Saturday, 26 April 2008

The three horsemen of peace

I ended my Anzac Day post yesterday with the thought "if you want to give thanks for peace, then thank a soldier."

On a weekend in which we give thanks to those who fought and died for our freedom, it's important to be reminded that veneration for those who defended our freedoms is not veneration for nationalism or for martial values; at a time in which we're reminded of the violence and destruction of war, of the generations ruined by the wars of the twentieth century, it's imperative we not be confused about the distinction between those who initiate physical force and aggression, and those who defended our freedoms against the militant horsemen of doom and destruction.

D9-viking rembrandt112 If you want to understand the roots of war, you must also understand that war's greatest antagonists are not those whom your schoolteachers might have led you to believe.  War's greatest antagonists are free trade and capitalism, and the industrial civilization built on free trade and capitalism that your schoolteachers take for granted even as they damn it.  The truth is that throughout history, the two fundamental antagonists have been the trader and the warrior.  

The trader relies buys and sells to everyone's advantage; he relies on voluntary action and peaceful cooperation -- in his work he demonstrates the harmony of interests of free men.  The trader is a man of peace.  The warrior by contrast is a man of plunder, someone who needs and feeds on destruction.  His values are inimical to human life.

I invite you to keep this fundamental antagonism in mind as you read this post, and to reflect on the all too obvious fact that despite the trader being the force for peace, it is the warrior who has always got the better press.

Trade.   Trade works. As Frederic Bastiat observed, "when goods don't cross border, armies will." Countries that trade with each other don't go to war with each other: there's too much to lose.

    Further, free trade helps quell government's passion for war. "It creates powerful lobbying groups on all sides that demand the preservation of peace and the triumph of diplomacy over hostility. International trade networks create intermediating structures of business relations that work as a barrier to bombs and belligerence."
Trade trumps conquest. Rather than seeing trade itself as a conflict, as something involving embargoes, sanctions and aggressive 'trade wars,' we should realise that peace and free trade are mutually dependent.

Let those who are actually concerned with peace observe, for example, that trade brought benefits to twentieth-century Germany and Japan that their destructive attempts at conquest never could.  You can read that short lesson here: Trade versus Conquest.]

"Laissez-faire capitalism is the only social system based on the recognition of individual rights and, therefore, the only system that bans force from social relationships, observed Ayn Rand in her article 'The Roots of War.' "By the nature of its basic principles and interests, it is the only system fundamentally opposed to war."

    Statism—in fact and in principle—is nothing more than gang rule. A dictatorship is a gang devoted to looting the effort of the productive citizens of its own country. When a statist ruler exhausts his own country’s economy, he attacks his neighbors. It is his only means of postponing internal collapse and prolonging his rule...
    Statism needs war; a free country does not. Statism survives by looting; a free country survives by production.

By contrast:

    Men who are free to produce, have no incentive to loot; they have nothing to gain from war and a great deal to lose. Ideologically, the principle of individual rights does not permit a man to seek his own livelihood at the point of a gun, inside or outside his country. Economically, wars cost money; in a free economy, where wealth is privately owned, the costs of war come out of the income of private citizens—there is no overblown public treasury to hide that fact—and a citizen cannot hope to recoup his own financial losses (such as taxes or business dislocations or property destruction) by winning the war. Thus his own economic interests are on the side of peace.
In a statist economy, where wealth is “publicly owned,” a citizen has no economic interests to protect by preserving peace—he is only a drop in the common bucket—while war gives him the (fallacious) hope of larger handouts from his master. Ideologically, he is trained to regard men as sacrificial animals; he is one himself; he can have no concept of why foreigners should not be sacrificed on the same public altar for the benefit of the same state.
The trader and the warrior have been fundamental antagonists throughout history. Trade does not flourish on battlefields, factories do not produce under bombardments, profits do not grow on rubble. Capitalism is a society of traders—for which it has been denounced by every would-be gunman who regards trade as “selfish” and conquest as “noble.”
Let those who are actually concerned with peace observe that capitalism gave mankind the longest period of peace in history—a period during which there were no wars involving the entire civilized world—from the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

Industrial civilisation and the values that gave rise to it are fundamental antagonists to the values of war and conquest.  The benefits of industrial civilisation are fundamentally dependent on freedom -- the freedom to trade; the freedom to produce; the freedom to pursue our own individual happiness, secure in our right to do so.  Just as aggressive war is antagonistic to every one of these fundamental freedoms, so too are the fruits of war and conquest.  For centuries man pursued wealth by conquest -- the industrial revolution and the industrial civilization it produced now demonstrates conclusively that wealth comes from production, not from destruction.  Says George Reisman:

    It is vital to recognize the enormous contribution that the essential vehicle of economic progress, namely industrial civilization, has made to human life and well-being since its birth over two centuries ago in the Industrial Revolution.
    Industrial civilization has radically increased human life expectancy: from about thirty years in the mid-eighteenth century to about seventy-five years today. The enormous contribution of industrial civilization to human life is [dramatically] illustrated by the fact that the average newborn American child has a greater chance of living to age sixty-five than the average newborn child of a nonindustrial society has of living to age five. These marvelous results have come about because of an ever improving supply of food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and all the conveniences of life . . .
    In the last two centuries, loyalty to the values of science, technology, and capitalism has enabled man in the industrialized countries of the Western world to put an end to famines and plagues, and to eliminate the once dread diseases of cholera, diphtheria, smallpox, tuberculosis, and typhoid fever, among others. . .
    As the result of industrial civilization, not only do billions more people survive, but in the advanced countries they do so on a level far exceeding that of kings and emperors in all previous ages . . .

Trade and the fruits of industrial civilization beat all the conquests made by all the kings and emperors throughout all history into a cocked hat.

    . . . not only do billions more people survive, but in the advanced countries they do so on a level ... that just a few generations ago would have been regarded as possible only in a world of science fiction. With the turn of a key, the push of a pedal, and the touch of a steering wheel, they drive along highways in wondrous machines at sixty miles an hour. With the flick of a switch, they light a room in the middle of darkness. With the touch of a button, they watch events taking place ten thousand miles away. With the touch of a few other buttons, they talk to other people across town or across the world. They even fly through the air at six hundred miles per hour, forty thousand feet up, watching movies and sipping martinis in air-conditioned comfort as they do so. In the United States [and most other industrialized parts of the world] most people can have all this, and spacious homes or apartments, carpeted and fully furnished, with indoor plumbing, central heating, air conditioning, refrigerators, freezers, and gas or electric stoves, and also personal libraries of hundreds of books, records, compact disks, and tape recordings; they can have all this, as well as long life and good health—as the result of working forty hours a week.

These are the benefits of production, not of destruction; of science and technology put to human ends, not to martial ends; of the fruits of freedom and individual rights, not of tribalism, or nationalism or the gang rule of dictatorship.

Ludwig von Mises saw at first hand the destructive result of two world wars.  After the second, he observed:

    The statement that one man's boon is the other man's damage is valid only with regard to robbery war and booty. The robber's plunder is the damage of the despoiled victim.  But war and commerce are two different things...
    What distinguishes man from animals is the insight into the advantages that can be derived from cooperation under the division of labor...  The emergence of the international division of labor requires the total abolition of war.  Such is the essence of the laissez-faire philosophy of [free trade] ...  This philosophy is of course incompatible with [state worship]...
    The root of the evil is not the construction of new, more dreadful weapons.  It is the spirit of conquest...  Modern civilization is a product of the philosophy of laissez faire.  It cannot be preserved under the ideology of government omnipotence...  To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable.  The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war.

Which, in summary, is to discard completely the ideology of state worship and omnipotent government.  

I couldn't have said it better myself.


  1. A wonderful post. I have read it over and over. You are coming right.

    Now all you need to do is to publicly eschew violence in the home and the right to hit kids re S59 and I will support you and Libz.

    This is really the sticking point for me - and for my friends and others in the wider family corporate world. I have met some lovely, non violent men who support Bradford's amendment - Mardy from blogblog and others.

    Just say it Peter.

  2. Aren’t things a little more complicated than this?

    Western prosperity was built on a massive surge of conquest and colonialism largely driven by commercial interests. The British Empire was a business enterprise that achieved remarkable wealth through intercepting Spanish plunder from the Americas using privateers and then setting up the East India Company, which had its own armies to harvest the worlds resources and manpower. Humans were used as commodities and shipped around the world to work in plantations generating more and more wealth. Others were recruited into local armies to suppress insurrections and protect the empire’s commercial interests.

    American Black ships would force a country to trade commercially. British gunboats would force people to buy pharmaceuticals. Conquered countries would be forced to pay the costs of their own conquest – war and commercial interests are inextricably linked.
    War and conquest drove industrial inventions. Railroads were driven into the heartlands of native people to speed up the conquest but were also great commercial enterprises The technologies that created warships and bombers were used to build freighters and airliners.

    Unholy alliances were constantly being negotiated between powers that enslaved, oppressed and slaughtered their people to deter other rapacious powers. Evil enemies yesterday were now allies and vice versa all for commercial expediency. Soldiers were used as tiny little pawns in great games that had at their heart commercial interests.

    And things have changed little today. Stability and trade will take precedence over democracy movements. Public concerns over oppressed people will be used as bargaining chips for trade concessions or for revealing another enemy’s secrets.

    This fascinating great game will continue. The only thing that is close to being constant is nationalism, which provides people a rock in a turbulent see of expediency intrigue and greed.

  3. AA,

    First, I'd wager that all the conquest and colonialism you cite as creating British prosperity was in fact a net drain on British prosperity.

    As was shown when Britain slowly went bankrupt after WWII, the burdens of empire were a cost, not a gain -- a cost Britain could not longer afford.

    The lesson should be that the value of empire is not gained through conquest -- that's a an error of mercantilist thinking exposed as false by Adam Smith in the eighteenth century -- it's gained through production and trade.

    It's a lesson you should have seen in your own lifetime. It's unbelievable, for example, that you've been able to watch the increasing prosperity of people in countries that even sixty years ago were dirt poor -- Hong Kong, Germany, Japan, China, India -- and still think that prosperity comes not from productivity, ingenuity and trade (which is what made and is making the people in those countries rich), but from "conquest and colonialism."

    Even just a few years ago you would have heard entreaties to donate to poor benighted Indians, yet now they're paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to snaffle our top cricketers -- hundreds of thousands of dollars that we certainly can't afford.

    Fact is, while New Zealand's prosperity has crept haltingly along over the last half century, you would have watched in your own lifetime these countries go from a state of being dirt poor to much wealthier than we are -- you would have watched an increasing number of people in the world living better than human beings have lived at any time in history -- and yet you still seem to think that wealth is a zero-sum game in which riches are only made by stealing from the poor.

    That's incredible.

  4. I’d wager that India is still receiving aid.

    I was suggesting that the wealth was built on a foundation of conquest. I always thought that Britain was bankrupted because of the wars with the big players and not the colonial wars. It’s hard to believe that colonialism was a net loss.

    I wasn’t suggesting that it is the only way to riches just that there is a significant connection between force and commerce and that this is still apparent today. For instance, the Labour government sees Tibet’s freedom as less important than New Zealand’s trade agreement with China and I think rightly so.

    The world is too complicated with things dependant upon historical facts and differing cultures. Just as an example some things might be impossible to define such as whether Deng Xioaping was a tyrant or a free marketer or a statist or a visionary? Or is piracy a legitimate commercial venture if it targets Spanish treasure ships?

    Maybe a nation should keep it simple and just look after self interest.

    You cannot solve all the world’s problems and you often have to play games with some unsavory characters therefore nationalism is a useful concept because you can solve your own nations problems.

    Can I be a provincial Libertarian?

  5. Just say what precisely, Ruth?

    That the Chch man who flicked his daughter to hurry her along deserved what he got from the state authorities who would supposedly use professional discretion? Well?

    Your insistence that a smacked hand and the horrific brute force (as per the legions of horror stories a la James Whakaruru and Delcelia Wittika) are synonymous, defies logic. Worse, it serves to minimise the horror perpetrated upon those poor little souls.

    And as for your "lovely non-violent men", how dare you lump a dad smacking his child's hand in the same lot as say, the Kahuis of this country?

    Bradford's amendment will never stop the monsters. Never. Nor was that ever her intention, irrespective of her rhetoric.

    It was initiated for the purpose of further state control. No wonder Clark endorsed it.


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