Of Vigilantes and Warriors
By Bryan Caplan
Remember my pacifism debate with Ilya Somin? No offense to Ilya, but I heard that our hosts invited Robert Bidinotto first. Bidinotto refused, I’m told, because he’s now focused on writing novels. And what’s his novel about? A vigilante. But strangely enough, Bidinotto told Jeff Riggenbach that he doesn’t support vigilantism in the real world:
The vigilantism in the novel is intended solely as a fictional device
to highlight and dramatize the complete absence of justice in the
current legal system. I deliberately crafted the [vigilante character]
in the novel to hold a clear, specific code of honor regarding his
illegal actions. He only kills killers; he does not target
public officials with violence, but only with “poetic justice”; he
takes no actions that will threaten innocents; and he would rather be
arrested than use violence against cops. But in the real world,
vigilantism would never be subject to such honorable constraints.
Instead, it would degenerate into a violent competition of reprisals
and vendettas unlimited by any moral or legal principle.
As far as vigilantes are concerned, I think Bidinotto is overly pessimistic. But Riggenbach is exactly correct to point out that all of Bidinotto’s concerns do apply to war:
Does Bidinotto not see that this is an excellent description of exactly
how his beloved “War on Terror” has worked out in practice — and of how
it must work out in practice? The US government claims that its
warmaking is “subject to honorable constraints,” and that it strives to
avoid taking “actions that will threaten innocents,” but this is the
real world, and in the real world, whatever high-minded platitudes
politicians and military people may mouth, war is never anything but “a
violent competition of reprisals and vendettas unlimited by any moral
or legal principle” — a competition in which innocents are maimed and
killed and their property is senselessly destroyed.
Bottom line: If you can’t believe stories about scrupulous vigilantes, you should reject stories about “defensive war” as fairy tales.