The Folly of Pacifisim

Bryan Caplan — one of my favorite pseudo-libertarian targets — pooh-poohs the idea that “if you want peace, prepare for war”:

This claim is obviously overstated.  Is North Korea really pursuing the smart path to peace by keeping almost 5% of its population on active military duty?  How about Hitler’s rearmament?  Was the Soviet Union preparing for peace by spending 15-20% of its GDP on the Red Army?

All Caplan has demonstrated is that there are aggressive people and regimes out there, and that non-aggressors are naive to believe that those people and regimes will not attack you if you are not armed against them.

Caplan’s particular brand of pacifism is worse than naive, however. It is also imbued with moral relativism, which I address in “Inside-Outside“:

[W]ho better to help you defend yourself than the people with whom you share space, be it a neighborhood, a city-state, a principality, or even a vast nation? As a member of one or the other, you may be targeted for harm by outsiders who wish to seize your land and control your wealth, or who simply dislike your way of life, even if it does them no harm….

…[Caplan] considers the differential treatment of insiders and outsiders to be an unmitigated wrong. But group cohesion is a prudential social instinct that no amount of rationalism can obliterate. Differential treatment of insiders and outsiders is an inevitable aspect of that prudential social instinct. It is not, at bottom, a moral issue.

To the Caplans of this world, the outsider who would attack you is your moral equal. He just happens to be “over there.”

It is true that one may be attacked from within, by one’s supposed allies. But that does not lessen the need to be prepared for attacks from without. In fact, it points to the virtue of preparedness, generally.

Ronald Reagan, in the context of arms-limitation talks with the USSR, often said “Trust, but verify.” I would change the saying to this: “Trust those who have earned your trust; be armed against the rest.”

The wisdom of preparedness is nowhere better illustrated than in the world of the internet, where every innocent user is a target for the twisted and vicious purveyors of malware. I am far from a computer expert, but my limited knowledge of computing has enabled me to root out malware thrice in the past few years — once for my wife, once for my father-in-law, and once (just yesterday) for myself. Think of the many completely inexpert users whose systems are fatally compromised or restored only at great trouble and expense because they are defenseless against the jackals who roam the internet.

The Caplans of this world simply don’t want to admit that there are “good” people and “bad” people, and that it is  necessary for the “good” people to arm themselves against the “bad” people. In fact, the actions of individuals who promulgate malware and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda make a good case for preemptive warfare.

As for the true state of the world, I find apt a passage from Simon Mawer’s novel, The Gospel of Judas, which centers on a laicized Catholic priest named Leo Newman. Toward the end of the story, which is about the discovery of an alternative account of the life and death of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, a French priest encounters Newman and says,

Newman, you are one of those sentimentalists, who see Jesus Christ as a kind of social worker and the Christian faith as a series of conveniently liberal moral precepts. No wonder you abandoned the Church…. The Almighty is not a liberal, Monsieur Newman… The Almighty is  the driving force for the entire universe and the universe is not a very liberal place. That is what the modern world seems not to understand….

Pacifists are sentimentalists who see the world as a benign place, which can be tamed by their moral precepts. They can afford their naivete because they are sheltered from the real world by the cops and soldiers whose efforts they scorn.

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