Why Libertarians Oppose War by Jacob H. Huebert

Why Libertarians Oppose War

by Jacob H. Huebert

Recently by J. H. Huebert: Vouchers Are Not Libertarian

This article is excerpted from Libertarianism Today, by Jacob H. Huebert.

Libertarianism and war are not compatible. One reason why should be obvious: In war, governments commit legalized mass-murder. In modern warfare especially, war is not just waged among voluntary combatants, but kills, maims, and otherwise harms innocent people. Then, of course, wars must be funded through taxes, which are extracted from U.S. citizens by force – a form of legalized theft, as far as libertarians are concerned. And, historically, the U.S. has used conscription – legalized slavery – to force people to fight and die. In addition, an interventionist foreign policy makes civilians targets for retaliation, so governments indirectly cause more violence against their own people when they become involved in other countries’ affairs. Plus, war is always accompanied by many other new restrictions on liberty, many of which are sold as supposedly temporary wartime measures but then never go away.

War Involves Mass Murder

Today, people mostly accept that innocent civilians die in wars, and it doesn’t seem to bother them too much as long as it’s happening to other people on the other side of the world. The military calls this “collateral damage,” and the American media mostly ignores it, but libertarians call attention to it and call it what it is: mass murder.

Historically, war didn’t necessarily involve killing innocents on a large scale. War was always terrible and undesirable, but by the eighteenth century, Europe had developed rules of “civilized warfare,” and wars were generally fought only between armies, with civilians off-limits. From the libertarian perspective, this type of war is not so much of a problem; if people choose to engage in mortal combat with each other, that may be foolish, self-destructive, and even immoral, but it’s not aggression in the libertarian sense. (Of course, those wars still have objectionable ends – generally, the right to dominate a particular territory – but at least the means aren’t so offensive.)

Modern warfare is another story. Modern governments, including but not limited to democracies, claim to represent “the people,” so modern wars are seen as being fought, not just between rulers, but between whole peoples. By this way of thinking, it’s not two governments fighting; it’s “all of us versus all of them.” This is how politicians and some conservative pundits talk: either you are rooting “for America” or you “want America to lose” – they don’t distinguish between the country’s government and its citizens. If their view is correct – if governments really do represent the people – then it follows (more easily) that the people are fair game in war.

Of course, libertarians reject this view of government and democracy. Governments don’t actually represent their people – they prey upon their people. Many people in any given country, democratic or otherwise, don’t support all of their government’s policies, and don’t deserve to be punished, let alone killed, for what their government does. But many are unwillingly implicated in their government’s crimes through taxation, conscription, and other ways in which they’re forced to directly and indirectly support the war effort…

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