Murray N. Rothbard
sign of our time is the split-personality of the conservatives.
Many to the right of center are off on a schizophrenic pursuit of
both liberty and collectivism.
domestic affairs this regrettable condition is gradually being recognized
for what it is. But the time is high for conservative foreign policy,
as well, to be psychoanalyzed in hope of a cure!
call for free trade and free enterprise, yet also clamor for absolute
embargoes on trade with Communist nations. Have they forgotten that
both parties to free exchange benefit from trade? For our government
or any others to prohibit trade is a vicious example of socialistic
policy; it injures the Communist countries to be sure; it also injures
example: Conservatives are calling for lower taxes and less government
control, while on the other hand they are calling for a virtual
holy war against Russia and China, with all the costliness, death,
and statism that such a war would necessarily entail. Such a holy
war would be immoral, inexpedient and ill-conceived at best; in
this day of weapons for mass murder, such a call is near insanity.
while conservatives once preferred peace and "isolationism," in
our day they appeal in vague terms for liberation of foreign nations
and hint that "We've been at war with communism for years, so let's
get it over with." They bitterly denounce European "allies" for
being neutralistic and therefore "unreliable," while they praise
Chiang, Rhee, and Franco for being anti-Communist and therefore
"reliable friends of the United States." They denounce our having
entered the Korean War; yet denounce the Korean Truce and call for
programs to carry war ever upward and onward.
notion – very widespread – that we should not have entered the Korean
War, but once in it should have launched a total war against China,
flouts rules of logic. The best preventive of war is to refrain
from warring period. If we had agreed to a cease-fire when the
Commies suggested it, or had pulled out of Korea altogether (even
better), we would have saved thousands of American and Korean lives.
I think one point should be made and made bluntly. Some people may
prefer death to communism; and this is perfectly legitimate for
them – although death may not often be a solution to any problem.
But suppose they also try to impose their will on other people who
might prefer life under communism to death in a "free world" cemetery.
Is not forcing them into mortal combat a pure and simple case of
murder? And is not anti-Communist murder as evil as murder committed
"isolationists," in concerning themselves with the liberation or
security of foreign nations, have in truth become outright internationalists.
Instead of praising European neutralism – the equivalent of real
American isolationism – they now demand collective-security organizations
such as NATO.
faith in international collectivism has already dragged us into
one disastrous war after another during the present century. And
now it is a faith in world government, supposedly restricted to
the enforcement of so-called world law. This is a fantasy in which
the various world states are seen as resembling a family of policemen
taking it upon themselves to enforce a preservation of the status
result of this international-collectivistic approach is that the
United States is rapidly going down the classic warpath. And the
path has all the signposts so unerringly pointed out by isolationist
writers in the thirties concerning the first world war, and in the
forties concerning the second world war: militarism, propaganda
of hate, press distortions, atrocity stories about the enemy (and
silence about our, own atrocities), chauvinistic vainglory such
as pride that "America has won all its wars" (but with the help
of strong allies badly outnumbering the enemy), and in general,
the "emotional complex of fear and vaunting" noted by Garet Garrett,
which Harry Elmer Bames calls the "1984 pattern."
tragic part of the whole situation is that it is the erstwhile isolationists,
the ones who above all others should know better, who are leading
the war parade.
ever deeper into a war psychosis, these conservatives have failed
to perceive that our whole problem today, broadly speaking, is ideological
rather than military! If we carefully examine the facts we will
find that the most commonly feared threat to peace the Communist
bloc – has been fairly scrupulous about not committing military
aggression. All the Communist successes since the end of World War
II have been through internal Communist rebellions. Korea itself
was a civil war, and there is even there considerable evidence that
it was begun by the South. Russia did not intervene directly in
that war, and China intervened not only after the United States
did, but only when our troops reached her borders.
plus sponsoring of Communist parties and philosophy abroad, seems
to be the Soviet plan. In brief the Russian military menace is for
the most part a bogey; the Commies are probably truthful in their
assertion that their arming is meant in defense. The statement of
Defense Secretary Wilson recently that Russian air production has
been concentrated on defensive jets rather than offensive
heavy bombers ( such as we are building) would tend to bear out
a long term threat as well, we should have no fear of military conquest
by the Russians, or by the Chinese either. They began as backward
countries and, since we know communism to be a relatively inefficient
economic system, we need not worry about their offensive military
might – provided we let our own industries grow without the hamperings
of a garrison state.
we really have to combat is all statism, and not just the
Communist brand. To take up arms against one set of Socialists is
not the way to stop socialism indeed it is bound to increase socialism
as all modern wars have done.
Realm of Battle
battle can only be waged in the realm of ideas and reason. Man shall
only tighten his chains – and those holding other men – if he takes
up arms simply against one foreign statist faction. Even if Russia
and China both were to be wiped out tomorrow, communism would continue
to exist (just as it did before 1917) so long as people continue
to give credence to its collectivist tenets. To attempt to stamp
out heresy by force is the method of vindictive children, rather
than the method of rational human beings.
some conservatives are failing to recognize that the enemy is statism,
rather than simply communism. And the fundamental reason, obviously,
is that there is still an inadequate understanding of the very nature
of a state.
is a fundamental libertarian proposition that a state only has the
right to use force to defend the person and property of individuals
among libertarians and conservatives, there is agreement on that
proposition; but most conservatives usually commit the fatal error
of stopping there. Considering the analysis of the state closed,
they conclude: "Therefore the state should be limited to what is
necessary for defense purposes." Ponder the grave consequences of
is a peaceful citizen, devoted to productive work and minding his
own affairs. By what right does any person or set of person's, in
a group called State, come to Peter and force him to give up money
for the purpose of protecting him against possible future invasions
of his person and property? The ethical answer can only be, no right
we have all heard of and ridiculed the racketeering "protective
syndicates" which force merchants to purchase "protection" at an
exorbitant fee. Yet the State syndicate manages to impose its own
"protection," and to collect from Peter, with nary a single eyebrow
being raised against it.
a Self-Respecting Racketeer
is worse, the State gang does not even leave the scene of crime
after collecting, as any self-respecting racketeer would do. Instead
it hangs around to harass Peter and his kind, insisting on continually
higher sums of money in tribute, pressing the Peters into the State
army when competing robber bands attack, coercing the Peters to
salute the State battle flag, to acknowledge State as their sovereign,
to regard the decrees of State as valid laws to be obeyed by all
righteous persons. What would we think of the State gang, and what
would we think of people who allowed themselves to be duped by the
rulers' propaganda to believe that this is all well and good, natural
being duped by State officials is precisely what mankind has been
putting up with for thousands of years.
might say that all this has been put to a stop in those nations
which have turned to democracy. But libertarians are surely not
so enamored of the voting process that they fail to perceive the
flaws in the democracy argument. What democracy has done is simply
to increase the number of State groups. The question becomes: Are
we much better off now, having several groups (or "parties") of
would- be plunderers, each desiring the control of a good thing?
I think the answer must be No.
only advantage of a democracy is that it provides scope (strictly
limited) for peaceful change of state rulers via ballot boxes, instead
of requiring bloody revolutions, coup d'etats, etc. Instead of having
bloody civil wars over the spoils of state, the robber gangs have
their subjects vote every few years as to which gang will rule them.
Never, however, do they so much as hint that the people may have
a choice as to whether they wish to retain the state system itself.
on the Horns
conservatives who say that the state should be limited to what is
necessary for defense purposes, are caught from the start on the
horns of a great dilemma. For the state has been conceived in original
sin. Any state, even the best intentioned, subsists by means of
coercion. If Henry Thoreau says: I don't want your protection, so
will pay no more taxes; he goes to jail – sent there by his "representatives."
If he attempts to argue by saying: I wish to pay for my defense
through privately-financed police and judiciary companies,
which I believe will be cheaper and far better than your coercive
monopoly – the same punishment is meted out to him, or worse.
a libertarian society though, it is the individual, not the state,
which has the primary choice as to whether and how his defenses
shall be maintained. As an individual he has the right to fight
in his own or another's defense; or, if he adjudges it foolhardy
or disbelieves in fighting altogether, he has the right not to fight
at all. And similarly, he has the right to subscribe voluntarily
to police forces and courts which offer defense, but also the right
not to subscribe. No one has the right to force him to fight or
to pay others to fight for him. If the state forces him to pay tax
moneys for state-conceived defense purposes, the state thereby deprives
him of his individual rights.
sum up: every state oppresses its subjects and pillages them; every
state functions – as A. J. Nock put it – as if having a "monopoly
(or attempted monopoly) of crime" in its territory, asserting its
sovereignty over a certain land area, and exacting compulsory levies
on the inhabitants.
of having a group of policemen, we have in actuality a group of
gangster states aggressing against their subject-citizens; forming
alliances, and from time to time fighting to increase their share
of the spoils collected from the various inhabitants of the earth.
War is an attack by one robber band against another.
under these prevailing conditions, the supposed morality of every
state's leaping to the defense of an alleged victim state becomes
highly dubious indeed.
no matter how evil states are, we must accept the fact that they
do exist, and that there is no likely prospect of their imminent
disappearance. In a world of states and statism, then, what should
the libertarian conservatives' attitude be with regard to international
police have one rather appealing principle: they look the other
way during a gang war. If one set of gangsters "aggresses" against
another set, the police do not participate. Why waste the taxpayers'
money protecting one gangster against another?
Status Quo Might Not Be Moral
is a version of that principle, I think, that ought to be applied
to foreign affairs. For if any world police force were to be set
up to punish "aggressors," the only result would be increased bloodshed
and real aggression all over the world in an attempt to freeze the
existing status quo, which might be a status quo no more moral,
and perhaps less just, than any other possible one.
could hardly blame those states which came late into the struggle
for territorial influence, if they turned a jaundiced eye on the
hypocritical moralizing of the entrenched aggressor states who would
invoke world law to forestall new depredations. States have always
gained their territories by force, and any given land area has probably
been fought over and changed hands many times. In almost every case
of "aggression" each party to the dispute, and often many parties,
have some sort of historical claim to the disputed territory. New
territorial wars are no more "aggressive" than the present continuation
of old conquests.
is more, there always arises the difficulty of spotting the "real
aggressor" in any particular war. When both sides are armed camps,
when there are many provocations, secret treaties, deals and frontier
incidents, the question of unraveling the actual starter of war,
let alone who is the more morally wrong, becomes a matter for the
careful research of future historians.
are the few facts which do not remain for historians to reveal.
These facts are that the people who end up conquered are subjected
to the exactions and tyrannies of the master state; while
the original subjects of the conquering state are forced not only
to fight the wars but also to foot the bills. The wider a state
attempts to extend its sphere of influence, indeed, the greater
becomes its coercion against all concerned.
we clearly understand the ever-coercive nature of states, and the
ever-recurrent warfare between them, we will no longer want to offer
ourselves up unthinkingly before the international-collectivist
altar inscribed, "Necessary for Defense." Instead we will keep these
three facts in mind: That each state's jurisdiction is limited,
at any given time, to a certain geographical area over which it
has assumed the power and responsibility of defense. That
within this area the state builds its defensive power by means of
compulsory levies. And that these levies involve immorality of conduct,
because the act of forcing people to pay taxes for military defense
usurps each individual's right to choose how and whether
he will want it.
basic aim of our foreign policy then will become the greatest possible
reduction of the amount of immorality; in other words, reduction
and limitation of the state's area of assumed defense. Upon our
escutcheon will be inscribed the words: "Let there be peace. Let
not the state interfere in the affairs of other states."
the people of Korea are being oppressed, we will recognize that
the oppressor state is vicious; but we will at the same time recognize
that it would be immoral for the United States government as such
to interfere in any way. For in so interfering, the American state
would commit those of its citizens who have no wish to be committed,
to battle for Korean citizens.
moreover, would in no way insure that the foreign people thus "liberated"
would be any the better off for it. Had the North won a quick victory
in the recent Korean War, the Koreans might well have, been left
less unhappy and even economically better off under communism
than they are now under Rhee. Millions have been slaughtered by
the weapons of both sides, and those remaining have been left to
contemplate the utter destruction of their property.
some Americans wish to liberate the people of China or Poland, let
them raise a private expeditionary force and private finances to
go over and attempt liberation but let them not try to commit
the United States, and as a result, myself, to any such scheme.
For a second wrong simply will not make a right; we should not add
to oppression at home in a hope to effect some sort of "liberation"
Down the State
moral policy for libertarians is to see that the scope of war is
kept as localized as possible. The state must be held to its responsibility
to enter no foreign war – and to provoke no war via rash and irresponsible
statements, official condemnations of other governments, or inordinate
if our nation is directly attacked by another, justice for those
who look askance upon war efforts and levies still requires that
the scope of state action be kept within responsible limits. The
goal of all state action at such times must be a negotiated peace,
so that the burden of destruction and taxes will cease. The state
should do its best to put limits and rules on the war, and to outlaw
as many weapons of destruction as possible – starting with the worst.
Furthermore, so long as the emergency endures, all efforts should
be kept voluntary – without conscription, economic controls, or
purpose can be served when additional people are caused to lose
their lives anywhere because of war. The fact is, the quarrel in
modern large-scale war is not actually between the subject-people,
but between their states. The interest of the subjects is always
in peace – since it is only in peace that full freedom for self-development
can be attained. War decidedly increases the dangers of losing further
individual freedom – to the "domestic" enemy, if not to the "foreign"
short, the individual subject will want the state to limit its objectives,
to defend the country's territory rather than to attack, to abstain
from a drive to victory and unconditional surrender, and to negotiate
peace at the earliest possible moment. Moreover, if full terms of
peace cannot be immediately decided upon, the most important thing
becomes negotiation of a truce to stop the mutual slaughter.
Men Are To Forge Fences
arms, but public opinion must be the basic weapon if men are to
forge fences between themselves and the master states. By force
of public opinion men must resist conscription; must insist on absolute
nonintervention in foreign wars; and, where warfare is in progress,
must call for immediate negotiations and an end to the blood-letting.
And most important, there must be a re-establishment of those once-revered
rules of war which prevented innocent civilians from being harmed.
a corollary, there must be a re-establishment of the old-fashioned
pre-1914 type of international law, as distinguished from the sort
of world law the present-day internationalists would attempt to
impose. The old-time international law, as I understand it, set
up rules by means of custom (and not by force) which carefully defined
the difference between neutrality and intervention, and which declared
sharply defined areas of neutrals' rights and belligerents' rights.
Old-fashioned international law facilitated the maintenance of neutrality
and served the important purpose of greatly limiting the scope of
any wars that arose.
opinion could then be educated to impose this type of international
law to limit the scope of state action, just as Americans once used
the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
United Nations, unfortunately, does not afford a good breeding ground
for such constructive principles of international law and order.
For it is the seedling of a world state, a master imperialistic
power that would dominate the citizens of the entire subject world.
Furthermore, the UN is basically committed to collective-security
warfare against "aggression" and is therefore a warmongering organization
in its very essence.
Reds Are Sane
has rightly said that the choice now is: coexistence or nonexistence.
Any sane person prefers coexistence, and I am sure that the Reds
are sane. The issue facing the world, therefore, has to do with
nurturing a will and a way to talk things over – to negotiate –
and to find lines of fruitful negotiation. Almost anything that
would case present tensions and provocations would be welcome.
we must negotiate honestly and sincerely, with our foremost aim
being an agreement for a jointly planned disarmament. There must
be no more secret deals with a Yalta- Potsdam odor, which would
arbitrarily hand over territory and peoples of other countries to
Russia. And there must be no idea of simply bolstering our "allies"
by making a mere show of negotiation. On many issues, such
as Korea, Germany, etc., it would be better to just retire completely
from the fray.
the nurturing of a new era: of negotiation, of return to the pre-1914
type of international law, and of public opinion against statism,
will all take time. Meanwhile, along what lines should our American
government take immediate action?
begin, the United States should pull out of the United Nations,
and also out of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance.
our government. should repudiate all other foreign commitments and
agreements and foreign aid or "security" endeavors, while withdrawing
the military from foreign bases.
good a place to start as any is at Trieste. American and British
troops have absolutely no business there. They are the original
meddlers and interlopers. Beginning with the mulcting of American
and Triestino citizens alike of funds for occupational expenses,
these troops have proceeded to the shooting down of inhabitants.
Clearly the withdrawal of our foreign-based troops is one of the
primary orders of business, leaving interested parties to settle
things for themselves.
the United States government should "recognize" Red China on the
basis of the old-fashioned international law principles of recognition.
Prior to the interventionism of Woodrow Wilson, it was always understood
that recognition especially by a neutralist state does not imply
moral approval. The doctrine that it does has already been responsible
for too many wars and bloodshed (vide the Stimson policy toward
Japan). Recognition simply means recognizing the physical existence
of a state it is an act of sanity, not an act of praise. Whether
we like it or not, Chiang is now ruler of Formosa alone and no
mere recognition or nonrecognition will alter that fact.
there should be reestablishment of free and unhampered trade with
the Communist countries, by our own nation and by all other nations.
Free world trade would not only help break down the iron curtain,
but would benefit anti-Communist nations as well as Communist. Nothing
could be more inane than the present program of "helping other nations
to help themselves" while at the same time coercively restricting
their opportunities to engage in profitable commerce.
all, our foreign policy must not be self-defeating; it must be consistent;
it must pursue peace instead of war; and it must advance
individual American freedom.
N. Rothbard, writing as Aubrey Herbert, published this in the April
1954 issue of Faith and Freedom, published by the first libertarian
educational organization in America, Spiritual Mobilization (founded
© 2001 Ludwig von Mises Institute