|14A031 August, 1914 by Jim Davies, 8/6/2014
Exactly 100 years ago this week, government-school history fables tell us that France, Britain, Germany, Austria and Russia began a big war. None of it is true.
It's false because (a) those entities ("France", etc) do not actually exist and (b) to the extent that the names might refer to the human beings residing in the geographic area commonly known as "France", etc., those residents did not declare war at all. Their respective governments did.
The respective governments consisted of a small number of men, perhaps one in a million of the residents, and that tiny subset had an inner group that made decisions, and one or two spokesmen; Sir Edward Grey for Brits, Raymond Poincaré for the French, etc. Yet because they had the implicit support of a significant fraction of each population (and the explicit support of some, such as the pro-war crowd in Munich, which I noted in A Monster in the Making) these small groups were able to propel over 400 million people into four years of mutual slaughter, and 16 million of them to death. How come?
That dreadful ability came directly from the assumption in each society that "government" was needed. Once a group is somehow appointed (or at least allowed) to rule everyone else, there is no escape. Periodically that government will arrange a war with another society's government, having convinced enough of its subjects that one of its jobs is to "defend" them. Even the most egregious aggressions are described as defense.
A couple of questions obviously arise: (1) is it correct to assume that government is needed? (2) if so, is it possible to have a government without the power to wage war? - ot at least, without that to wage needless war, as in 1914? - for I know of no historian today who maintains that the outbreak of the Great War was other than useless folly.
No, government is not needed; not in any society, not at any time, not for any purpose. The above assumption is ancient (about 10,000 years) but wholly false. When Thomas Paine wrote that government is evil but necessary he was right as to the first but wrong as to the second. Evil can never be necessary; for that would imply that humanity is evil, and if humanity is evil there is no hope whatever of arranging society so as to be harmonious, good, peaceful and productive; not ever, and not in any way. Yes, the doctrine of original sin is dead wrong; it has served governments very well, but is entirely false.
In fact, any society can (and will) work very well without any government at all. Humans lived that way for 80% to 90% of our species' existence, before government was invented. My A Vision of Liberty outlines how it will, rather soon, do so again. It's not hard to grasp, once the brain is engaged.
No, if government exists it will wage wars whenever it sees fit. The nature of government is that it enforces its will. It governs. That's what it does. It does not persuade, like commercial companies large and small; it writes laws for everyone to obey and if someone refuses to obey (and to submit to its enforcers) it will kill him. That's the nature of government, and it's true in every case. Since it governs, by nature, it cannot be governed, that is, constrained. "Limited government" is an incurable oxymoron.
That doesn't say that all governments will always wage war; government people are not more suicidal than others and if there is no net advantage perceived from a proposed war (for example the acquisition of territory and the tax revenue it yields) it will normally steer clear. Small governments don't usually attack more powerful ones - though there are exceptions, when they are desperate, as in the case of Gaza and Israel. But there is zero possibility that any government will abstain from war on principle. You want government? - eventually, you will get war.
Even many who would love to see a large reduction in the scope of government accept that one of its jobs is to wage war. Ron Paul, for example, calls wonderfully well for a slashing reduction in the FedGov's military power and reach; but he doesn't call for the Defense Department to be abolished outright, as he does (rightly) for the Federal Reserve. That means he is calling for an impossibility: limited government. Can't be done.
August, 1914 began a century of war. The governments that began the Great one did not know how to avoid it, nor how to win it, nor how to declare it unwinnable, nor even how to preserve honor when both sides were exhausted. Their gross incompetence in 1919 led directly to a four-times more disastrous war twenty years later, and to the invention and use of the first WMD. I see no sign currently that governments have learned anything at all from those towering failures; two days ago German President Gauck apologized (in Belgium) for the German invasion of Belgium, but not for the folly of entering the treaty with Austria that made that invasion essential to its fulfillment. Currently the US government is busy trying to provoke wars in Syria and Ukraine even as its Iraq failure unravels and even before it has wound up its long, disastrous disruption of Afghanistan. By aiding, equipping and encouraging the Israeli government, it risks so aggravating Arabs everywhere that the present Gaza conflict could explode into something infinitely worse just as happened a century ago in Sarajevo. So could the one around Donetsk.
Evil is not something with which to compromise. Again: if you want government, you will get war; but the converse is also true. If you want peace, all that's needed is to dispense with government. It is neither necessary nor beneficial. And yes, it can be done. Just do it.