Alan Stevens - AWAH - Libertarianism, Freedom.
Defending Freedom against State Aggressors
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
People believe they need the state in order to save them from the threat of war. But the state is the reason why large scale warfare exists at all. Fortunately, free societies will be less vulnerable to aggression by surviving states than people fear.
People believe they need the state in order to save them from the threat of war. But the state is the reason why large scale warfare exists at all. Fortunately, free societies will be less vulnerable to aggression by surviving states than people fear.
NOBODY WOULD VOLUNTARILY PAY FOR AGGRESSIVE WARFARE
Imagine you are living in a genuinely free society. Somebody approaches you to support a new venture or philanthropic activity. This would be a pretty common event in a free society. Much of the welfare and healthcare functions that the state runs so badly would be better managed by charitable and mutualistic organisation. Plus everyone would be at least twice as well off without the state (See May 19th ’Twice as well off without Politics’) and more able to contribute to good causes.
But this proposal is unusual. It goes as follows: “We are raising money to build a huge nuclear missile force which could destroy most of the population of any country in the world. We will also fund a big army and air force. They will be able to invade other parts of the world and occupy them against the wishes of their inhabitants.”
“We recognise that if we do this, other societies will feel they have to build up their nuclear and ‘conventional’ forces. The result will be constant war around the globe. There will be a nuclear balance of terror which will help keep the peace, at least until somebody pushes too hard or makes a mistake or misinterprets what looks like an incoming missile trace. At that point a nuclear exchange will wipe most of us out.”
THE STATE’S MILITARY IS A DANGER TO US ALL
Naturally you recoil in shock, tell them they are crazy and promise never to contribute. But at the moment you are exactly contributing resources to create this crazy situation. Every year the US security state spends around a trillion dollars maintaining a huge nuclear arsenal able to wipe out the world many times over and a network of bases and alliances around the world designed to increase the scope for tension and conflict.
This is done in order to justify taking still more resources from the USA’s dwindling productive base. Increasingly the US has borrowed abroad and printed money, thus furthering its de-industrialisation, to keep the military and the CIA and the other fifteen or so US security services in comfort.
Other countries subscribe to similar madness. The next fifteen countries also spend massively on so called ‘defence’, in reality on maintaining aggressive potential. Most of them are US allies. Only arms makers and spooks are benefitting. Everyone else is being made poorer, less free and less secure.
There have been at least two occasions when nuclear war has been narrowly averted. The first was the Cuban Missile crisis when American attacks on Soviet submarines in international waters nearly led to a nuclear response. The second was in the 1980s when a technical error led to a false warning on Soviet scanners that the US had launched a nuclear first strike. A Soviet officer courageously refused to allow an immediate Russian counter launch and insisted on first confirming the attack was in fact occurring. It was not.
We can’t go on being lucky every time. One of the key reasons for getting rid of this destructive worship of the state is precisely that the state’s ‘defence’ scam is a lethal threat to its inhabitants, and everyone else.
In truth the US, for example, has no realistic enemies. There are no countries which have either the ability or the desire to invade the homeland of the United States, and realistically most other states are in the same position.
HOBBESIAN JUSTIFICATION OF THE STATE AS PROTECTOR
So how did people ever imagine that protection of everyone’s persons and property was best achieved by creating a sovereign, in modern parlance a state, with the power to rob and coerce. Clearly the first states were simply the result of the conquest of grain growing communities by raiders. They realized they might make a bigger more reliable income from organizing a permanent protection racket i.e. the state.
Nevertheless in 17th century England there was a great deal of debate about the desirability of the state, especially in the new-fangled form of French style absolute monarchs. Allies and followers of Louis XIV, such as Charles II and James II, claimed a divine right to suppress their subjects’ property rights and liberties.
Various explanations appeared to justify the state as the natural protector of mankind. One theory held it was just the result of a so-called social contract made in the mists of time which bound subject and sovereign in perpetuity.
Of course, nobody would agree to a contract which allows the other party, the state, to raise its prices and alter its services unilaterally. Nor would anybody agree to a contract with no termination provisions, no ability to drop out of a deal which no longer works for the individual.
The most influential approach was probably Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’. Most people who unthinkingly support the state probably accept his basic but flawed theory of the state. Hobbes said that men were basically bad creatures with no foresight. Left to their own devices they would unthinkingly engage in a war of all against all. Their lives would be ‘nasty, brutish and short’. That must be the most widely recognized 17th century quotation.
Hobbes said that men had to agree that the only way to protect themselves and their property was to appoint another man to be the sovereign, the embodiment of the state. This sovereign would be a wise ruler who would have the right to demand whatever service and resources he saw fit from his subjects in order to protect them.
There is however something illogical about the Hobbesian view. There is an inconsistency in trying to protect life and property by giving someone else the power to attack you and your property with no comeback. A predatory protector is a contradiction in terms.
And if all men are bad and lack foresight then surely the sovereign would be just the same. He too would be someone who was not to be trusted with any power or legal privilege.
And different places would select their own, bad, sovereigns. The world would just be full of bigger aggressive wars waged by sovereigns at the expense of their now enslaved subjects. And it has been. Indeed, democratic regimes have been willing and able actually to kidnap enslave men in the form of conscription, thus increasing the misery of war.
The weakness in Hobbes’ argument is that if men can voluntarily agree to put their lives and liberty in the hands of the sovereign, they have shown that they are not (all) bad and do have foresight. They are therefore capable of cooperatively creating a framework for protecting themselves from aggressors, internal and external, without a state.
THE STATE IS THE KILLER OF THE WORLD
Based on the flawed Hobbesian story or not, people still have this bizarre view that the state is needed to protect your person and your well-being. In fact, however, if you tot up total deaths in the 20th century you get very rough estimates of 100 to 200 million people killed by states, often their own state, in the course of interstate warfare and intrastate Marxist mismanagement and cruelty. Many 100s of millions more had their lives, families and property ruined by the state.
In comparison ‘private sector’ murder and mayhem has been an order of magnitude lower. Estimates of deaths caused by (non-state) criminals in the last century are around 10 million. Many of these deaths were connected with organized crime, especially the illegal drugs trade. These are therefore properly laid at the door of the state too, because in a free society there would be little if any such activity.
WAR AND WAR PREPARATION IS A STATE RACKET
Remember, political leaders and officials don’t care about you. War is a state racket. In fact, it is the state racket. It is usually the biggest or longest lived. Members of the parasitic ruling groups, typically disproportionately comprised of sociopaths or psychopaths, profit from the resources and lives they extort from productive members of their own societies.
The mass of the population loses loved ones and well being, whether or not ‘their side’ is on the so-called winning side. Of course, war was never a paying proposition from the point of view of society as a whole. So many lost and ruined lives, so much painfully accumulated productive capital trashed, cannot be recompensed by the meagre and distant revenues from devastated lands and cities. These days they don’t even cover occupation costs.
A state forces the people to bear the costs of war. The rulers are just fine extorting more resources from their ‘own side’. Nowadays countries are being kept in a constant state of preparedness for war. This is completed by fake wars, The War on Drugs, The War on Terror and now the War on Coronavirus. All of this merely strips more from productive people.
War has usually been the chief pre-occupation of the ruling classes. Their wealth, power and influence has always lent glamour to the reality of mass carnage, looting and rape in sacked cities and devastated regions. The state sponsored mainstream media (MSM) ‘presstitutes’, and the Marxist dominated education system, play a key role in rallying the populace to brainless bellicosity.
Even people with perfectly sensible views about the uselessness of government in general can still be manipulated by manufacturing fake external threats into ‘my country right or wrong’ positions. They thus become literally sheep for the slaughtering.
HOW CAN FREE SOCIETIES DEFEND THEMSELVES FROM STATE AGGRESSORS?
Given the appalling history of state aggression in the past century, what do libertarians say about how free societies can protect themselves from attack by organized state militaries?
We know that the state’s rulers have an incentive to be hyper-aggressive because they can shift the costs of war on to their own population. States also command huge resources. In particular, the largest states, such as the US and the EU, are so much bigger than the first, fledgling libertarian societies are likely to be.
Nevertheless, there are straws in the wind which suggest that free societies would be a great deal less vulnerable to aggression by surviving states’ armed forces. In particular history suggests that feisty opposition can make occupation by a foreign army unsustainable.
MILITARY TECHNOLOGY AND STATE AGGRESSION
Since WWII there has been almost uninterrupted failure by big first-world armies to subdue third world independence movements. These range from the defeat of the French Army in Algeria and Vietnam, the Nationalist Chinese failure to suppress Mao’s communist rebels, to the Red Army’s long failure to pacify Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Nor could the Red Army hold on to the USSR’s vassals in 1989-1991. The Israeli Army managed to get pushed out of southern Lebanon by Hezbollah. The US Army’s defeat at the hands of the Vietcong in Vietnam was a great shock. More recently the US spent a trillion dollars it didn’t have failing to pacify Iraq or, again, Afghanistan.
These were defeats for the supposedly invincible state military forces. They suggest that the political cost of state aggression against weaker states is much higher than is generally supposed.
At the time of the Russian failure in Afghanistan it was pointed out that war deaths were less bearable to home populations than they had been. When families have only one or two children, rather than in the past when they typically had several, each war death is more painful, and more politically costly to the regime.
It is also clear that conscripting men to fight aggressive wars has become politically impossible, at least in the West. Vietnam ended acceptance of that idea. As a result, combat numbers in armies depend on volunteers and so are steadily shrinking. But armies are still becoming steadily more expensive. Those western men willing to volunteer are ill-equipped to cope with the reality of combat.
Much of the US occupation in Iraq was actually shouldered by military ‘contractors’. These are in fact private mercenary forces, which at least makes it more likely that private military force is more effective than the state military. Similarly, the wars in Iraq and Syria have been carried on by ‘militias’ on both sides including Hezbollah, Iraqi popular mobilisation units and Al Kaeda, as much as by conventional armies.
The technology of war has shifted to the defense’s advantage. The defense can now use improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), relatively cheap missiles against vulnerable and expensive tanks and airplanes. Modern navies’ big ships are becoming little more than floating coffins in the face of improving missile capability. They are so expensive that the Royal Navy has very few ships. Now they are vulnerable. At every level the big state aggressor force is becoming obsolete.
STATE AGGRESSION IS UNDERMINED BY STATE INEFFICIENCY
We can take comfort from the fact that the state is so incompetent in warfare as in everything else. History suggests that state organized military activity is beset by the same inefficiency, waste, lack of initiative, technological ineptitude, mediocrity and risk aversion as every other state activity. It seems to be sharing in the general decline in effectiveness that is afflicting all government activity.
A sobering recent example is CrossRail. The UK State has just managed to complete an underground railway in London for a little over £20 billion. Its high-tech signalling doesn’t work. Train’s aren’t running as envisaged yet. Meanwhile other 1970s vintage underground railway signaling systems continue to operate reliably, day in, day out, in the capital.
The military are showing every sign of a similar decay into ineffectualness. Example include the British Army’s defeat in Basra at the hands of the locals, and the bizarre attempt to occupy Helmand Province in Afghanistan. There we sent in a specially formed brigade. Back in the day, that should have included up to 5,000 combat ready soldiers.
Not any more it seems. The Helmand brigade’s 4,000 or so members included just 500 actual combat soldiers. Only a third could be on duty at any one time. We tried to hold an area the size of Wales with 150 men. And, of course, we had ‘air power’ capable of indiscriminately killing scores of civilians, thereby recruiting more fighters to the resistance. The rest of the Brigade’s 4,000 ‘soldiers’ were logistics, liaison, HR, consultancy personnel.
British defence spending, currently running at roughly £40bn annually, produces next to no usable offensive combat capability. And that’s before we consider whether military technology is now changing to the disadvantage of big state conventional armies and navies.
Another example of the limited efficacy of state defence is shown in the Tom Hanks film ‘Captain Philips’. It is the true story of an attempted Somali pirate attack on a merchant vessel. In one scene he calls on the Royal Navy to help (I assume this scene is true – it is certainly believable). We are shown an officer responding to Captain Phillips’ call from a well-appointed and staffed high-tech command centre in (I think) Dubai.
What help does our captain get? None at all. No actual warships or planes are available from the RN Dubai help centre to, er, help. Perhaps that is what the Julia Roberts character in ‘Pretty Woman’ means when she describes the Richard Gere character as having ‘that sharp, useless look’. Perhaps the British Army brigade HQ in Helmand was similarly well staffed, computerized and generally lacking in effectiveness.
Not a lot of people know that our army has enough commissioned officers to form a big brigade of 5,000 or more men. That is a lot of commissioned officers for around 80,000 regular army personnel. We don’t seem to get a lot of power projection for our £40bn a year of ‘defense’ spending in the UK. Much is spent for little result. Meanwhile Russia seems to hold the US at bay for around £60bn annually in defense spending.
Another thing not a lot of people know is this. As the Somali pirates ramped up their attacks many expensive government warships were sent to the Horn of Africa. They achieved little.
But a consortium of insurance companies put together an armed naval response. Ships could avail themselves of their convoy services and reduce the insurance costs and losses. It appears to have been a success. (Un)surprisingly this achievement was not widely reported.
It does however fit in well with the principal libertarian approach to providing protect from state aggressors and other criminals.
PROTECTION AGENCIES AND INSURANCE COMPANY PROVISION OF DEFENCE
Gustave Molinari was the 19th century economist who proposed that defense against aggressors, including state armies, would also be provided better by independent companies than by the state. This was because voluntary cooperation in competitive markets is always more effective, better conceived and less expensive than the state can manage. The state necessarily creates gigantic bureaucratic agencies. They tend to experience continuous cost push pressures and to be prey to corrupting arms makers.
Like any monopolist, the state’s protection agencies, the monopoly police force and the armed forces, have an incentive to supply less and less protection at a steadily rising cost.
Private agencies should do better. They certainly would have to in order to remain competitive. Hans-Hermann Hoppe (author of ‘The Private Production of Defense’) discusses the practicality of relying on protection agencies funded by insurance companies.
Defense against an external state is just a particular case of protection from any other transgressors against the Libertarian Non-aggression Principle (NAP), i.e. other criminals.
Insurance should in principle be a workable approach for any risk which the insured does not control. The chance of being robbed or attacked should be an independent risk, similar to being hit by lightning, flooded, burnt out of house and home, or involved in a car crash.
You can’t insure against killing yourself, and nobody has made private unemployment insurance work, because you can decide to kill yourself or become unemployed. Similarly, you won’t be covered by your insurance if you engage in provocative or aggressive actions. Such behaviour makes the insured event – getting injured or robbed – much more likely.
On the other hand, insurers may require you to take measures involving security systems, alarms, and acquiring weapons and learning how to use them. At least they may cut their premiums for people who cooperate to reduce their risk, for example buy participating in militia training.
As we saw in earlier posts, insurance companies would have an incentive to deal effectively with regular criminals. They want to recover cash on claims they have paid to injured or robbed customers. They also want to ensure crime doesn’t pay. This they do by obtaining enough restitution orders to bankrupt, discourage or deter would-be career criminals. If criminals decide to give up, premiums in more secure areas will fall as security increases.
To do this companies will use lawyers, and protective and detective agencies. They may well operate disputes resolution procedures to resolve disputes where both parties are their customers. If they are not, there are time-honoured arbitration procedures for actions between companies. This is what seems to go on between insurance companies now.
It is possible that most disputes in a free society would be managed between insurance companies. The companies will need to take a practical view of the investment needed to achieve acceptable security. Too little expenditure and customers will not be protected. Too much and premiums will be too high relative to other companies. They will be careful to operate within the constraints of the NAP. They will avoid being sued too often in their turn by innocent people they may have injured, arrested or brought to trial.
THE BOUNDARIES OF INSURED AND PROTECTED TERRITORY IN FREE SOCIETIES
The insurable unit in a free society basically amounts to real property within its defined, or definable, boundaries, and the individuals associated with it. Clearly some individuals in low rent areas may in fact not have security insurance. But then armies don’t usually target poor value areas. They are looking for loot and for assets that sustain the defending society’s defense effort.
Some land may be so useless that nobody can be bothered to enclose and defend it. Each parcel of land is of different value and vulnerability to attack. It is part of the myth of national defense that it is some kind of public good that people won’t pay for voluntarily. In Hoppe’s view the free society defending itself against state aggression is the sum of individual properties and their various insurers. If a large enough area has slipped out of state control entirely then it is not clear that there will be any sharp borders delineating any given free society.
STATE AGGRESSION AGAINST A FREE SOCIETY – A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
The best thing to do might be to imagine a hypothetical instance of a threatened attack by the conventional armed forces of a surviving state.
We can imagine a country called Ruritania. Many years ago, state control in the western section of Ruritania was successfully challenged. The result is that what was western Ruritania is now an area occupied by free societies.
The surviving Ruritanian state apparatus kept control of the rest of central and eastern Ruritania. There it has maintained an enlightened centrally planned green socialist system. As a result, its subjects are increasingly poor and disillusioned. Inevitably the free societies in the west have become rich, creative and confident. Increasingly, subjects of the Ruritanian socialist look to the west for leadership, entertainment and example.
The Ruritanian state senses it is losing its subjects’ loyalty. In many cases it is losing their skills, resources and persons as state enslaved Ruritanians head off towards freedom. The government decides to attack the free societies in former West Ruritania. They hope to prop up their regime. But they face a number of obstacles.
JUSTIFYING AGGRESSION AGAINST FREE SOCIETIES
It’s not that easy to attack your neighbours for no reason. Even despotic regimes like to have a fig leaf of justification for aggression. The good bit about a war from the Ruritanian government’s point of view, as with any aggressor state, is that it will allow it to steal even more from its own citizens.
More resources and obedience can be extorted under the cloak of wartime patriotic enthusiasm. But that depends on the masses being misled into fearing they are threatened. It won’t work if the people do not believe in a war. Free societies are hard to depict as aggressors.
Historically states have pointed to apparently aggressive behaviour by rival states to justify aggression. Like the Americans in 1941, they may even provoke attacks by the rival state to persuade a reluctant populace into the folly and waste of aggressive warfare. When I was young we were bombarded with mainstream media accounts exaggerating the size of the Soviet military. It implied an aggressive intent and capability which surely did not exist.
But how do you demonise the state in a free society where there is no state? The free societies’ legal framework and competing insurance-based protection agencies will all be geared to avoiding and penalising aggressive and provocative behaviour. The Ruritanian state is going to have great difficulty depicting the free societies as threatening aggressors. Indeed, Ruritanians may think (correctly) that their own unlikeable government is the bully. The regime’s hold on its populace will be weakened, not strengthened.
This might seem a little naïve. But how many states have attacked Costa Rica? It doesn’t have an army. It is determinedly neutral, like Switzerland and Eire. It is therefore almost as difficult to depict as a dangerous aggressor as a free society would be. Once again, a state military establishment does not protect you. It is the thing that gets you into wars.
ATTACKING A PROPERLY DEFENDED FREE SOCIETY
Let us imagine that the Ruritanian state comes up with some pretext for attacking the free societies. A lot has been misspent on an expensive military. It is supplied by an already corrupt and largely national arms manufacturing sector. Their products are not necessarily world class any more. They lag the technology and weaponry available in the free societies.
The free societies are defended by the local subsidiaries of regional or global insurance companies with enormous combined resources. They possess specialised protection units. These are military formations trained and equipped to carry on rational defensive warfare consistent with the legal structure and incentives of a free country. Some may be specialized in cyber-warfare, special operations or area missile protection.
These units begin to appear and build up beyond the Ruritanian border. What they may lack in numbers they will make up for in equipment, training and experience in deploying violence efficiently. The insurance companies’ worldwide credibility will be on the line.
Their units may be supplemented by citizen militia which have been formed by the inhabitants of the free societies. It would be impossible to prevent citizens forming such units – though they would be obliged to operate within the existing legal framework in a non-aggressive way. Many citizens might agree with the authors of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution that free militias are an invaluable antidote to an aggressive state.
We can see that insurance companies might offer lower premiums to individual customers who install security equipment and arm themselves to help ward off (non-state) criminals. Might they also encourage membership in approved militia formations?
The more militia units develop, the more you would get something like the Swiss Army which is a high-grade national militia. It is clearly motivated to defend hearth and home, but it cannot be used for aggressive purposes. It’s a big reason Switzerland avoided the 20th century wars – that and the policy of neutrality which is baked in the cake by reliance on a purely defensive militia deterrent.
Back to the Ruritanian state warmongers. Once battle is joined, the Ruritanian government will face the likelihood of a determined defense which their forces will not defeat, easily if at all. The free society defense will be determined. It will also be consistent with application of the NAP principle that violence may be used to deter or defend against aggressor individuals and groups.
The defense will not attack civilian targets and property and will certainly not use weapons of mass destruction. The tendency will be to re-introduce the idea of non-combatant immunity which has been forgotten during the barbaric total wars of the 20th century. Apart from anything else, such self restraint will avoid annoying the apathetic Ruritanian masses. The defense would not want to provoke them by inflicting casualties and damage inside Ruritania. That could rally them to support their feckless state.
The defense will focus instead the aggressors themselves. In particular it would target the actual employees, armed or otherwise, of the Ruritanian state. In particular, those in the armed forces and the political leadership who are breaching the NAP by attacking the free society will come under direct attack. Not to be underestimated is the effect of knowing you might be arrested and sued for restitution for wartime damage any time you travelled abroad for the rest of your life.
But assassination by missile or contract killers would also be logical recourse. In interstate warfare deliberately picking off opposing rulers and generals was considered rather bad form. After all the leaders on both sides were all partners in the same business of exploiting their own peoples to pay for their war games. But here there would be no such fellow feeling towards the Ruritanian leadership. After all, Ruritania cannot retaliate by killing off the state elite in the stateless free societies.
DIFFICULTY OF OCCUPYING A FREE SOCIETY
The test of the idea of free societies cannot be that they never lose to state aggressors. The price of liberty is constant vigilance. It may not always be enough. It is possible that in this case the bruised and battered Ruritanian State would nevertheless prevail. It would then occupy the formerly free societies.
Then what do they do? Occupying a formerly free society would present problems. The invader would expect to end the war by making an agreement with the defeated state. But there isn’t one. They might look for help from the westerners’ state police, army and bureaucrats - paid for by the region’s tax revenues. But these do not exist either.
Such occupations are unlikely to last forever, as the Taliban and the Iraqi militias well understand. Every inhabitant in the free territories zone will know that if and when it ends, every assistance rendered to the occupier, and every change of property ownership, will be subject to review by the courts.
It will be very difficult to maintain a viable occupation of the free territories. The more severe the exactions of the occupation the more expensive and unpopular it will become from the point of view of the allegedly victorious Ruritanian state.