Iraq and Libertarian Objections to War
(original version: 2002)
2014 note: Just to avoid giving the wrong impression: At the time I wrote this (2002), I didn’t realize that Ayn Rand’s foreign policy views may have been hawkish and inconsistent with the non-aggression principle, but many antiwar libertarians would still give her credit for the way she expressed this principle.
2005 note: The following is adapted from something I wrote elsewhere in 2002. A few links have been added from subsequent events in order to update the picture a bit.
Iraq and Human Life: Libertarian Objections to War (Aug 30 ’02)
President Bush is calling for “regime change” in Iraq and seems to have the intention of attacking that country in order to remove Saddam Hussein.
The Government of Canada should continue to oppose this type of action.
Such an attack is not morally justifiable, because it is unprovoked and is not an act of self-defence or just retaliation.
An attack on Iraq would likely cause the death of many innocent civilians – by both sides – as was the case with the Gulf War.(1) This pattern of large numbers of civilian deaths in 20th (and 21st) century wars – no matter how much we have gotten used to it – is a moral failure, and any civilian deaths should be diligently avoided.
It is a mistake to think that endless war is going to make North America more secure just like it is a mistake to think it is good strategy to crush other nations who have not done anything to us.
An unprovoked attack (with almost zero support among allies, including Arab nations), would create more enemies, and would increase the odds of more terrorist attacks in North America. Arab countries like Iraq are filled with millions of innocent people, individuals who are not dictators and not terrorists, and they do not deserve to be treated as such.
Over recent weeks, there has been some strong opposition by Americans to White House intentions to attack Iraq. I was impressed, for example, with how the U.S. House of Representatives majority leader, Dick Armey, a conservative, spoke out against Bush’s plans. According to a New York Times article, he said,
“I don’t believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation. It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation”. (2)
I hope Stephen Harper and the Canadian Alliance follow this type of genuine American conservative thinking rather than the current mindless so-called “conservatism” that is dominating and distorting the American media right now.
I tuned out Rush Limbaugh and National Review Online – perhaps they have still have something worthwhile to say – but I don’t know, because it got drowned out with all the stupid war-mongering about the Middle East. I hope Canadian conservatives are listening to the principled libertarians, conservatives and liberals in the U.S who oppose this war.
I don’t think there is anything “conservative” about these attempts by some Americans to reshape the world by force, and to funnel their country’s resources into an endless war with military bases on every continent. Force is for the defence of one’s own country, not for interfering violently in other nations. “Conservative” should mean letting people live their lives and do their business in peace without the constant threat of being interfered with and murdered by some government.
I think Canadian political parties, including the Liberals and the Canadian Alliance, should take a balanced and fair approach towards disagreements between Israel and Arab nations.
I also think that if the Liberals won’t do it, then the Canadian Alliance or the Progressive Conservatives should pursue a policy of making Canada a more independent force in the world and less tied to interventionist allies. Canada should become a more self-reliant and stronger nation militarily.
Those who admire American ideals know what Thomas Jefferson and the others who wrote the American Declaration of Independence said:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”(3)
Iraqis have the Right to Life also, but these sacred individual rights are discarded during war. Their life and property are to be destroyed under the war machines as “collateral damage”.
The Iraqi tyrant doesn’t have a right to kill and terrorize his people, but neither does the U.S. or its allies. Iraqis should be left alone and encouraged by diplomacy to solve the problems of their own country.
With respect to the U.S. administration’s attacks on domestic liberty in the U.S, see the same New York Times article mentioned above:
House policy. Mr. Armey objected to an administration proposal to encourage taxi
drivers, cable-television installers and other workers whose jobs routinely take them
through the nation’s neighborhoods to report signs of terrorism to a national hot line.”(2)
Hey, Canadian conservatives ! – and liberals too. Please stop fawning over the United States. The U.S. is further abandoning its liberties and ideals at an alarming rate, and if Canadians follow along with these mistakes, now or in the future, Canada is going to be dragged into something awful.
The Liberal government should maintain their opposition to this potential moral disaster, and I hope Parliament will debate this issue when it is time, especially if there is any question of Canada becoming involved.
I don’t take it for granted that Canada is going to stay out of this or other conflicts. If you are a Canadian, why not express your views to your Member of Parliament, the Prime Minister and the leader of the Official Opposition. (4)
Modern Libertarian Ethics Concerning War – Some Examples
1. Ayn Rand
From Rand’s novel,
“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.” (5)
In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Rand also says:
“When a nation resorts to war, it has some purpose, rightly or wrongly, something
to fight for – and the only justifiable purpose is self-defense.”(6)
2. L. Neil Smith
“A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. …” (7)
In an excellent article, Smith calls the above statement the “Non-Aggression Principle”. He describes it as “an ethical construction which holds that no one has a right to initiate physical force against another human being for any reason …”
“In time of war, for example, the more hawkish types among us would dearly love to be relieved of that burdensome moral obligation we all labor under to behave justly and decently toward other human beings. If they can only fight back against specific individuals who attacked them, they can’t very well justify dropping explosives, incendiaries, microorganisms, poison chemicals, or thermonuclear bombs on entire populations — not two percent of which, in most cases, ever raised a hand against them, bears them any ill will, or even thinks about them very much. The Non-Aggression Principle allows no room for “collateral damage”.”(8)
In an interview, Smith makes a distinction between the non-aggression principle, where a libertarian is willing to stop violence but not start it, and pacifism, which he calls a “self-destructive, self-sacrificial doctrine”. (9)
1. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 1991, Vol. 47, No. 7 The Gulf War: Not so clean? By George Lopez
“The good intentions of U.S. military planners were questioned only intermittently–once after U.S. stealth fighter-bombers obliterated the Amiriya bomb shelter in Baghdad on February 13, killing 600-1,000 civilians.”
“There have been no precise estimates of civilian casualties during the war. The most intelligent guesses have been broad ranging: “5,000–15,000 Iraqi civilians died during the war, and 4,000-6,000 civilians died since the end of the war due to wounds, lack of medical care, or malnutrition,” according to Greenpeace.”
2. The New York Times, Aug 9, 2002, Iraq Is Defiant as G.O.P. Leader Opposes Attack By Eric Schmitt. Article
4. http://www.parl.gc.ca/ Canada’s Parliament
Atlas Shrugged, Part III “A is A” Chapter VII “This is John Galt Speaking”
(p. 977) Signet, 1992
8. Article “War of the Weenies”, The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 170, April 22, 2002. http://www.ncc-1776.com/tle2002/libe170-20020422-04.html
9. L. Neil Smith http://www.zolatimes.com/V2.16/NEILSMITH.html (outdated link),
An Interview with Science Fiction Writer L. Neil Smith by Alberto Mingardi and Matteo Incerti,
The Laissez-Faire City Times