Anti-War and Anti-State
To Oppose War we Must Oppose the State
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has, once more, brought war and international relations to the forefront of the political agenda. Given that Ukraine’s support from Western countries, both spiritually and financially, seems aimed at exacerbating this conflict rather than abating it, it is critical for those committed to peace and prosperity to grasp a key fact if their stance is to be successful: that one cannot be truly anti-war without also being anti-state.
If one is to be anti-state (or, at least, in favour of a smaller state), then it is quite obvious that one must be anti-war. The warmongering right, forever whining about state overreach in the domestic sphere, has no problem with siphoning billions of taxpayers’ money in order to support a huge military while furnishing corporate welfare to arms manufacturers. Forgotten by these chicken-hawks is the fact that “war is the health of the state”. During wartime – or even in the milieu of a merely purported threat – a government can enact heinous levels of oppression and control that would be unthinkable in a time of peace. Curiously enough, such measures have a habit of sticking around as soon as the alleged enemy is vanquished. Thus, to support war and foreign interventionism is to ultimately destroy freedom at home.
However, to be truly anti-war requires one to be also thoroughly and uncompromisingly anti-state. If war feeds the state then so too does the state feed war. Indeed, the very desire to create a bigger state makes war more likely. War is always propagated by states, between states and for the benefit of states – the bigger and more powerful they are, the more catastrophic and destructive their wars are likely to be. The ideological left, with its anti-imperialist and anti-war profiteering motive, has often been a louder voice than the right in castigating the warmongers and interventionists in conflicts past and present – at least, that is, when the “wrong” president happens to be in the Oval Office. But many of these anti-war activists of the left have no problem with state largesse when it comes to economic and social matters, spreading alleged “fairness”, “equality” or whichever other emotive but elusive goal happens to be the cause du jour. It is ridiculous to think that such interventionism will be restricted to the domestic sphere, let alone to believe that a large state can be the promoter and preserver of peace. Let’s look at this in some more detail.
First, by virtue of its very existence, the state will always produce conflict. The precise means at the state’s disposal, the only means that distinguishes it from other institutions, is force. The imposition of force results in the constant diversion of scarce resources away from the ends of their owners and towards the ends of others. The state is effectively engaged in a constant war on its own citizens, forever plundering and pillaging them to fund their lavish lifestyles and to line the pockets of their friends under the guise of wasteful socioeconomic programmes. Foreign war, fundamentally, is no different, and every motivation for it – ideological or economic – ultimately reduces to a battle for influence, territory and resources.
It is, therefore, incongruous for an anti-war activist to allow a state to war against its own citizens on the one hand, but to pipe up as soon as war is projected outwards against foreign nations on the other. Regardless of how correct this latter reaction may be, not only is it hypocritical but it is also dangerously naïve to expect the state to keep its tentacles out of foreign affairs while it maintains a vociferous commitment to meddling in the domestic. Such a bifurcated stance also makes it extremely difficult to see any sharp distinction between what we are told are “good” regimes and “bad” ones. Nazi Germany, for example, was met with such ambivalence – even celebration – during the interwar period precisely because its ideology of big government control and intervention was of no particular distinction from that which was gathering momentum everywhere else in the wake of the Wall Street Crash. The only difference was that it was prepared to take this ideology to its logical extreme, additionally piling on racial dogmas and nationalistic overtones that resulted in crimes which, however horrific and unforgettable, obscure its fundamental resonance with the zeitgeist of the time.
Second, big states attract the attention of control freaks and the greedy. The more money that is stashed in state coffers then the more there is to be leeched away by bloodsuckers and parasites. Having pinched one slice of the pie, it is difficult to stop them from salivating for another, and then more after that. Once government intervention has destroyed all productivity, with no more pies left to be eaten, the siren song of war becomes ever sweeter to governments and their sponsors, not only as a distraction from their own economic mismanagement but as a way forward to secure a flow of resources from abroad. As a bonus, they get to tighten their grip on the domestic citizenry through lasting wartime or “emergency” measures.
Nor must we forget, for the political class, the allure of graduating to the level of a wartime leader or “warrior”. Vanquishing a foreign enemy, or saving one’s people from an overseas threat (real or imagined), is judged to be the pinnacle of statesmanship, worthy of the highest honours and decorations. The fostering of “mere” peace and prosperity, on the other hand, is rather dull and uninspiring. Indeed, the most highly rated leaders all made their mark during wartime, or, at least, were perceived as “hawks”: Lincoln during the War between the States, Roosevelt and Churchill during World War II, and Reagan and Thatcher during the Cold War, for instance. Even our study of history tends to be enthralled to conquerors such as Alexander the Great or Napoleon. Only when a conflict becomes so obviously pointless, futile and unjustified – such as those in Vietnam and Iraq – does this strategy backfire, as it did upon Johnson, Nixon and the Bush/Blair duo.
Finally, in countries which have a history of relative freedom, the degree of state intervention necessary to create alleged social or economic benefits has usually been a legacy of wartime control. The institutions of the New Deal, for example, had their precedent in the wartime regime of Woodrow Wilson; World War II on the New Deal; the post-war “Great Society”, the fight against poverty and the Civil Rights era all came after these wartime regimes were firmly in place. The citizenry have to be “united” (or worn down) by something such as war before they can ever begin to accept the degree of interference necessary to promote big state measures during peacetime. Ironically, therefore, a lot of the big government cravings of the anti-war left – if they ever have the hope of seeing the light of day – are reliant upon war. The cycle then continues as a bigger state begets more war.
In sum, therefore, to be anti-war but pro-state is the epitome of all dangerously ill-informed and contradictory positions, giving birth to the very thing it seeks to destroy. Rather, to be anti-war one must also be thoroughly and unreservedly anti-state, recognising this evil entity for precisely what it is – perpetual and endless conflict and violence. Only when we are well and truly rid of this scourge will there ever be a chance for peace.