by R. Lee Wrights
“The only defensible war is a war of defense.”
– C.K. Chesterton
One of the most misunderstood principles of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle. The belief that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatsoever; nor advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else including government is the very essence of the non-aggression principle. The misconception starts when we use the phrase “initiation of force.” People tend to focus on the last word and ignore or forget the first.
Most libertarians are not pacifists so our adherence to the non-aggression principle doesn’t mean we won’t defend ourselves. On the contrary, the right to self-defense is inherent in the concept of self-ownership. It is absolutely necessary for every individual to be prepared always to defend him or herself. Your life is too precious to trust it to the hands of strangers.
There seems to be similar confusion with the understanding of the theme of this exploratory campaign – stop all war. That theme was chosen based on the feedback and comments I’ve been hearing from Libertarians across the nation for the past several years. They are asking why the Libertarian Party isn’t out front in the anti-war movement. The questioning was particularly strong and passionate from many of the young people who were delegates to the 2010 national convention in St. Louis.
Since 9/11, I’ve been asking that same question everywhere I have gone and to everyone I’ve met, including members of the Libertarian National Committee, rank-and-file members of the Libertarian Party and fellow patriots in the libertarian movement. It became clear to me that if the message to stop all war was going to become the message of the Libertarian Party as it should be, someone had to step up to make it happen.
That being said, let me be clear. I am not at war, but make no mistake – I am still a warrior. I am not a pacifist – but I don’t have to kill someone to prove it. I don’t oppose anyone using force to defend themselves, their homes, their property, or those they love. If you doubt me when I say that, just try breaking into my house. Self-defense is a part of life, and it’s sometimes necessary for people to defend themselves in order to survive.
But whatever force is used should be quick and precise and the amount of force used should be limited to stopping the attack. Once you have stopped the attack, self-defense does not give you the right to bludgeon the attacker further. Nor does self-defense give you the right to attack someone because you think they may attack you in the future, no matter how boisterous their threats.
Nations should conduct their wars by the same rules. If a nation is attacked, it has the right to defend itself using whatever force is necessary, and using all the power at its disposal to stop the attack quickly and decisively. It may be necessary–on occasion–to invade the aggressor nation. But once the aggressor has been defeated, the defending nation has no right to maintain an occupation force or engage in “nation building.” The cause of national defense does not give any nation the right to conduct a preemptive or preventive war, a policy Dwight Eisenhower called an invention of Adolf Hitler.
While most libertarians strongly support the non-aggression principle, we aren’t pacifists. While we defend the right of individuals, or nations, to use force in self-defense, we adamantly reject any justification for a nation to wage a war of aggression for any reason, under any circumstances. The call to stop all war is simply the logical and systematic application of the non-aggression principle to all areas of government activity. It is a call to stop any activity that involves the use of force not to defend rights, but to impose the State’s will on others.
All libertarians share this core value. All libertarians believe in the message of peace and non-aggression. That’s why I believe that the Libertarian Party must embrace the message and not be afraid to boldly, loudly and unequivocally proclaim now and in the 2012 presidential election – stop all war.
Call it pro-peace or anti-war, they both mean the same thing – stop all war. We have chosen to call for stopping war because that is what the members of the LP have been asking for. We remember how the George W. Bush crowd co-opted the pro-peace slogan to justify sending an invasion force into Iraq. The American people were told it was a war of peace. Of course, it was a lie.
As I said in late 2002 before we sent troops to Iraq, “It is blasphemy to kill innocent people and have innocent people do your killing for you, all the while proclaiming to the world you are doing it in the blessed name of Peace.” This is why Libertarians understand that we must call for stopping all war. Stop all war is a message that cannot be co-opted and used to justify sending more young people far from home to die.
The Libertarian Party isn’t the entire libertarian movement. It’s only the political arm of the movement. The Libertarian Party represents the larger libertarian movement in the political arena. Without us, Americans have no way of voting for liberty and freedom at the ballot box on Election Day. We in the movement who have made the decision to engage in electoral politics have chosen ballots over bullets in a peaceful attempt to bring about badly needed reform of a government that no longer serves the people but rather has fallen into the hands of tyrannical nannies who wage war on and enslave the very citizens they have sworn to serve.
So I echo the words of my brother Thomas Hill. The message of this campaign is a message all libertarians can and should embrace – stop all war. This is the cause the Libertarian Party must champion in 2012. If we don’t, nobody else will. To spread that message across the country, we’ll need the help of anyone who desires to be free and who opposes tyranny in any form.
R. Lee Wrights is a writer and political activist living in Texas. He is the co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Lee is considering seeking the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. Contact Lee at email@example.com.