Reply to Aeon Skoble
By David Henderson
Like Aeon Skoble, I think my co-blogger Bryan Caplan has overstated the case for pacifism and against defensive war. Also, in his article to which he linked, Professor Skoble makes some important distinctions that libertarians sometimes fail to make and advances the argument. I think, though, that neither his argument in his article nor his comment on Bryan is a persuasive response to Bryan’s points. A big part of the problem with his argument is his implicit collectivism. I’ll explain below.
But first, here’s where I think Professor Skoble makes some valid points:
. Quoting Dirty Harry, he writes, “there’s nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot.” I pretty much agree. Violence, even lethal violence, to defend oneself is not wrong. I still would like to choose other methods, but if it comes to the aggressor’s life or my own, I’ll end his.
. He writes:
The fire department is operated with confiscated tax dollars, but that doesn’t mean putting out fires is immoral in and of itself. To argue that the state ought not to provide a particular good or service is not to argue that the provision of that good or service is intrinsically evil.
I agree. BTW, I heard Murray Rothbard make this point in a 1975 speech in L.A. and I’m pretty sure that Murray made that point in writing. So there’s an issue on which Skoble and at least one extreme anti-war libertarian agree.
. Professor Skoble points out correctly that we need to distinguish between whether the activity is legitimate and whether coercively funding it is legitimate. The former can be legitimate even if the latter is not. Agreed.
Professor Skoble goes from the point directly above to the following:
If it would have been permissible for a private force to liberate Kuwait, then it was permissible for the U.S. military to do so, even though we may also think that this (like everything else) ought to be privatized. Even though the state should not coercively monopolize the fire department, when they put out a fire, they are acting rightly.
Here’s where I think his argument fails. If the government fire department already exists, there is virtually no new funding, i.e., coercively obtained funds, required for it to fight my fire. But if the military exists, having it take on a new war will require more coercively obtained funds. So taking on a new war is inevitably, given the high cost of war, packaged with higher taxes now or in the future.
Also, although in his article, Professor Skoble discusses the issue of “jus in bello,” fighting a war justly, I think he fails to apply it in his comment on Bryan. In the comment, he writes:
[S]ay Argentina decides to declare war on the US. . . . So option 1 is to say “well, we can’t deploy our military to counterattack because innocent people will get killed.” Option 2 is fight back. Note that, in a complete reversal from your title, it’s the denial of rights (here by the Argentines) that becomes a license to kill, and if we go with option 1, a lot more of us get killed.
Note his use of the word “Argentina” to describe the enemy that declares war, rather than “the Argentine government.” It is this use that allows him to say, later in the paragraph, that “the Argentines” denied our rights. No, they didn’t. Some Argentines denied our rights. Unlike what I think Bryan would say, I do want to shoot down the Argentine bombers in this scenario. But I don’t think it’s legitimate for the U.S. government or for a private organization to bomb Argentina. Would Professor Skoble agree?