Bryan Caplan  

Machismo vs. Appeasement

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I suspect that the ultimate objection to pacifism and appeasement is that they are unmanly.  A "real man," brimming over with machismo, stands up for himself no matter what the consequences: Never retreat, never surrender. 

The emotional appeal is undeniable.  Who can forget this scene from The Return of the King?
Gamling: Too few have come. We cannot defeat the armies of Mordor.

Theoden: No. We cannot. But we will meet them in battle nonetheless.
Intellectually, though, the glorification of machismo has no appeal at all.  Who are the most macho of men?  Criminals.  Thugs.  Conquerors.  I've never heard anyone question the masculinity of Genghis Khan, but he was one of the worst men who ever lived. 

Manly values have their uses every now and then.  Let us never forget the deeds of Claus von Stauffenberg.  But only when the manly values of courage and determination are subordinate to the nerdy values of objectivity and justice.

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COMMENTS (30 to date)
Roy Camden writes:

I think most men are macho depending on the circumstances. Genghis Khan abandoned his wife early in his career when faced with overwhelming power and and only retrieved her enough time later to cause paternity whispers about one of her sons.

RohanV writes:

Out of curiosity, how does your pacifism square with groups like ISIS or Boko Haram? How should the pacifist deal with slavers?

HH writes:

Surely there's a Lucas critique of this policy, no?

vikingvista writes:

I'd think a "real man" would at least have the courage to stand up for the innocent against overwhelming bullies. I don't mean getting physically between the innocent and the bully. I don't even mean speaking up when witnessing the bullying. I don't even mean speaking against the bully behind the bully's back when amongst friends. No, I'd be impressed just to see someone not take the side of bullying during an abstract anonymous argument.

Instead, it seems that nearly everywhere I hear people insisting and arguing *for* using a large well armed gang to intimidate, assault, kidnap, and even kill, if "necessary", meek individuals who seek only to be left alone or to improve their lives through the peaceful voluntary cooperation of others.

It seems the modern nation state has nearly eradicated even the most rudimentary "manliness", and established a universal ethic of bullying.

Patrick writes:

Genghis Khan spread his y-chromosome to 0.5% of the male population of the world, about 16 million men.

Surely that number would be greater if only a nerd had used reason to guide him toward pacifism.

Or maybe it's time to realize that evolution is a far more formidable enemy to libertarianism than any Democrat.

Greg Heslop writes:

On Claus von Stauffenberg's manly values, I am not sure why they deserve our praise. As I asked in Professor Henderson's blog post on the 70th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler, whoever had replaced the Führer would have had to navigate essentially the same political landscape, so why should not "Hitler-like" behaviour be expected again? After all, there is a great deal of theory and evidence to suggest that which party is in power does not matter very greatly for policy.

I am all for ending wars and concomitant death and destruction, but maybe the machismo instinct of more death (if only that of one very bad man) is not a good way of doing it.

Jody writes:

Let me propose a different explanation that is less condescending to people that Bryan disagrees with and in a language that Bryan should understand.

Model the problem of pacifism vs aggression as a hawk vs dove repeated evolutionary game and solve for appropriate evolutionarily stable strategies.

Under a very broad range of conditions, hawks come to dominate even though a dove response to hawk aggression may be optimal for each stage game.

This same insight is captured in the common sense maxim penned by Kipling that it is better policy to say...

"We never pay any-one Dane-geld, Nor matter how trifling the cost; For the end of that game is oppression and shame, And the nation that plays it is lost!"

S writes:

Glorification in general does not strike me as a very intellectual activity, even of values that I approve of.

S writes:

[Comments removed for rudeness.--Econlib Ed.]

Greg G writes:

I can't work up much enthusiasm for arguing either side here if the choice is to be framed as between pacifism and appeasement versus macho stupidity. There does seem to be, however, a rather glaring Ideological Turing Test failure in this post.

Isn't the "ultimate objection" to pacifism and appeasement that they often don't work to stop whatever evil you believe you are trying to combat? I think most people understand that real non-violent resistance sometimes takes tremendous courage.

Nathan Smith writes:

Yes, courage and determination must be subordinated to objectivity and justice.

But machismo is certainly not the "ultimate" (the sole or primary or main or deepest or most important) objection to pacifism and appeasement. The objection is that pacifism and appeasement lead to disaster.

You've made a loose historical case, over many blog posts, that pacifism and appeasement work for the greater good, but the case is quite wrong, and could be thoroughly defeated by a competent person with enough time on their hands. But I'd rather get away from historical arguments here, because they depend on might-have-beens and obscure facts and difficult value judgments. A simple story can make the logic clear.

Suppose you have one Bully and five Nerds. Every day, the Bully threatens to beat up the Nerds and take their lunch money. The Bully is stronger than any of the Nerds individually, so this is a credible threat. They believe in pacifism and appeasement, so they give it to him. The bad are on top, the good oppressed, day after day.

Now suppose the Nerds abandon pacifism and appeasement. They decide to insist on justice, not just for themselves, but, quixotically, for the whole world. Now, when the Bully threatens one of the Nerds, he suddenly himself facing off against all five. Overmatched, he runs away, and never bullies the Nerds again. And they never even had to fight. Because they prefer a good war to a bad peace, the Nerds get a good peace.

This parable contains the history of freedom, of civilization, in a nutshell. The reason Munich is cited again and again-- and recall that most of the carnage of World War II can be blamed on Munich, for the conspiracy of generals of which Stauffenberg was later a prominent member was already plotting to overthrow Hitler, and was thwarted by the immense vindication he received at Munich, when the Western powers endorsed his early, bloodless conquests-- is that mankind is usually not so foolish as to embrace pacifism and appeasement, so Munich is the rare lapse that has to stand in for a large number of avoided catastrophes.

RPLong writes:

Greg G nailed it. It does indeed appear that Bryan Caplan has gotten the better of all those arguing in favor of violent stupidity and insatiable aggression. Who was it that made that argument, again?

Tracy W writes:
A "real man," brimming over with machismo, stands up for himself no matter what the consequences: Never retreat, never surrender.

Indeed. Jesus entering Jerusalem despite expecting betrayal, Socrates taking the hemlock, Martin Luthor King in Birmingham Jail, Gandhi fasting for what he felt was right, Mandela in Robben Island.

Jeff writes:
I suspect that the ultimate objection to pacifism and appeasement is that they are unmanly. A "real man," brimming over with machismo, stands up for himself no matter what the consequences: Never retreat, never surrender.

Bryan, Bryan, Bryan. And to think that Robin Hanson works in the same department at the same school.

Why do you think the US maintains a gigantic arsenal of nuclear weapons that it will never use? Because even if these ICBM's are never launched, they are still useful as a deterrent. Isn't it obvious that macho tough-guy posturing serves the same purpose? You raise the expected cost of any interpersonal conflict between you and another individual or group of individuals by signalling a willingness to fight and the result is that you don't actually have to fight. Or at least don't have to fight that often. Whereas, if you signal that you will not fight back even in the face of naked aggression and coercion, what do you suppose that accomplishes?

Why do you think these macho sentiments of never retreat, never surrender have emotional appeal in the first place? Because they're effective! Not just for individuals, but for groups, also. Here is a recent example:

Nathan W writes:

Where does "no appeasement, no surrender" lead to once the first shove is made?

It takes truly "real" men to take the blow to the machismo persona to lead towards better futures.

But this cannot be done effectively without a heavy stick in the back hand, or you'll get nothing but vultures circling in for the kill, because they may see it as a sign of weakness.

That's why we need more women in power positions, imo.

Glen writes:

Genghis Khan may very well have been “one of the worst men who ever lived.” But he lived. He survived and passed his genes — including those expressing his so objectionable machismo — onto millions of descendants.

Once again, Caplan inhabits a fantasy world that simply defies biological reality. Even worse, he (and others) label it “libertarianism” when it is really nothing but a caricature of traditional Christian morality.

Hazel Meade writes:

I usually agree with Caplan, but he's totally off on the wrong trick.

Overtime, a reputation for appeasement will lead others to take advantage of you.

Sure, go ahead an appease people in small ways. But when it comes to something that *matters* you absolutely must stick to your guns.

There are cultures in the world in which a person who does not respond to a threat with "machismo" will pretty much immediately be killed and all his property stolen by other members of his tribe. He absolutely HAS TO project that mahco image, OR HE WILL DIE.

The ability to project an image of passivity is something that only exists under the rule of law, where you have a bigger, stronger group of guys in uniforms doing all that macho stuff for you.

JKB writes:

Yes, the opposition to pacifism and appeasement is because of the other pre-modern attribute machismo. Not at all because it undermines the whole of the basis of the modern world in secure property rights, individual freedom and rule of law.

How can one be free if others can take your property or dictate your actions through threats of violence? We all know that throughout human history if you give into illegitimate threats that the individual or group who make the threats are fully satisfied and never return for additional appeasements. Especially not after becoming stronger because they've enjoyed the income from the property they took earlier.

Yes, in pre-modern societies, and you must admit that Ghengis Khan was not the very model of a modern major-general, you fought over the smallest slight lest you be consumed by all others. As society progressed, the negative wealth impacts of war (where is Khan's empire now?) inspired the creation of negotiation and mediation to settle disputes. Machismo still gets accolades but more and more, only after trying to find a mutually agreeable settlement has failed.

Why not look at the problem from the point of view of incentives?
In the face of a bully, appeasement is a short term solution. At some point, you have to punch them in the nose or you are left broke and spiritually broken.

JA writes:

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Switzerland during the interwar period and during World War II. The Swiss mobilized their population and built many fortifications to prevent invasion. I think it'd be difficult to argue the Swiss's position was one of machismo, but it certainly wasn't based off appeasement, as they were very prepared to fight a long and costly war should they be invaded.

The Swiss still maintain much of their antitank lines along the borders with Germany and Italy.

si vis pacem para bellum

Eric writes:

I wonder how much Caplan was bullied in school, his response and its effectiveness, and what this might reveal about his preferences.

Aaron Zierman writes:

Confusing post. How exactly does Theoden's action relate to Ghengis Khan? Khan was an aggressive conqueror whereas Theoden was going to stand up and fight what appeared to be a losing battle against an aggressor.

Defensive vs. offensive. I
think, "intellectually", we can make that distinction. Which is more "masculine"? I guess that's debatable, but I'm not really sure the discussion is that helpful.

ivvenalis writes:

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Richard writes:

For most males, some sense of masculinity is necessary a healthy psyche.

Ali Bertarian writes:

When the author of an article begins his thesis with "I suspect that the ultimate objection to..." then I know that he has engaged in speculative nonsense by not actually addressing the arguments of those who have the objections. What a waste of time.

Dirck writes:

Machismo is probably hard-wired into most male biology . It had tremendous survival value when most threats could not be dealt with by reason .

Hopaulius writes:

It amuses me that the academic, protected by tenure, supported in part by tax dollars, and living under the umbrella of the most powerful military in the world, cries "Pacificsm!"

Hugh writes:

Caplan compares machismo (a trait) to Appeasement (an act) - why? I don't have an answer, but the rest of the post is 100% predictable:

Macho men are criminals, thugs and conquerors; Machismo is then compared to appeasement and found wanting.

Caplan wins the argument! The strawman is defeated!

With grace and magnanimity, Caplan concedes that, when subordinated to nerdy values, manly values have their uses every now and then.

Mission Accomplished!

Beth writes:

As a female, I am instinctively attracted to the more macho men than pacifistic men. I hold no attraction to a pacifist.

I'm not sure why. I can only attribute it to instinct and survival.

I want to echo some earlier poster's points that people can afford to be pacifistic only if there are macho-types doing the ultimate protecting.

Maybe that is why I instinctively am not attracted to pacifists - they are freeloading off of the security (not perfect by any means at all times) provided by the blood of the macho among us.

Granite26 writes:

It takes two acts of violence to make a war, but only one to make a massacre.

If the option is War or Peace, pick Peace. If the option is War or Massacre, pick War.

Let's be honest, the last few years of world events have shown pretty consistently that there are still people in the world who will not hesitate to use violence to accomplish their goals, and those people can only be stopped with violence or the credible threat of violence.

I suspect that part of your real point in using LotR was that we like to live in the fantasy realm where we know the fight is just, and we know we have to fight or die, and to have that comfort of black and white morality.

Unfortunately, there are too many parts of the world where this is in fact the case, and my position is that our rough men ready to do violence is the reason why we are not subject to it.

JA writes:

I wonder what Bryan's act of appeasement would be if he lived in Mosul, Iraq. Would he sit peacefully by why himself, his wife, and his children were slain or would he peacefully abandon his home and flee.

Second hypo, what if Bryan lived in Kurdistan? Would he free load off others willing to fight, flee, submit to being killed, or use violence (is all violence Machismo?) to protect his family?

Related: does Bryan think the Kurds fighting off Islamists who are invading their home are either immoral or irrational?

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