Peace Requires Anarchy


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The “Monkey Master” Fable

Following is an excerpt from Gene Sharp’s essay From Dictatorship to Democracy, pages 17-18 (PDF pages 25-26 of 102).

Whence Comes The Power?

Achieving a society with both freedom and peace is of course no simple task. It will require great strategic skill, organization, and planning. Above all, it will require power. Democrats cannot hope to bring down a dictatorship and establish political freedom without the ability to apply their own power effectively.

But how is this possible? What kind of power can the democratic opposition mobilize that will be sufficient to destroy the dictatorship and its vast military and police networks? The answers lie in an oft ignored understanding of political power. Learning this insight is not really so difficult a task. Some basic truths are quite simple.

The “Monkey Master” fable

A Fourteenth Century Chinese parable by Liu-Ji, for example, outlines this neglected understanding of political power quite well:

In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him “ju gong” (monkey master).

Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees. It was the rule that each monkey had to give one-tenth of his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly flogged. All the monkeys suffered bitterly, but dared not complain.

One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?” The others said: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?” The others replied: “Yes, we all can.” The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”

Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.

On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned. The old man finally died of starvation.

Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren’t they just like the monkey master? They are not aware of their muddleheadedness. As soon as their people become enlightened, their tricks no longer work.”

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For several examples of other great thinkers’ similar insights regarding this major source of government power, see the How to Achieve A Free Society section of the Quotes page.

Also recommended is Gene Sharp’s 2011 documentary How to Start a Revolution.

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War, Peace, and the State | Murray Rothbard

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All government wars are unjust.”
– Murray N. Rothbard

Anthony Gregory has said “Every libertarian should read this article once a year,” in reference to Murray N. Rothbard’s essay War, Peace, and the State.

While I did not find it as impressive as Rothbard’s essay The Anatomy of the State, it is definitely an important work.

In the essay, Rothbard agrees with a critic who says that the libertarian movement does not have its priorities right. Specifically, many libertarians spend a lot of time worrying about issues such as the “demunicipalization of garbage disposal” rather than the major problems of our time.

Rothbard then argues that the most significant issue of our time is war. He argues that all wars waged by states are aggressive and that states commit the worst crimes in wars. As Randolph Bourne realized, “War is the health of the State.”

In accordance with the objective of reducing the amount of aggression committed by the state, Rothbard calls for libertarians to make reducing the number of innocent people murdered by states in war their top priority. This is achieved first by pressuring states to not wage war:

The libertarian objective, then, should be, regardless of the specific causes of any conflict, to pressure States not to launch wars against other States and, should a war break out, to pressure them to sue for peace and negotiate a cease-fire and peace treaty as quickly as physically possible. [page 7]

Secondly, this is achieved by disarming states so that they are less capable of committing aggression in war:

Highest priority on any libertarian agenda, therefore, must be pressure on all States to agree to general and complete disarmament down to police levels, with particular stress on nuclear disarmament. In short, if we are to use our strategic intelligence, we must conclude that the dismantling of the greatest menace that has ever confronted the life and liberty of the human race is indeed far more important than demunicipalizing the garbage service. [page 9]

So go read antiwar.com and donate. War is indeed the worst part of the state. For those of you who wisely embrace a non-interventionist foreign policy and oppose war, but are not yet anarchists, please consider reading Roderick T. Long’s An Open Letter to the Peace Movement. Thank you.

UPDATE 03/11/2013: Tony Liberté just posted a comic called Ban Government Weapons on his Facebook page Libertarian Humor that I thought was very relevant to Rothbard’s message in this essay:

Tony wrote a note on his cartoon saying:

Unfortunately, not very funny, but so very true. Our priorities should be more on disarming our violent government, not leaving the citizens defenseless against it.

I definitely agree, as did Murray Rothbard.


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Roderick T. Long – An Open Letter to the Peace Movement

Ten years ago today, on March 7, 2003, Professor Roderick T. Long wrote the following open letter to the peace movement urging  peace activists who opposed the Iraq War to be more consistent in their support of peace by opposing domestic as well as foreign aggression.

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Dear Peace Activists:

All honour to you. In your opposition to the United States’ impending war on Iraq, you represent a welcome voice for sanity and civilisation, lifted up against the incessant baying of the dogs of war.

But I want to urge you to follow the logic of your position just a bit further.

Much has been said, and eloquently so, about the need, in dealings between nation and nation, to choose persuasion over violence whenever possible. Hear, hear!

But why this qualification: between nation and nation?

If persuasion is preferable to violence between nations, must it not also be preferable to violence within nations?

Suppose my neighbour runs a business out of his home, and I’d rather he didn’t. If I call the zoning board and ask them to shut his business down by force, am I acting like a peace activist? Or am I acting like George Bush?

Suppose I go to the polls and vote to maintain or increase income taxation, or gun control, or mandatory licensing, or compulsory education. Am I not calling upon the state to invade people’s lives and properties? To impose my will, by legalised force, on those who have done me no harm? To choose violence over persuasion? Am I acting like a peace activist, or am I acting like George Bush?

As Ludwig von Mises writes:

It is important to remember that government interference always means either violent action or the threat of such action. The funds that a government spends for whatever purposes are levied by taxation. And taxes are paid because the taxpayers are afraid of offering resistance to the tax gatherers. They know that any disobedience or resistance is hopeless. As long as this is the state of affairs, the government is able to collect the money that it wants to spend. Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen. The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.

To the extent that government initiates force against its people – and every government qua government must do so, since a government that maintained neither coercive taxation nor a coercive territorial monopoly of authority would no longer be a government, but something a good deal more wholesome – every government is waging a war of aggression against its own people. A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.

It may be objected that in democratic countries, the government represents the will of the citizens; since the citizens are understood to consent to the government’s actions, those actions cannot count as “aggression” against the citizenry. Volenti non fit injuria.

The notion that voting counts in any meaningful sense as “consent” was subjected to devastating criticisms in the 19th century by the English classical liberal Herbert Spencer, in his essay The Right to Ignore the State, as well as by the American abolitionist Lysander Spooner, in his pamphlet No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority. Both works are available online; those tempted to regard majority rule as a form of self-government are invited to consult them.

As peace activists, we understand that aggressive warfare between nations is neither moral nor practical. If violence is to be employed, it must be defensive in nature, and it must be the last resort, not the first. Why would this principle hold good at the international level, but fail at the intranational?

Fellow peace activists: I invite you to join me in the work of the Molinari Institute. The state is the cause and sustainer of war, because the state by its nature is warfare incarnate. Its imperialist aggression beyond its borders is simply an extension of its inherent modus operandi within its borders. There is a peaceful, consensual alternative: Market Anarchism. The object of the Molinari Institute is to see that alternative implemented.

If you love peace, work for anarchy.

Yours in liberty,

Roderick T. Long, President
Molinari Institute

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Originally Posted on March 7th, 2003.

Also published here: peacemovement.wordpress.com