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A Libertarian Student's Plea

  • Ralph Raico 2005

Tags Political Theory

04/07/2017Ralph Raico

[This appears to have been written while Professor Raico was a university student. No date is given. The paper was found in a folder in the Rothbard Papers.]

As a university student, as an heir of the Western tradition, and as a libertarian — on all three of these counts I was aroused by Mr. Buckley's article, "Peace and Pacifism." For he has, it appears to me, considered the just arguments neither of youth, nor of civilization, nor, even, of freedom, all of which will live or die, depending on whether it is to be peace or atomic war.

To me, at least, this is clear: one may, on the one hand, permit American youth, civilization, and freedom to flourish as best they can in the twentieth century world, or, on the other hand, one may have one's war and the nuclear destruction of the Soviet Union. But, although Mr. Buckley does not seem to see it, one cannot have both sets of values simultaneously.

Nuclear war is absolutely incompatible, in the first place, with freedom, and the conservative, of all people, should be fully aware of this fact. History has taught him that the rulers of states are never to be depended upon to look without greed on any sphere of human action not under their control. They may be expected to take every opportunity to interfere with force in the free functioning of other men. But, nuclear war increases such opportunities to infinity: in the next war, what will prevent the men in power from ruthlessly violating liberty at will, under cover of the chaos causes by the conflict? Today the conservative objects to attempts to interfere with the sending of "hate literature" through the mails. What will he say when, during the first few hours of atomic war, the government suspends habeas corpus and trial by jury, in order to be freer to deal with "subversives" in this greatest of national emergencies? Now the conservative sees in the farm subsidy program a tyrannical burden on the taxpayer, and a threat to the liberty of the farmer. In this he is correct. But what words will he use to describe the measures by which, if war comes, the federal government will virtually nationalize the economy? It must be understood, also, that, as Frank Chodorov has said, the State never assumes power in order to abdicate it. Why, then, is the conservative, who gags at liberty's infringement, prepared to swallow its abolition?

Besides clearing the way for the Total State, a pro-war policy violates freedom in another regard: it takes from each individual his sacred right to decide for himself for which cause he shall give up his life. Liberty means, above all, that no man shall be compelled to accept the values of another. This is, indeed, one of the arguments the libertarian uses against state planning, for his sense of justice is outraged when a man is forced to buy one commodity rather than some other. How much more important, however, is freedom of choice in the case of life or death! We must admit the sorry fact: there are those who prefer life — even under the Soviet tyranny — to death. The very existence of hundreds of millions of slaves of Communism proves this. One may deprive all these people of the option of surrender or death, but one must be conscious that one is throttling freedom in the process.

Freedom, however, would not be the only value to fall victim to the next war. Just as the First World War, fought allegedly for the self-determination of nations, ended in the Treaty of Versailles, and as the Second World War, waged for democracy, resulted in the enslavement of one-third of the world, so the Third World War, to begun, presumably, in the defense of civilization, will have as its outcome the negation of its purpose. Who believes that civilization will be advanced by making Rome another Hiroshima? Or that the West will benefit from the atomic annihilation of Paris? Or that our culture will gain from the death of all inhabitants of New York and Chicago? Make no mistake — a Third World War will entail all these things. Indonesian "culture," perhaps, will be spared, together with the new "civilization" which is being developed in China: but the sirens which announce the first atomic attack on London will be sounding the death-knell of the West.

These are not merely "nuclear luridities," as Mr. Buckley would have it. The case against war must be put in these terms because such terms as "nuclear war" and "massive retaliation" are catch-all, abstract phrases, which, although grammatically indispensable, yet serve partially to conceal reality. If, for instance, instead of being able whimsically to wish for an Aladdin's Lamp, as Mr. Bozell did, so that he might "send our bombers over Russia," one were forced to list the names and ages of all the innocents who would be killed the attack. Mr. Bozell dreams of, the effect on the reader would be more nearly in proportion to the ghastliness of the idea. This, then, is the justification for dealing in details: that the conservative may know more exactly what it is he is calling for when he shouts for nuclear war.

A Third World War means destruction for the sake of destroying. It cannot be waged to save the West, since the West will not survive it. This consideration, I think, more than any other, tends to make young people pacifistic today. They can see no sense in killing the thing you love, because you love it. They are not, to be sure, as pacifistic as they were in the 1930s, when the students at a New York college rioted against the anomaly of having the ROTC drilling on the campus of an institution supposedly devoted to the liberal arts. Still, they recoil at the suggestion that we seriously entertain, even for an instant, the possibility of ending the world. I, as one of them, believe that there exist honorable alternatives. What these are, cannot be discussed here. But, as a minimum condition, any policy which is to appeal to youth must allow it to survive, and to have children that look like human beings. I do not think that is difficult to sympathize with such ideas, nor to understand why students at Dartmouth did not rally to Mr. Buckley's program. To use a figure from a great novel, mostly forgotten now, the youth of today are grasping at a butterfly. They ask, simply, that they be permitted to live to hold it in their hand.

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