February 13, 2009


An open letter to my fellow peaceniks.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Why do you love the state? That’s one thing I’ve never understood. For the past ten thousand years, the state has wreaked more death and destruction than any other human institution—and yet whenever I go to an anti-war rally, I always find you guys decked out in your Che Guevara t-shirts, distributing your little socialist newspapers. The last time I went to a rally, I had to listen to a couple of you blather on and on about the Soviet Union, explaining how crop failure, and not communism, was the cause of its downfall.

My friends, I can’t take it anymore. We need to talk peaceonomics.

Let me start by asking you a question. Why are you peaceniks anyway? Obviously because you hate war. But why do you hate war? What makes war so bad? No doubt most of you will respond by saying that it’s unjust, that it inflicts violence on innocent people, taking their lives and stealing their property.

Okay, let me now ask you another question. If it’s wrong for the state to use violence against people living overseas, then why don’t you think it’s wrong for it to use violence against those living within its borders? Because, whether you realize it or not, that’s exactly what you believe. You see, violence and theft are the lifeblood of every state, even those with dovish foreign policies.

To see why this is so, consider any one of your beloved social welfare programs. Now on the surface, things like unemployment insurance and Medicaid hardly seem pernicious. After all, if someone falls on hard times, it only seems right to lend them a helping hand.

And, of course, it is right to help those in need—provided that you’re helping them with your own money. If a man decided to withdraw $100 from his savings account and give it to a homeless shelter, then he would obviously be doing a good deed. If, however, someone were to corner an old lady, stick a gun to her head and demand everything in her purse—well then, even if he proceeded to donate this newly acquired money to charity, he would rightly be regarded as a thug and a criminal.

The problem with the state is that it doesn’t have any money of its own. Everything in its possession has been extorted from others. It’s not like the man withdrawing money from his savings account, but like the one sticking a gun up to the old lady’s head.

In order to grasp this point, just imagine what would happen if you didn’t pay all your taxes. Say you didn’t like how the state was spending your money and decided that, instead of giving up 35% of your income, you were only going to give up 34%. Well what do you suppose would happen to you?

At first not much; you’d just receive a series of reminder letters from the IRS. Then they might send a bureaucrat to talk to you or they might go ahead and start seizing your assets. Eventually, if after all this you still refused to pay, you would find some gun-totting federal agents at your doorstep with a warrant for your arrest. If you tried to defend yourself, you would most certainly be shot, probably killed.

This of course is barbaric. Nobody has the right to use violence against someone because they refuse to surrender their personal property. And it makes no difference that the people committing the violence are sanctioned by the state. What gives the state the right? If neither you nor I have the right to engage in non-retaliatory violence, then why should it? The state is composed of human beings just like us, human beings whom, as far as I can tell, haven’t been given any special divine mandate to murder and thieve.

So what gives this group of people the right to commit actions that we would condemn in anyone else? It can’t be that they’ve been democratically elected. Morality is not decided by a majority opinion. And it can’t be that they perform a necessary evil, that life without their coercive measures would be nasty, brutish, and short. First of all, Hobbes died over three hundred years ago and, as far as I’m concerned, has been thoroughly refuted by the likes of Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. And second, and more importantly, certain actions, things like theft and non-retaliatory violence, are always wrong, regardless of their consequences.

Stop making excuses, fellow peaceniks. It’s time you start seeing the state for what it is: a criminal organization whose every action is enforced at the barrel of a gun. Be true to your professed beliefs, fellow peaceniks. Renounce violence. Renounce violence abroad, and, just as importantly, renounce violence at home.

Your loving fellow peacenik

* * * *

If you’re interested in further exploring peaceonomics, I strongly recommend Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God that Failed.


Kent McManigal said...

I don't think I can qualify as a peacenik, since I don't think violence is wrong unless you are the initiator. Violence in defense of life and property is justified, and I would even say it is good. It does not violate the Zero Aggression Principle. Military invasions are obviously an initiation of force on a massive scale.

Kelly W. Patterson said...

Well, I don't think violence is ever good. It might be necessary in situations of self defense, which I fully support, but good is not an adjective I would ever use in describing it.

Very good post, I look forward to reading more.

Jason Barr said...

I'm not convinced that Jesus gives his followers the option to retaliate with violence, not least because of his statement in Matt. 5:39. Anthistemi, the verb translated as "resist" more fully means to square off against in battle, to "set one's self against", and so Jesus' imperative is clearly to not violently engage someone who does evil.

Other than that, I think you make a number of good points. On the whole I think social welfare programs can be justified in the context of the current economic (travesty of a) system, in that if the economy is structured in such a way that wealth is systematically redistributed upward, as it is in subsidies and other "corporate welfare", then it is only fair that redistribution include those who have legitimate needs. Indeed, part and parcel of "social democracy" policies is the recognition that in such a system some welfare is necessary to promote social stability - but if the economy was structured in a way that was more fundamentally just and less financially coercive, that is to say that if we weren't spending all this energy just to maintain a corrupt economy, welfare as we know it would become unnecessary because individuals and communities would have the ability to take care of themselves and those in need of assistance through relational networks, instead of oppressive, extortionate bureaucracies.

I don't actually identify as "anarcho-capitalist", but I appreciate many of the insights I've gained from intelligent people I've encountered who do.

Regarding Hobbes, I'm actually in the process of writing a series at my blog relating the roots of modern political, social, and economic discourse to the mythos of the ancient near east, which some of Genesis was written to subvert and challenge. If that sounds interesting, maybe check it out.