All Commentary
Monday, August 1, 1983

No Nukes No Consistency

Fred Foote is the editor of Prospect magazine published for Princeton University Alumni. He will be enrolled next year in Harvard Law School.

“So what have you got against nuclear holocausts,” I recently asked a student friend of mine wearing a little, orange “No Nukes” button. We both laughed, the message was clear: Nobody, obviously, wants a nuclear holocaust.

Nor does anybody delight in spending the billions of dollars needed to protect this country from the Soviet Union. I’m a little dismayed, then, by those “peaceniks” whose little buttons seem to imply that they have come to the conscientious realization that amassing weapons that can destroy the world is undesirable, whereas President Reagan and others, presumably, have not.

Rather than simply lamenting the arms race, though, there is a deeper issue here that I would like to address, and this issue seems to evade the consciences of the button bearers.

What is the philosophical basis of the arms race from the Soviets’ point of view? It is this: that the use of aggressive force against some is unavoidable, or justified in the interests of the “greater good.” I call it the “socialist premise” and it is the bankrupt yet uncontested philosophy of our day.

The Soviet Union provides the boldest expression of this philosophy in the modern world. For the “greater good” it is justified that the lives and properties of all Russians be subjugated to the State. Millions of individuals who would prefer to live for themselves, their children, or even their God are brutally murdered, detained in labor camps, or forced to lead lives of desperate servitude.

And Soviet “leaders,” moreover, do not limit their warfare to the inhabitants of their country. Today, the Red Army is poisoning and slaughtering innocent Afghans, letting the lifeblood of the Polish people, and, clearly, continuing its crusade to advance Soviet hegemony until it imprisons the entire free world.

The fuel that runs this machine is the philosophy that has caused wars in the past, and will cause them in the future: the philosophy that some individuals (blacks, Jews, the rich, whoever) are wholly or partially expendable for the benefit of others.

There is something obscene, therefore, in that those most vehemently opposed to the arms race have accepted the doctrine that has precipitated it: the socialist premise.

Consider the people who are most frequently seen wearing the “No Nukes” buttons. Are they not the same ones who argue for federal money to subsidize their educations, abortions, contraceptives, hospital bills, food stamps, fuel costs, retirements, camping trails, and solar roofs? Are they not the same ones who argue, in fact, on behalf of nearly every new federal program that comes down the pike, and ignore (or perhaps relish) the fact that these programs must be force-funded, at least in part, by the taxes of others?

Where there are “No Nukes” buttons, there often seems to be no consistent thinking either. Advocates of Marxist or even mixed economies cannot deny the philosophical premise they share with the Soviet Union. Nor can they deny that this premise similarly involves the sacrifice of other men’s lives and properties in the name of the “greater good.”

Laissez-faire capitalism, in contrast, is the only social system that consistently upholds individual rights and bans the use of force against peaceful citizens. It is the only system under which no group, however large, can use force against another group, however small. In theory and in practice, laissez-faire capitalism is the only social system fundamentally opposed to war.

Yet, blinded by their envy of the productive and the industrious and the deserving, the “peaceniks,” their professors, and republicans and democrats alike, refuse to acknowledge the unprecedented material benefits and unparalleled moral justification of laissez-faire capitalism. Instead, they doggedly adhere to the socialist premise. They avert their eyes from the plunder and misery that cruelly scars the face of every socialist scheme from the command economies of the Eastern Bloc to the Indian reservations of America. And they wish, with their referendums, buttons, and marches, to outlaw war with armed enemies as they advocate war with the unarmed and innocent citizens of this country.

I’m looking for a little, orange button of my own: “No Force.” Don’t expect most “peaceniks” to snap them up.