Bryan Caplan  

Hanson's Pragmatic Pacifism

The Greatest American Hero... Cowen on Moral Intuitionism...
I just discovered that I could conceivably co-author Pragmatic Pacifism with Robin Hanson.  Robin:

War is bad. Defending against war, that can be justified. But starting a war, well that is presumably very bad. Not that starting a war could never be justified. Just that the bar should be set really high. Not it sort of seems like war might help something. No you, and those watching you, should really worry that you are accepting excuses to start a war for other reasons.

Among all the policy arguments I accept, the above argument against war seems among the most solid.
The main sticking points: I'd have to convince him of two things: 

First, defensive wars are worse than he suggests (a pretty easy sell, I suspect). 

Second, to be as decidedly pacifistic as Robin requires mild deontology (impossible, I'm afraid).

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
PrometheeFeu writes:

I find your arguments regarding defensive war powerful but ultimately unpersuasive.

So let's say we all live in the libertarian society we all (and by all I mean a couple of us at least) want. As it turns out we are sitting on a bunch of natural resources which some other guy wants. Now, that other guy happens to be the head of state of some bloody dictatorial regime. What do we do when he decides to just come over kill us all and take our stuff. (Kind of like trading except without the giving something in return) Sure, refusing to have an army that can coerce resources out of us is the morally right thing to do and we could argue that fighting back will kill innocent people. But then again, without doing that, our beautiful society where our rights are respected just disappears in a bloodbath. Not sure that's an outcome we can agree on. Ultimately, you do need on a government with some strength in order to protect those rights we cherish. Otherwise, we won't have those rights anymore.

Stewart writes:

Is one still a pacifist if one thinks war is almost always bad as opposed to always bad?

Arthur_500 writes:

I would say that participating in a war is not bad. Sure people die, that is the point of a war, but freedom may result.

As my father used to say, "Never get into a fight; but if you have to, end it."

The people in the American colonies decided they didn't like some of the rules under which they lived so they rebelled. They came very close to losing that battle.

Those rebellious colonists were willing to fight for freedom. However, when you slap a tiger you just might die.

Those in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia all decided to fight the tiger. In Tunisia and Egypt the people may get a result better than what they had previously. Or not.

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose?

I would say that in all of life you choose your battles and plan to win. In war, you must win. That is why the bar is supposed to be set so high.

Robin Hanson writes:

Yes, I accept that defensive wars are also often unjustified. It is just that they are justified more often. Yes, I'm not much for deontology, but even so we agree the bar should be set rather high, and that high bar is usually not met.

David MacLeod writes:

Innocent musing by Robin. Is there ever a time when force should be used to prevent a human catastrophe? There are too many to list here. In Rwanda there were UN peacekeepers (oxymoron?) who knew of the plans of genocide. On the other hand, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Perhaps there should be a process by which rational, reasonable, caring people could decide when to take action and when not to. Google R2P (the Responsibility to Protect) and be introduced to a new concept in conflict and conflict resolution.

Mark Brady writes:

Bryan, I suggest you should distinguish between pacificism and pacifism. This useful distinction was made by A. J. P. Taylor in his book The Trouble Makers: Dissent over Foreign Policy, 1792-1939 (1957/1958), 51:

"By 'pacificism' I mean the advocacy of a peaceful policy; by 'pacifism' (a word invented only in the twentieth century) the doctrine of non-resistance."

And the historian Martin Ceadel uses this distinction when writing about the British and European peace movements.

I call myself a pacificist, not a pacifist, but sadly this distinction is lost in American usage.

Robert Wiblin writes:

What would you suggest Libyans in Benghazi do?

Mark Brady writes:

Robert Wiblin asks:

What would you suggest Libyans in Benghazi do?

But we should also ask the question,

"What should Libyans in Tripoli who are opposed to Gaddafi do?"

And if we engage with that question, perhaps we can better answer the first one.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@Mark Brady:
That answer is relatively simple: Take up arms and depose/kill him. Bryan should probably agree with that actually given his views on vengeance. Gaddafi has been committing wholesale violations of the rights of every Libyan for a long time now. The is no proper judicial process by which Libyans can protect themselves. Therefore, they must take matters into their own hands and get rid of this danger to their life and liberty.

Mark Brady writes:


Is that an answer to both questions?

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