, War in European History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 73.
- 2. Ludwig von Mises, Nationalökonomie: Theorie des Handelns und Wirtschaftens (Union Genf, 1940), pp. 725–26.
- 3. Howard, War in European History, pp. 75–76.
- 4. John F. C. Fuller, War and Western Civilization (Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1969), pp. 26–27.
- 5. William A. Orton, The Liberal Tradition: A Study of the Social and Spiritual Conditions of Freedom (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1945), pp. 251–52.