was delivered in Auburn, Alabama, on the occasion of Professor
Hoppe's receiving the Mises Institute's 2006 Gary G. Schlarbaum
the state is defined as an agency with two unique characteristics.
First, it is a compulsory territorial monopolist of ultimate decision-making
(jurisdiction). That is, it is the ultimate arbiter in every case
of conflict, including conflicts involving itself. Second, the
state is a territorial monopolist of taxation. That is, it is
an agency that unilaterally fixes the price citizens must pay
for its provision of law and order.
if one can only appeal to the state for justice, justice will
be perverted in favor of the state. Instead of resolving conflict,
a monopolist of ultimate decision-making will provoke conflict
in order to settle it to his own advantage. Worse, while the quality
of justice will fall under monopolistic auspices, its price will
rise. Motivated like everyone else by self-interest but equipped
with the power to tax, the state agents' goal is always the same:
to maximize income and minimize productive effort.
War, and Imperialism
concentrating on the internal consequences of the institution
of a state, however, I will focus on its external consequences,
i.e., foreign rather than domestic policy.
as an agency that perverts justice and imposes taxes, every state
is threatened with "exit." Especially its most productive citizen
may leave to escape taxation and the perversions of law. No state
likes this. To the contrary, instead of seeing the range of control
and tax base shrink, state agents prefer that they be expanded.
Yet this brings them in conflict with other states. Unlike competition
between "natural" persons and institutions, however, the competition
between states is eliminative. That is, there can be only one
monopolist of ultimate decision-making and taxation in any given
area. Consequently, the competition between different states promotes
a tendency toward political centralization and ultimately one
single world state.
as tax-funded monopolists of ultimate decision-making, states
are inherently aggressive institutions. Whereas "natural" persons
and institutions must bear the cost of aggressive behavior themselves
(which may well induce them to abstain from such conduct), states
can externalize this cost onto their taxpayers. Hence, state agents
are prone to become provocateurs and aggressors and the process
of centralization can be expected to proceed by means of violent
clashes, i.e., interstate wars.
given that states must begin small and assuming as the starting
point a world composed of a multitude of independent territorial
units, something rather specific about the requirement of success
can be stated. Victory or defeat in interstate warfare depend
on many factors, of course, but other things such as population
size being the same, in the long run the decisive factor is the
relative amount of economic resources at a state's disposal. In
taxing and regulating, states do not contribute to the creation
of economic wealth. Instead, they parasitically draw on existing
wealth. However, state governments can influence the amount of
existing wealth negatively. Other things being equal, the lower
the tax and regulation burden imposed on the domestic economy,
the larger the population will tend to grow and the larger the
amount of domestically produced wealth on which the state can
draw in its conflicts with neighboring competitors. That is, states
which tax and regulate their economies comparatively little
liberal states tend to defeat and expand their territories or
their range of hegemonic control at the expense of less-liberal
for instance, why Western Europe came to dominate the rest of
the world rather than the other way around. More specifically,
it explains why it was first the Dutch, then the British and finally,
in the 20th century, the United States, that became the dominant
imperial power, and why the United States, internally one of the
most liberal states, has conducted the most aggressive foreign
policy, while the former Soviet Union, for instance, with its
entirely illiberal (repressive) domestic policies has engaged
in a comparatively peaceful and cautious foreign policy. The United
States knew that it could militarily beat any other state; hence,
it has been aggressive. In contrast, the Soviet Union knew that
it was bound to lose a military confrontation with any state of
substantial size unless it could win within a few days or weeks.
Monarchy and Wars of Armies to Democracy and Total Wars
most states have been monarchies, headed by absolute or constitutional
kings or princes. It is interesting to ask why this is so, but
here I have to leave this question aside. Suffice it to say that
democratic states (including so-called parliamentary monarchies),
headed by presidents or prime-ministers, were rare until the French
Revolution and have assumed world-historic importance only after
World War I.
all states must be expected to have aggressive inclinations, the
incentive structure faced by traditional kings on the one hand
and modern presidents on the other is different enough to account
for different kinds of war. Whereas kings viewed themselves as
the private owner of the territory under their control,
presidents consider themselves as temporary caretakers.
The owner of a resource is concerned about the current
income to be derived from the resource and the capital
value embodied in it (as a reflection of expected future income).
His interests are long-run, with a concern for the preservation
and enhancement of the capital values embodied in "his" country.
In contrast, the caretaker of a resource (viewed as public
rather than private property) is concerned primarily about his
current income and pays little or no attention to capital values.
upshot of this different incentive structure is that monarchical
wars tended to be "moderate" and "conservative" as compared to
wars typically arose out of inheritance disputes brought on by
a complex network of inter-dynastic marriages. They were characterized
by tangible territorial objectives. They were not ideologically
motivated quarrels. The public considered war the king's private
affair, to be financed and executed with his own money and military
forces. Moreover, as conflicts between different ruling families,
kings felt compelled to recognize a clear distinction between
combatants and noncombatants and target their war efforts exclusively
against each other and their family estates. Thus military historian
Michael Howard noted about 18th-century monarchical warfare:
[European] continent commerce, travel, cultural and learned
intercourse went on in wartime almost unhindered. The wars were
the king's wars. The role of the good citizen was to pay his
taxes, and sound political economy dictated that he should be
left alone to make the money out of which to pay those taxes.
He was required to participate neither in the decision out of
which wars arose nor to take part in them once they broke out,
unless prompted by a spirit of youthful adventure. These matters
were arcane regni, the concern of the sovereign alone.
[War in European History, 73]
Ludwig von Mises observed about the wars of armies:
of armies, the army does the fighting while the citizens who
are not members of the army pursue their normal lives. The citizens
pay the costs of warfare; they pay for the maintenance and equipment
of the army, but otherwise they remain outside of the war events.
It may happen that the war actions raze their houses, devastate
their land, and destroy their other property; but this, too,
is part of the war costs which they have to bear. It may also
happen that they are looted and incidentally killed by the warriors
even by those of their "own" army. But these are events which
are not inherent in warfare as such; they hinder rather than
help the operations of the army leaders and are not tolerated
if those in command have full control over their troops. The
warring state which has formed, equipped, and maintained the
army considers looting by the soldiers an offense; they were
hired to fight, not to loot on their own. The state wants to
keep civil life as usual because it wants to preserve the tax-paying
ability of its citizens; conquered territories are regarded
as its own domain. The system of the market economy is to be
maintained during the war to serve the requirement of warfare.
contrast to the limited warfare of the ancien regime,
the era of democratic warfare which began with the French Revolution
and the Napoleonic Wars, continued during the 19th century with
the American War of Southern Independence, and reached its apex
during the 20th century with World War I and World War II has
been the era of total war.
the distinction between the rulers and the ruled ("we all rule
ourselves"), democracy strengthened the identification of the
public with a particular state. Rather than dynastic property
disputes which could be resolved through conquest and occupation,
democratic wars became ideological battles: clashes of civilizations,
which could only be resolved through cultural, linguistic, or
religious domination, subjugation and, if necessary, extermination.
It became increasingly difficult for members of the public to
extricate themselves from personal involvement in war. Resistance
against higher taxes to fund a war was considered treasonous.
Because the democratic state, unlike a monarchy, was "owned" by
all, conscription became the rule rather than the exception. And
with mass armies of cheap and hence easily disposable conscripts
fighting for national goals and ideals, backed by the economic
resources of the entire nation, all distinctions between combatants
and noncombatants fell by the wayside. Collateral damage was no
longer an unintended side-effect but became an integral part of
warfare. "Once the state ceased to be regarded as 'property' of
dynastic princes," Michael Howard noted,
instead the instrument of powerful forces dedicated to such
abstract concepts as Liberty, or Nationality, or Revolution,
which enabled large numbers of the population to see in that
state the embodiment of some absolute Good for which no price
was too high, no sacrifice too great to pay; then the 'temperate
and indecisive contests' of the rococo age appeared as absurd
anachronisms. [ibid. 75–76]
have been made by the military historian and major-general J.F.C.
of the spirit of nationality, that is of democracy, on war was
profound, … [it] emotionalized war and, consequently,
brutalized it; …. National armies fight nations, royal
armies fight their like, the first obey a mob always demented,
the second a king, generally sane. … All this developed
out of the French Revolution, which also gave to the world conscription
herd warfare, and the herd coupling with finance and commerce
has begotten new realms of war. For when once the whole nation
fights, then is the whole national credit available for the
purpose of war. [War and Western Civilization, 26–27]
A. Orton thus summarized matters:
wars were kept within bounds by the tradition, well recognized
in international law, that civilian property and business were
outside the sphere of combat. Civilian assets were not exposed
to arbitrary distraint or permanent seizure, and apart from
such territorial and financial stipulations as one state might
impose on another, the economic and cultural life of the belligerents
was generally allowed to continue pretty much as it had been.
Twentieth-century practice has changed all that. During both
World Wars limitless lists of contraband coupled with unilateral
declarations of maritime law put every sort of commerce in jeopardy,
and made waste paper of all precedents. The close of the first
war was marked by a determined and successful effort to impair
the economic recovery of the principal losers, and to retain
certain civilian properties. The second war has seen the extension
of that policy to a point at which international law in war
has ceased to exist. For years the Government of Germany, so
far as its arms could reach, had based a policy of confiscation
on a racial theory that had no standing in civil law, international
law, nor Christian ethics; and when the war began, that violation
of the comity of nations proved contagious. Anglo-American leadership,
in both speech and action, launched a crusade that admitted
of neither legal nor territorial limits to the exercise of coercion.
The concept of neutrality was denounced in both theory and practice.
Not only enemy assets and interests, but the assets and interests
of any parties whatsoever, even in neutral countries, were exposed
to every constraint the belligerent powers could make effective;
and the assets and interests of neutral states and their civilians,
lodged in belligerent territories or under belligerent control,
were subjected to practically the same sort of coercion as those
of enemy nationals. Thus "total war" became a sort of war that
no civilian community could hope to escape; and "peace loving
nations" will draw the obvious inference. [The Liberal Tradition:
A Study of the Social and Spiritual Conditions of Freedom,
The Doctrine of Democratic Peace
I have explained
how the institution of a state leads to war; why, seemingly paradoxical,
internally liberal states tend to be imperialist powers; and how
the spirit of democracy has contributed to the de-civilization
in the conduct of war.
I have explained the rise of the United States to the rank of
the world's foremost imperial power; and, as a consequence of
its successive transformation from the early beginnings as an
aristocratic republic into an unrestricted mass democracy which
began with the War of Southern Independence, the role of the United
States as an increasingly arrogant, self-righteous and zealous
to be standing in the way of peace and civilization, then, is
above all the state and democracy, and specifically the world's
model democracy: the United States. Ironically if not surprisingly,
however, it is precisely the United States, which claims that
it is the solution to the quest for peace.
for this claim is the doctrine of democratic peace, which goes
back to the days of Woodrow Wilson and World War I, has been revived
in recent years by George W. Bush and his neo-conservative advisors,
and by now has become intellectual folklore even in liberal-libertarian
circles. The theory claims:
do not go to war against each other.
in order to create lasting peace, the entire world must be made
And as a
largely unstated corollary:
many states are not democratic and resist internal democratic
war must be waged on those states in order to convert them to
democracy and thus create lasting peace.
I do not
have the patience for a full-blown critique of this theory. I
shall merely provide a brief critique of the theory's initial
premise and its ultimate conclusion.
Do democracies not go to war against each other? Since almost
no democracies existed before the 20th century the answer supposedly
must be found within the last hundred years or so. In fact, the
bulk of the evidence offered in favor of the thesis is the observation
that the countries of Western Europe have not gone to war against
each other in the post–World War II era. Likewise, in the
Pacific region, Japan and South Korea have not warred against
each other during the same period. Does this evidence prove the
case? The democratic-peace theorists think so. As "scientists"
they are interested in "statistical" proof, and as they see it
there are plenty of "cases" on which to build such proof: Germany
did not war against France, Italy, England, etc.; France did not
war against Spain, Italy, Belgium, etc.. Moreover, there are permutations:
Germany did not attack France, nor did France attack Germany,
etc.. Thus, we have seemingly dozens of confirmations and that
for some 60 years and not a single counterexample. But do we
really have so many confirming cases?
is no: we have actually no more than a single case at hand. With
the end of World War II, essentially all of by now: democratic
Western Europe (and democratic Japan and South Korea in the
Pacific region) has become part of the US Empire, as indicated
by the presence of US troops in practically all of these countries.
What the post World War II period of peace then "proves" is not
that democracies do not go to war against each other but that
a hegemonic, imperialist power such as the United States did not
let its various colonial parts go to war against each other (and,
of course, that the hegemon itself did not see any need to go
to war against its satellites because they obeyed and they
did not see the need or did not dare to disobey their master).
if matters are thus perceived based on an understanding of history
rather than the naïve belief that because one entity has
a different name than another their behavior must be independent
from one another it becomes clear that the evidence presented
has nothing to do with democracy and everything with hegemony.
For instance, no war broke out between the end of World War II
and the end of the 1980s, i.e., during the hegemonic reign of
the Soviet Union, between East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia,
Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, etc. Was this
because these were communist dictatorships and communist dictatorships
do not go to war against each other? That would have to be the
conclusion of "scientists" of the caliber of democratic-peace
theorists! But surely this conclusion is wrong. No war broke out
because the Soviet Union did not permit this to happen just
as no war between Western democracies broke out because the United
States did not permit this to happen in its dominion. To be sure,
the Soviet Union intervened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, but
so did the United States at various occasions in Middle-America
such as in Guatemala, for instance. (Incidentally: How about the
wars between Israel and Palestine and Lebanon? Are not all these
democracies? Or are Arab countries ruled out by definition as
What about democracy as a solution to anything, let alone peace?
Here the case of democratic-peace theorists appears even worse.
Indeed, the lack of historical understanding displayed by them
is truly frightening. Here are only some fundamental shortcomings:
the theory involves a conceptual conflation of democracy and liberty
(freedom) that can only be called scandalous, especially coming
from self-proclaimed libertarians. The foundation and cornerstone
of liberty is the institution of private property; and private
exclusive property is logically incompatible with democracy
majority rule. Democracy has nothing to do with freedom. Democracy
is a soft variant of communism, and rarely in the history of ideas
has it been taken for anything else. Incidentally, before the
outbreak of the democratic age, i.e., until the beginning of the
20th century, government (state) tax-expenditures (combining all
levels of government) in Western European countries constituted
somewhere between 7–15% of national product, and in the
still young United States even less. Less than a hundred years
of full-blown majority rule have increased this percentage to
about 50% in Europe and 40% in the United States.
the theory of democratic peace distinguishes essentially only
between democracy and non-democracy, summarily labeled dictatorship.
Thus not only disappear all aristocratic-republican regimes from
view, but more importantly for my current purposes, also all traditional
monarchies. They are equated with dictatorships a la Lenin, Mussolini,
Hitler, Stalin, Mao. In fact, however, traditional monarchies
have little in common with dictatorships (while democracy and
dictatorship are intimately related).
are the semi-organic outgrowth of hierarchically
structured natural stateless social orders. Kings are
the heads of extended families, of clans, tribes, and nations.
They command a great deal of natural, voluntarily acknowledged
authority, inherited and accumulated over many generations. It
is within the framework of such orders (and of aristocratic republics)
that liberalism first developed and flourished. In contrast, democracies
are egalitarian and redistributionist in outlook; hence, the above-mentioned
growth of state power in the 20th century. Characteristically,
the transition from the monarchical age to the democratic one,
beginning in the second half of the 19th century, has seen a continuous
decline in the strength of liberal parties and a corresponding
strengthening of socialists of all stripes.
it follows from this that the view democratic-peace theorists
have of conflagrations such as World War I must be considered
grotesque, at least from the point of view of someone allegedly
valuing freedom. For them, this war was essentially a war of democracy
against dictatorship; hence, by increasing the number of democracies,
it was a progressive, peace-enhancing, and ultimately justified
matters are very different. To be sure, pre-war Germany and Austria
may not have qualified as democratic as England, France,
or the United States at the time. But Germany and Austria were
definitely not dictatorships. They were (increasingly emasculated)
monarchies and as such arguably as liberal if not more
so than their counterparts. For instance, in the United States,
anti-war proponents were jailed, the German language was essentially
outlawed, and citizens of German descent were openly harassed
and often forced to change their names. Nothing comparable occurred
in Austria and Germany.
In any case,
however, the result of the crusade to make the world
safe for democracy was less liberal than what had existed
before (and the Versailles peace dictate precipitated World War
II). Not only did state power grow faster after the war than before.
In particular, the treatment of minorities deteriorated in the
democratized post–World War I period. In newly founded Czechoslovakia,
for instance, the Germans were systematically mistreated (until
they were finally expelled by the millions and butchered by the
tens of thousands after World War II) by the majority Czechs.
Nothing remotely comparable had happened to the Czechs during
the previous Habsburg reign. The situation regarding the relations
between Germans and southern Slavs in pre-war Austria versus post-war
Yugoslavia respectively was similar.
Nor was this
a fluke. As under the Habsburg monarchy in Austria, for instance,
minorities had also been treated fairly well under the Ottomans.
However, when the multicultural Ottoman Empire disintegrated in
the course of the 19th century and was replaced by semi-democratic
nation-states such as Greece, Bulgaria, etc., the existing Ottoman
Muslims were expelled or exterminated. Similarly, after democracy
had triumphed in the United States with the military conquest
of the Southern Confederacy, the Union government quickly proceeded
to exterminate the Plains Indians. As
Mises had recognized, democracy does not work in multi-ethnic
societies. It does not create peace but promotes conflict and
has potentially genocidal tendencies.
and intimately related, the democratic-peace theorists claim that
democracy represents a stable "equilibrium." This has been expressed
most clearly by Francis Fukuyama, who labeled the new democratic
world order as the "end of history." However, overwhelming evidence
exists that this claim is patently wrong.
grounds: How can democracy be a stable equilibrium if it is possible
that it be transformed democratically into a dictatorship,
i.e., a system which is considered not stable? Answer:
that makes no sense!
empirically democracies are anything but stable. As indicated,
in multi-cultural societies democracy regularly leads to the discrimination,
oppression, or even expulsion and extermination of minorities
hardly a peaceful equilibrium. And in ethnically homogeneous
societies, democracy regularly leads to class warfare, which leads
to economic crisis, which leads to dictatorship. Think, for example,
of post-Czarist Russia, post-World War I Italy, Weimar Germany,
Spain, Portugal, and in more recent times Greece, Turkey, Guatemala,
Argentina, Chile, and Pakistan.
is this close correlation between democracy and dictatorship troublesome
for democratic-peace theorists; worse, they must come to grips
with the fact that the dictatorships emerging from crises of democracy
are by no means always worse, from a classical liberal or libertarian
view, than what would have resulted otherwise. Cases can be easily
cited where dictatorships were preferable and an improvement.
Think of Italy and Mussolini or Spain and Franco. In addition,
how is one to square the starry-eyed advocacy of democracy with
the fact that dictators, quite unlike kings who owe their rank
to an accident of birth, are often favorites of the masses and
in this sense highly democratic? Just think of Lenin or Stalin,
who were certainly more democratic than Czar Nicholas II; or think
of Hitler, who was definitely more democratic and a "man of the
people" than Kaiser Wilhelm II or Kaiser Franz Joseph.
to democratic-peace theorists, then, it would seem that we are
supposed to war against foreign dictators, whether kings or demagogues,
in order to install democracies, which then turn into (modern)
dictatorships, until finally, one supposes, the United States
itself has turned into a dictatorship, owing to the growth of
internal state power which results from the endless "emergencies"
engendered by foreign wars.
dare say, to heed the advice of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and,
instead of aiming to make the world safe for democracy,
we try making it safe from democracy everywhere, but
most importantly in the United States.