It is as worthless to desire peace, without arming against those who would destroy you, as it is to wish for peace without any understanding of what would make it possible. If the four horsemen of apocalypse are to be kept at bay, then both actual and intellectual ammunition will be necessary: if you truly desire peace, you must oppose the roots of war. That’s what this piece is about.
To understand the roots of peace, you must understand that war's greatest opponents are not those whom your schoolteachers might have led you to believe.
The opponents of peace are legion -- it is because of them that armed defence is necessary; the opponents of war are too few, and far too unsung.
The truth is that across all the pages of history there have been two fundamental antagonists who have been variously venerated and eviscerated: the trader culture, and the warrior culture. Those who survived by trade, and the cultures that supported that; versus those who survived by bloodshed and plunder, and the cultures that survived off their warriors' loot.
See the heroes a culture venerates above all others, and you'll see which kind of culture it is. The prodicers of wealth, or those who loot it. The men of profits, or the men of plunder. Men who produce value; or the men who looted it. The sellers of ploughshares; or the bearers of swords. The defenders of wealth, or ther barbarian conquerors.
For all of human history, the culture of the trader has been the bringers of peace and prosperity and civilisation, yet for most of history it has been the warrior who's been most revered, and the values of the trader most derided.
Strange, don’t you think?
Consider: Cultures that venerate a warrior culture are mired in violence; while cultures that venerate and protect the trader enjoy peace, prosperity and all the good things that come from those twin blessings.
Compare democratic Athens with the warrior nation that was Sparta; Ancient China, with its invention and trade, to the rampaging Mongol hordes to their north; Renaissance Italy with Genghis Khan's ravaged fiefdoms; "the nation of shopkeepers" that was Britain to Napoleonic France; the free west, which favours trade and individual rights, to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, which praised warrior virtues and conquest.
For the most part, the freer nations wished only their own freedom. But to purchase it, they had to arm themselves against the aggressors. Furthermore, in defending themselves against aggression, the trading cultures make the world more peaceful for all. In clearing the Barbary Coast of pirates to make the waters safe for trade, Thomas Jefferson's Marines did more for peace in the Mediterranean than a thousand hand-wringers. In producing a ‘Pax Romana’ and ‘Pax Britannia’ in their respective worlds, Rome’s army and Britain’s navy did more for world peace and prosperity than a hundred-thousand United Nations delegates—not because they were advancing warrior values, but because they were protecting those of the trader. In defending the world against the aggression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the free west did more for long-term peace and prosperity than a hundred-million peace marches.
The major wars of history were always started by the warriors, who enslaved, looted, and plundered. They needed the booty to survive. The traders did not need the booty of war; they were busy producing the wealth that comes from peaceful production--enough wealth, when they needed it, to beat the barbarians back.
The trader, you see, is a man of peace: he needs peace and freedom to function, to invest, to plan long-range; he acquires by voluntary exchange the human values that mean civilisation. The warrior by contrast is a man of plunder, someone who needs and feeds on destruction. His values are inimical to human life. He is a destroyer.
The trader 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 warrior, by contrast, is a parasite, surviving on the production of others.
It is said that trade needs conquest. Not so. It is the warriors and their hangers-on who need plunder to survive. What warriors seek is war and destruction; what traders need is peace, and production. Traders can win and hold markets only by free competition; markets obtained by conquest can only be held short-term, and are only of value to those carpet-bagging ‘parasites of the state’ who seek special privilege by force, and who could not survive otherwise.
Trader culture is superior to warrior culture. Trader culture is more peaceful than warrior culture. Yet, paradoxically, for most of history it has been martial virtues that have been most venerated, and commercial virtues which have been most attacked. So is explained the darkness of so much of human history.
I invite you to keep this fundamental antagonism in mind as you read on, 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.
The trader is the figurehead of what we might call, 'the three horsemen of peace': three values and institutions which both historically and intellectually underpin the pursuit of peaceful conduct among man. The first amongst these is trade itself. Free trade is the first horseman of peace.
Trade. Trade works. Trade is simply the voluntary exchange of goods and services to mutual advantage. In the words of the economists, when I trade my apples for my neighbour's oranges, it is because I value the oranges more than my apples, and my neighbour values my apples more than his oranges. We both see mutual advantage in the exchange, and since both sets of goods are each moved from a 'lower value' to a 'higher value,' the nett result of this and every voluntary trade is that both traders win - everyone kicks a goal! -- and from each trade new wealth is created thereby: the economy is greater for the sum of the higher values achieved, and my breakfast table is richer by some freshly squeezed orange juice -- and my neighbours by my apples.
It us thus that men live by production and voluntary exchange, instead of by plunder. This is the benevolent 'invisible hand' of which Adam Smith spoke. It is a hand of peace, since as Frederic Bastiat observed, "when goods don't cross borders, armies will." Countries that trade with each other don't go to war with each other: there's too much for both of them to lose.
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.Let those who are actually concerned with peace observe, as just one example among many, that the free trade era of the nineteenth-century trade brought to the world the most peaceful century yet known. And in the twentieth century, post-war trade brought benefits to twentieth-century Germany and Japan that their earlier destructive attempts at conquest never could. (You can read that short lesson here: Trade versus Conquest.)
“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."
Free trade is the first horseman of peace. The second horseman is capitalism.
Laissez-faire capitalism. In her article 'The Roots of War,' Ayn Rand observed that “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. By the nature of its basic principles and interests, it is the only system fundamentally opposed to war.”
The antagonist of laissez-faire is statism—the notion that human life belongs to the nation, the state, the tribe. Statism –statolatry, state-worship—is the warrior culture writ large.
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.The second horseman of peace is capitalism. The third horseman is the industrial civilisation it produced, and all the values that underpin it.
"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 all 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 for each of us 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 on this point:
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.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.
"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 . . . "
. . . 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.
Industrial civilisation is the thrid horseman of peace.
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...Which, in summary, is to discard completely the ideology of state worship and omnipotent government.
"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 is to say, if you want permanent peace, then you must understand the roots of war.
If men want to oppose war, it is statism they must oppose. So long as they hold the tribal notion that the individual is sacrificial fodder for the collective, that some men have the right to rule others by force, and that some (any) alleged ‘good’ can justify it—there can be no peace within a nation, and no peace among nations.”
- Ayn Rand ‘The Roots of War,’ in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal