A “just war”?

There are few concepts more absurd than that of a “just war.” Considering that violence has never achieved anything but bring about the capacity for more violence, and that only non-violent means can bring about lasting freedom, the concept of war cannot be reconciled with justice.

Even violent revolution with the goals of local “independence” can only mean the rise of local exploiters who, with the greater credibility afforded them by the culture they share with their subjects, are able to use more violence to bring about their goals. Look at the results of the “American Revolution”: in only six years, it turned into the formation of a federal government with virtually unlimited powers. Hardly a success of lasting freedom! And yet statists generally consider such wars “just.” The War of Northern Aggression proved exactly how “just” the new order of the day was.

The standard criteria proposed to identify “just wars” are pretty nonsensical, and most of them are circular, in that they involve value judgments on what is a just cause or an injustice. A just war can only be raised in a “truly just cause.” Presumably, the same people who determine whether the war is just or not, also determine the justness of any specific cause. What we have here has very little to do with moral standards and has a lot more to do with personal worldviews. If your conception of justice already includes a given conflict, you will necessarily see such a conflict as being based on a just cause, and vice-versa.

Discussions of war rarely involve the exploration of worldviews, because such exploration is inherently uncomfortable. I doubt any political discussion will ever include such questions as: “what is justice?” Such a question invites one to reconsider social institutions and one’s political ideology, and as such is unlikely to be spontaneously asked.

If we are to talk about justice, we must reject the arbitrary constitutions and “legitimate entities” of the statists and their States, because those have as much to do with anything that exists in reality as Santa Claus has to do with Christmas gifts. We have to talk about the natural law that we all acknowledge as alive and real, which recognizes every individual’s right to self-determination in his own life, and his right to cooperate with other people in order to achieve said self-determination.

The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.

No principle, that is possible to be named, can be more self-evidently false than this; or more self-evidently fatal to all political freedom.

Lysander Spooner

At first glance, it seems that Spooner is sanctioning violent revolutions that seek to overthrow oppressive governments. In short, the right to sedition. However, if we read the quote more carefully, we may note that Spooner here is talking about being compelled to obey a government one does not want, regardless of size. As a Market Anarchist, Spooner was in favour of entirely voluntary governance, not “smaller coercive governments” against “bigger coercive governments.”

The State, therefore, is the opposite of justice. Justice demands that man be free from those who seek to extort him, steal from him, or kill him.

What is war? Generally, definitions of this term assume the legitimacy of collectivist entities such as “countries.” If we strip down the Special Pleading of “countries defending themselves” or “liberating countries,” however, the bare fact of the matter is that war is organized murder and destruction.

So the issue of “just war” can be reduced to this: when does organized murder and destruction conform to natural law? When does organized murder and destruction further the cause of individual freedom?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that there is only sensible answer to this question. One may only engage in targeted murder or destruction when one’s life- not the integrity of a “country” or government- is directly threatened. As such, one is perfectly justified in declaring war against a government whose military leaders express a clear desire to threaten one’s life. As I have stated in the past, any political leader who issues a declaration of war should be considered an outlaw. But anyone who supports him or obeys his orders should also be considered an outlaw.

Furthermore, we must conclude that there can be no such thing as a “just war,” as there must necessarily be at least one unjust party, the one that first threatens innocents’ lives. In most wars, neither part has just cause. In a few wars, such as the American Revolution, we can say there is one just cause and one wholly unjust cause. In this case, we should not talk about a just war, but rather of a just cause implemented violently, meaning that it it ultimately self-defeating.

Finally, as States are inherently unjust entities, no State can claim to have a just cause for war. It is absurd for imperialists to claim that the low moral standing of the Hussein regime made the invasion of Iraq just. For one thing, we all know the real reasons for the war were WMD propaganda, oil, and State Capitalism. But more importantly, both regimes are unjust at the core. One may have more respect for people’s rights than another, but justice should not make distinctions between thieves and murderers who say “thank you” and those that don’t.

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