Big Wars From Little Errors Grow
JANUARY 01, 1964 by E.W. DYKES
Mr. Dykes is an architect of Canton, Ohio.
A friend recently chided us libertarians for being so engrossed in "pursuing our busy little seminars on whether or not to demunicipalize the garbage collectors" that we tend to ignore the most vital problem of our time: war and peace.
Well, I’m not so sure. On the assumption that the "garbage issue" is more fundamental than the "war issue," I take up the gauntlet exactly as our friend has flung it down.
War—like many other of today’s problems—is the culmination of the breaking of libertarian principles, not once, but thousands of times. We are challenged to jump in at this point and apply our principles to get out of the unholy mess resulting from years and years of errors on errors. The challenge might just as well have been put in terms like this: "You are a second lieutenant. Your platoon is surrounded. Your ammunition is gone. Two of your squad leaders are dead, the third severely wounded. Now, Mr. Libertarian, let’s see you get out of this one with your little seminars."
My answer: "Demunicipalize the garbage service."
Now, wait, before you cross me off as a nut. I have a point. That second lieutenant is a goner. And so is the prospect of lasting peace until man learns why it is wrong to municipalize the garbage service. You can’t apply libertarian principles to wrong things at their culmination and expect to make much sense or progress. You have to start back at the very beginning, and that is precisely what our little seminars are for. There are people who build for tomorrow, others who build for a year, some who look forward a generation. The libertarian, a part of "the remnant," takes the long view—forward to the time when war will be looked upon as we now look upon cannibalism, a thing of the past. And believe me, unless someone takes the long view, wars will continue.
Suppose a group of doctors in a meeting on cancer prevention decide to do with cancer as the state proposes to do with war: "Outlaw it." What chance would the doctors have? None. And precisely for the same reason that the state can’t outlaw war: They don’t know what causes it.
I think I know what causes war. In an unpublished article called "War, the Social Cancer," I developed the thesis that war is the malignancy resulting from the growth of interventionism, which invariably becomes uncontrolled, once started. Without interventionism—starting way back with things like the garbage service—war simply cannot happen.
Is There a Faster Way?
What do we do in our little seminars? We make the case for freedom, which cannot coexist with interventionism. Slow? Of course, painfully slow. But who can really say and prove there is a better—or faster—way?
I suppose, in a way, we can be thankful—so long as wars persist—that there are men willing to tell my son how, when, and where he will fight. I am not willing to be a party to telling their sons what they will do, because that would mean abandoning my position. Probably, in a world at this stage of evolution, there have to be both kinds. I can guarantee at least one who disavows initiated violence, but only if I hold fast to that position myself.
Depend on it, this view always will be scorned by those who cannot look past tomorrow. You may also depend on it that a time will come when the little seminars will bear fruit. Listen to Albert Jay Nock:
The fascination and the despair of the historian, as he looks back upon Isaiah’s Jewry, upon Plato’s Athens, or upon Rome of the Antonines, is the hope of discovering and laying bare the "substratum of right-thinking and well-doing" which he knows must have existed somewhere in those societies because no kind of collective life can possibly go on without it. He finds tantalizing intimations of it here and there in many places, as in the Greek Anthology, in the scrapbook of Aulus Gellius, in the poems of Ausonius, and in the brief and touching tribute, Bane merenti, bestowed upon the unknown occupants of Roman tombs. But these are vague and fragmentary; they lead him nowhere in his search for some kind of measure of this substratum, but merely testify to what he already knows a priori—that the substratum did somewhere exist. Where it was, how substantial it was, what its power of self-assertion and resistance was—of all this they tell him nothing.
Similarly, when the historian of two thousand years hence, or two hundred years, looks over the available testimony to the quality of our civilization and tries to get any kind of clear, competent evidence concerning the substratum of right-thinking and well-doing which he knows must have been here, he will have a devil of a time finding it. When he has assembled all he can get and has made even a minimum allowance for speciousness, vagueness, and confusion of motive, he will sadly acknowledge that his net result is simply nothing. A Remnant were here, building a substratum like coral insects—so much he knows—but he will find nothing to put him on the track of who and where and how many they were and what their work was like.¹
Now, turn to William Graham Sumner:
If we can acquire a science of society, based on observation of phenomena and study of forces, we may hope to gain some ground slowly toward the elimination of old errors and the re-establishment of a sound and natural social order. Whatever we gain that way will be by growth, never in the world by any reconstruction of society on the plan of some enthusiastic social architect. The latter is only repeating the old error over again, and postponing all our chances of real improvement. Society needs first of all to be freed from these meddlers—that is, to be let alone. Here we are, then, once more back at the old doctrine—Laissez faire. Let us translate it into blunt English, and it will read, Mind your own business.2
Again I say: We will never end wars if we do not, at the minimum, understand why the garbage service should be removed from the jurisdiction of the police force, that is—government.
1 Albert J. Nock, "Isaiah’s Job" from Free Speech and Plain Language (William Morrow & Company, 1937).
2 William Graham Sumner, What Social Classes Owe to Each Other (Harper & Brothers, 1883).