Looking carefully at that which is unseen.

Daily Archives: July 11, 2011

Thinking about: Libertarians At War, Pt. 0

I know, I know, “How can you have a Part 0 when you’ve already done Part I?” Think of it as a prequel, if that helps. Notice also that this is a “Thinking about” column, not a “Quibbles and bits.”

Wendy McElroy’s recent Mises Institute article on libertarians and war opening salvo (going to have to keep the military metaphor going) prompted some cross-border fully-automatic quibbling. Rather than stay under the radar, I called Wendy’s attention to the quibble-krieg that was starting and was quickly reminded of why teasing writers – even friendly ones – is, as they say, “fraught with peril.” Friendly fire can be just as bad as the unfriendly kind, after all. As Private Murphy, the discoverer of Murphy’s Laws of War once put it, “Don’t worry about the bullet with your name on it, worry about the ones marked ‘to whom it may concern.'”

It was no surprise, therefore, to receive a decently sized comment from Wendy; I wouldn’t expect less from a writer of her “caliber.”

But before launching into the official Part II, it is necessary to answer a pre-existing question raised in Wendy’s comment, and that is “What would a libertarian war look like – why would libertarians even ever go to war?” The answer is simple, that it would be in self-defense. Setting aside for the moment the argument that a war has to be declared between two nation states, I like the premise of the starting position offered by Vernor Vinge’s The Ungoverned. It sets up, at least, a scenario of a nation-state invading a libertarian area which, quite frankly, is about the only form of libertarian war I can envision – a violation of the non-aggression principle by another group, said group being ipso facto non-libertarian as demonstrated by its aggression. Two truly libertarian groups simply could not be warring against each other, and security companies would be viewing war as bad for business since they’d be unlikely to obtain much in the way of new employees to replace those who were killed in action, nor would they have any taxing authority to buy all the Big Ticket Toys that make modern war so destructive.

However, unlike in The Ungoverned, a libertarian group is not likely to have a convenient deus ex machina nuke tucked away (against the interest of the neighbors) and is more likely to have nothing but small arms, such that you might afford individually. Small groups may well “go in together” on light artillery of some form, certainly security companies may have a bit of heavier weaponry around, but even that would be limited in scope and effect, not to mention a not terribly effective use of resources. Despite what you see in today’s modern military policing, tanks and heavy machine guns are not all that useful to chasing down burglars, nor are they necessary to provide night-time security to the local population. If they are necessary, the local population has other issues to be thinking about.

Much of the rest of Wendy’s analysis (up to the “couldn’t happen” conclusion) is on point. Targets, collateral damage, the free rider problem, delegations and agency, all of those are – within the limits of the short format – touched on and covered nicely. So what, then, becomes the strategy?

Well, let’s offer a hint of Part II: small units or individuals, armed with rifles and grenades, going mano y mano with tanks, helicopters, and rocket launchers. Certain suicide, you think? Only if you’re not reading the newspaper – which, as I understand it, many people aren’t these days.