Walter Block (W) and I (M) recently exchanged a few e-mails in which we explored interventions by voluntary forces. His initial post was here, and I agreed with it. But an extension got me thinking. What if someone paid for the volunteers and basically began running his own foreign policy? And what if the war-ground nation attacked the country of the mercenaries? I e-mailed W with this possibility.
I’ve always thought the same as you. The night watchman state may not intervene in a situation like Venezuela has, and I still think this. Volunteers, yes; the state, no.
Yet this is what crossed my mind upon reading about this on LRC. Suppose some billionaire pays for the volunteers, so that they are mercenaries. We get the same answer in libertarian theory. Now what if these people, the billionaire and the volunteers, come from New York City or live there, and what if Maduro (or whoever) retaliates by attacking the city. Now, the watchman state has a right to retaliate, is that correct? And so we get a war. The billionaire can cause the home country to be attacked by the enemies that he alone has decided to attack using his dough and paying mercenaries. So we have an untenable situation in which private parties can cause wars that affect people in the country governed by the night watchman state. To prevent this from occurring, the night watchman state has to control foreign policy and attacks on foreign soil. It must have the defense monopoly, which it claims today that it does have. And I would say that this scenario and others like it are exactly why the state, in its defense role, does “own” foreign policy and does not look kindly on independents who make war on foreign countries.
You make a very important point, but, you don’t need the bilionaire to do so.
Let’s get back to the Spanish civil war of 1936 to which your point also applies. The logical implication of what you are saying is that Franco, who won that war, had a right to attack London and NYC, since many of the members of the Lincoln Brigade came from there, no? I find that conclusion problematic, don’t you? It implies that the US and the UK had a right to forbid their private citizens from entering into that war, fighting on either side, on the ground that Spain might attack them.
I didn’t say that the one attacked (Maduro, Franco) had any right to counterattack. In fact, they do not have that right to attack on an indiscriminate basis. I follow Rothbard in this respect and it is problematic, as you say, from a rights standpoint. But I wasn’t analyzing the rights but the realities.
I’m saying that this is how men often behave, which is to attack people’s families or places where they might live. They also use terror and attack innocent people. They could attack the mercenary home turf in order to have the mercenaries pay a price or because the home turf is more vulnerable or to send a message to the mercenaries, etc. None of this is because it’s right. This is war, after all.
Does the state have a right to forbid the brigade on the argument that Spain might attack them? If its charter calls for self-defense, the state may decide to forbid such a brigade, on the grounds that it could lead to retaliation and a wider war that brings in the state and its citizens who are peacefully not intruding. These grounds are not “rights”, however, unless the state has been deputed to have this power over forces.
If the state has no such power, then the dilemma of my example remains. Spain may attack sites governed by the watchman state and this may drag that state into war.
Therefore, this eventuality or possibility, which is recognizable by states, will be avoided by states not allowing such brigades if they raise the chances of a wider war. The history of the Lincoln Brigade should tell us why it was allowed and how much latitude it had. For one thing, Franco was in no position to attack American interests; or he may have not wanted to do so; or the brigade may have been a trivial factor in the war; or FDR might have thought it brought him some favorable publicity and votes. Maybe it was a way to show he was acting without actually committing himself or the country to what may have been unpopular.
Maybe, the libertarian solution to this is for the home country government (US for Venezuela, US and UK for Spain) to tell these private warriors, fine, you wanna go fight Maduro, Franco, go get ‘em. But don’t come back here? Nah, that wouldn’t work either.
Let’s turn this around. Posit that the US is indeed the Great Satan. Some private soldiers, say, from Lichtenstein, come over here to the US to attack us. All of us. Innocent taxpayers too, since we pay taxes to the Great Satan.
Should the US then attack Lichtenstein? Of course not, based on libertarianism. But, based on the realpolitic you are positing, yes, the US would indeed do that; it is war, after all.
But, I’m trying to work out the libertarian response that my questioner posed. So, consider the Lincoln Brigade again. Did they themselves threaten the US, the UK? The answer seems to be no. Therefore the US, UK minarchist libertarian governments should not prohibit them from going to Spain (Venezuela), period, nor since they are innocent, should they be prevented from returning to their home country.
You’ve got it. That’s the libertarian solution. As often is the case, it seems to require assigning responsibility only to DIRECT or immediate causes and relegating a chain of effects to nothingness. You are 100% correct in that scenario that they didn’t themselves threaten their mother country. Yet they could still create a mess, couldn’t they? Had they not done what they did, they wouldn’t have exposed their country to attack or retaliation. And I assume that you’d assign that to the attackers (Franco). This is libertarian justice.
Now I personally as a potential volunteer would not ethically feel that I bear no responsibility if I intervene and it leads to a situation that hurts others who are innocent. Not being an ethicist, I do not know how to evaluate these two different approaches to responsibility and causation.
But I’m certain you’ve come up with the libertarian answer. And I’m certain that I do not know how to assign guilt in the abstract when there’s a chain of causation.
And if you want to publish this exchange, you may.
M1:25 pm on July 19, 2019 Email Michael S. Rozeff