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Eamon Arasbard

Preemptive war and innocent casualties

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This is something I was thinking about this morning while re-reading Ayn's essay "Collectivized "rights"" which refutes the idea of nations have an intrinsic right to self-determination, and rejects the idea that dictatorships have a right to national sovereignty. Rand uses this as justification for her position that a free nation has a right to declare war on a dictatorship.

 

Rand also rejects the idea that a free nation has a moral obligation to liberate dictatorships, but maintains that a free nation has that right if it serves its self-interest. Presumably, this would mean any time the existence of a dictatorship poses a threat to another nation's freedom.

 

Rand also argued that if a free nation is attacked, and kills innocents in the enemy nation in the process of defending itself, that the aggressor is responsible for their deaths. As a result of this, the nation acting in self-defense is not acting in violation of the NAP.

 

While I accept this argument, I would still argue that the non-agression principle applies to innocents caught in the middle of a war. If they are killed by a nation acting in self-defense, then their deaths are the responsibility of both nations; in some cases, however, it is necessary.

 

However, I find it harder to reconcile this with the NAP if war was declared by a nation that had not yet been attacked. For instance, let's say that before World War II, someone had seen Hitler as a threat and decided to invade Germany. In the process, innocent civilians are killed. I can see how declaring war might have been the right thing to do. There is even some moral argument in favor of it, since the number of innocent deaths would probably be far less than the number of innocents actually killed in the process of bombing Germany during World War II. But how do we reconcile this with the NAP?

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I might be wrong on this, but I think the NAP comes from libertarians, and not from Rand. If she coined it, it's certainly meant as a guideline, something to draw wisdom from in 99,9% of situations. If you predate on others, they will do the same to you. But it's not unethical to break into someone's house in a snowstorm. 

Regardless, if innocents are killed in a war, the war was still initiated by their host country, not the defenders. So it doesn't violate the NAP, as far as I understand the principle, but obviously, some libertarians disagree. It's irrational to hold NAP as the fundamental, unbreachable premise instead of egoism. 

Edited by Severinian

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I might be wrong on this, but I think the NAP comes from libertarians, and not from Rand. If she coined it, it's certainly meant as a guideline, something to draw wisdom from in 99,9% of situations. If you predate on others, they will do the same to you. But it's not unethical to break into someone's house in a snowstorm. 

Regardless, if innocents are killed in a war, the war was still initiated by their host country, not the defenders. So it doesn't violate the NAP, as far as I understand the principle, but obviously, some libertarians disagree. It's irrational to hold NAP as the fundamental, unbreachable premise instead of egoism. 

 

I believe that sometimes, in an effort to distance themselves from "libertarians," Objectivists (perhaps unwittingly or unintentionally) soften Rand's stance on individual rights.

 

In the case of temporarily finding shelter someone else's home in a snowstorm, we're discussing "emergencies" -- "conditions under which human survival is impossible."  These are not the sorts of scenarios which Rand is considering when developing/advocating for her ethics of rational self-interest, or egoism.  If it is "not unethical" qua Objectivism to break into a house out of necessity, neither is it ethical.

 

With respect to society, and outside of these so-called "lifeboats," Rand does hold individual rights as being an "unbreachable premise" -- not "fundamental," as it rests upon Objectivist Metaphysics and Epistemology -- but unbreachable in that this recognition, that individual rights is the core of Objectivist Politics, necessitated by man's nature, and the bridge between individual morality and society, is what Objectivism is.  The advocacy of ever doing otherwise, outside of very specific and delimited sorts of situations (you're trying to escape a flood; you're trapped in a burning building; etc.) may be some kind of philosophy, but it is not Ayn Rand's:

 

The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. No man—or group or society or government—has the right to assume the role of a criminal and initiate the use of physical compulsion against any man. Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.

 

Insofar as some foreign government has initiated force (whether against its neighbors or its own people), it is proper to use physical force in retaliation -- but a moral response will only retaliate against "those who initiate its use."

 

That there will be unavoidable collateral damage is part and parcel with the nature of warfare (and violence generally), and such collateral damage (so long as it is unavoidable, or in honest error) is properly accounted to the initiators of force.

 

It would have been a great thing had Hitler been nipped in the bud ("preemptive" in the sense of official war declarations; not preemptive in that rights had already been violated), and any innocents killed in that action would have been a tragic loss brought about by Hitler's evil, and the actions his evil necessitated.

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The non-aggression principle is a poorly defined bromide coined by Libertarians. Nothing to do with Objectivist political philosophy whatsoever.

Objectivist political philosophy is built on ethical selfishness and the principle of individual rights.

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Rand was the one who came up with the non-aggression principle. DonAnthos quotes her stating it above, I think from somewhere in The Virtue of Selfishness.

 

 

It would have been a great thing had Hitler been nipped in the bud ("preemptive" in the sense of official war declarations; not preemptive in that rights had already been violated), and any innocents killed in that action would have been a tragic loss brought about by Hitler's evil, and the actions his evil necessitated.

 

What's confusing is that Hitler at that point had not committed any acts of aggression against the people who were defending themselves, but only against his own people. And many of the same Germans who were being victimized by Hitler would be the same people dying in the attack. Whereas the attack carried out against Germany would not have been carried out on behalf of Hitler's victims, but as an effort by other countries to prevent future aggression.

 

I can see how it would be in the self-interest of the people of Germany to see Hitler removed from power. At the same time, I view any war declared against a country that does pose any objective threat to its neighbors as grotesquely evil, even if it is a dictatorship, in part because of the innocents who will die in the attack. (The war in Vietnam would be an example.)

 

I guess the moral issue may not lie with the issue of collateral damage itself versus the benefit to the people of the nation being liberated. In both Germany and Vietnam, the people may or may not have wanted to be liberated at the expense of the collateral damage which would be necessary in the process. In Germany, however, the fact that Hitler remained in power posed a direct threat to the free nations of Europe, while there is no evidence that Vietnam posed any threat whatsoever to the United States.

 

A country like Libya would another situation, where some of the population were engaged in a violent revolt against a totalitarian regime. However, the United States did not have any evidence at that point in time that the rebels actually had an intention of creating a regime on individual rights. (And from my knowledge of Libya's politics since then, this has not happened.) However, we were still bombing the country and causing collateral damage, when there was no reason to think that Libya posed any threat to our own interests.

 

And of course it's also morally wrong to sacrifice our soldiers in wars of altruism. But the impact on the civilian population of the country being attacked should not be discounted as a moral issue either.

 

I would also argue that the killing of innocents in Vietnam was a violation of the non-aggression principle, because while a free nation has the right to defend itself, it does not have the right to play God and allocate the right to life and death in a situation which does not concern the safety of its own people.

Edited by Eamon Arasbard

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Rand was the one who came up with the non-aggression principle. DonAnthos quotes her stating it above, I think from somewhere in The Virtue of Selfishness.

There is no Ayn Rand quote in this thread with the word aggression in it. I checked with Ctrl-F. Edited by Nicky

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What's confusing is that Hitler at that point had not committed any acts of aggression against the people who were defending themselves, but only against his own people.

 

Are we agreed that it is wrong to initiate force, and that it is only morally proper to use force in retaliation/self-defense?

 

If so, who is empowered to employ force in this proper fashion?  If I'm walking down the street and I'm attacked, presumably I can defend myself.  Could I defend my wife if she were attacked?  Could I defend a stranger?

 

Your use of the phrase "his own people" is interesting.  Who were "Hitler's people" exactly, and did he ever have the right to initiate force against them?  Who (if anyone) would have had the moral authority to take up in their defense?

 

I would argue that Hitler's "acts of aggression" were assaults not alone against Jews or Germans or the specific people who suffered, but also against the principles involved (just as the censorship of some particular newspaper is not solely a blow against that paper, but free speech).  As we all rely upon those principles, and their maintenance, I'd say that anyone is morally right to fight in their defense, at home or abroad, and whether as part of a nation-state/coordinated effort or individually.

 

I can see how it would be in the self-interest of the people of Germany to see Hitler removed from power. At the same time, I view any war declared against a country that does pose any objective threat to its neighbors as grotesquely evil, even if it is a dictatorship, in part because of the innocents who will die in the attack. (The war in Vietnam would be an example.)

 

With respect to Hitler (and I understand that histories can be complicated), would you say that he and his regime ever constituted "an objective threat to its neighbors" before whatever you would regard as the start of WWII?  Or do you think that no such threat could have been anticipated, prior to German tanks rolling across the Polish border or etc.?

 

And is it alone the "neighbors" of any given country that are morally defensible?  Whether anyone would be motivated to come to the defense of a foreign population is a separate issue, but if a madman somehow got the reins of power in the US such that he determined to liquidate the majority of the population, would you say that no foreign national or army should be allowed to intervene, because it is somehow an internal affair?

 

If we somehow installed a Hitler, I would be happy to see the Canadian army coming to the rescue, if that's what it took.  That my own life might be at risk in such an action is something I understand and accept; my life would also be at risk living under Hitler.

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Are we agreed that it is wrong to initiate force, and that it is only morally proper to use force in retaliation/self-defense?

 

Yes.

 

 

If so, who is empowered to employ force in this proper fashion?  If I'm walking down the street and I'm attacked, presumably I can defend myself.  Could I defend my wife if she were attacked?  Could I defend a stranger?

 

Yes in both cases. But these are cases where the threat of harming your wife or another victim of an attack would not be likely to harm the person you're defending in the process.

 

 

Your use of the phrase "his own people" is interesting.  Who were "Hitler's people" exactly, and did he ever have the right to initiate force against them?  Who (if anyone) would have had the moral authority to take up in their defense?

 

No, he did not have a right to use force against them. Neither did the Vietnamese government have a right to use force against its own people. But the people of Vietnam did have a right to decide how to respond to the force being used.

 

In practice, I would say that this means anyone living in Vietnam who wanted freedom had a right to declare war on the government. However, it would be against the self-interest of a single individual (Or small group of individuals) to do this on their own. I think in this case, if the rebels solicited help from a foreign government, then it would be morally permissible for that government to intervene on their behalf, if it was in the self-interest of the people of that nation. (I do not believe that this was the case in Vietnam.)

 

In theory, I would also agree that anyone in the free world has the right to annihilate the government of a dictatorship, if they could do it without collateral damage. However, this would not be practical in reality, so we're back to the moral issue of a third party playing God in a situation which does not affect them.

 

 

I would argue that Hitler's "acts of aggression" were assaults not alone against Jews or Germans or the specific people who suffered, but also against the principles involved (just as the censorship of some particular newspaper is not solely a blow against that paper, but free speech).  As we all rely upon those principles, and their maintenance, I'd say that anyone is morally right to fight in their defense, at home or abroad, and whether as part of a nation-state/coordinated effort or individually.

 

We have a right to fight censorship and any move toward totalitarianism by our own government, violently if necessary. But I don't think that principles you cited extends to other countries, because what happens in those countries does not concern us.

 

The one circumstance under which I would agree with you would be if there was an objective set of international laws to enforce individual rights in every nation on Earth. I don't think this would be possible (At least under the Objectivist theory of government) without transferring sovereignty to an organization like the UN, which I think would be more likely to threaten freedom in the long term.

 

 

With respect to Hitler (and I understand that histories can be complicated), would you say that he and his regime ever constituted "an objective threat to its neighbors" before whatever you would regard as the start of WWII?  Or do you think that no such threat could have been anticipated, prior to German tanks rolling across the Polish border or etc.?

 

I think some historians have postulated that the re-arming of the Rhineland was the point where it should have been clear that Hitler intended to wage war on the rest of Europe. Certainly his nationalistic rhetoric, his stated hatred of the West, and his rebuilding of the German military under the regime he had created was good reason to think that war was likely. When he annexed Austria, that definitely should have been a hint that he intended to wage war.

 

 

And is it alone the "neighbors" of any given country that are morally defensible?

 

Not necessarily. Germany did end up posing a threat to the United States due to the inability of the European nations to deal with him sooner. On the other hand, it was the League of Nations which not only did nothing, but was actively complicit through its policy of appeasement, and the suffering which Europe experienced as a result was a consequence of that. I'm not sure if it would have been appropriate for America to send troops to Europe to give their lives fixing a situation which Europe was responsible for.

 

Probably the best policy would be for us to have anticipated the threat and done a better job of preparing militarily to defned our own borders. (In actual reality, we were producing ships for the British fleet and sending them across the Atlantic, and pretty much single-handedly supplying the naval operations against the German fleet in the Atlantic; and there was a period when Germany was getting close to defeating our fleet, isolating England, and gaining control over the Atlantic, which could very well have led to us losing the war. I think helping England was the right thing to do, but them situation would have been better if we'd prepared sooner.)

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Yes in both cases. But these are cases where the threat of harming your wife or another victim of an attack would not be likely to harm the person you're defending in the process.

 

The question of whether someone else (or the victim himself) is likely to be harmed is perhaps relevant -- or at least I recognize it as another issue you're raising -- but here I'm really trying to focus in on the idea that it is not the direct victim alone who can morally prosecute the right of self-defense.

 

Or, to look at this in a slightly different way, that all innocent men are victimized when someone is allowed to initiate the use of force without response.  (Just as, as I tried to identify earlier, all newspapers are injured when a single one is censored.)

 

If I can step in (morally) to aid a stranger who has come under attack, then I think it analogous that the people of the United States could come to the aid of the people of Germany, for instance, who have come under attack by a dictator.

 

Generally speaking, I think that we have to recognize that there are several issues at play:

 

There is the question I'm trying to pin down above as to whether or not it is moral for a "third party" to take up retaliation of force/self-defense against the initiators of force/"aggressors."  Or whether "national sovereignty" creates some kind of buffer/complication to that, such that I can morally rescue an attacked child on my block, but not one on the block on the far side of some border, where a warlord claims jurisdiction.

 

Then there are other questions you're raising as to how one prosecutes this action of retaliatory force/self-defense.  For instance, is it moral if there is the risk of collateral damage?  And also there is the question of whether or not any particular proposed action is justified by the specific circumstances (did the United States have compelling reason to go into Vietnam in the 1960s?  this is a different scenario than was Nazi Germany, and may have a different answer accordingly).  Beyond that, there are questions of whether the actions we took within those conflicts were themselves moral.

 

We may discuss all of these questions in their turn, but I think it will help the conversation to recognize them as being distinct (though related in trying to sum up or answer complex questions like, "was it moral to fight in Vietnam?" or "would it have been moral to intervene earlier in Nazi Germany?").

 

No, [Hitler] did not have a right to use force against them. Neither did the Vietnamese government have a right to use force against its own people. But the people of Vietnam did have a right to decide how to respond to the force being used.

 

This is, in part, why I believe that the above point is important to make.  That Hitler claimed to be the ruler of Germany -- and even that some others may have recognized him as such -- does not, to my mind, give him any actual right of leadership.  No moral authority.  Why not?  Because there can be no such thing as a "right" to violate the rights of others.

 

So the idea I find implicit here that only Germans had the moral authority to respond to Hitler, or the Vietnamese against Ho Chi Minh -- because, somehow they truly are his, or he is theirs -- is in error.  I think it grants dictators a legitimacy that they do not deserve.

 

A dictator is nothing more than a criminal, and it is moral to topple a dictator regardless of ethnicity or national identity.  Hitler wasn't alone "Germany's problem," he was the world's problem.

 

In practice, I would say that this means anyone living in Vietnam who wanted freedom had a right to declare war on the government. However, it would be against the self-interest of a single individual (Or small group of individuals) to do this on their own. I think in this case, if the rebels solicited help from a foreign government, then it would be morally permissible for that government to intervene on their behalf, if it was in the self-interest of the people of that nation. (I do not believe that this was the case in Vietnam.)

 

Histories are complex and messy.  I'm not prepared to make a full argument about Vietnam (and I don't know whether I support our action there or not) and can barely discuss WWII at the level I'd like (and I say that having studied WWII a fair bit).  But I can probe this position on general terms.

 

How many rebels would have to "solicit help from a foreign government" in order to make intervention moral?  How formal a process do you think this would have to be?

 

If we were under attack such that I felt imperiled, or my family imperiled, would you have me write a letter to some foreign government to request aid?  Or expect the same of my toddler child, should I be killed?  Or is it enough for innocent life to be threatened, for rights to be violated, that morally empowers others to aid (should they choose)?

 

In theory, I would also agree that anyone in the free world has the right to annihilate the government of a dictatorship, if they could do it without collateral damage. However, this would not be practical in reality, so we're back to the moral issue of a third party playing God in a situation which does not affect them.

 

If we insist on there being no chance of collateral damage, we're in quite a pickle.

 

As it stands -- and for the foreseeable future -- I think that such "collateral damage" is inseparable from war, or from violence generally.  This includes the violence of self-defense.

 

Forget for a moment the idea of "foreign intervention"; suppose we are members of the rebel army that live within Nazi Germany and we wish to take the government down.  Okay.  There still will be collateral damage.  There still will be innocent lives lost -- the very innocent lives we otherwise mean to save.  Would that make our actions immoral?

 

We have a right to fight censorship and any move toward totalitarianism by our own government, violently if necessary. But I don't think that principles you cited extends to other countries, because what happens in those countries does not concern us.

 

I disagree that what happens in other countries does not concern us.  I don't think that's borne out by history generally or by the specific histories we're discussing, which I think actually demonstrate the very opposite.

 

The one circumstance under which I would agree with you would be if there was an objective set of international laws to enforce individual rights in every nation on Earth. I don't think this would be possible (At least under the Objectivist theory of government) without transferring sovereignty to an organization like the UN, which I think would be more likely to threaten freedom in the long term.

 

Imagine this, then, as the "wild west."  Suppose that there is no overarching authority -- or what supposed authority exists is ineffectual and remote (like the UN).  Does this mean that men have no moral right to enforce what we know to be proper?  An outlaw gang pillaging towns shouldn't be confronted, because "they haven't come to our town yet"?

 

We couldn't move against the Holocaust (let's imagine that this existed solely within German borders, and Hitler had not invaded other countries), because there was no international law against it (or at least by any body Hitler recognized as having sovereignty)?

 

Suppose I were to declare myself and my property to be a sovereign nation.  Would that give me an ability to commit crimes with impunity?  That's an outlandish scenario perhaps, but there seems to be a central issue here with "jurisdiction" and "sovereignty" and I'd like to know where you think these ideas come from, and what gives them legitimacy.  What stops me from being my own nation?  Or if I were somehow my own nation, could no one then morally prevent me from being a criminal (apart from my individual victims, insofar as they could fight back)?

 

A dictator has no sovereignty.  He has no jurisdiction.  He has no moral claim of protection against those who would seek to remove him from the power he claims/has seized, and if someone seeks to aid his victims or fight back against his abuses, there is no crying foul over it.  All that a dictator has, like any criminal, is his guns.  Moral men must not give such criminals legitimacy through claiming that they do somehow have a "right" to violate the rights of others, and/or that it is wrong to interfere with their abuses.

 

I think some historians have postulated that the re-arming of the Rhineland was the point where it should have been clear that Hitler intended to wage war on the rest of Europe. Certainly his nationalistic rhetoric, his stated hatred of the West, and his rebuilding of the German military under the regime he had created was good reason to think that war was likely. When he annexed Austria, that definitely should have been a hint that he intended to wage war.

 

 

Not necessarily. Germany did end up posing a threat to the United States due to the inability of the European nations to deal with him sooner. On the other hand, it was the League of Nations which not only did nothing, but was actively complicit through its policy of appeasement, and the suffering which Europe experienced as a result was a consequence of that. I'm not sure if it would have been appropriate for America to send troops to Europe to give their lives fixing a situation which Europe was responsible for.

 

Probably the best policy would be for us to have anticipated the threat and done a better job of preparing militarily to defned our own borders. (In actual reality, we were producing ships for the British fleet and sending them across the Atlantic, and pretty much single-handedly supplying the naval operations against the German fleet in the Atlantic; and there was a period when Germany was getting close to defeating our fleet, isolating England, and gaining control over the Atlantic, which could very well have led to us losing the war. I think helping England was the right thing to do, but them situation would have been better if we'd prepared sooner.)

 

Yet Hitler did not recognize the League of Nations after (Wiki says) 1933, and the re-arming of the Rhineland came in 1936.  So... I may be mistaking your position (and I apologize if so), but it seems to me that you would have held that no intervention would have been morally permissible before the tanks rolled into Poland, because there was no international sovereign above Hitler at the point upon which "it should have been clear that Hitler intended to wage war on the rest of Europe."

 

But even then, I'm not sure that you would have agreed that this should provoke the UK or France into war...?  It should have been alone the Poles to fight off Germany and the USSR, right?  Because as far as all the other countries are concerned, "what happens in [Poland] does not concern us."

 

I mean, on the Wiki page discussing the remilitarization of the Rhineland, it appears to me that the King of Belgium decided upon that very approach:

 

We must follow a policy exclusively and entirely Belgian. The policy must aim solely at placing us outside the quarrels of our neighbors.

 

But how did that work out for Belgium?

 

As far as the US preparing to defend our own borders... counterfactual speculation is obviously a error-prone and biased business, but let me just tell you what I see, with the US following a strict isolationist program throughout WWII (on the basis of "what happens in other countries does not concern us.")

 

I see either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union conquering Europe, and ruling over the vast majority of the globe in partnership with Imperial Japan.  Maybe that's wrong?  (Like I say, "error-prone and biased.")  Maybe they'd all wipe each other out?  I suspect Germany may have beaten us to the bomb.  Perhaps they would have blown themselves up.

 

But suppose whoever the masters in Asia/Europe turned out to be decided to live in peace with the U.S. thereafter -- what would that have looked like?  How would trade progress?  How would democracy in America thrive after that, with democracy as good as extinguished elsewhere?  What would the internal political scene look like (in the event of a Nazi Europe, would the American Nazi Party vanish... or would it expand?), and how would the US Government respond internally to try to hold on?

 

This is all sci-fi, I recognize that, and you're welcome to come up with your own answers.  Maybe you see it somehow working out for the best, or better than our actual history.  But I think it would have been far worse for America to keep clear of WWII.  And I think it would have been far better for America, and the world, to have responded more quickly to Hitler's "aggression" -- his initiation of force, even against "his" people -- just as I think it better to eliminate all such criminals from the world, so that individual rights are upheld and men can cooperate as traders and live in peace.

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I don't have time to do a full response right now, but I do want to clarify one point: I don't think isolationism was the right policy toward Hitler, and I agree with you that any free nation which he posed a threat to at that point had a right to take him out. In general I think isolationism is the ideal policy to follow, but I agree with Rand that we have a right to take out any dictator if it serves our own national interest.

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I don't have time to do a full response right now, but I do want to clarify one point: I don't think isolationism was the right policy toward Hitler, and I agree with you that any free nation which he posed a threat to at that point had a right to take him out. In general I think isolationism is the ideal policy to follow, but I agree with Rand that we have a right to take out any dictator if it serves our own national interest.

Please, respond (or not) as suits you. But I am curious -- does this represent a change from your initial position?  Because the point at which you responded to me, leading to this extended discussion on the subject, was an apparent objection to what I'd said here:

 

It would have been a great thing had Hitler been nipped in the bud ("preemptive" in the sense of official war declarations; not preemptive in that rights had already been violated), and any innocents killed in that action would have been a tragic loss brought about by Hitler's evil, and the actions his evil necessitated.

 

Now when you say that "isolationism was [not] the right policy toward Hitler" and that "any free nation which he posed a threat to at that point had a right to take him out" and "we have a right to take out any dictator if it serves our own national interest," then maybe you would agree with me that "it would have been a great thing had Hitler been nipped in the bud"?

 

Or if we still disagree on this point, perhaps you can help me to identify the place at which we part company...?

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I agree with you on Hitler, because he posed a threat to the rest of Europe and the free world. What I disagree with is the position that we have a right to assume the role of savior and attack other countries, killing innocents in the process, because we think it's better for the people living there.

 

...but here I'm really trying to focus in on the idea that it is not the direct victim alone who can morally prosecute the right of self-defense.
 
Or, to look at this in a slightly different way, that all innocent men are victimized when someone is allowed to initiate the use of force without response.  (Just as, as I tried to identify earlier, all newspapers are injured when a single one is censored.)

 

I think I agree with that to the extent that the aggressor's ability to get away with their crimes poses a threat to the freedom of others.

 

There is the question I'm trying to pin down above as to whether or not it is moral for a "third party" to take up retaliation of force/self-defense against the initiators of force/"aggressors."  Or whether "national sovereignty" creates some kind of buffer/complication to that, such that I can morally rescue an attacked child on my block, but not one on the block on the far side of some border, where a warlord claims jurisdiction.

 

National sovereignty doesn't create that barrier. The non-aggression principle does, because of the innocents who will die in the process of waging a war. There are, however, situations where it is necessary to wage war in defense of a free nation, and in those situations, the deaths of innocents on the other side are the responsibility of the government which is threatening the freedom of its neighbors.

 

And also there is the question of whether or not any particular proposed action is justified by the specific circumstances (did the United States have compelling reason to go into Vietnam in the 1960s?  this is a different scenario than was Nazi Germany, and may have a different answer accordingly).

 

The war against Germany was an act of self-defense, while the war in Vietnam was a war which was fought for altruistic reasons. So it was immoral whether or not it was better for the people of Vietnam to be liberated.

 

We may discuss all of these questions in their turn, but I think it will help the conversation to recognize them as being distinct....

 

The three questions you mentioned are whether a military action is justified under particular circumstances, whether it is rendered immoral if there's a risk of innocent casualties, and whether specific actions taken within the context of a conflict are justified. There's also the question of how the tyrannical nature of an enemy government affects the morality of the war being waged.

 

I would argue that the first two questions are closely related. If the actions of the enemy pose a threat to our survival as a free country, and it is necessary to take actions that will lead to collateral damage to protect ourselves, then I think it is better to kill a few people living in a dictatorship, who have no hope of living free lives in their own country, than to be enslaved ourselves. However, I do not believe that this argument is appropriate if the existing dictatorship does not pose a threat to us.

 

Personally, if we were living under a dictatorship, I would be willing to give my life in order to see it destroyed. But I don't think we have a right to make this decision for other people in situations which do not affect us. I think that this addresses the issue of the enemy state being a dictatorship.

 

And as far as particular actions taken within the context of a conflict, if a mission can be completed without civilian casualties, then it is a violation of the non-aggression principle to take any actions which will lead to the deaths of innocents. Otherwise, I think it's best to accept that there is no way to avoid innocent deaths, and focus as much as possible on protecting the lives of our own troops. (I think I can make a solid philosophical point why reducing our own military casualties should take precedence over reducing civilian casualties in this type of situation; but I'd like to stay on topic.)

 

This is, in part, why I believe that the above point is important to make.  That Hitler claimed to be the ruler of Germany -- and even that some others may have recognized him as such -- does not, to my mind, give him any actual right of leadership.  No moral authority.  Why not?  Because there can be no such thing as a "right" to violate the rights of others.
 
So the idea I find implicit here that only Germans had the moral authority to respond to Hitler, or the Vietnamese against Ho Chi Minh -- because, somehow they truly are his, or he is theirs -- is in error.  I think it grants dictators a legitimacy that they do not deserve.

 

That's not the argument I'm trying to make here. I don't believe that Hitler or Ho Chi Minh had any rights under the circumstances, but the people forced to live under them had a fundamental right to life which all free nations had an obligation to respect.

 

How many rebels would have to "solicit help from a foreign government" in order to make intervention moral?  How formal a process do you think this would have to be?

 

Morally, I'd say if there's enough people still trapped there who want to be liberated that they would exceed the number of people who would be killed in the process of liberation, then that's enough to justify intervention. (I hate even this position, because it's still sacrificing some lives for others; but it's the least of all evils.) As far as how formal the process should be, I'd say we should have enough intelligence to establish that the rebels are genuinely fighting for freedom. I'd say that this decision should be left up to military experts, with oversight from people who can ensure that the decision is made according to the correct moral principles.

 

If we were under attack such that I felt imperiled, or my family imperiled, would you have me write a letter to some foreign government to request aid?  Or expect the same of my toddler child, should I be killed?  Or is it enough for innocent life to be threatened, for rights to be violated, that morally empowers others to aid (should they choose)?

 

Well, in line with my previous paragraph, it would depend on whether the number of people threatened by your government's actions exceeded the number of people who would be killed in an attack.

 

Ideally, I would say that any nation has the right to intervene, if there's enough evidence to establish that this is the appropriate course of action. In practice, I think it's dangerous to trust any government with the right to make that judgment.

 

Forget for a moment the idea of "foreign intervention"; suppose we are members of the rebel army that live within Nazi Germany and we wish to take the government down.  Okay.  There still will be collateral damage.  There still will be innocent lives lost -- the very innocent lives we otherwise mean to save.  Would that make our actions immoral?

 

No, I don't think it would.

 

Imagine this, then, as the "wild west."  Suppose that there is no overarching authority -- or what supposed authority exists is ineffectual and remote (like the UN).  Does this mean that men have no moral right to enforce what we know to be proper?  An outlaw gang pillaging towns shouldn't be confronted, because "they haven't come to our town yet"?

 

If they pose a threat to our town, we should take them out. I think we would be justified in coming to the aid of a neighboring town that was already taking up arms in its own defense as well. However, I don't think it would be appropriate to go around the desert running down gangs if it would lead to innocent bystanders being killed.

 

We couldn't move against the Holocaust (let's imagine that this existed solely within German borders, and Hitler had not invaded other countries), because there was no international law against it (or at least by any body Hitler recognized as having sovereignty)?

 

The number of people killed in the Holocaust probably exceeded the number of innocent people who would be killed in that situation.

 

I think that addresses all the points you made in your last post. Let me know if I've missed anything.

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What I disagree with is the position that we have a right to assume the role of savior and attack other countries, killing innocents in the process, because we think it's better for the people living there.

I don't see how anyone argued for acting as a savior to other people. You seem to suggest that respecting someone's rights requires first having them consent to have their rights protected at all, such that anytime you respect a person's rights without their consent could only be motivated by acting as an altruistic savior. But why, for my own good, ought I make any consideration of consent for rights protection? To me, consent is not relevant or important here except strictly as a strategic consideration, i.e. it may create more enemies.

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I don't see how anyone argued for acting as a savior to other people. You seem to suggest that respecting someone's rights requires first having them consent to have their rights protected at all, such that anytime you respect a person's rights without their consent could only be motivated by acting as an altruistic savior.

 

I think that if you're going to wage war and kill many of the same people you're fighting on behalf of, you need consent from at least as many people as will die as collateral damage in the attack. I don't think we have a right to make that decision on behalf of other people.

 

 

But why, for my own good, ought I make any consideration of consent for rights protection?

 

I agree, if there's reason to think your own rights are in danger.

 

 

To me, consent is not relevant or important here except strictly as a strategic consideration, i.e. it may create more enemies.

 

Do you think there is any legitimate reason for someone to turn against you if you kill their family as collateral damage in a war to liberate their country?

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I agree with you on Hitler, because he posed a threat to the rest of Europe and the free world. What I disagree with is the position that we have a right to assume the role of savior and attack other countries, killing innocents in the process, because we think it's better for the people living there.

 

You keep using this language that... I don't know where it comes from, but it has nothing to do with my position.  Here "assume the role of savior" and earlier "the moral issue of a third party playing God" -- but I'm not talking about acting as God or savior.  Instead, it's closer to being a police officer or (to extend my earlier wild west comparison) a posse.  Presumably you do not believe that police officers are "playing God" when they arrest criminals.  (If you do, please say so; we would need to hammer that out.)

 

I argue that Hitler was a criminal and that gives the moral justification to treat him, well, like a criminal.  When you agree with me on Hitler yet continue to hold up arguments about "sovereignty" elsewhere, I get confused... because either this idea of sovereignty is meaningful (and therefore Hitler should have remained inviolate until he launched an actual war) or it isn't.

 

I say that the fact of Hitler's being born in another country, or being recognized as "leader" there is immaterial to his actual nature as a criminal.  He has no (moral) protection against any action taken to redress his crimes.

 

Do you agree with that?

 

I think I agree with that to the extent that the aggressor's ability to get away with their crimes poses a threat to the freedom of others.

 

Yes, but it's also important to note the mechanism by which "an aggressor's ability to get away with their crimes poses a threat to the freedom of others"; it is not alone through the actions of that one, specific aggressor, but also how our actions (or lack thereof) convey meaning -- principled meaning -- to others.

 

If we recognize some guiding principle like, "what happens internal to other countries is none of our concern," then that's not alone a message for Nazi Germany or fill-in-the-blank, but it's also saying that bad guys in (currently) peaceful countries can act with impunity within their own borders -- whatever they can get away with -- because they do not need to fear international reprisal, as international reprisal has been dubbed "immoral" by otherwise moral men.

 

Ultimately that extends to our own country (we have bad guys here, too), and is thus a threat to our own rights.

 

National sovereignty doesn't create that barrier. The non-aggression principle does, because of the innocents who will die in the process of waging a war.

 

It's laudable to want to protect the innocent.  You have to trust that this is exactly what I want, too.  (It is, in fact, the very desire to protect the innocent which leads me to wish that Hitler were stopped far earlier in history than he was.)

 

If there were a way to target Hitler (along with whomever else we consider guilty of the crimes we discuss, when we talk about Nazi Germany), such that there would be no "collateral damage," that would be ideal.  But as things stand, we cannot.  The nature of warfare is regrettably indiscriminate.

 

But this is true, too, of the nature of rebellion... which elsewhere you hold up as moral.  If you lived in Nazi Germany and rebelled, you would be just as guilty of violating your conception of "the non-aggression principle" as in launching an equal war from outside of those borders, in that innocents would "die in the process."  Perhaps just as many and conceivably more.  So how do we square this?

 

I don't believe that Hitler or Ho Chi Minh had any rights under the circumstances, but the people forced to live under them had a fundamental right to life which all free nations had an obligation to respect.

 

I agree.  Yet I'm not advocating targeting the people "forced to live" under Hitler (though there are people who do).  I'm advocating responding to Hitler's use of force, with force.

 

What you seem to be saying is that the fact of innocent lives being at risk in such a situation ought to tie one's hands when it comes to eliminating Hitler... though you draw distinctions between rebellion and international war (judging one self-defense and the other not) and (perhaps with the benefit of hindsight) the specific scenario of Nazi Germany versus North Vietnam.

 

But I think that upholding the principle of redressing the initiation of force, with force, is the very nature of self-defense, and is the thing which characterizes criminal justice.  I think that the distinctions you've drawn are arbitrary, in that innocents are no less threatened by rebellion than other war (including innocents who might not agree with a given decision to rebel), and my recognition that the "threat" which lives within one country is not necessarily confined by its borders.

 

I imagine that if we could have had this conversation in the 1930s, you would probably have agreed with the quote I'd provided from King Leopold of Belgium -- that essentially, what happened within German borders was a German problem -- for that's the spirit that seems to characterize all of the further arguments you make in deciding what counts as "self-defense" and what does not.

 

But I disagree with that assessment.  Allowing the initiation of force to go unchecked anywhere is a blow everywhere against the principles that animate our political philosophy.  It may not always be possible or wise to prudent to respond, given the specific context (and Belgium was probably not in a position to stand up to Hitler, or at least not alone), and thus not moral in the full context (as martyrdom is not our goal); yet fighting back against those who initiate the use of force is always moral with respect to the question of self-defense.

 

I think that addresses all the points you made in your last post. Let me know if I've missed anything.

 

I've tried to pare this down somewhat to what I think are the most relevant/useful subtopics.  The one topic I wish you would have addressed -- though I understand your reluctance -- is my questioning the nature and origin of jurisdiction/sovereignty.  You may think that you're not arguing for any such thing as sovereignty anyways, but I'm unconvinced that's the case.  (Not accusing you of anything, but sometimes people -- myself included -- argue for or against an underlying issue unawares.)

 

With respect to the difference between rebellion and international war (for "rebellion" is also a form of war), we again may be talking about identical situations -- everything exactly the same, including innocent lives lost -- save for the ethnicity or the nationality of the person or people fighting.  So what justifies it in the one case but turns it into some evil in the other?

Edited by DonAthos

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You keep using this language that... I don't know where it comes from, but it has nothing to do with my position.  Here "assume the role of savior" and earlier "the moral issue of a third party playing God" -- but I'm not talking about acting as God or savior.  Instead, it's closer to being a police officer or (to extend my earlier wild west comparison) a posse.  Presumably you do not believe that police officers are "playing God" when they arrest criminals.  (If you do, please say so; we would need to hammer that out.)

 

What I view as playing God is deciding that we have a right to look at a situation in another country, and judge that the lives of some people can be sacrificed for a greater good (Liberating the country from a dictator) and then start a war which will lead to innocent casualties.

 

I'll admit that I'm still working out my position on this (Which is why I originally started this thread), but I think I've come to a position which is a bit more exact. The issue of a nation's sovereignty, and the right to life of the people living there, are two entirely separate issues. If we declare a preemptive war against a free country which has not attacked anyone, it's not just the civilians we're killing unjustly; it's also the soldiers whose job it is to protect the freedom of the people living there. However, if we declare war on a dictatorship, the soldiers who die on the other side are dying because they're defending a regime which oppresses its own people, so they are not victims of aggression.

 

This is where Rand's argument against applying the right to sovereignty to dictatorships is relevant.

 

The issue of civilian deaths is a separate issue. Any unnecessary deaths of civilians in any war constitute a violation of the NAP. This includes both deliberate targeting of innocents in an otherwise just war, and starting a war which is unnecessary which leads to collateral damage.

 

But we do have a right to declare preemptive war on any dictatorship that we have an objective reason to believe pose a threat, because it has given up any right to sovereignty by oppressing its own people.

 

 

The one topic I wish you would have addressed -- though I understand your reluctance -- is my questioning the nature and origin of jurisdiction/sovereignty.  You may think that you're not arguing for any such thing as sovereignty anyways, but I'm unconvinced that's the case.

 

In order for freedom to exist, people need to create some institution to protect their rights, including protection against outside invasion. In today's world, governments are the institution that exist for this purpose. Nations are better able to maintain just governments when they remain free from outside interference.

 

While this position doesn't apply to dictatorships, this doesn't change the fact that their subjects still have rights, and free nations have an obligation to respect them, even if their own governments do not.

 

As far as a rebellion within the territory controlled by a dictator, the leaders of the revolt also have an obligation to respect the rights of their fellow countrymen, which means they should seek nonviolent means of overthrowing their government, if possible. They have a moral right to use violence only if the innocent casualties will be less than would die in a peaceful revolution. (For instance, if there's a choice between staging peaceful demonstrations to bring down a regime, and launching an inurrection, and the number of civilian casualties from a violent uprising is less than the number of people who be crushed by tanks if they tried marching in the streets.) If no one is revolting, however, then I don't think another country has a right to initiate war because of the innocents who will die in the process. That's only justified in order to save the lives of other innocents.

 

As far as a foreign country getting involved in the scenario I just mentioned, I don't think I'd consider that to be an act of aggression in itself. If there was a violent revolution in Cuba, I would probably be in favor of sending troops down there, because Cuba is along our border, and we would probably be more secure if they were liberated. But if there isn't a strategic benefit to helping a rebellion in another country (Like in Libya or Syria) then I would consider intervention to be an act of altruism, and also dangerous because as a general policy it will likely lead to imperialism, even if the initial intentions are benevolent.

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What I view as playing God is deciding that we have a right to look at a situation in another country, and judge that the lives of some people can be sacrificed for a greater good (Liberating the country from a dictator) and then start a war which will lead to innocent casualties.

 

You've introduced a kind of calculus in this thread -- counting up innocent lives and such -- that I'm not engaged in.  I don't think it speaks to Objectivism, though it reminds me somewhat of (what little I know of) Utilitarianism.

 

I'm not seeking to maximize the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people, nor even to compare the amount of innocent lives killed under a dictatorship versus the amount of innocent lives I'd expect might die as collateral damage during a war.  Instead, I'm seeking to uphold the principles of justice, which means to treat criminals (including dictators) as criminals.

 

I have no interest in "sacrificing" the lives of anyone.  Is it true that liberating a country from a dictator will often require some form of warfare (which includes rebellion), and that war will undoubtedly cause innocent casualties?  Yes.  That's not because I'm "playing God," but it's my recognition of the facts of reality, as best as I can understand them.  But the alternative to this -- to say that in order to avoid such (tragic and awful) things, we cannot fight back against dictators or the people who initiate the use of force more generally -- is to concede to them.  And that is a sacrifice.

 

I'll admit that I'm still working out my position on this (Which is why I originally started this thread), but I think I've come to a position which is a bit more exact. The issue of a nation's sovereignty, and the right to life of the people living there, are two entirely separate issues.

 

It's a fine thing to work out a position through conversation.  I'm happy to assist, insofar as I'm able.

 

I agree that sovereignty and individual rights are separate issues ("sovereignty" being irrelevant), and I agree with you that every individual -- within "my country" and without -- have the right to life.  I don't make distinctions about innocents with respect to nationality.

 

Which is partly why it seems odd to me the implication I believe I read in your arguments, that I should take an interest in protecting the rights of the people who live on my street, in my city, in my state, in my country... but not the rights of the people who live across some imaginary "border."

 

If we declare a preemptive war against a free country which has not attacked anyone, it's not just the civilians we're killing unjustly; it's also the soldiers whose job it is to protect the freedom of the people living there. However, if we declare war on a dictatorship, the soldiers who die on the other side are dying because they're defending a regime which oppresses its own people, so they are not victims of aggression.

 

This is where Rand's argument against applying the right to sovereignty to dictatorships is relevant.

 

The issue of civilian deaths is a separate issue. Any unnecessary deaths of civilians in any war constitute a violation of the NAP. This includes both deliberate targeting of innocents in an otherwise just war, and starting a war which is unnecessary which leads to collateral damage.

 

I argue quite strongly against the targeting of innocents in multiple threads across this board (some of which I know you've participated in).  But there is a crucial difference (which I expect you recognize, although many people do not) between targeting innocents and collateral damage / the unavoidable or accidental death of innocents through an otherwise just action.

 

It might help to consider, as an analogue, the criminal justice system.  It is true (not because I'm playing God, but because this is the way things are) that any criminal system, no matter how scrupulous, will occasionally make mistakes.  Innocent people will go to prison.  This is an awful and tragic byproduct of a necessary system.  The only way to ensure that it does not happen is to refuse to enforce justice at all, but that's not a better choice, and it won't produce better outcomes.

 

So what do we do?  We strive to enforce justice to the best of our ability and minimize such "collateral damage" as best as we can.  This is also my position with respect to war.

 

While this position doesn't apply to dictatorships, this doesn't change the fact that their subjects still have rights, and free nations have an obligation to respect them, even if their own governments do not.

 

I agree that "free nations" have an obligation to respect individual rights.  Every individual has that obligation (and with respect to people living under a dictatorship, "their own government" is not actually their government; there is no such thing as the right to violate rights; Hitler claimed to be the leader of Germany, but in truth he was just a thug who held a population hostage, even if he also had accomplices).

 

And nobody has the duty or the obligation to do else.  If your rights are violated, no other man is compelled to step in for you and fight for your rights to be respected, or for the wrongs done against you to be redressed.  Your government (which come to it, is a collection of individuals like yourself) has no such moral obligation.  The officers of the court do not.  The police do not.  I do not.  No one is bound to help you.

 

Yet you expect and trust that other moral men will take up your standard if your rights are violated, do you not?  Is it out of a sense of "altruism," do you think?  Is it that others will "assume the role of a savior"?  Or is there possibly a selfish motivation others might have to take action to uphold your individual rights?  And do you believe that selfish motivation (should you agree that it exists) -- and the principles which animate it -- stops cold at some imaginary line we've drawn on a map?

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What I view as playing God is deciding that we have a right to look at a situation in another country, and judge that the lives of some people can be sacrificed for a greater good (Liberating the country from a dictator) and then start a war which will lead to innocent casualties.

I understand my comment is an aside to your discussion, but I wanted to point out that the U.S. has rarely gone to war unless the government has perceived that some important interests of U.S. citizens is at stake. This is true of WW-1 and 2, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, and even the 2 wars with Iraq. 

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What I view as playing God is deciding that we have a right to look at a situation in another country, and judge that the lives of some people can be sacrificed for a greater good (Liberating the country from a dictator) and then start a war which will lead to innocent casualties.

Two points:

1. Once you introduce a metaphor into your argument, it automatically seizes to be a logical argument. "playing God" is a methaphor. Not only that, it actually relies on an irrational concept to begin with: God. There is no God. So what you're saying is devoid of meaning.

 

If you can make an argument against the removal of dictators without relying on irrational arguments, go ahead.

 

2. A sacrifice is the forfeit of a greater value for the achievement of a lesser one. Dictators have victims too, who are saved when the dictator is removed. So what are you arguing here? That those victims shouldn't be counted in this equation, or that their value is invariably less than that of the collateral casualties?

The issue of civilian deaths is a separate issue. Any unnecessary deaths of civilians in any war constitute a violation of the NAP.

Which is still just as arbitrary and poorly defined a moral edict as it was on the last page. Citing pacifism (which is what non-aggression is: pacifism) is not much of an argument. Edited by Nicky

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Do you think there is any legitimate reason for someone to turn against you if you kill their family as collateral damage in a war to liberate their country?

Not legitimate, no, unless it was caused by negligence, deliberate, or an ill-conceived tactic. Still, not all people respond rationally or legitimately, so their lack of consent is only a matter of strategy in the war. If a person doesn't consent, well, that doesn't matter, and I don't see why it should. Even if 1 person consents and 500 people die as collateral to stop a dictatorship from building a nuke. Even if 1 person consents and 5,000 people literally prefer a dictatorship. What counts is the motivation to strike, and that individual rights are preserved. Rights aren't merely about making people cooperate in the short term, they're about creating the sort of world where it is possible to live according to man's nature.

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You've introduced a kind of calculus in this thread -- counting up innocent lives and such -- that I'm not engaged in.  I don't think it speaks to Objectivism, though it reminds me somewhat of (what little I know of) Utilitarianism.

 

Utilitarianism is the belief that happiness should be maximized by sacrificing the good of a few to the good of the majority. The reason it's generally immoral is because it holds the sacrifice of some people to others as virtuous.

 

But in the situation we're talking about, it's impossible to act without sacrificing some people, so I think in a situation like that it's best to take whatever course of action will lead to the least amount of suffering. If we reject utilitarianism in this situation, then we have to follow the same moral principle that we would follow under normal circumstances -- namely, the non-aggression principle. This would imply that it is immoral to do anything that will lead to collateral damage. But I think we all agree that that's impossible.

 

Instead, I'm seeking to uphold the principles of justice, which means to treat criminals (including dictators) as criminals.

But the alternative to this -- to say that in order to avoid such (tragic and awful) things, we cannot fight back against dictators or the people who initiate the use of force more generally -- is to concede to them.  And that is a sacrifice.

 

I agree with this, but they should be brought down in a way that will be minimize suffering. If that means staging peaceful demonstrations, then that's the appropriate response. If it means declaring open war in order to protect protestors from being bulldozed by tanks, then I have no objection to that.

 

And I think that any dictator, once removed from power, should be prosecuted for their crimes.

 

But I think it's important to understand the reason why justice is a virtue. Justice (Including retaliation against evildoers) is necessary in order to protect the values which evil people pose a threat to -- the most fundamental value being human life itself. But if the actions we're taking are themselves destructive to human life, then we are not acting justly.

 

Which is partly why it seems odd to me the implication I believe I read in your arguments, that I should take an interest in protecting the rights of the people who live on my street, in my city, in my state, in my country... but not the rights of the people who live across some imaginary "border."

 

If your own government is violating the rights of others, then they also pose a threat to your rights. But a foreign dictatorship does not (Currently) have control over you, so your life is not affected by how they treat their subjects.

 

I argue quite strongly against the targeting of innocents in multiple threads across this board (some of which I know you've participated in).

 

Yes, and I appreciate the fact that you have, although my own philosophical understanding of this issue has evolved a bit since my "Golden Rule" thread.

 

But there is a crucial difference (which I expect you recognize, although many people do not) between targeting innocents and collateral damage / the unavoidable or accidental death of innocents through an otherwise just action.

 

Yes, if it is unavoidable.

 

It might help to consider, as an analogue, the criminal justice system.  It is true (not because I'm playing God, but because this is the way things are) that any criminal system, no matter how scrupulous, will occasionally make mistakes.  Innocent people will go to prison.  This is an awful and tragic byproduct of a necessary system.  The only way to ensure that it does not happen is to refuse to enforce justice at all, but that's not a better choice, and it won't produce better outcomes.

 

So what do we do?  We strive to enforce justice to the best of our ability and minimize such "collateral damage" as best as we can.  This is also my position with respect to war.

 

I think I agree with that. But I think you also realize that the criminal justice has to conform to certain moral constraints to avoid harming innocent people when it is avoidable. In the case of the criminal justice system, this is done by placing restraints on the legal system's ability to punish, and I think we need an analogous set of constraints on our foreign policy to prevent innocent deaths from military actions which are unnecessary.

 

And nobody has the duty or the obligation to do else.  If your rights are violated, no other man is compelled to step in for you and fight for your rights to be respected, or for the wrongs done against you to be redressed.  Your government (which come to it, is a collection of individuals like yourself) has no such moral obligation.  The officers of the court do not.  The police do not.  I do not.  No one is bound to help you.

 

I would argue that the government does have an obligation to protect my rights. They have assumed that obligation by claiming a monopoly on the use of force.

 

Yet you expect and trust that other moral men will take up your standard if your rights are violated, do you not?  Is it out of a sense of "altruism," do you think?  Is it that others will "assume the role of a savior"?  Or is there possibly a selfish motivation others might have to take action to uphold your individual rights?

 

Yes, there is a selfish motivation, for someone who lives under the same legal regime that I do. If a violation of one person's rights (Whether by the government or by a criminal) take place within a country, then by allowing that to stand unchallenged, others are surrendering their own rights.

 

And do you believe that selfish motivation (should you agree that it exists) -- and the principles which animate it -- stops cold at some imaginary line we've drawn on a map?

 

Yes, because we don't have to live under the laws imposed by the government of North Korea, as long as we are able to maintain a strong military that can protect us against being invaded by North Korea.

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Eamon Arasbard, on 23 Aug 2015 - 07:22 AM, said:snapback.png

Which is still just as arbitrary and poorly defined a moral edict as it was on the last page. Citing pacifism (which is what non-aggression is: pacifism) is not much of an argument.

 

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/retaliatory_force.html

 

 

The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. No man—or group or society or government—has the right to assume the role of a criminal and initiate the use of physical compulsion against any man. Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use.

 

This is what the non-aggression principle. Not pacifism.

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I understand my comment is an aside to your discussion, but I wanted to point out that the U.S. has rarely gone to war unless the government has perceived that some important interests of U.S. citizens is at stake. This is true of WW-1 and 2, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, and even the 2 wars with Iraq.

 

Is there a section on this site for discussing history? I wouldn't mind starting a thread somewhere else to discuss some of the history behind U.S. foreign policy.

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Not legitimate, no, unless it was caused by negligence, deliberate, or an ill-conceived tactic.

 

Would you agree that the good of the people being liberated should be the moral goal of any tactic pursued?

 

 

Even if 1 person consents and 500 people die as collateral to stop a dictatorship from building a nuke.

 

I don't think you need anyone's consent to take action in that situation, if we're talking about nuclear weapons.

 

 

Even if 1 person consents and 5,000 people literally prefer a dictatorship.

 

This is true, obviously. 5000 people do not have the right to violate the rights of one person. And if we're talking about civilian casualties, then I'd also agree that this adds another dimension. I don't think it makes sense to hold 5000 people who support a dictatorship as innocent, and if their deaths are the only way to secure freedom for those who want it, then I don't think I can morally argue against it.

 

We also can't know specifically where every single person's loyalties lie, especially if we're talking about a dictatorship where anyone who dissents risks getting sent to a concentration camp. But I think the people who would best know would be people who actually live there, which is another moral argument in favor of letting the people living under a dictatorship decide if they want to stage a violent revolution, killing their neighbors in the process, or try to change things peacefully.

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...in the situation we're talking about, it's impossible to act without sacrificing some people, so I think in a situation like that it's best to take whatever course of action will lead to the least amount of suffering.

 

But I'm not arguing for "sacrificing some people."  When the US fought WWII, they were not "sacrificing" enemy combatants, and neither were they "sacrificing" those innocents who were unfortunately collateral damage to the necessary efforts undertaken to win.

 

These are not sacrifices.

 

If we reject utilitarianism in this situation, then we have to follow the same moral principle that we would follow under normal circumstances -- namely, the non-aggression principle. This would imply that it is immoral to do anything that will lead to collateral damage. But I think we all agree that that's impossible.

 

In war, I agree that collateral damage is unavoidable.  But I disagree that what you call "the non-aggression principle" (insofar as that simply reflects Rand's writing, quoted elsewhere in the thread) implies that it is "immoral to do anything that will lead to collateral damage."  There is a (key and crucial) difference between targeting a person, and that person suffering through accident/mistake/or unavoidable happenstance, as I thought we've previously agreed.

 

I agree with this, but they should be brought down in a way that will be minimize suffering. If that means staging peaceful demonstrations, then that's the appropriate response. If it means declaring open war in order to protect protestors from being bulldozed by tanks, then I have no objection to that.

 

I don't have any objection to peaceful demonstrations, and would generally prefer them to violence, if those are apt to effect whatever changes are necessary.  But neither will I insist that peaceful demonstrations are the only moral response to oppression, and I won't insist that victims suffer -- and remain victims -- because I do not give them permission to fight back against their persecutors, returning force for force.

 

But I think it's important to understand the reason why justice is a virtue. Justice (Including retaliation against evildoers) is necessary in order to protect the values which evil people pose a threat to -- the most fundamental value being human life itself. But if the actions we're taking are themselves destructive to human life, then we are not acting justly.

 

Ah, this may be a crucial sentence.

 

I disagree strongly with this statement.  Consider... oh, I don't know... coal mining.  Just like you and I know that warfare will necessarily produce collateral damage, we also know that from time to time, coal mines have collapses or other accidents.  Miners die.  It is a dangerous occupation.

 

Knowing this, is it moral to engage in mining activities?  If I were to agree that "if the actions we're taking are themselves destructive to human life, then we are not acting justly," then I'd be forced to conclude that mining is not a moral activity.  For how can I sacrifice the miners who will inevitably die when disaster strikes?  How can I engineer medicine, knowing that part-and-parcel with new medications are the risks associated with side-effects and generally the unknown?  As we've discussed before, how can we run a criminal justice system, aware that innocents will certainly get caught up in it?  How can we allow cars on our road system when there are routine crashes and death involved such that it far outstrips our recent war causalities?

 

We approach mining like the rest: we do our best to do it safely, we accept that accidents happen (in all human activity), and yet we continue to mine, risk and all.

 

To anticipate what I regard as a likely objection, it is true that miners individually accept their risk in a way that an innocent in wartime does not.  Yet there are closer analogues to be found in other examples given.  For instance, pedestrians are routinely caught up in traffic accidents.  It's an awful thing.  But is the conclusion that it is immoral to drive a car, due to the potential for such "collateral damage"?

 

If your own government is violating the rights of others, then they also pose a threat to your rights. But a foreign dictatorship does not (Currently) have control over you, so your life is not affected by how they treat their subjects.

 

Your view of how a foreign dictatorship does not affect those outside of the country may be limited, as I believe was demonstrably the case in the lead up to WWII, and further through the principled mechanisms I've tried to describe earlier (to which I do not believe you've offered any response).

 

But rather than quoting poor Leopold again, let me just observe that a man who beats his children down the block may not have "control" over me, and he may not pose a threat to my rights, as such, yet I believe that I still have the moral right to respond to his initiation of the use of force -- and yes, I do consider myself "affected" by his actions.

 

...the criminal justice has to conform to certain moral constraints to avoid harming innocent people when it is avoidable.

 

I'm all for avoiding harm to the innocent, when it is avoidable.  Where criminal justice is concerned, we recognize that first we must take action to arrest/prosecute the criminals.  It is within that context that we devise these "moral constraints" to ensure that we only do what is necessary to achieve those ends, and minimize collateral damage to the extent possible.  The solution (again) is not to quit enforcing the law.

 

Similarly in war, we should strive to eliminate dictators in a way that minimizes collateral damage to the innocent.  Absolutely.  But we recognize that first we must take action to eliminate dictators (insofar as this is sensible; it is not to insist on martyrdom or any unchosen duty).  It is within that context that we devise whatever "moral constraints" would be appropriate to warfare, and the solution is not to say that we ought not take action against a dictator for fear of collateral damage.

 

I would argue that the government does have an obligation to protect my rights. They have assumed that obligation by claiming a monopoly on the use of force.

 

But "the government" really is just people.  Individuals.  Like us.

 

This may be too deep a rabbit hole to jump down just now -- and especially since I feel that I've expressed myself nearly to the point of repetition (which is usually the place to bow out, I find).  But just to put this out there...

 

There is a (proper) sense in which we are all understood to be the government.  Or at least I have come to believe that we all have the capacity for "governmental" action.  This stems from our right to self-defense, and is actually what allows for the formation of what we would otherwise recognize as a government (in that we delegate our right of self-defense to a third party).  Even within our developed system, we recognize that we retain certain features of governance individually, including maintaining the right of self-defense within certain scenarios, electing leaders, serving on juries, running for office, and even the right of making a "citizen's arrest."

 

This might prove to be as controversial between Objectivists as it undoubtedly will be between us, but I believe that your saying that the government has an obligation to protect a given individual's rights is as much as saying that I have an obligation to protect your rights and you have an obligation to protect mine.

 

I don't believe in such obligations.  But either one of us could certainly choose to act in this governmental capacity and fight to protect/preserve the other's rights, whether formally (through donning a badge, swearing an oath, etc.) or otherwise.

 

Yes, there is a selfish motivation, for someone who lives under the same legal regime that I do. If a violation of one person's rights (Whether by the government or by a criminal) take place within a country, then by allowing that to stand unchallenged, others are surrendering their own rights.

 

But there is a surrender as well in allowing a rights violation to stand unchallenged elsewhere.

 

Earlier you remarked that you could understand interference in another country if the world were united under one sovereign.  But what should the motivation be for preferring that scenario (if we do), or even allowing for it?  If I live in Los Angeles, why should I care what takes place in New York?  Or if living in downtown L.A., why should I care what happens in the Valley?  Why should I care what happens to my next-door neighbor?

 

You say that I am "surrendering my own rights" to allow such things to stand unchallenged, but that's not strictly true, is it?  If my neighbor is robbed... that does not mean that I have been robbed.  It doesn't mean that I will be robbed, either (I could always depend upon my personal security system to protect me, just as any country can rely on its military).  If I live in a majority population that decides to enslave some minority, that bears no obvious threat to me.  If some estranged husband shoots his wife due to her infidelity, I don't feel personally threatened by him; I'm not married to the guy.

 

Yet the threat which exists -- the threat we recognize in these scenarios and which motivates us to act on behalf of our neighbor, the murdered wife, the minority (including the minority of the individual), and even some oppressed foreign population -- is the principled threat we recognize against the rights of the individual.  As we are all individuals, we desire (selfishly) to make the world into a place where individual rights are protected, and where we can thrive.

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