Monday, January 2, 2023

The Nazi's Veto


    Murray Rothbard was the father of modern libertarianism and in turn inspires many Latter Day Saint views of war, including this horrendous reading of the Book of Mormon. But the libertarian’s elevation of the individual at the expense of the state ends up creating what I call the “Nazi’s veto” that disallows any state war, and as a result, leaves the state and individuals with no real power to stop abuses.

    Rothbard’s fundamental axiom of libertarian theory “is that no one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property.”[1] He explains this by using a private example that person A has no right to aggress against B because C is threatening. Rothbard claims that “give me liberty or give them death is a far less noble battle cry” and that simplistic theory sounds convincing.

    Those are nice ideas that falls apart upon even a cursory examination. Let’s go back to the fictional examples of people A, B, and C. There are moral differences that immediately make this far more complicated, and unworkable in practice. For example, lets say that person A is a police officer or sheriff, and he is responding to a bank robbery. The robber is doing what libertarians complain about the state, robbing the people of their money. But in stopping the robber, person C, maybe the police officer, person A, causes the robber to crash into another car, killing an innocent lady, person B. In this case, A was stopping C from violating rights, but did so at the expense of person B. That proves the libertarian case, right?

    The libertarian fear of an innocent third person having their rights aggressed would mean that almost no force could be used ever. But the bank robber, rapist, murder (or genocidal dictator below) must be stopped. Sometimes force is required and yet innocent people, (hypothetical person B) could still be hurt, or “aggressed” against. Instead of disallowing force, most people would still consider the actions of the police in this case just, if extremely tragic and regrettable. They might carefully monitor the use of force and ask if other tactics might have been more appropriate, but their use of force would still be just. (Before we continue, notice how this is the distinction between just cause and just conduct regarding warfare. The police can have every right to stop a robber, but not by any means necessary.)

    Now think of the same example, a bank robbery, but maybe the robber intentionally puts someone else in danger. They take a hostage. This would largely shift the immorality of the third person being hurt to the robber (though we would always hope that the robbery can be stopped without the loss of innocent life.) That still requires force, with even more risk to innocents, but if the innocents are hurt, that means the criminal and not the police are at fault.

    There are many different permutations we could do in this situation to assess morality and rights in stopping the criminal. But the point is clear, while the ideal is that no innocent third party should die in defense of your rights. If practiced to the libertarian extreme, it restricts the use of force to such a point that no force can be used. In this fictional example, the police would be so restricted by the danger of aggressing against other’s rights (and since he is government funded official, according to libertarians he is already aggressing against the citizen by living off of taxpayer money),[2] he couldn’t stop the robber.

    The difficulties in morality only get more complicated in war. The state, like the police, is empowered by the people it represents to protect the rights of its citizens under its care by using force. This is the basic contract in the constitution that promises to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, and in return they have the power to tax, print money, make laws, jail citizens, and conscript and fight wars.

    Once that right is recognized, it becomes necessary to determine which strategies are employed so that they don’t create new victims. That is the fundamental reason because justice in war. Because even if the cause of the war is just, it can’t be fought in a way that creates more victims of injustice. Libertarians would deny the state’s power and morality to send soldiers into war. But their ideas would leave much of the world impotent in the face, as the Book of Mormon would say, the “barbarous cruelty” of terrorists (Alma 48:24).

    Libertarians would argue for a limited right to self-defense, and if living under a tyrannical government that they should encourage rebellion in those unjust states. But the oppressed minorities often don’t have the means to resist. Forgot about possessing firearms or having the freedom to organize a rebellion, simply existing as a Bosnian Muslim, Volga German, or a Tutsi in Rwanda would be enough to warrant arrest and execution for many regimes. Much like the actual Warsaw uprising in 1944, Rothbard’s fictional example of Waldavia (225) would say good luck, and then like the Soviets, but because libertarians dislike the state, would stand by and watch them get slaughtered. That isn’t a good moral position to take.

    The idea of rebellion from citizens denied their rights also contradicts the Book of Mormon which taught that if people are oppressed it is because of their wickedness and the Lord will deliver them in his own time. Mosiah 21:15 explains:

15 And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage.

    This is in part because the people would only be slaughtered. (Think of the three failed attacks from the people of Limhi [Mosiah 21:6-12], or the Melian Dialogue.) Philosophers were also wary of rebellion because the chaos and slaughter from a rebellion had a good chance of being worse than the injustice that caused the rebellion!! (It is no surprise that the person who witnessed these blood drenched revolts, Martin Luther, didn’t give any right for the people to revolt. See his text, The Murderous Thieving Hordes of Peasants.) The Salamanca school scholar Francisco Suarez wrote, revolt is just “if essential for liberty…always provided that there is no danger of the same or worse evils falling on community as result of the tyrants death.”[3]  Hugo Grotius, often called the founder of international law, wrote about the same right to revolt if the king alienates his people, but also placed limits on potential usurpers because it would lead to fighting among various factions.[4] From a libertarian standpoint then, the advice for citizens to revolt, not only caused their own deaths in futile revolts, but could result in even more bloodshed, and aggressing against rights, than the always condemned “state war.” 

    Even saying that, America rains death from above which is still horrible right? Let us go back to the A, B, Cs from earlier. Killing a civilian by accident is different than deliberately targeting him or her. If they happen in the course of legitimate acts of war (similar to legitimate police functions designed to save people from our earlier example) and the direct intention is a morally acceptable military target, then unintentionally killing civilians is within the realm of just war. That probably sounds like lame justifications to many libertarians. Those deaths are still tragic and a horrible loss of life and unless you’re okay with genocide and mass murder it doesn’t forbid war.[5] Like the police stopping the robber, the public should reasonably ask if the military should have been more cautious and use better judgement (not to mention aim) during the situation. But disallowing any state use of force is a poor strategy against groups that have far more power than individuals and is often state sponsored themselves.

    To conclude, let us get even more specific about the damning consequences of the fundamental libertarian axion. The ideas that “it is impermissible to violate the rights of other innocent people and war “only proper…when the exercise of violence is rigorously limited to the individual criminals,” lead to the conclusion, “State wars are always to be condemned (220, 222).” (Notice how libertarian ideology elevates personal rights but excludes the collective rights of people represented and expressed by their government.)  Libertarian theory then would have the rights of the most ardent Nazi sympathizer staffing the German war machine veto any moral, humane, just, and even righteous impulse to stop massive slaughter and genocide of innocents. 

    J. Reuben Clark, often quoted by libertarians because of his staunch isolationism displayed the Nazi's veto during World War II. He was so isolationist that he repeatedly advocated for a negotiated peace with Germany that would have left them in control of much of Europe.[6] He did so after multiple reports from death camps such as Auschwitz. According to libertarian philosophy, the United States could not wage war because it might aggress against the rights of innocent third parties, and those third parties should sponsor their own revolt. But it is ridiculous to think that German libertarians would have any collective power against the Gestapo, let alone European Jews already in concentration camps.  It was only state power that could stop the genocide of a totalitarian government. Libertarians, so concerned about being violated by taxes, would ensure that so many others get slaughtered by disallowing any intervention by another state.

    That isn’t a moral or workable philosophy for the evil in the world. In fact, their philosophy only marginal works for individuals in relatively isolated areas like the American mountain west, long ago tamed by agents of the state, such as sheriffs, and protected actions of the state such as defeating Nazi Germany. I kind of wish libertarians would take the same passion they have for hating the government and taxes and spare at least some dislike for the massive slaughter of Ukrainians. If they did, then maybe they would have some Christlike compassion for their brothers and try to stop their slaughter, instead of an ideological zealotry against the state that gives Nazis a veto against that impulse.  

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[1] Murray Rothbard, “War, Peace and the State,” We Who Dared Say No To War: American Anti War Writing from 1812 to Now, Murray Polner, Thomas Woods Eds., (Basic Books, 2009,) 217-226.

[2] 222 “Any war against another State, therefore, involves the increase and extension of taxation-aggression over its own people.”

[3] Andre Azevedo Alves, Jose Moreira, John Meadowcroft, The Salamanca School, (Bloomsbury Academic Pro, 2013), 53. Suarez.

[4] Grotius said on page, 73 “if king alienates the people, he invites retributions.” But places limits on usurpers, 76. Stephen Neff trans., Grotius on the Laws of War and Peace, (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[5] Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, A Moral Argument with Historical Examples, (Basic Books, 2015,) 153-155.

[6]  D. Michael Quinn, “Pacifist Counselor in the First Presidency: J Reuben Clark Jr., 1933-196” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, Patrick Mason, J. David Pulsipher, Richard Bushman eds. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 153-154.