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.
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
Originally Posted on March 7th, 2003.
Also published here: peacemovement.wordpress.com