In Search of Peace

This article was published in 1951, at the height of the Cold War and the hot war on North Korea, by the libertarian economist who went on to found the Institute for Humane Studies.

Charges of pacifism are likely to be hurled at anyone who in these troubled times raises any question about the race into war. If pacifism means embracing the objective of peace, I am willing to accept the charge. If it means opposing all aggression against others, I am willing to accept that charge also. It is now urgent in the interest of liberty that many persons become u201Cpeacemongers.u201D

Patrick Henry, that great advocate of liberty, in a speech before the Virginia Convention in 1775, said: u201CI know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.u201D Were he with us today, he might well repeat that advice to a nation confused and woefully mired in the problems of war and peace – a nation acting in a blind panic.

Probably more wealth and effort have been squandered in a fruitless search for peace by the present generation than by any other in the history of man. For nearly half a century the increasing tempo of war and preparation for war has found the world further and further from peace. Time after time it has been asserted that if only we could crush some particular dictator by the use of military might, the safety of man's freedom would be assured. u201COne more supreme sacrifice,u201D again and again. And each time dictators u201Cmore ruthless than anything the world has seen since Genghis Khanu201D arose out of the refuse of war, leaving liberty and peace the loser after each bloody conflict.

Not only that, but in nations like the United States and Britain most of the trappings of dictatorship, under different names, have been accepted until the plight of citizens in a u201Cfreeu201D country is much the same as that of citizens in a u201Cdictatorshipu201D country. To test this, merely make a detailed comparison, ignoring reasons given in one's own country for this or that abridgment of liberty.

We speak of the impending threat of World War III, even while we are still officially engaged in World War II. The guns have hardly cooled from a war in which we joined Russia to help defeat Germany, Japan, and Italy. Now the veterans of that war are again commanded to pick up arms to defeat Russia, which is operating under the same management and with the same policies and methods as when we were her ally – if, in fact, we are not still officially her ally.

All the while our diplomats have been hastening to arrange something that will pass for a peace agreement with Germany, Japan, and Italy. Unless that is done, it is especially awkward for our legislators to appropriate our money to replenish a military might that we have just finished destroying in these former enemy nations.

A Tito or a Franco or a Peron is one day an u201Cenemyu201D of liberty and the next day its u201Cfriend.u201D Ships frantically rush here and there, first giving and then threatening not to give our wealth as bribes to u201Cfriendsu201D and u201Cenemiesu201D alike. And there is no telling which will be which tomorrow.

While all these banners and alignments of nations have been shifting back and forth as with the changing winds, the liberty of the people in u201Cour haven of libertyu201D has been constantly eroding, until it has now reached the lowest point in the history of this nation. It makes one feel as if he were being whirled through space until he has lost all sense of direction.

Against this confusing picture, it would be well to heed the words of Patrick Henry and pause long enough on a road strewn with the wreckage of liberty and peace to see if we may not have been treading it in the wrong direction. Perhaps the problem of peace should be approached from a new and unconventional direction. On the record, at least, the solution would seem to lie elsewhere than in the methods that have been tried again and again without even a semblance of success.[i]

We must not let pleas for unity paralyze our minds and prevent any review of our past acts. There is no virtue in a unity attained by blinding people and inducing them to join in a mass stampede. Uncommon courage, not cowardice, is demanded of anyone who will remove himself from the stampede long enough to see where he is going.

The Problem of Conflict

Let us start on the problem this way. Many persons consider war to be an evil, but they support it on occasion as necessary u201Cfor the long time good.u201D But how can good be attained by means of an evil? That defies simple logic.

A review of the historical consequences of war, so far as its effect on liberty is concerned, supports the belief that war is an evil and that no long time good results from it. Why, then, do we keep getting into war? One study reports that war has engaged the major countries of Europe for about half the time since the year 1500.[ii] What mistakes are made in preserving the peace and the liberty of man?

War is conflict on its largest scale. Conflict in all its forms – murder, rebellion, riot, insurrection, mutiny, banditry, war – has caused the death of 59 million persons in the world during the last century and a quarter. Of this number, four-fifths died as a direct result of the larger wars, which are by all odds the major cause of death from conflict. Murders and all the other lesser forms of conflict, though highly numerous, have accounted for only one-sixth of all deaths from conflict in the world during this period.[iii] Conflict probably never can be wholly eliminated, because man is imperfect. But these figures suggest the importance of preventing it from growing into wars.

Only if we identify the cause of conflict can we keep it at a minimum and prevent its growth into war. The cause of conflict is the moral delinquency that allows infringement on liberty and on the rights of men; it is that alone. If liberty were complete, and if each person were to restrict himself to what is his proper scope and concern, there could be no conflict. What would there be to fight about if liberty were thus universal?

Conflict arises when freedom of choice is restricted. If one is free to choose his work and his leisure, to use what he produces and to spend what he earns, to select his own associates, and to choose in all other aspects of his life, he does not have to fight his way out of anything or to maneuver around restrictions and repressions beyond those of his own conscience. This concept may be tested on the everyday conflicts we know best – with one's child, with one's neighbors, in community affairs, between employer and employee. In every instance it is some prohibition, or control, or monopoly that gives rise to conflict. These are the things which prohibit free choice and which therefore generate conflict.

It is true that to whatever extent we violate the rules necessary to a peaceful society, there cannot be unrestricted freedom. That is why the general acceptance of certain rules, governing the use of things that are in limited supply, is necessary to a peaceful society. The concept of private property is one of these, and freedom of exchange is another such rule.[iv]

Stated bluntly, conflict results from slavery in some form or degree or from the violation of rules of a peaceful society. Problems of war – all conflict – are exclusively problems of abolished liberty. Thus the prevention of war, or of the threat of war, must take the form of cutting the bonds on liberty wherever they exist.

Peace will exist only as liberty is increased in all its forms among individuals throughout the world. There is no other road to peace. This means that any building up of power anywhere in the world in any of its forms, and under any excuse, leads toward conflict in its worst form – war.

Conflict between humans may be compared with the physical fact of friction. We know that friction exists, but it is one of the most difficult phenomena of the physical world to explain thoroughly. It occurs as the result of contact. Since complete separation of objects is difficult if not impossible, lubrication is necessary to reduce friction to a minimum.

All human relationships are also potential friction. Voluntary arrangement in these relationships acts like a lubricant: It will not eliminate all friction but reduces friction to a minimum. The use of force removes this lubricant and generates heated conflict, because persons then cannot withdraw from contacts not of their liking.

Every conflict, at its origin, is a matter between only two persons. One person may be using force against the other or trespassing on his property. If this conflict cannot be resolved in any other manner, a murder may occur. The outcome could be no more serious that the loss of one life, unless somebody intercedes who is not directly concerned.

Conflict grows, then, as a result of anything which causes opposing sides of any controversy to amass into growing numbers. The larger the number, the greater and bloodier the conflict becomes.

We can see how this works by observing a football game. Someone violates the rules, and two players start to battle it out. If all 22 players joined in, the conflict would become serious. What if 100,000 spectators joined in?

I was deeply impressed by a scene in a recent movie. Two contenders for the kingship of a tribe of uncivilized u201Csavagesu201D in the deepest recesses of Africa were in conflict for possession of the throne. Finally, the two contenders battled it out to the death. The other members of the tribe laid their preferences and their weapons aside, and all stood on the sideline as observers. They had learned that if persons other than the two concerned were to join in the battle, there would be unnecessary bloodshed. Uncivilized? Perhaps we would be more humane and civilized if we were to resolve the present world conflict in some such manner – at least a u201Cvictoru201D by combat could be selected without so much bloodshed and destruction of property.

There would always be some conflict even among free people, but it would be small and localized. There would be a murder now and then, but death would not be nearly so prevalent as from the mass conflict of major wars.

A neighborhood squabble between two persons in China, for instance, might lead to one of them murdering the other. But if we are left to use our individual judgment, not many of us would volunteer in behalf of one or the other and cause it to grow into a war. Numbers do not become amassed that way into a major conflict unless persons are forced to join in.

True, there are always some volunteers in foreign wars. In fact, fighting in foreign wars used to be an accepted hired occupation. But this sort of thing never became prevalent enough to be featured in the history books.

It is a fact that small conflict develops into major war only as a result of involuntary servitude. We can see this much better if we look afar at the u201Cdictatorshipu201D nations.

There is no escaping the fact that some men have a lust for power. And war or the presumed threat of war seems to surpass all other devices by which a ruler can induce the people to thoroughly enslave themselves under his u201Cleadership,u201D to lose their liberty and all rights of choice, to answer to his beck and call. Power becomes concentrated at one end of a long line of authority, which at the other end terminates in complete subservience on the field of battle.

Edmund Burke said that loss of liberty always occurs u201Cunder some delusion.u201D By some strange twist of reasoning, fear of losing liberty drives persons to enslave themselves and surrender their liberty in the hope of keeping it. It is argued that this is necessary u201Cto protect the people.u201D How can slavery make them any more brave? This presumes the people to be too ignorant or cowardly to act voluntarily in their own behalf, that they must be forced to protect themselves.

It is indeed a strange notion that I should be compelled by others to protect myself. This u201Cself protectionu201D then becomes labeled u201Csacrifice,u201D and tribute is paid me, my dependents, and my descendants by those who forced me to u201Cdefend myself.u201D Something is wrong there, somewhere.

Power is grasped by the dictator because of the urge to be u201Cgreat.u201D Lord Acton, the British historian, said: u201CAll power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.u201D[v] He was speaking here of u201Cgreatu201D in the sense of a Caesar or of a Napoleon – whose moral degradation was reflected in one of his remarks. After hurrying back to France from a campaign in Russia that cost the lives of over 500,000 of his countrymen, he rubbed his hands before the fire and said: u201CDecidedly it is more comfortable here than in Moscow.u201D

Perhaps dictators are evil because power corrupts them, as Lord Acton said. Or perhaps evil men gravitate to the administrations of power, as Hayek said in one notable chapter in his book, The Road to Serfdom.[vi] I do not know which, but it seems certain that a part of the strategy of maintaining u201Cleadershipu201D in this sense is to keep up a series of crises and emergencies and a confusion that seems to demand the action of a strong and ruthless autocrat. u201CGreatnessu201D may even be acquired by chasing a series of one's own mistakes, as u201Cleader,u201D into eventual war – backing into u201Cgreatness,u201D so to speak.

It is no coincidence that large-scale wars are the product of dictatorships or of the acts of aspiring dictators. Power is first grasped in internal confusion and conflict; then later it bursts into an external conflict, and the dictator calls for national unity.

The Balance of Power

At this point we should take a look at the u201Cbalance of poweru201D theory. It calls for bolstering up a lesser power as a protection against a greater power, until it equals or exceeds the power that is u201Cthreatening.u201D This theory has been widely followed in international affairs, in labor-management affairs, in politics – everywhere.

It is strictly a power concept. Rulers are given more and more power to guide and control the actions of others, to sound the bugle call of battle at whatever time and place they choose. The persons over whom they rule are first presumed to be incapable of acting voluntarily in their own defense and are then bound in controls and servitude until they actually are unable to defend themselves, even against their own u201Cleader.u201D

Let me illustrate how the balance-of-power theory works, by a hypothetical case. A threat to peace arises between two persons at a church social. Deacon Jones suspects Deacon Smith of planning to do him some harm – u201C…so it is said, by sources usually considered to be reliable but which cannot be revealed for reasons of religious security.u201D Smith is powerful enough to do so, if he chooses. So Jones propositions Deacon Brown to come to his defense. Brown, who sincerely wants peace to prevail, agrees to a treaty whereby he is to be subject to Jones' call to arms in case of aggression by Smith. Notice of the treaty is released to the u201Cpublicu201D through Jones' Department of Public Defense – or perhaps privately to Smith through the u201Cproperu201D process of a u201Cdiplomatic note.u201D Smith, finding himself threatened with a superior force, then proposes the same balance of power theory, in turn, to Deacons Solcefoskiski and Chin, and they sign a treaty with Smith. A counter u201Cdiplomatic noteu201D is sent back to Jones. This goes on and on, with personal liberties declining more and more as power accumulates on both sides under the rule of Smith and Jones. Tensions increase more and more on both sides, until a wholesale brawl can be started by someone sneezing or shouting u201CBoo!u201D Or perhaps the brawl is intentionally started by one side or the other, as it becomes clear that the burden of u201Cdefenseu201D under conditions of an armed truce is too costly and threatens them with starvation, if continued. Going to war then becomes u201Ca matter of self-defense against encirclement and starvation.u201D

War or the threat of war becomes self-generating under the balance of power theory and builds up and up, until abandoned out of sheer exhaustion from battle or from the costs of u201Cdefense.u201D But this brings no settlement of the underlying causes of the conflict. The certain outcome is total loss of liberty by individuals on both sides of the conflict. Losers become serfs of the winning side; and on the winning side, all other individuals remain subjects of the ruler, who finds no reason to abdicate at the victorious height of his ruling glory. This u201Croute to libertyu201D thus becomes a route to servitude.

In carrying out the balance of power idea, it is of course necessary to shift alignments of u201Calliesu201D and u201Cenemiesu201D on frequent occasion. Treaties and money are both used as the medium of exchange. We should have learned by now that an u201Callyu201D bought with dollars will demand a steady stream of dollars in a one-way deal and even then does not stay bought. One who can be bribed by us can also be bribed away from us. He is not a friend.

Defense and Self-Defense

What is to be the guide of proper defense, then, that is consistent with the ideals of liberty? Has the libertarian no rights of self-defense? Must he stand idly by while murderers, thieves, and vandals ravage his person and property, his family, or his friends?

My reply is: No. So far as my rights are concerned, the right to life carries with it the right to defend my life. And since my property is the economic extension of my person, it is likewise within my rights to protect my property from theft or destruction. I may, within my rights, protect these in whatever manner seems to me to be the soundest from the standpoint of strategy. I may or may not use force to resist an aggressor or evict a trespasser. When one is forced to decide between preserving his life and protecting his property, he may without cowardice decide that protecting his life is his initial duty. He would, if forced to make that choice, let his property go and keep his life rather than say: u201CTake my life, but leave me my property.u201D

Now we come to a more perplexing question. Is it my duty to throw my weight against the oppressors of liberty in any instance where it is others rather than myself whose personal rights are being violated? Should I protect my infant child in this respect? My wife? My neighbor? Your neighbor? An Englishman? A Chinese? A Russian peasant who feels oppressed by the iron hand? An officer of the Russian army who is happy in his status? A conscripted soldier of our own army? Where, if at all, is one justified in employing the tools of force to remove trespass on the rights of others?

Since I am responsible for the care and protection of my family, I am also within my rights to defend each of them against an aggressor, a thief, or a vandal by whatever means seems best – assuming, of course, that they agree and want me to help protect them. As for neighbors and others, it is proper to help defend them against acts of crime against their person and property, if I desire and they want me to do so. There should, however, be mutual agreement on the need as well as the means. So far as I can see, this applies to one's next-door neighbor or to a person anywhere else in the world.

One is not necessarily obligated to assist everyone whose liberty is being transgressed. I am certainly not obligated to give my life to protect the property of someone who differs with me as to the nature of liberty. Nor am I morally obligated to assist those who agree with me about the design of liberty and the nature of its violation, if they themselves have not first exposed their lives in its defense. Indeed, I have no right to intervene by the use of force to defend something they have chosen not to defend.

It is also proper for me to induce another to resist trespassers on his own or my liberty. But in doing so I must use only voluntary educational means. His rebellion must be sincere and stem from a personal conviction on his part. It is illiberal for me to use authority over him u201Cto force him to protect his own libertyu201D or mine.

It is frequently said in defense of wartime controls and centralization of power that liberty is a luxury to be enjoyed in peacetime when things are normal, that we cannot afford the luxuries of liberty during emergencies like the present. One who makes such a statement, if he makes it seriously, does not really understand and believe in liberty. He is one who cannot be depended upon to act in its behalf. He is one who will willingly enslave his fellowmen u201Cin order to defend their liberties.u201D His devotion to liberty is a sham, and he can be expected to conclude later that, if controls and centralized power are desirable in wartime, they are also desirable in peacetime.

One who believes in liberty and who understands it enough to act in its defense does so because he considers liberty to be superior to its alternative – slavery in its various forms. Why does he believe it to be superior? Because it is more just, more in harmony with the design of a good society, more productive. This makes it stronger because it embodies justice and those incentives which bring out the best in man. If, on the other hand, he believes liberty to be less just, less strong, and less productive than slavery, he is on the other side of this great issue even though he salutes the same flag and is one's friendly neighbor.

Relinquish liberty for purposes of defense in an emergency? Why? It would seem that in an emergency, of all times, one needs his greatest strength. So if liberty is strength and slavery is weakness, liberty is a necessity rather than a luxury, and we can ill afford to be without it – least of all during an emergency.

Suppose that a clergyman were to admonish the members of his flock to abandon the practice of Christianity during every emergency because it is a luxury, good only for normal times. If he were to say that, we would certainly believe him to be a religious quack and of negative worth. We would conclude that he did not really believe justice, goodness, and strength to be embodied in religious faith. It is the same with all self-styled lovers of liberty who call for its abandonment during every emergency. They must be counted out of the forces for liberty. Indeed, should they not be counted among the enemies of liberty?

The only person who can effectively defend liberty is one who believes in it and considers it to be the embodiment of strength rather than of weakness. All others will do the wrong thing and support the wrong cause when the chips are down. If by this test the defenders of liberty turn out to be few, then the cause of liberty is that much more desperate than we had assumed.

Finding the Enemy

The first necessity in any defense is to identify the enemy with precision and accuracy. Lacking that, defense measures make no sense. It is like shooting at an unknown target. Could it be that our past efforts for the defense of liberty have failed for the reason that we have failed to identify the real enemy?

What is the basic issue in this conflict? What do we wish to fight against? It is slavery, the enemy of liberty. It is simply that and nothing else.

Slavery takes on many forms and goes by many names. But no matter what its form and name, the enemy is anything that prevents man from being free.

The enemy of liberty is, at its base, an idea – the idea that the enslavement of man is a superior and stronger form of social arrangement than is an arrangement of free men acting together voluntarily. It is the idea that men of a community or a nation can better themselves and strengthen themselves if some of them will enslave others. That idea is the real enemy.

In attacking the enemy of liberty by the use of force, as is commonly assumed to be necessary, how might one proceed? The enemy is basically an idea, which is an abstraction. It has no nose to be punched and no heart to be pierced. The nearest you can get to an idea by the use of force is to attack its host – the person who believes it. This explains the great temptation to personify the enemy of liberty, to recast it in the form of certain persons who can be attacked by the use of force.

Which persons shall be attacked? Every person violates at least some of the tenets of liberty and to that degree is an enemy of liberty in practice. Every person is, then, partly the friend and partly the enemy of liberty. Realizing this, one should abandon the attempt to personify the enemy of liberty and to attack it by force. If he persists in the attempt, he will at this point have already gone astray in its defense. The project will be doomed to failure in the enactments of u201Cnecessary wartime controls,u201D no matter what words are emblazoned on the banners of the marching columns.

In the attempt to personify the enemy, who will be tagged? Will they be selected after a careful examination of the beliefs of each of the world's 3 billion inhabitants? To attempt to do so would preclude war, because the political leaders are incapable of doing the testing and because the job is so large that it would never be completed by any central examining committee of this type.

What, then, is to be done? The leaders ignore the fact that they are incapable of examining even one person and hide their incapacity behind a grandiose faade of decoys. They label entire nations, or continents or races, as the enemies of liberty when, in fact, they are unable to judge even one person in this respect and do not even know the questions to be asked.

So the nation goes to war and, while war is going on, the real enemy – long ago forgotten and camouflaged by the processes of war – rides on to victory in both camps. The real enemy is, in fact, immune to the weapons of physical combat used in war.

Further evidence that in war the attack is not leveled at the real enemy is the fact that we seem never to know what to do with u201Cvictory.u201D When guns are silenced by the white flag of surrender, what is to be done with the victory? Are the u201Cliberatedu201D peoples to be shot, or all put in prison camps, or what? Is the national boundary to be moved? Is there to be further destruction of the property of the defeated? Or what? The fact that those responsible for the settlements of u201Cliberationu201D have themselves acquired the disease while administering the processes of war, makes any logical solution even less likely.

False ideas can be attacked only with counter-ideas, facts, and logic. There is no other way. It is necessary to realize that an idea cannot be forced into submission by kicking it in the shins or by beating it over the head. Nor can you shoot an idea.

It is worth remembering that the Roman legions were never able to defeat the Christian idea by this method two thousand years ago. The British military might never was able to defeat Gandhi, the little man without weapons. Christ and Gandhi were both killed, but their murder seemed to give impetus to the spread of their ideas rather than the destruction of them.

Karl Marx perhaps more than any other person developed the body of thought that is today the leading enemy of liberty. It would have made no difference if Marx had died a year earlier or a year later, because the ideas had been put into circulation and were not mortally a part of him. Nor can these ideas of his be destroyed today by murder or suicide of their leading exponent or of any thousands or millions of the devotees. On the contrary, persecution seems to unite those of one faith and spreads their ideas as nothing else will do. Least of all can the ideas of Karl Marx be destroyed by murdering innocent victims of the form of slavery he advocated, whether they be conscripts in armies or victims caught in the path of battle.

Ideas must be met by ideas, on the battlefield of belief.

The Fruits of Aggression

Government in this country was designed as an agent to protect persons and property, to maintain peace and order by resolving conflict through a judicial system. And it was supposed to administer resistance to threats from outside the country, but without ever becoming an aggressor in the outside world.

Our government during the last half century, however, has become the captain of military excursions all over the world. In these wars, the citizens are compelled to give up essentially all their liberty and to respond to the call to arms at the command of one person – one who is presumed to be their servant and not their master. Our war excursions are coming more and more to be without the consent of the people or of their elected representatives. So long as this procedure is tolerated, liberty is at an end in this nation.

The government was originally supposed to serve as policeman and to punish those within the borders who use force or violence against the person or the property of their neighbors. When a government, however, uses force or violence against the person or the property of national neighbors, the process is honored by terms such as u201Cnational defense,u201D u201Cvictory,u201D and the like.

For performing acts that are the same in the eyes of God, a person may be either executed or decorated, imprisoned or promoted – depending on whether the act is in peacetime against a near neighbor or in wartime against a more distant neighbor. How can either of these properly go by the name of justice and the maintenance of peace?

As previously stated, self-defense is the right of any person. But it seems that many of us are unable to distinguish between a defense properly within this limit of rights and the use of the same tools to generate a u201Cwar of self-defense.u201D Perhaps a reason is to be found in the failure to understand how proper defensive measures may become diseased and develop into a cancerous growth of illiberal power. This can best be seen by reviewing the usual nature of war from the standpoint of liberalism.

When at war or in preparation for war, the pattern of affairs in any nation includes all the devices of the socialist-communist state. A centralized power gains control of the economic affairs of the nation and of the acts of the citizens. The armed forces, and perhaps others, are conscripted. Priorities and subsidies, and all such authoritarian devices, become u201Ctools of defense.u201D Capital and its uses u201Cmust be controlled, else the selfish interests of the capitalists will sap the defense of the nation.u201D Intellectuals and high executives are drawn into the program of administering socialism in the form of these powers and controls, as a u201Cpatriotic dutyu201D and amid great fanfare of flag waving. Power, which first was granted reluctantly in the belief of its necessity during an emergency, soon becomes thought of as a virtue in itself and at any time. All this is financed either by taxes drawn from the smaller and smaller remainder of private enterprise of the nation or by money counterfeited by means of inflation by those in control. The entire process of war is always the direct antithesis of liberalism.

The Honorable R. Hopkin Morris, Member of the House of Commons from Wales, who has great understanding of the subject of liberty, has aptly expressed the present world situation thusly: u201CWar is pre-eminently the breeding ground of the Planned State… Liberalism, silenced as it always is in war, has now in peace time been paralyzed by the prevailing atmosphere of the time.u201D[vii]

Yet u201Cliberalsu201D are found embracing, approving, and supporting the process of war. Why? I suspect that it is because, in an atmosphere of panic, they are drawn to an objective which they can comprehend – the defeat of a personalized u201Cenemyu201D on the field of battle. In the heat of a generated hatred, that objective seems to them to be commendable.

There must be considerable satisfaction to the promoters of the collectivized state in the fact that, heads or tails, they win: that while still being officially at war and preparing at terrific cost to defeat our recent partner in the continuing conflict, we have more and more contributed to the strength of the enemy – compulsory collectivism. Suicide it is, however unwitting. If one were to attempt to design a scheme whereby an easy victory would be handed to the foreign managers of the collectivized state, the pattern of events now being followed could hardly be improved upon. Why should one lend his support to the process or even tolerate it?

If power be an evil, how can the employment of this evil possibly beget a good? Power can, to be sure, be used to displace one power with another that is greater. Displacing one power with another in this manner does not destroy power; it increases the scope of illiberal power. And if power be evil, this process merely increases the magnitude of the evil.

The records of history show how great dictatorships have been built on pleas for defense against some vague, external threat or u201Cenemy.u201D I see no reason to assume that the eventual outcome of now pursuing similar ends can be expected to be any different here. Democratic processes as such are no protection, as Ballinger so well proves in his book.[viii] That we possess no miracle of protection against the evil conduct or misuse of power should by now be clear to any person capable of observation. The fact is revealed in a growing and entrenched bureaucracy. It is also revealed by our increasing participation in distant wars – wars sanctioned under the cloak of national defense, but nonetheless the handmaiden of dictatorial power and a factory for the collectivized state.

It is frequently argued these days that force must be used to stop aggression before it starts. That is an untenable position. It is impossible for anyone to tell a future aggressor from one who is not going to be one. Such use of force is never justified, and in engaging in it there will have been opened a floodgate of mayhem which, in its release, can be followed logically to the ultimate obliteration of the human race.

The reason for this rule of restraint can be seen by reducing it to the simple form of its elements. If aggression were to be allowed against an anticipated aggressor, you would not only fight off the murder-in-progress, and perhaps kill him, you would kill him as he comes over the hill for that presumed purpose; you would not only kill him as he comes over the hill for that purpose, you would kill the one assumed by you to be planning to do so; you would not only kill the one presumably planning to do so, you would kill all who might plan to do so – and that includes everybody.

There must be something wrong in that theory of defense, at its start. Once a person practices aggression, he finds no logical stopping point. It must end in his own defeat. The time to stop it is before starting, no matter what seeming justification may be at hand for initiating aggression.

We are told that to get at an u201Cenemyu201D and u201Cprevent his attack on us,u201D we must set up u201Cdefenseu201D at some distant point. So a foreign battleground is selected. Suppose A and B are neighbors, each of whom violently disapproves of the way the other operates his household. The difference is great; the enmity is bitter. Each considers the other to be a serious threat to another neighbor, C, who is not concerned beyond letting A and B each run his own household as each desires. Both A and B know that if there should be battle in one of their own houses, windows would be broken and furniture wrecked and blood would be splattered on the wallpaper and the rugs. Yet each is watching for an opportunity and excuse to attack the other so as to rid the neighborhood of a u201Cdangerous enemy.u201D Finally an occasion arises when both happen to be on C's property. So they go at it, wrecking his house and killing his wife and baby in the process – on the basis that in so doing they are liberating C from the threat of aggression and trespass. It may be seriously questioned, I believe, whether this is the way to generate good will among one's neighbors, even though the action was started for the avowed purpose of neighborhood defense. It is a violation, I believe, of the proper and right conduct.

Perhaps it is for a similar reason, in connection with present world tensions, that most foreign countries seem reluctant to have us mess up their living room by using it as the battlefield for another war. They may not see why, if we want to fight someone, we should not be willing to wait until we have been attacked and then defend ourselves as we see fit in our own house. After all, the people of Europe have had considerable experience in this sort of thing in recent decades, seemingly to no avail.

And what is more, most of these peoples now live under governments that allow very little liberty anyway – governments which we appear to favor, as evidenced by our giving them continuous support to protect them against the effects of their suicidal economic policies. So, obviously, we do not seem to be interested in liberating these people from their own governments. The people themselves probably do not see enough difference between their present governments and the communism that u201Cthreatens from withoutu201D to warrant fighting a war. So why should they either join the fight or again allow their homelands to be used as battlegrounds in what probably seems to them to be a contest for world power?

That must be the way our neighbors look at it. Deeds, not words, will be necessary to convince these people otherwise. We ourselves must first consistently and for a considerable time live by the principles we espouse and which we claim to be trying to preserve by such wars. What, for instance, must the average Korean citizen think has been the issue of the war in his homeland? Lofty principles and the freedom of man? The one thing that he can see clearly is that his cities and towns have been destroyed and his innocent countrymen killed. The view of these people is likely to be: u201CIsn't the United States merely fighting for its own power in the world and, in doing so, preferring to have the bloodshed and destruction take place in my dooryard rather than on its own soil?u201D

One popular proposal these days is to send a u201Climitedu201D number of warriors to various other countries. Supposedly this is to protect these countries from aggression, perhaps by frightening away the would-be aggressor. If there were to be no aggression, this would be trespass without a purpose. And if there were to be aggression, a token resistance would be futile.

The sending of a token force probably induces the aggression it is intended to prevent. The u201Cenemy,u201D if he is not so weak as to be no threat anyhow, is thereby invited to become an aggressor on the basis of exactly the same argument used for sending the force there in the first place, except that this aggression then becomes more clearly justified as a counter measure. And others may join him in a consolidation of enmity against us.

Sending u201Conly a fewu201D rather than many is a compromise proposal having as a doubtful virtue the fact that it is certain to be wrong because of being either too much or too little. The crucial question is resolved when the first soldier is sent officially. I am not speaking of soldiers who wish to volunteer for service with the army of their choice; they are on their own, and I would allow them their full rights of participation as private individuals on that basis. What I am speaking of is the matter of our government forcing some of our citizens to participate in armed trespass. Once the first one has been sent, the second becomes all the more u201Cnecessaryu201D to defend the first, the third to defend the second – on without end and without any place to call a halt with any logic whatsoever.

The difference between sending a few and sending many is a distinction without a difference. The lack of difference becomes clear later when the sending of just a few has become ridiculous and when it has become too late to reconsider the basic issues. We would by then have become involved in a foreign war to an advanced degree.

Many persons can be induced to fight some distant u201Cenemyu201D they do not know, over some issue they do not understand, while in the abundant company of kinsmen who likewise do not know what the grandiose affair is all about. People are much less inclined to engage in conflict with an u201Cenemyu201D who is their next-door neighbor, where the issue is clear to both parties; this form of dispute is much more likely to be settled out of conflict, because they can see the issue and resolve it peacefully.

A strange thing happens when people are in a panic of fear over something they neither see nor understand. For instance, they can be induced to give up their liberty by delegation of power over their affairs to others – who also cannot see or understand. They fall for a plan of u201Ccollectivized liberty,u201D which is a contradiction in terms. They trade their liberty for the false claim of saving it. This is the same as a person who hands his wealth over to someone who convinces him that it is unsafe in his own hands and promises to take care of it for the victim, but who is a robber using this device for thievery. We know how liberty has thus been lost in Germany and in many other countries. It can happen under any form of government, if the people allow power to grow and rob them of their liberty. It can happen here. In fact, it is happening here.

The Proper Defense of Liberty

Russia is supposed to be the enemy. Why? We are told that it is because Russia is communistic, and our enemy is communism. But if it is necessary for us to embrace all these socialist-communist measures in order to fight a nation that has adopted them – u201Cbecause they have adopted these measuresu201D – why fight them? Why not join them in the first place and save all the bloodshed?

Is it any wonder that a person who is charged with a governmental responsibility for defense, and who does not know the real nature of the enemy, is surprised to discover that many of his close ideological friends are card-carrying members of the Communist party? Why not? They have merely formalized the basic beliefs which both of them share, in the form of allegiance to and membership in the Communist party – which is in no sense an illogical act for anyone who holds those basic beliefs. The only question at issue between them would seem to be that of who is to be the captain of the totalitarian ship – a distinction of no great importance.

If it were possible for more curbs on liberty to become the tools of liberation, why not conclude that slavery is the best route to emancipation, that positives can be created by the accumulation of negatives?

But I insist that ideas rather than persons are the real enemy. If one is not already familiar with this enemy, it can be seen in brief outline in the u201Cten pointsu201D of the Communist Manifesto, together with a few paragraphs of comments immediately preceding the listing of the ten points.[ix]

These ideas are to be found in operative forms everywhere in our midst, as well as in proposals for further extension. They are to be found in the form of numerous laws and regulations in the United States. A person who does not know the forms in which this enemy is already in our midst is in no position to urge our support in a further surrendering of our liberty at home to protect us against this same enemy in some u201Ccommunistu201D nation afar. There is no sense in conjuring up in our minds a violent hatred against people who are the victims of communism in some foreign nation, when the same governmental shackles are making us servile to illiberal forces at home.

One who would serve the freedom of man is bound by his honor to do everything within his power to re-establish liberty and justice at home before concerning himself with its demise elsewhere. On a purely military basis, I believe, it is supposed to be good strategy always to attack the enemy at the closest and most vulnerable point of contact.

For any person who would use force at all, within the limits of his rights of defense, it would seem that the logical place to start defending his liberty is in any area where he, personally, has been reduced to the status of slavery. He need not look afar for an enemy that is still merely a threat to his liberty on his own soil. There are, here and now, specific things to be attacked, things within the proper scope of his action in self-defense. In doing so, he will not be violating the principle that he should never aggressively use force or the threat of force against what is merely a possible future trespasser on his liberty.

And as to preparation for defense against future trespass on his liberty, the best form of preparation is to cut those shackles on his liberty that now exist. If he is to defend remaining liberties, hadn't he better throw off those shackles which now enslave him, rather than to further enslave himself? As more and more individuals do so and engage in opposing the shackles that bind us here and now, there will most certainly emerge a high degree of cooperative defense of liberty without any compulsory planning and without the need of binding us in obedience to any domestic master.

If I am to be servile, one way or another, I find little reward in battling for a better master – if, in fact, there can be such a thing as a better master. I care not about the color of his hair, or his name, or his ancestry, or the language he speaks, or where he may happen to reside. I would not shed blood over such differences, and I would not ask others to do so. Why quibble over who is to administer an evil? There may be something harmonious and proper in having an evil administered by an evil person, if in fact it could be otherwise.

Those who want action because they are in a panic, and who point to u201Cthe lateness of the hour,u201D are free to start throwing off the yoke they now endure at any moment they wish. They may use all the fearlessness and boldness they demand of others. Let them throw caution to the winds, if they wish, and wade in! Why don't they? Why do they hesitate to take action against the elements of illiberalism here at home, while demanding haste in squandering money and blood for u201Cdefenseu201D against its foreign forms? The reason is, I fear, that they do not know the nature of the enemy.

In view of all the misunderstanding and confusion about liberty and its defense, the thing most to be feared at this time is enslavement from within the nation rather than from without. Slavery from within is no vague threat; it is rapidly approaching a full victory. But the u201Cenemyu201D from without is still only a threat, and I doubt if a nation of free people could be conquered by him, even if it were to be attacked.

The theme of this analysis has been that liberty and peace are to each other as cause and effect; that war is an evil; that good cannot be attained by evil means; that war is the cancerous growth of minor conflicts, which would remain small if dealt with as issues between the individual persons concerned but which grow into the larger conflict of war as a consequence of amassing forces by means of involuntary servitude; that a person has the right to protect his person and his property from aggression and trespass and to help others if asked and he wishes to do so; that liberty is lost under guise of its defense in u201Cemergenciesu201D; that in emergencies, of all times, the strength and vitality of liberty is needed; that concentrating power in wartime is as dangerous as at any other time; and that power corrupts those who acquire it.

Perhaps these are the reasons why war always seems to demoralize those who adopt its use; why human reason seems to go on furlough for the duration of serious conflict, and in many instances thereafter; why liberty seems always to come out the loser on both sides of war. Bentham's definition of war as u201Cmischief on the largest scaleu201D then comes to have a deeper meaning.

While being fully sympathetic with the unwilling victims of conflict, we must not lose sight of the greatest heroes – the heroes of wars unfought because of what they did to prevent them. Largely unsung and unrecorded are the truly great persons whose wise and timely acts have stopped the makings of aggression at its source and who in this way have prevented major wars. Their greatness, we may trust, is safely recorded in more important places and in a manner more substantial than mere popularity and common renown, more permanent than statue and shrine, in forms where human errors of judgment cannot tarnish or pollute their greatness. Those most deserving of glory are the persons who prevented the battles from being fought. It is such as these whose council we should follow.

Human frailties being what they are, there are always those among us who will use force and trespass against others. The problem of peace is that of how to deal with them and those who blindly serve them. The solution does not lie in doing the same thing under guise of u201Cself-defense,u201D which is usually the use of force and violence offensively against others.

Whether one should use force and violence even in self-defense, where it seems to be within one's right to do so, may be open to question. The decision of whether or not to use it is a matter of strategy and moral right. When Christ's method met the force of great military and political power two thousand years ago, its defensive strength was impressive. It would seem that the Prince of Peace has demonstrated the secret of both peace and defense, for which we search, even though the reason why it works so well may defy some of our instincts and surpass our full understanding.


[i] Chang Hsin-hai, "The Moral Basis of World Peace,u201D The Annals, Vol. 258 (July, 1948), 79–89.

[ii] Quincy Wright, A Study of War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942).

[iii] Lewis F. Richardson, u201CVariation of the Frequency of Fatal Quarrels with Magnitude,u201D Journal of the American Statistical Association, December, 1948.

[iv] F. A. Harper, Liberty: A Path To Its Recovery (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1949), Chap. 3; reprinted in volume one of The Writings of F. A. Harper.

[v] John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Historical Essays and Studies (London: Macmillan and Co., 1907), p. 504.

[vi] Friedrick A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944), chap. 10.

[vii] R. Hopkin Morris, Dare or Despair (London: Liberal League of Youth Trust, n.d.), pp. 3–5.

[viii] Willis J. Ballinger, By Vote of the People (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1946).

[ix] Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto (Chicago: Regnery, 1954), pp. 36–7.