Principles

If you get to a point where you can't stick to your principles, they aren't your principles.

Recently, I wrote about Noam Chomsky's stance on the draft. Many readers wrote to me to weigh in on the issue. As could be expected, there were many favorable responses. I am writing here to directly address those that urged me to see the validity of the draft as a way to establish a more fair and principled resistance to imperial conquest.

Most of the opposing points of view proposed that the only way to stop the current empire building and "red-state fascism" (many of those responding used this specific term) was to threaten a draft. The prospect of the draft, they say, would stop the blind endorsement of pre-emptive war and meddling because the cost of such an excursion in casualties would be too high. It would hit "too close to home". Some of these writers became giddy with the thought that video gaming sloths of flag-waving soccer moms would become tomorrow's cannon fodder. Who better, they plead, to show why a draft is wrong? Many people wrote to explain how effective such a tactic would be. The end result would be a broader respect for human rights and people standing up to authoritarian rule.

The argument to refute this has been made many times over. Some of the readers of this site must seem like broken records in explaining the sanctity of individual rights, property rights, and so on. I would like to address those writing me to say they "believe in anarchist or libertarian principles of inviolable rights", but also wrote to defend Mr. Chomsky's tactical and opportunist position on the draft. It may be helpful to keep this link handy, and refer draft advocates who claim to be in favor of inviolable human rights, in the event discussions on this heat up in the near future.

Anyone standing in favor of a draft does not believe in individual rights, or human rights at all, for that matter. A draft, which is brought about because of lack of support for a particular military engagement, requires people who would not normally volunteer for the military to be conscripted. If the person had wanted to be in the military without the draft, and he decided it to be the best option available, that person would already be in the military. The draft is, by definition, involuntary servitude. Once drafted, should the victim meet all physical requirements, the only way out would be a conscientious objector status — which he must ask permission to receive. This is not a very good argument in favor of the draft being anything other than involuntary, since the ultimate authority on whether a draftee must commit to the fighting machine is not the draftee himself.

Now, suppose we were to start calling a draft by another name for involuntary servitude: slavery. Would all of those writing in favor of the draft be willing to concede that, in order to stop the nation building going on today, we need everyone to pitch in and advocate slavery? With its nationalist appeal and media coverage, the draft is really just slavery all dressed up for the prom. It is nothing more. Involuntary servitude is not consistent with libertarian ideals. It is also not consistent with inviolable human rights to build an army of conscripts. Manufacturing slaves to spread ideals seems like a compromising position. It would seem that, to advocate a draft, would be to violate any principles one has claiming inviolable human rights.

Much of what writers predicted with regards to the draft may come true. A draft would, in all probability, wake many whose children were not previously in harm's way to realize how grave a policy of pre-emptive war can be. But the fact is, if a person claims to be in favor of inviolable human rights, he can not propose to violate those rights to spread what he considers just and proper. It all boils down to what you believe. Do you really believe that we are free and have inviolable rights, or do you simply differ from the ruling authority on which rights are up for grabs and who calls the shots? In short, do you really have principles? If you advocate involuntary servitude, compulsion and coercion, you are not in agreement with libertarian / anarchist ideals or principles. You are simply a person with a different threshold for tolerance in condoning how to run people's lives. The question is simple. Do you advocate involuntary servitude, or do you believe a person has the right to self-ownership?

How does your reasoning hold up to these challenges?

If you get to a point where you can't stick to your principles, they aren't your principles.

April 1, 2005