as I had imagined, some people misunderstood the chief argument
I presented the day after the September 11th terrorist
attacks. "Aren't we," they asked, "backing down in the face
of terror if we change our foreign policy due to these attacks?"
was most emphatically not my point that we should stop,
for instance, the embargo on Iraq because of the September 11th
attacks. Our government should refrain from killing innocent
people, at home and abroad, not because otherwise the terrorists
will keep attacking us, but because such killing is wrong. We
should stop it even if it meant there would be more terrorist
the other hand, we should not be deterred from whatever we determine
our duty to be, even if abandoning our duty resulted in fewer
terrorist attacks. Imagine that a US Navy destroyer was in a
position to rescue Israeli citizens from a burning ship in the
Mediterranean, a ship that had been set ablaze by a terrorist
bomb. The terrorists responsible threaten to attack the citizens
of any nation that helps people off of the ship. Well, too bad.
We do the rescue and go on alert for a terrorist attack.
do not pretend to be a foreign policy expert. On some issues,
such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I will not comment,
because I have not studied them in depth. Somewhat out of step
with the times, I feel that it is more important to have studied
the issues on which I have an opinion than it is to have an
opinion on every issue.
other foreign policy topics, however, I can't see that deep
expertise is required, because the moral situation is so clear-cut.
One such case is the US-led embargo against Iraq. Again, I'll
use a hypothetical scenario to illustrate what I see is the
moral issue at hand.
criminal has killed members of my family during a robbery. He
has gone into hiding. Although I can't find him, I do know where
some of his family members are. Since I can't get him directly,
I seize those people. I tell him I will kill one of them a week
until he surrenders.
there anyone who contends that my action is moral, and that
I have a right to kill members of the criminal's family in order
to get at him? If not, is there anyone who can explain how the
embargo against Iraq differs from the case I present? Aren't
we killing innocent Iraqi people in order to get Hussein to
cry "Uncle"? Yes, if he does, the deaths will stop. But so it
is with our hypothetical criminal: If he should surrender, I
would stop killing his family. Does that mean he alone
is responsible for the innocent people I kill? No, of course
not: Either of us could stop the killing, and both of us are
above brings me to the complaint I received that I was "equating"
various actions by the US government to the terrorist attacks.
There were, however, no equations in my column. That remark
may appear flippant, but it points to the truth that there is
no calculus of injustice. If I am behaving unjustly, I should
stop. It does not help my case to contend that others are acting
"even more" unjustly.
frequent complaint is: "It's not very realistic to think we
can pursue non-interventionism." (I greatly prefer "non-interventionism"
to "isolationism." "Non-interventionism" is the policy recommendation
of the "paleos," while "isolationism" is just a smear. I speak
regularly with my neighbors, bring them vegetables from my garden,
have play dates with their kids, and so on. If I do not also
regularly bomb them or place armed guards in their yards, does
that mean I'm isolated from them?)
any case, in the real world it has turned out to be "not very
realistic" to pursue empire, as learned by the Persians, Alexander,
the Romans, the Mongols, the Bourbons, the Habsburgs, Napoleon,
the English, Hitler, and many others. And it's turning out to
be "not very realistic" for us either.
out motto should be: Oderint dum metuant, or "Let them
hate us, so long as they fear us." Quoting Derbyshire: "Seneca
rebuked Cicero for saying it, though it seems to have been current
among educated late-republican Romans."
Derbyshire should note that this modus operandi failed.
Not only did it succeed in destroying the Roman Republic, but
also the Roman Empire created by it collapsed, and Roman civilization
nearly disappeared, although, of course, remnants of it remain
with us to this day.
response to my column contended that I had confused war with
crime. When I wrote of punishing the aggressors, some correspondents
said, "We punish criminals but defeat enemies, and this is not
crime but war."
what is the difference? Well, if the event is a crime, then
the principles of justice must be followed in meting out punishment.
But we invent another category called "war" and make it the
special province of the state. If we postulate that the principles
of justice are suspended whenever we are at war, then the state
can throw off the shackles of justice and do whatever it wants,
including deliberately killing thousands who were not responsible
for the initial injustice. We can look at this from the other
side as well: If a combatant in a war is not attempting to justly
punish a crime, then that combatant is itself criminal.
that someone I recognize kills my spouse. I don't know his name
or exact residence, but I'm pretty darn sure what block he lives
on. So I buy a flame-thrower and incinerate the whole block.
"Well," I say, "he didn't care that he was taking an innocent
life, so why should I?"
there anyone who thinks that my action was not criminal, and
that I'm not guilty of murder? Of course I am, and so, of course,
is anyone else who follows such logic, even if they claim that
they are acting in behalf of "the state."
commentators have pointed out that, after being attacked by
Japan, the US did not attempt to discover and punish only the
specific individuals involved in the attack. But there was no
question as to whether the attackers were acting as agents of
the Japanese government, especially since the Japanese government
did not repudiate the attack. We knew who was responsible.
suggestion that we should just retaliate, never mind who exactly
did what, is actually analogous to a situation where, on a hypothetical
December 7, 1941, we only knew that "some Asian country" had
attacked Pearl Harbor. Because of the attack, we contend that
we were entitled to retaliate against any Asian country. Imagine
this logic applied to ordinary crimes: You know that an Irish
guy attacked you; therefore, you can beat up any Irish guy you
state is introduced as a deus ex machina to hoist such
moral issues from the stage of human conduct into an ethereal
realm of "statecraft." The state posits itself as the prime
enabler of human cooperation, thus exempt from the ordinary
moral practices to which individuals adhere. Thomas Hobbes can
be regarded as a prominent apostle of this view of the state.
showed that, in a "state of nature" human life without ordered
society humans are faced with what we, today, might call
a game theory problem. Say that isolated humans Ug and Og both
hunt in the same woods. If Ug sees Og with a nice rabbit, what
is to stop him from splitting Og's head open with a stone axe
and taking his catch? More generally, how can they trust each
other to keep any agreement to live peacefully together, when
it seems the only way to be sure of "winning" is to get the
other guy first? To solve their problem, says Hobbes, they agree
to let a third fellow, Gor, resolve all disputes, including
those between himself and Ug or Og, on a permanent basis.
He will be their chief, and they give him all of their axes.
Gor has become a proto-state. The essence of his status as a
state is that the rules he applies to others do not apply to
The State, Anthony de Jasay argues that Ug and Og have
not solved their game theory problem at all. If they could not
work out any way to trust each other without giving Gor extraordinary
power, then how can they possibly trust Gor after he has been
granted such extraordinary power and has all the big weapons?
his exalted status, Gor must still be on guard against Ug and
Og deciding they've had enough of his rule, and uniting against
him. Several means serve this end.
is to keep the people under state rule divided. The state's
interactions with its subjects will create special interest
groups, and the state will attempt to maintain a coalition of
groups who feel they are benefiting from state-granted privilege
that is more powerful than any coalition of those who feel they
are not so benefiting.
means is ceaseless propaganda about the benefits of state activities.
(Compulsory public education is obviously one excellent medium
for such propaganda.) Ideally, as a result of such propaganda,
the populace will adopt several notions that serve to cement
state rule. One is that the state is really "all of us." Here,
democracy has served as a good means to spread this belief.
(If you think it is true that the state is all of us, then I
recommend trying to take one of "our" fighter jets out for a
spin one day.)
state is also motivated to convince us that we are besieged
by enemies, and that only it keeps these wolves from our door.
Clearly, terrorism serves the latter project extremely well:
see, for instance, the movie Brazil,
or Umberto Eco's essay "Striking at the Heart of the State."
course, our recommendation for the current crisis cannot be
that first we should eliminate the state and establish anarcho-capitalist
defense organizations, then determine what to do about terrorism.
We must begin where we are, with the institutions we really
do have, and narrow our recommendations to conceivable scenarios.
A good place to start is to get people to recognize that deliberately
killing non-combatants is wrong, whether it's done by terrorists
or by those trying to hide behind the edifice of the state.