Why I Am Anti-war (And What That Means)

The Apotheosis of War, by Vasily Vereshchagin, 1871.
The Apotheosis of War, by Vasily Vereshchagin, 1871.

As the post-Russian-invasion phase of the war in Ukraine approaches the end of its first year (its previous, lower-intensity, phase blazed into military flame in 2014), I continually find my own position pigeon-holed into convenient categories by those who hold other positions on it.

Some who claim to be “anti-war” accuse me of supporting Russian aggression, while others say I support Ukrainian Nazism or US imperialism. Still others, more openly “pro-war,” find me “soft” on the various actions of [insert regime of choice here].

Clarity being among the obligations of a writer, I tend to blame myself to at least some degree — perhaps I’m not communicating my position clearly, and that’s why it’s misconstrued so often and such diverse ways. For that reason, and because I suspect others find themselves in one or both of the same boats (misunderstood, or unable to understand), I’ve been working on a taxonomy of positions on the war in Ukraine, and the US regime’s role in it, to help everyone untangle this ball of yarn.

Here are some terms I’ve used or seen used, and my thoughts on those terms:

Pacifism is the belief that violence of any kind is immoral. Not just war, but any kind of violence, theoretically extending even to individual self-defense. Pacifists, obviously, oppose this war like all others.

Non-interventionism is the belief that regimes (or at least some particular regime or regimes) shouldn’t intervene in disputes between other regimes. If Switzerland and Bulgaria go to war, a French non-interventionist would oppose France supporting either side (and might oppose ANY regime interfering in any way).

Isolationism often gets conflated with non-interventionism, but they’re not precisely the same thing. An isolationist is non-interventionist, but also tends to oppose other relationships (for example, free trade) between regimes.

And, finally, anti-war. War is organized, violent conflict between nation-state regimes. To be anti-war is to oppose such conflict, period, end of story.

One might be anti-war on  pacifist, non-interventionist, or isolationist grounds, or for other reasons, but it’s a specific orientation. If you oppose war as such, whatever your reasons, you’re anti-war. If you support any war, for any reason or based on any justification, you’re not anti-war. Because words mean things.

I’m anti-war.

I’m neither a pacifist nor an isolationist. I’m non-interventionist, but non-interventionism is corollary to, not the basis for, my position.

And my anti-war position is, in turn, a product of my position on nation-state regimes as such. In my view, they are simply violent criminal organizations. Their disputes are of a piece with turf wars between mafia “families” or brawls between street gangs — the difference is one of degree, not kind.

Joe Biden, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Vladimir Putin are just Corn Pops or Tony Sopranos with bigger crews and better public relations departments.

They’re no-goodnik psychopath crooks, and my sympathies are reserved for their victims, not for their turf claims or their lame excuses for calling out their hired — or conscripted — guns.

I don’t and won’t support them. Or their wars.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Buy Our Bootstraps

It’s always nice when a comrade remembers you on your birthday.

To be sure, when the socialists at Jacobin magazine published Akil Vicks on “the hardened individualism of Ayn Rand” the day the author of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal would have turned 118 (“There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Self-Made Man,’” February 2), they probably didn’t have in mind NYU Marxist professor Bertell Ollman’s description of Rand as “a comrade of Marx, methodologically speaking.”

Despite the obvious differences between Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto and Rand’s capitalist manifestos, Ollman highlights the common attention to social context. The writer Vicks sees as epitomizing “isolating notions of individual ‘grit’” was not, as Vicks implies, unaware of the notion of “finding intellectual and emotional fulfillment as part of a community.”

Although the community of Galt’s Gulch in Atlas Shrugged would not appeal to many socialists, Rand’s The Fountainhead was among the inspirations for socialist psychologist Abraham Maslow. He cited that novel as a source for the insight that “the most stable and therefore most healthy self-esteem is based on deserved respect from others rather than on external fame or celebrity and unwarranted adulation.” The “self-actualization” atop Maslow’s pyramid of needs was not self-isolation.

Vicks doesn’t directly mention Rand’s fiction as examples of “bootstrap narratives.” (A term also presumably not a nod to Robert Heinlein’s “By His Boostraps,” whose protagonist is indeed a “self-made man” via encounters with his own time-traveling future self.) Instead, it refers to supposed Rand influences like what fellow Jacobin contributor David Sirota calls the “tale of [Michael] Jordan as Rand’s Atlas, who easily lifts the weight of the entire sport of basketball on his shoulders” — and that anyone sufficiently determined could step into Jordan’s Air Jordans. (Other Jacobin contributors have pointed out that millionaire athletes are paid a minuscule fraction of the billions their skills generate — much of which further enriches billionaires.)

Yet Rand’s nonfiction showed a clear understanding that real individuals weren’t omnipotent. In the 1972 essay “What Can One Do?,” Rand observed that it was just as much “an impossible goal” to “perform instantaneous miracles” in “the realm of ideas” as “to stop an epidemic overnight, or to build a skyscraper single-handed.” Even the most talented physician could only “treat as many people” as possible, and might do so in “an organized medical campaign.”

Emma Goldman, currently juxtaposed with the denunciation of Rand through the banner ads on Jacobin‘s website, found “the greatest social possibilities” in forerunners of Rand’s individualist philosophy like Friedrich Nietzsche and Max Stirner, concluding that “only when the [individual] becomes free to choose … associates for a common purpose, can we hope for order and harmony out of this world of chaos and inequality.”

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


Debt Ceiling: Extortion! Hostage-Taking! Irresponsibility!

United States national debt as a percent of GDP
United States national debt as a percent of GDP

As Congress rolls out its latest theatrical production concerning the “debt ceiling,” the same old lines from the same old script are enjoying new life.

New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait calls Republican noises about perhaps not just automatically supporting increased government borrowing “extortion”  and a “blatant violation of democratic legitimacy” (because, as you no doubt learned in junior high civics class, even entertaining the idea of not voting in favor of Jonathan Chait’s priorities is forbidden by the US Constitution).

US Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) accuses the Republicans of “hostage-taking.”

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says linking spending cuts in the future to increased borrowing now is “a very irresponsible thing to do.”

I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Among my many reasons for being neither a Republican nor a Democrat is that the only time either party even pretends to care about “fiscal responsibility” is when the other party holds the White House. Had Donald Trump been re-elected in 2020, Republicans would be saying what Democrats are saying now and vice versa.

The current Democratic criticisms of Republicans’ debt ceiling theatrics are, on the whole, correct … if they’re levied at both major parties and the whole of the federal government.

The whole matter of the “national debt” is a classic case of extortion, hostage-taking, and irresponsibility.

The US government, both parties, has run up $31 trillion in debt, routinely spending far more than it takes in and putting the deficit on its bar tab.

At any suggestion that it pay down its debts and live within its means, the extortion and hostage-taking commences.

Whatever your favorite federal program — “defense” spending, Social Security, farm subsidies, whatever —  you’re told it’s on the chopping block if politicians are required to take any responsibility for any decision other than just borrowing more money to pay for anything and everything they might happen to want.

Oh, someone will take responsibility LATER, of course. Future generations will deal with it, right? For now, just swipe that credit card and enjoy bone-in ribeye and premium IPA seven days a week instead of throwing in even the occasional Meatless Monday or ramen feast.

Which is exactly what will happen this time, possibly with a little fake “shutdown” drama first.

Government is comprised entirely of irresponsible hostage-taking extortionists who are betting they’ll win … and that when they stop winning, it’s YOU who will lose.

Unfortunately, they’re probably right.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.