War is the most dangerous threat to a free society. Governments at war grow in size and scope, strangling the liberties of individuals and eroding the institutions of civil society. Libertarians oppose most, if not all, wars. Libertarians believe that war should only be used when absolutely necessary, to preserve life and freedom. President Obama’s proposed intervention in Syria does not meet this standard. For this reason, we oppose the Obama administration’s plan to use military force against the Syrian regime.
‘They’ and ‘us’ are terms bandied about when talking about war to the effect that the reality is increasingly blurred. Who are ‘we’? In everyday discussion, the state is ‘us’ and so people become increasingly passive to acts of aggression committed by the state, because ‘we’ are doing it, or it is in ‘our’ best - or ‘national’ - interest.
War is aggression in two ways: against the domestic public in the form of taxation and/or conscription in some cases; and against foreigners in the form of an invasion. Now, modern warfare has gone one step further so as to completely destroy the distinction between combatants and noncombatants; how will a military strike manage to kill only aggressors?
One last question for you to ponder: why is it that the UK and US governments are so keen on military intervention? Is it not generally understood that governments are by their nature not libertarian? If so, then we must entertain the possibility that the motives for military intervention are often contrary to what is publicly maintained.
Wartime is the time during which the State is the most effective, which is to say the most dangerous. It is then that the synergistic efforts of each tentacle of the monster are better able to advance themselves in the name of vague notions such as Nation, Security, vanquishing Evil, securing prosperity, or whatever flimsy excuse is peddled to the masses, including reasons as meaning-averse as “national interests” that somehow elude definition. Whatever the justification, when the war drums are beating, danger is afoot both at home and the faraway front lines.
The soft opposition to tyranny during peace gives way during this fateful time, allowing free reign for the individual tentacles to grapple more and more power, solidifying its stance for the future. Wartime is incredibly dangerous for principled advocates of peace and liberty. While the wits of the masses are suspended in the face of whatever cardboard menace they are instructed to fear, sober inquiries and appeals to peace can earn the contempt of those caught in the mindless whirlwind that sweeps across populations in times of war, often resulting in personal tragedies of fear, incarceration, or death for those who speak out.
Finally, during wartime, the State clumsily administers destruction and despair and wreaks an unfathomable scale of havoc; which, once begun, is very difficult to stop, leaving the world ever poorer and less free in its wake. And worse still, the horrific atrocities of war, wrapped in the trappings of God and Good, are glorified, their perpetrators honored, and their memories revered, making ripe the fruit of statism: men champing at the bit to control others for the sake of collectivist ideology, anxious to earn for themselves the glory, honor, and reverence bestowed upon the war veteran and the immortal Great Leaders, under whose pristine soles are found mountains of skulls.
War - at least in its modern form - is unlibertarian, chiefly because it is impossible in such a situation to avoid killing and injuring civilians and destroying their property; and secondly, because it depends upon massive state intervention at home for its funding and organisation. As such, it is the destroyer of every kind of freedom.
Intervention in Syria would merely increase the loss of civilian life in that country, and further the present economic malaise in the West.
Intervention in Syria carries the risk of further destabilizing the already volatile Middle East. Intervention in Syria would mean the continuation of the Syrian civil war, and the progressive destruction of what little civil society that exists in Syria. Intervention in Syria would weaken the admittedly brutal Assad regime, potentially opening the door to a mufti-sided ethno-sectarian civil war reminiscent to Lebanon’s experience. The chaotic collapse of the Baathist regime could allow for the rise of new violent non-state actors reminiscent of Hezbollah or Hamas. Intervention in Syria would mean continuation the Syrian civil war, and the progressive destruction of what little civil society that exists in Syria.
The state has its roots in plunder and conquest. The purpose of the state is to exploit subjects, monopolize resources, expand its own powers, control territory, and protect an artificially privileged ruling class. War is the most extreme means by which the state pursues these aims. Wars waged by states are possible only through the use of resources and personnel acquired through previous acts of plunder and exploitation. War is of no fundamental difference from a conflict between organized crime syndicates.
Military intervention in Syria serves no honest or productive purpose. The professed outrage of war-mongers concerning alleged atrocities by the Syrian regime is of a dubious and selective nature. There is no evidence military invention will advance any concerns regarding humanitarian interests or international peace. A variety of ulterior motives on the part of those fervently seeking war with Syria are easily identifiable. Escalation of the Syrian conflict would be a reckless and dangerous undertaking whose repercussions are unknowable. Non-combatants will be killed and maimed during the course of an intervention in Syria. The conflict within Syria is a regional concern and internal concern in which the West has no legitimate interest.
The costs of war are so immense that they cannot even be expressed in their entirety. The lives of innocent people, loss of human energy or lost trade opportunities are among the most disastrous consequences of war. Does a war have any benefits? It must be stressed that the fact that a war may, from a short-term perspective, result in a higher GDP is of no relevance. In fact, if a higher GDP can be calculated after such a horrible event as war certainly is, it nevertheless remains absolutely clear that it involves loss of innocent people’s lives which cannot be expressed in monetary terms.
The arguments for or against war should not be in terms of costs and benefits but should be assessed on the basis of principles of justice. Now, we must ask: Can there be a just war? A simple question to which, unfortunately, no simple answer can be given. Generally speaking, a just war is such that is aimed at destroying aggressors or tyrants. So what can we say in this respect about the possible invasion of Syria by the USA? We may safely say that the planned attack has nothing to do with just war. It is, on the contrary, an example of imperialist foreign policy by which a powerful state declares its strength and shows it to the poor in the Middle East.
Despite the humanitarian rhetoric being employed, hypocritical inconsistency makes it much more likely that geostrategic imperial concerns lie behind the rush to war and that war will further politicians’ imperial ambitions. And undesirable unintended consequences on the ground seem all too likely to result. Aerial bombardment runs a serious risk of causing indiscriminate harm to noncombatants. And this is one of several reasons military intervention is likely to breed resentment with long-term negative consequences—blowback.
Continued warfare fosters the growth of state power at home, along with the continued expansion of the military-industrial complex. State-made wars like this one require taxpayers to fund violence abroad whether they favor it or not. In addition, because they’re not paying the bulk of the costs themselves, and so not internalizing those costs, political decision-makers can be expected to act in thoroughly cavalier fashion, and to be willing to undertake violence on an entirely unmanageable scale. And resources forcibly appropriated are allocated, not to the productive uses to which people want to put them, but to goals selected by politicians.
Moral and pragmatic considerations tilt strongly against intervention.
Why not war in Syria? The negative answer comprises two classes of reason.
First, we, the ordinary people of this country, do not fully understand what is happening in Syria. This is because we know little of the language, history, religions and general ways of Syria. We know nothing for sure of what is happening there. Our rulers, who are in a better position to know, systematically lie to us about everything, and whatever they tell us about Syria is suspect. We also have no real control over what is happening there. In both senses, Syria is like Iraq. We were told that the Iraqis wanted and were capable of possessing western liberal democracy, and that we could help them on their journey to it. Both propositions were false, and the result has produced a cataract of blood in which ordinary Iraqis often long for the ‘good old days’ of Saddam Hussein, when only one tyrant ran their lives, and he mostly left them alone.
Second, it is not the business of our rulers to intervene in Syria. They are not, in their capacity of rulers, private individuals, free to follow the promptings of conscience. They do not own us, and have the right to use us for their own benefit, however conceived. They are not our agents, required to do whatever an opinion poll or election result appears to instruct them. They are trustees. Therefore, it is their duty to conduct all policy in the long term interest of the nation as a whole. This entails a foreign and defence policy that protects the territory of the United Kingdom from actual and reasonably prospective threats, and to render such good offices elsewhere in the world as will make our national defence cheaper or more effective. Since it will not achieve this latter purpose, intervention in Syria is not a legitimate use of our money or risk of our lives.
My views on war and intervention differ from those of many of my fellow libertarians. I believe that war is sometimes justified; more specifically, I have long defended a properly tailored doctrine of humanitarian intervention. Here I want simply to explain why the military action in Syria proposed by the United States Government cannot be justified under that doctrine.
First, a justified intervention requires a just cause. The best information available indicates that in the Syrian civil war no one has a just cause. Al Assad is a cruel tyrant, while the rebels are increasingly dominated by Al Qaeda and similar sinister characters. An intervention on behalf of the rebels will depose one tyrant to install another, worse perhaps.
Second, the intervention to deter Al Assad from using chemical weapons is a smoke-screen. For starters, the proposed action is caught in a dilemma. Either the bombings weaken Al Assad or they do not. If they do, they would have help Al Qaeda win. If they do not, they would have killed innocent persons for no purpose.
And at any rate, suppose that the bombings do deter Al Assad from using these weapons. He will continue to murder people with conventional weapons. Would this be acceptable? Of course not. The only acceptable outcome from the standpoint of freedom is to depose the tyrant Al Assad, neutralize Al Qaeda, and help democratic Syrians build a reasonable society. You do not achieve that with limited bombings.
Fernando R. Tesón
To be anti-war is about what kind of future we want. We teach our kids to solve conflicts without violence and at the same time when kids look at grownups all they see is people who solve conflict with violence or with the direct threat of violence. Our entire current society (with a coercive state) is built on violence or on the threat of violence and war is just a natural extension of this.
To be anti-war is a natural extension of the non-aggression principle for libertarians. Acts of war always break the non-aggression principle. It is broken when the state tax people to fund the war, it is broken when the state sends our friends and family to die in the war and it is broken when thousands of innocent people are killed in what is called “collateral damage”.
Even if we stand alone with almost no resistance to war left we must be even more persistent against war like the heroes of the Old Right; Frank Chodorov, John T. Flynn, Garet Garrett, Albert Jay Nock and dozens of others were in the US during the First and Second World War.
The growth of the state since the late nineteenth century has many sources, but war has been the preeminent source. Even key institutions of the welfare state, such as state provision of health care and pensions for the elderly and the disabled, can be traced back in many countries to wartime expedients the state used to placate the reluctant masses and foster their engagement in the slaughter. Wartime expansions of the state often become permanently lodged in the apparatus of rule, owing to a ratchet effect that pertains to national-emergency expansions of the state’s size, scope, and power. Anyone who values individual liberty must look with jaundiced eye on the state’s propensity to engage in war.
Wars are as a rule stupid ways to deal with international conflicts and other perceived risks and threats. Because even a victorious war often serves no one’s interest except that of the rulers and well-placed members of the political class, war is in general wasteful and foolish, squandering lives and economic resources that might have been devoted to more humane and valuable projects. Wars promote extravagant exercise of the state’s coercive force and its indoctrination and regimentation of the people in order to herd them into activities and employments that serve only the rulers’ ends. In this process, people become habituated to the state’s exercise of overweening powers and hence more likely to acquiesce in insults to their liberties during peacetime.
Only on rare occasions does a situation leave people with no good choice but war, but the rulers often view less menacing occasions as opportunities to enhance their powers and aggrandize themselves by pretending to serve as selfless and courageous leaders in the nation’s hour of peril. In truth, however, modern leaders rarely place themselves in harm’s way, and their courage is a pose. Moreover, their willingness to sacrifice the people’s lives in foolish and vainglorious wartime adventures knows few bounds. In sum, war is almost always a bad bet for the people at large, and they would be wise to resist being drawn into stupid and wholly unnecessary fights that have little or nothing to do with their own well-being and serve only to forge the chains of their permanent bondage to the state.
In the particular case of Syria, a US attack will only reinforce the social problems in the country. The main aim of the attack will be to change by force one government only to set up a new one. This new system will suffer exactly of the same flaws as the previous, i.e. it will be another case of people deciding about the lives of other people. The only solution for this kind of crisis is to move from a model of leading power (potestas in latin) to leading by authority (auctoritas), the former being the use of force and the latter the use of a leader’s moral appeal to get people’s support. As soon as America, or any country, focuses on setting up new systems by force, it’s a vicious circle of hate and transgression of human rights.
Jyri Jorge Soria
Libertarians often explain that we believe in both free minds and free markets—in personal liberty and economic liberty. And that each type of liberty complements the other. You can’t have personal liberty without economic liberty; freedom of the press is meaningless without private property rights in a printing press. And economic liberty is not worth much if you are not free to live your life as you see fit.
One could make a similar observation about two types of freedoms within a given country: internal freedom and external freedom. The libertarian supports both, of course: we want a vigorous free market within the country, and we want a non-imperialist, non-aggressive external foreign policy. Both are essential to our freedom and prosperity. A free market generates wealth and promotes general human liberty. A peaceful foreign policy also promotes international trade. And war wastes blood and treasure of both the citizens as well as foreign victims of attacks. And war inevitably helps the state to grow, leading to regulations, taxes, and a general erosion of internal economic freedom.
Unfortunately, what is in the interest of the population of a given country is not the same as the interests of the state itself. As professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe has argued [in his work, Banking, Nation States and International Politics: A Sociological Reconstruction of the Present Economic Order], the relatively rich, Western countries, which have relatively liberal internal economic policies, tend to be militarily more powerful, and thus more aggressive, than developing states. So although we would prefer the United States to have both a domestic free market and a peaceful foreign policy, it is not realistic to expect the state to act contrary to its nature. That said, as economic freedom in the US continues to decline, the US government’s warmaking abilities will eventually follow suit. What’s better—to be rich and warlike, or poor but more pacific? The only way out of this terrible dilemma is to get rid of the state itself.
Since the ‘War on Terror’ that has been so veraciously pursued after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, American military intervention abroad has been increasingly expansive. Polls show most people believe America shouldn’t have waged war in Iraq. Even though the war in Afghanistan has enjoyed a somewhat more supportive public sentiment, that support too has waned as the war in Afghanistan continues to be bogged down, now in its’ 12th year – making it the longest war in American history.
As the American national debt reaches about 17 trillion dollars, the weariness of war on the military and other segments of the American public become more apparent, the deluge of scandals in the federal government making it obvious that Americans have enough problems at home on which to focus, and the decreasing popularity of American foreign policy around the world takes on greater meaning as President Obama has given some the impression he’s ready to wage war dictatorially, the shift of public opinion to support of a more non-interventionist foreign policy is looking both more popular and realistic all the time. As Americans stare down the barrel of another possible military conflict overseas, another conflict in the Middle East no less, apprehension to engage in military actions in Syria is blatantly obvious in the United States today. The world has watched as only a handful of political leaders, cheered on by only a handful of ill-advising lobbyists, and helped by only a handful of corporate media buddies, have done their damnedest to generate public support for an American military strike in Syria. But, questions about Presidential war powers and the constitutional mess it has been, the lessons of recent history some Americans recognize from Vietnam and Iraq, and a myriad of other issues are making it clear enough to some that it is simply irresponsible to open up another can of worms in Syria
Since Obama’s announcement that he was considering a military strike in Syria, D.C. has been bombarded with communications making it abundantly clear that Americans have no stomach for being drawn into another war. And, very organically-generated grassroots protests have sprung up all over America and the world. Syria is a hornets’ nest, engaged in a complicated civil war in which many different factions are at play (including Al Qaeda & Hezbollah), and there are no clear good guys and bad guys like some simplistic Hollywood script. Syria is a potential powder keg which, if mishandled, could lead to other conflicts (by proxy if not direct) in which several major world powers could be involved to everyone’s detriment. An American military strike in Syria could very well be tantamount to opening a sort of Pandora’s box. It would be an action both the American public and the world community are already making very clear would be another unpopular endeavor (notice the reaction of the people of the UK through the House of Commons in voting down James Cameron’s proposal to support Obama’s military action) of America acting like the world police – and acting like offenders instead of defenders. Even the most lowly foot soldier who learns the fundamental truth of war - that the most important ability a soldier can possess is adaptability because even the best battle plan may not survive the first shot - also knows that only the naive would believe they can predict what would be the full spectrum of blow-back from such another foolish mistake as daring to open Pandora’s box in Syria.
As a libertarian I oppose US government intervention in Syria because it was would require the use aggressive force against Syrians, non-Syrians in the country, and Americans. Force is legitimate only in self-defense, and the means must be consistent with individual rights. State warfare relies on taxation; the action itself would almost certainly kill noncombatants, as well as others who do not threaten Americans. There are no valid grounds for such coercion by the US government.
Anyone who has been paying attention to foreign affairs for that last 25 years — or even any small slice of that — should be absolutely opposed to any more U.S. intervention in Syria. It will end badly, cost a fortune, stir up more hatred, lead to more oppression, and bring about other unpredictably terrible results. For my part, I’m sick of this whole war gaming thing that the U.S. Empire does. We keep repeating the same scenario. The U.S. spots some oppression somewhere in the world and pretends to be the savior — and then ramps up the suffering in the name of stopping it, while working for years later to cover up its crimes. The only winners are the government and its contractors. There is no accountability, no justice, no learning, and it sustains a form of arrogance and control that has oppressed Americans and the world for far too long. War is the worse form of central planning, the most egregious form of socialism. The default position of anyone who loves liberty in the 21st century must be: no more war ever. I’ve so far been impressed at how technology has permitted this message to be delivered to Washington in a strong way, even to the point of forcing the warmongers back a few steps. The left, the right, and everything in between need to be completely united on this. It’s the war machine vs. everyone else at this point in history.