Humanitarian Wars can be Unjust too

Humanitarian Wars can be Unjust too.

[Originally posted at Notes on Liberty]

If you hate evils committed by individuals as much as you hates evils committed by institutions, and vice versa, as I think most people who are even remotely libertarian — wait, no! remotely human! — do, does it truly follow that you must condone one in order to combat the other? Maybe it does, at least in the short term, in a place and time where relationships between all these things have been so distorted. In this case, the distortion is caused primarily by the monopolization of not only judicious force, but very nearly all force, initiative and responsive, at every level, by a single institution (with many manifestations and interlocking jurisdictions). If you haven’t guessed already, that institution is the state.

Taking my cue (I swear there was no collusion!) from Brandon and going with the flow. Jacques Delacroix of Facts Matter and Notes on Liberty has this to say:

No one doubts that the Taliban, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and Islamists in general, want to implement barbaric policies and that they do implement them whenever they have a chance. (Remember, their harsh, extremist rule in parts of Iraq contributed to turning the Sunni population against them.) Among other rolling atrocities, the Taliban close, and often firebomb schools, overwhelmingly girls schools. They are overtly working on perpetuating obscurantism and the savage treatment of women that is undeniably common in much (but not all) of the Muslim world.

He then asks:

If you are a conservative, can you really read the short statement above, look at yourself in the mirror and say, “ I don’t care; none of my business”?

I do think that certain isolationist conservatives and utilitarians and egoists can look at themselves in the mirror and say that. More power to them. But a libertarian that cares about justice can not say this. Dr. Delacroix, apparently, is (as am I) a libertarian (hesitantly so, I gather) that cares about justice. But to what end? At what cost? Does he value justice so much that he would condone the theft of money and loss of innocent life to achieve it, to say nothing of the expansion of the state and loss of civil liberties here at home, the ill-gotten gains, or the economic distortions involved? I think that, unfortunately, the answer is “yes”. Perhaps I am wrong. If so, it is on Delacroix and like-minded libertarians or conservatives to show how a ten-year long conflict that has cost billions or trillions of dollars (if I give a more precise number, J.D. might get distracted by whether it was accurate or not) did not somehow involve the theft of those funds (the social contract, perhaps?) and/or how none of the thousands of lives lost were worth being spared.

I know, some people gave their life voluntarily, and were fully informed of all the risks and possibilities. But others may have signed on voluntarily not thinking they would be called up for a pointless conflict, and later realized that they had done this to themselves. And still more might not have ever warmed up to the idea of being sent to the meat grinder. This is all very sad, but at the same time no one is obliged to honor their cause (or mishap, as it were), particularly if their cause is a fools’ errand such as the War in Afghanistan.

How is a humanitarian war different than any other redistribution of wealth? Why can’t the type of arguments that Jacques Delacroix is employing be used to justify food stamps? Or Federal Deposit Insurance? Or affirmative action in everything from education to employment to moneylending? Or section eight housing? Or agriculture and energy subsidies? Or interest rate manipulation? Or foreign aid? Or quantitative easing?

I don’t exactly have a dog in this fight. I’ve probably paid much less than $100 of direct taxes in my life while I was briefly employed as a surveyor. Neither I nor any of my immediate relatives were fooled or fooled themselves into fighting in any of these recent wars of aggression. No one I know has been killed or injured in any recent conflict. At least, not that I am aware of.

One need not be a hear-no-evil-see-no-evil pacifist, a miserly curmudgeon, or a victim in order to oppose something that is all at once a miscalculation, a boondoggle, and an atrocity. One can vehemently oppose it on those grounds alone.

So seriously, what is with small government types who go down the checklist of the things the state does, selecting the “bad box” all the way down the line until they get to foreign policy? Does the same logic not apply to both? Come on guys!

More on this soon I hope, in several pieces on “the Evils of a Standing Army.” The first one will be addressed to those I refer to as Anti-Government Pro-War Conservatives.


2 thoughts on “Humanitarian Wars can be Unjust too

  1. It’s curious how humanitarian wars are always something we do to them. Why not the other way around? The scene Delacroix paints is very touchy and all, but I could paint just as bad or worse picture of Americans, say by invoking checkpoint killings, torture and blowing up wedding parties, and then ask if a God-fearing conservative can just stand there and proclaim this none of his business.

    If you are in favor of American militarized humanitarianism in Afghanistan, how about say a potential humanitarian intervention against the United States? Say would Delacroix favor a potential Martian invasion of the United States with the stated cause of preventing American excesses in foreign countries? Of course he would right, because he is a compassionate guy and not an extremist like the libertarians. Right?

    I have news for Delacroix and his ilk. You are the bad guys, you are the occupation. Get out.

    • Another night owl, huh? Great comment on the Pearl Harbor piece. I think you’ve got me licked, but there’s a couple things I might respond to. Tomorrow sometime.

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