Trading Victims

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Trading Victims, Increasing State Power

by Roderick T. Long by Roderick T. Long

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By most reports, Israeli bombings of Lebanon are strengthening Hezbollah’s support among Lebanese civilians, while Hezbollah bombings of Israel are strengthening the Israeli government’s support among Israeli civilians.

So here we have (what are by libertarian standards) two criminal gangs, both blasting away at innocent civilians, and the result is to increase these gangs’ popularity among the civilians being victimised! A very successful outcome for both sides.

The trick, of course, is that each gang is blasting away at civilians in the other gang’s territory. If each gang were to attack its own civilians directly, those civilians would quickly turn against the gangs in their midst. But since in fact each side’s continuation of bombings is what allows the other side to excuse, and get away with, its bombings, the situation isn’t really all that different; each side is causing its own civilians to be bombed. It’s just that by following the stratagem of attacking each other’s civilians, the two gangs manage to avoid (and indeed promote the exact opposite of) the loss of domestic power that would follow if they were to bring about the same results more directly. Think of it as the geopolitical version of Strangers on a Train.

No, I’m not suggesting that Hezbollah and the Israeli government are in cahoots. They don’t need to be. This is how the logic of statism works, this is how its incentives play out, regardless of what its agents specifically intend. The externalisation of costs is what states do best. (True, Hezbollah isn’t a state, but it aspires to be one, and its actions are played out within a framework sustained by statism.)

What would happen if the civilian populations of Israel and Lebanon were to come to see this conflict, not as Israel versus Hezbollah, or even Israeli-government-plus-Israeli-civilians versus Hezbollah-plus-Lebanese-civilians, but rather as Israeli-government-plus-Hezbollah versus ordinary-people-living-on-the-eastern-Mediterranean? Both Hezbollah and the Israeli government would quickly lose their popular support, and their ability to wage war against each other would go with it.

But by encouraging the identification of civilians with the states that rule them, statism makes it harder for civilians to find their way to such a perspective. (Of course racism and religious intolerance are part of the story too — yet another way in which such cultural values help to prop up the state apparatus.) As long as the people of the eastern Mediterranean continue to view this conflict through statist spectacles, Hezbollah and/or the Israeli government will continue to be the victors, while the civilian populace in both Israel and Lebanon will remain the vanquished and victimised.

Roderick T. Long [send him mail] is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University; Editor of the Journal of Libertarian Studies; President of the Molinari Institute; Senior Scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute; and author of Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1992, and maintains the website Praxeology.net, as well as the web journal Austro-Athenian Empire.

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