Bryan Caplan defends pacifism

by on April 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm in History, Music, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

In the real-world, however, pacifism is a sound guide to action.

And that includes an unwillingness to kill innocent civilians as collateral damage while acting in defense of one’s country. The original post is here, the defense against critics is here

There is not enough consideration of specific times and place.  Had England been pacifist in 1914, that might have yielded a better outcome.  Had England been pacifist in 1939, likely not.  Switzerland has done better for itself, and likely for the world, by being ready to fight back.  Pacifism today could quite possibly doom Taiwan, Israel, large parts of India (from both Pakistan and internal dissent), any government threatened by civil war (who would end up ruling Saudi Arabia and how quickly?), and I predict we would see a larger-scale African tyrant arise, gobbling up non-resisting pacifist neighbors.  Would China request the vassalage of any countries, besides Taiwan that is?  Would Russia “request” Georgia and the Baltics?  Would West Germany have survived? 

And this is the best we can do?  It’s much worse than the status quo, which is hardly delightful enlightenment.  I don’t see these examples mentioned in Bryan’s post.  There is also a Lucas critique issue of how the bad guys start behaving once they figure out that the good guys are pacifist, and I don’t see him discussing that either. 

It would be a mistake to add up all the wars and say pacifism is still better overall, because we do not face an all-or-nothing choice.  Many selective instances of non-pacifism are still a good idea, with benefits substantially in excess of their costs.  Bryan, however, has to embrace pacifism, otherwise his moral theory becomes too tangled up in the empirics of the daily newspaper

Which is exactly where I am urging him to go.

Bret April 25, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Easily the most disappointing post yet out of Caplan.

Laserlight April 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm

As I recall, The Prince has “Before all else, be armed. Failure in this will mean you are despised.”

Chris Durnell April 25, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Pacifism is immoral because it requires other people, not just you, to suffer. Non-violent resistance, which is not the same, is more commendable, but perhaps insufficient in itself. There are many things that are worse than war. They all begin with defeat.

Rahul April 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm

A heavily armed pacifist might be the best . neighbor.

Keeping large stocks of weapons; but rarely using them seems historically optimal.

Dan April 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Hey it wouldn’t be rude to quote extensively from the last chapter of Paul Berman’s book, Terror and Liberalism, would it?

“The Swedes and the Swiss achieved wonderful things with their own societies, and those achievements were the envy of the world. But the survival of both places owed entirely to the fighting spirit of other people. During the years of Nazi triumph, Sweden and Switzerland played roles that were, all in all, contemptible. Neutrality seemed to them better than defeat. If Hitler had won the war, he would have crushed the Swedes and Swiss, anyway. But they could hope that other people would ensure that Hitler lost. And other people did. Entire Polish cities fought virtually to the last man so that Sweden and Switzerland could go on perfecting their social systems. Sweden and Switzerland resembled in this respect the little republics that have floated into existence from time to time throughout the history of the West, beginning with Athens and the Roman republic and continuing through the city-states of the Middle Ages–fragile republics that reflected a brilliant light for as long as circumstances were benign. But sooner or later the little republics were popped like bubbles by marauding armies from afar. None of those republics was ever able to figure out the secret of survival.

Chomsky remarked after 9/11 that, until then, the United States had never been attacked on its own soil, at least not since the British invasion in the War of 1812. (He seemed to forget that, in 1916, Pancho Villa launched an invasion of New Mexico–but, never mind.) This became a commonplace observation. Europe sagely nodded at America’s 9/11 loss of innocence. But the United States had absolutely been attacked on its own soil. Between 1861 and 1865 the country was very nearly wrecked by secessionist rebels, in deadly scenes that already pointed to Verdun. The United States might well have decided to throw up its hands at the secessionist attack, and might have let the slave states go their miserable way, which would have permitted the northern states to evolve, in time, into a Sweden or Switzerland of North America–a virtuous country, dedicated to the charms of its own social system, though with no ability or inclination to defend itself or anyone else. But, instead, the United States took the notion of a liberal society and, with a few earnest twists of the screwdriver, rendered the whole concept a little sturdier.”

Wonks Anonymous April 25, 2011 at 2:49 pm

“a Sweden or Switzerland of North America–a virtuous country, dedicated to the charms of its own social system”
If only. I also agree with Cowen that Switzerland does not lack to ability/inclination to defend itself.

Athens also had a clearly different fate from republican Rome. Athens was defeated by Sparta (after being devastated by a plague) and then incorporated into Phillip of Macedon’s grecian empire. Rome itself abandoned the republican form of government for an empire under the caesars.

I suppose I should have known it wasn’t worth my time to read or respond to Berman.

gwern April 25, 2011 at 2:51 pm

It’s funny that Berman points to Switzerland and claims ‘None of these republics was ever able to figure out the secret of survival’ or that they were free-riding on others or that the US has rendered the ‘concept a little sturdier’.

The Swiss confederacies have been around for *how* long? I’d buy free-riding arguments if Switzerland were just a few decades or even just a few centuries old, because then it could plausibly be taking advantage of unusually peaceful interludes. But at 7 centuries, the Swiss model has proven itself much better over many different periods than the US model – which is just ~2 centuries old, favored in many ways over Switzerland, and nevertheless looking extremely shaky for all that it’s ‘a little sturdier’. (Empires often die messily…)

Dan April 25, 2011 at 3:53 pm

“I also agree with Cowen that Switzerland does not lack to ability/inclination to defend itself.”

Maybe so, but its role in WW2 was certainly not an admirable one in the name of ‘pacifism’.

“I’d buy free-riding arguments if Switzerland were just a few decades or even just a few centuries old, because then it could plausibly be taking advantage of unusually peaceful interludes.”

Obviously over the centuries it’s not just that. It helps to be small, it helps to collude with the neighborhood bullies, and so on. Of course there is more to neutrality than just sitting in the middle of world conflicts with your eyes and ears covered. One notable argument in its favor comes from the old Italian man in Catch-22. But the point of his pro-conquerors opportunism (in the book) is to shatter the idealism of the soldier he’s talking to, not necessarily that the author thinks his argument is the proper response to global hegemons. Berman’s topic — “how a free society can endure for more than a little while” — is vast and obviously he’s skimming through the entirety of world history and political philosophy in order to be able to discuss it in his medium. Switzerland has lasted a long time, in varying forms. Are the methods it employed to do so justifiable? If the Swiss model is better, why?

James April 25, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Well, personally, I wouldn’t quote from it because that first paragraph shows a startling lack of knowledge of ancient political or military history.

The Athenian democracy fought and won at the battle of Marathon. The Roman republic fought and won at the battle of Zama. They were not popped like bubbles from afar, but destroyed from within by a polity that became uncommitted to its own ideals. I also find it regrettable that Mohammed Atta would be compared to Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee.

If you want to seem erudite on the issue, you should quote Jean Dutourd from *The Taxis of the Marne*:

“War is less costly than servitude . . . the choice is always between Verdun and Dachau.”

Dan April 25, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Historically, free societies are fragile and haven’t lasted. (Some temporarily had the inclination and ability to defend themselves.) Entire disciplines are dedicated to exploring this problem. I posted the excerpt because the book makes an argument for being willing to go to war for ideals like liberalism and pluralism. I agree.

re: Atta, Jackson, Lee. This fascinates me. Both al-Qaeda and the South in the civil war attacked the U.S. on the basis of abhorrent ideologies. CSA apologists can say “no, the civil war was fought for reasons other than slavery,” and I guess if they exist al-Qaeda apologists can say “no, al-Qaeda isn’t motivated by their ideology but because the US occupies their land” (or whatever). But those apologists are wrong. **Obviously** the situations are not exactly the same. That is why it is a comparison. But I’m sure this is the sort of subject matter that may engender heated responses.

re: Verdun, Dachau. That’s a crappy choice.

James April 25, 2011 at 8:02 pm

You initially posted the following excerpt:

“Sweden and Switzerland resembled in this respect the little republics that have floated into existence from time to time throughout the history of the West, beginning with Athens and the Roman republic and continuing through the city-states of the Middle Ages–fragile republics that reflected a brilliant light for as long as circumstances were benign.”

That proposition is incorrect and you’re defining down conflicts as “temporary” that are as significant and diverse as the Greco-Persian Wars to the Punic Wars.

“Both al-Qaeda and the South in the civil war attacked the U.S. on the basis of abhorrent ideologies. CSA apologists can say “no, the civil war was fought for reasons other than slavery,” and I guess if they exist al-Qaeda apologists can say “no, al-Qaeda isn’t motivated by their ideology but because the US occupies their land” (or whatever). But those apologists are wrong. **Obviously** the situations are not exactly the same. That is why it is a comparison.”

I can see how my statement could be construed as apology — but it was not meant to be. You are right that the South fought for an abhorrent ideology (as does Al’Qaeda). However, what I meant to state was that a comparison of the threat Al’Qaeada poses to the United States to that of the threat posed by the Confederacy to the Union was wildly inflated. The South had some of the greatest commanders of its time, the ability to rend the Union apart, and the demonstrated and proven ability of taking hundreds of thousands of lives. Al’Qaeda has some thugs with box cutters. The threat that Al’Qaeda poses is completely different and the response that it engenders should be completely different.

When one plays with history the way your excerpt does it raises questions as to the motivations and judgment of the author. I don’t mean to make my response any more heated than that!

Dan April 25, 2011 at 9:34 pm

re: CSA. Oh, whew. Yeah, we’re good. I think because you mentioned the individuals I interpreted it in the apologist direction.

re: Berman. It’s a sloppy line. It’d have been more apt to talk about the Minoans, for instance, than the Athenians. You can’t throw all of the (comparatively) free societies that ever existed into a single group the way that he does. It also doesn’t serve his purpose since the point is to argue against a neutrality not practiced by the Greeks and Romans. I welcome the parsing of the excerpt but still recommend the book, particularly the final chapter. We seem to be in agreement that societies have to be willing and capable to defend themselves and their ideals, anyways. Although I’d like to hear a fuller version of Gwern’s defense of the Swiss model.

SteveX (formerly Steve) April 26, 2011 at 1:30 pm

“…a Sweden or Switzerland of North America–a virtuous country, dedicated to the charms of its own social system,…”

That in fact did happen. It’s called Canada.

Descartes April 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm

“There is not enough consideration of specific times and place. Had England been pacifist in 1914, that might have yielded a better outcome. Had England been pacifist in 1939, likely not.”

Which was a reason why one of the most well known pacifists, Bertrand Russell, switched to what he called “relative pacifism” in which war may be the better of two extreme evils. The more extreme evil was nazi totalitarianism.

“Switzerland has done better for itself, and likely for the world, by being ready to fight back. Pacifism today could quite possibly doom Taiwan, Israel”

Taiwan’s case, not at all. China is very hesitant to engage in wars as it stands since they have too much of a reputation to lose. If Taiwan gets invaded, credibility and trade with the west would be expected to deteriorate amid the perception of the war(evil aggressor against helpless nation).

Israel could do much better by adapting more pacifist policies. Accepting peace with Hamas, European and Arab nations, the UN and other Palestinian entities would encompass abandoning settling the Westbank and East Jerusalem and establishing Green Line borders. The militarist factions of Israel alongside nationalist elements instead would rather have Israel fight wars and settle the rest of the former Palestine, perhaps the most important element in the current conflict.

ad*m April 25, 2011 at 6:08 pm

“Accepting peace with Hamas,”?

Here is the current Hamas charter, calling for Israel to be destroyed and the Jews to be exterminated in JIihad. Please inform us how Israel or its “militarist factions” can make peace with an entity that wants to see them destroyed them.

If you mean accept “peace” in the Islamic sense, namely subjugation to Allah, maybe then I can see what you mean.

anonygoat April 26, 2011 at 10:30 am

Hard to say. Being conquered by American New Dealers hasn’t exactly turned England into a paradise. Crime for example, despite being defined down, has increased by a factor of 70 (!) over the past century. Perhaps a pacifist England could still be England and could still have an empire.

Robert April 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm

“Had England been pacifist in 1914, that might have yielded a better outcome.  Had England been pacifist in 1939, likely not.”

Its the United Kingdom, not England. I know this is a bit tangential to the post, but it is not a trivial difference. Mixing up England and the UK is a bit like mixing up Prussia and Germany; it shows you don’t understand or don’t care about a fundamental part of the history of the entities you are talking about.

anon April 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Everyone outside of UK never seems to care about the distinction. UK, England all the same-they all speak funny.

Gabe April 25, 2011 at 7:58 pm

The first time I went to the UK I took out my passport at Heathrow on the way to Scotland…I thought I had to show it there, but the security guy yelled at me “it’s all the same, don’t you know that?”

Boris April 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Yep, in this case that part of the history is simply irrelevant to the discussion (less so in the Germany/Prussia case in WWI than in the UK/England case in both wars).

It’s no different from people calling the USSR “Russia” in the context of WWII. Technically incorrect, but not really all that relevant on the global scale of the discussion.

Brett April 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Bryan, however, has to embrace pacifism, otherwise his moral theory becomes too tangled up in the empirics of the daily newspaper…

Good point. His pacifism always struck me in part as an ideological refusal to confront the demands and problems of real world politics.

Philo April 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Why think it would be bad if India were “doomed . . . from internal dissent”?

Rahul April 25, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Most Indians would disagree.

Doug Bennett April 25, 2011 at 3:30 pm

The choice each of us makes, though, is where will I put MY energy, MY intelligence? I’m not choosing for others, and (sadly) there will always be too many others who will choose war, some for reasons more brutal, others for reasons more tragic, than ever should be the case.

So the best thing I can always do in choosing, is to choose to work for peace. (Don’t defend working for war on the sad/bad choices others make.) There’s alwaysd more than can and should be done on the side of finding a peaceful, just solution. That’s why I’m a pacifist.

Steve April 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Israel is not a good example. If I punch you in the face and steal your milk money, I can’t immediately thereafter claim that from this point forward I’m following a pacifist policy and be in the moral right. If Israel were pacifist from the beginning, they would never have forcefully taken land that was not theirs and then continued to subjugate the land’s former inhabitants for the next half-century+.

ladderff April 26, 2011 at 6:39 am

Steve: That assumes some kind of historical baseline for “who started it,” which we don’t have and which would be pointless anyway given the silliness of notions of inherited culpability. In other words, there is no “they.” Ninety percent of Israelis were born after 1947.

RM April 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I think India/Pakistan runs both ways.

If I were Scottish, the distinction between the UK/England would be important to me. Or, maybe the Scots have just given up and accepted defeat.

I mostly think of Tyler as a worldly guy but sometimes his overly US-centric worldview pops up. In discussions such as these, he tends to place the US above the fray.

Anders April 25, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I myself dabbled in pacifism once. Not in ‘Nam of course.

Steve April 25, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Damnit Walter!

Matt Flipago April 25, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Everyone is messing the point. Starting up a government and taking it over is an extremely difficult, costly and massive long term task. If you think it’s not, I urge you to try to start a government in Afghanistan. You can’t just gloss over the issue with, ohh but people will just come in and invade. Governments don’t invade to kill civilians, they invade for taxes. And Government always comes at the consent of the governed. If you were willing to die for your country you should be willing to join the black market for it too.

Hassan April 25, 2011 at 5:36 pm

There is no such thing as principles!

A good thing to help people look at things from a case-to-case perspective.

Stephen Williams April 25, 2011 at 6:43 pm

John Derbyshire wrote an excellent essay some time back see here – http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm?frm=3657&sec_id=3657 it could be called ‘The Peaceful Benefits of Total Victory’ it’s a short essay well worth reading. It made me realise that in most cases unless a nation is totally victorious it was probably not worth going to war in the first place.

RM April 25, 2011 at 11:35 pm

The Powell Doctrine

Faze April 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

My heart is full of love for Bryan Kaplan. No one else is saying these things. Discussion of war and peace always privileges the collective. And the living.

Each person who died in WWII exchanged his or her life for 1/56 millionth part of victory over the Nazis (based on an estimate of 56 million civilian and military deaths). Presumably, only a very small number of them exchanged their lives willingly.

Therefore WWII saw states robbing tens of millions of people of their most precious possession — their lives. For what purpose? In order for World War II to have been “worth it”, the consequences of not fighting the war would have had to have been worse than the deaths of 56 million people, the destruction of vast parts of major cities of Europe, and 40 years of Communist rule in Eastern Europe. A pacifist Europe that was easily overrun by Nazi Germany would certainly have been a lousy place to live — especially for Jews. But most of the Jews who died in the Holocaust would probably have survived in the absence of war, and lived through the ultimate collapse or profound alteration of Nazism that might have followed the death of Hitler or the emergence of passive resistance movements in conquered territories, or simply the withering away of the Nazi system over the next 20-50 years.

Most wars are not a matter of life or death. They are a matter of lifestyle or death. Nations go to war to prevent having to live the lifestyle of a conquered people. The problem with this is, that nations are rarely conquered for more than a generation, and as Matt Filpago points out above, nations don’t invade other nations to kill civilians. They invade for taxes and other “benefits” — many of which become more costly than they are worth.

Alistair Morley April 25, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I’m usually not one for counter-factuals, but with respect I find your conjecture ridiculous.

European Jews would not have been spared by a Pacifist absence of WWII. They would have been utterly exterminated. The main legal apparatus, attitudes, and ghettoisation were all in place by 1938, as was Hitler’s declared intent to exterminate them. The onset of war a year later, if anything, forced a postponement of the Final Solution as resources were diverted elsewhere. There would be 11m rather then 6m dead. There would be no escape, save for a few that “got out” to Canada or the US early.

Then Hitler could (would) have started on the other untermenschen under the domain of the third Reich. Slavs; a few hundred million there and then onto Africa, ah yes, Africa…. All this as well as a brutal repression of freedom, economic opportunity, and culture throughout Europe. And that’s to say nothing of possible Nazi-US nuclear cold war.

I find your notion on the longetivity of the Nazi state in the absence of war to be strange also. How do you know if it would mellow or change, and over what period? The history of really psychotic states is not one of short lifepans followed by endogenous change. It took Russia 70 years from Revolution to counter-revolution, arguably under a less psychotic philosophy. Pol Pot was only toppled by invasion, Idi Ami also. Saddam had 30 years (ended by war). Mengistu had a couple of decades (ended by war). Franco, 40 years (reform). Iran is still going. Even the half-assed apartheid state of South Africa managed 50 years (reform). Hitler could have another 30 years of life, and then who knows what monster may have taken the reins?

WWII was many things, but not worse than a German triumph, “peaceful” or otherwise.

Bob Murphy April 26, 2011 at 1:19 am

Great comment Faze. Obviously you might be wrong in some of your conjectures but you’re at least setting up the proper analysis. People are acting as if the horrors of WW2 are a baseline from which we’re starting, rather than the outcome of the rejection of pacifism by “the good guys” (who terror bombed cities btw).

Tracy W April 26, 2011 at 6:45 am

Yes, indeed, the horrors of WWII were the result of the rejection of pacifism by the Nazis and the Japanese fascists who did, indeed, amongst other atrocities, terror-bomb cities, even before WWII, see for example Guernica during the Spanish Civil War (unless you want to count WWII as starting from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, a position which has some merit to it). Though this is the first time I’ve heard them referred to as “the good guys”, even in scare quotes. We would all have been better off if they had pursued pacifism.
However Caplan and the like are arguing for pacifism even if the other side has rejected it, which is a different argument. That’s why people are treating the horrors of WW2 as a baseline from which we’re starting.

Alistair Morley April 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I’d suggest your use of the phrase “terror bombing” shows a lack of familiarity with the military history of the period.

There’s nothing in the policy, operational records or private diaries of the principal allied combatants to indicate that terror was the principal (as opposed to an incidental) effect desired. Even the firebombing was principally de-housing or aimed at light, dispersed industry and the records show the intent of the planner’s clearly. The allied bomber campaigns in Europe and Japan were overwhelmingly aimed at industrial, military, and political targets. Unlike the Axis air attacks which often were pure vandelism. See Rotterdam, Guernica, Coventry, Shanghai etc.

Allied bombing was often not terribly effective, and certainly didn’t worry much about enemy civilians in the way, but “terror bombing” is a silly, prejudicial, and emotive term to describe allied policy that professionals don’t use.

And yes, we were the good guys. No quotation marks needed.

Tracy W April 26, 2011 at 5:44 am

The Nazis were planning to starve to death tens of millions of Slavs, to free up “living space” for German farmers, once they had liquefied the Jews. The Nazis also, along with the Jews, were trying to eliminate homosexuals, the disabled and Gypsies. And why would it have stopped there? The Nazis had come to power on a platform of fear, get rid of the Jews, gypsies, etc, and do you really think they would have shrugged and said “oh, okay, we’ve got rid of them, now any more problems are our fault”, or do you think they would have moved onto another set of scapegoats? .

And the Nazi’s economic system was crazy, even from the point of view of Aryan Germans, let alone the point of view of anyone else. Poverty kills, richer countries have higher life expectancies. A lot of North Koreans aren’t living through the ultimate collapse of Northern Korea’s economic system, they’re dying through it.

Furthermore, being run by a foreign country is bad. Foreign countries have a tendency to pursue mercantalist policies that enrich politically-powerful members of its own state in the short-term at the expense of the long-term development of the colony, or the colonist’s own overall wellbeing. The British Empire oversaw famines in India and Ireland. Nations may not invade other nations to kill civilians, but if you died because the nation invading you levied way too high taxes for your parents to both pay and to feed their children properly, you’re just as dead as if you died because the neighbouring country shot you outright. (Obviously, nation states can also impose terrible costs on their own citizens, by pursuing bad economic policies, which is why people have at times fought their own governments, or also just suffered and died).

Parke April 25, 2011 at 6:59 pm

I learned from Robert Frank an economic model of hawks and doves that struck me as profound, and has been on my mind from time to time ever since. It may not be original with him. In this model, Hawks and Doves play repeated prisoners dilemma games, finding partners in proportion to the relative share of Hawks and Doves in the population. The payoff for Hawks meeting Doves favors Hawks of course: say, for example (10,0). The payoff for Hawks meeting Hawks is medium poor: say (2,2). The payoff for Doves meeting Doves is medium good: say (8,8). In each generation, Hawks and Doves reproduce in proportion to their payoff in the preceding generation.

The model — which is of course just a model — differs from the implicit assumption in Tyler’s post and several of the comments. In a world with Hawks and Doves, there is an equilibrium that includes both. Hawks thrive in a world that is predominantly Doves, but they do poorly in a world that is predominantly Hawks. Hawks do not take over the world.

I am a pacifist mainly for reasons of principle. It’s not mainly a utilitarian thing. I would teach my children peace even if I thought it were disadvantageous to them. Still, I take some reassurance from this model that pacifism is not foolish.

Alistair Morley April 25, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Yes, I remember that model fondly too.

But I think you have the maths mis-remembered. Global hawks is a potentially stable equilibrium, depending on pay-offs. You need at least 2 doves to succesfully invade. Global doves is never stable – a single hawk can invade succesfully.

Parke April 25, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Yes, I’ll grant that. In a sea of cruelty, it requires at least two people of conviction to treat each other well and therby change the world.

Alistair Morley April 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Alas, not only do they have to treat each other decently, their payoff has to be sufficiently high to compensate for the treatment they received from the abundance of Hawks…

You might be interested to know that the model gets more interesting if the fixed strategy requirement is dropped, if memory of interactions is allowed, or association is allowed. Pure strategies (of which pacifism would be one) tend to lose out as more sophistication is added, I’m afraid.

Parke April 25, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I hadn’t read Faze’s eloquent comment yet while writing about the hawks and doves model. The two comments go together. It is painful almost beyond bearing to imagine being a peaceful person under attack by the Nazis. But, that one painful image is not the whole story in thinking clearly about pacifism.

Rafael Gurhmann April 25, 2011 at 7:28 pm

“”Hey it wouldn’t be rude to quote extensively from the last chapter of Paul Berman’s book, Terror and Liberalism, would it?

“The Swedes and the Swiss achieved wonderful things with their own societies, and those achievements were the envy of the world. But the survival of both places owed entirely to the fighting spirit of other people. During the years of Nazi triumph, Sweden and Switzerland played roles that were, all in all, contemptible. Neutrality seemed to them better than defeat. If Hitler had won the war, he would have crushed the Swedes and Swiss, anyway. But they could hope that other people would ensure that Hitler lost. And other people did. Entire Polish cities fought virtually to the last man so that Sweden and Switzerland could go on perfecting their social systems. Sweden and Switzerland resembled in this respect the little republics that have floated into existence from time to time throughout the history of the West, beginning with Athens and the Roman republic and continuing through the city-states of the Middle Ages–fragile republics that reflected a brilliant light for as long as circumstances were benign. But sooner or later the little republics were popped like bubbles by marauding armies from afar. None of those republics was ever able to figure out the secret of survival.”"

Incredible load of nonsense condensed in this paragraph. The Roman Republic pacifist? The Roman Republic started out as a city state and in the course of several centuries conquered the entire ancient world. If the Roman republic can be considered pacifist, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were also pacifist. Athens was an imperialist power that taxed 150 other city states and launched military expeditions to Egypt and Sicily, it entered in war with Sparta in a struggle for hegemony in the Greek world. Venice, Genoa and the other Italian city states were also imperialist powers that established several colonies over the mediterranean. These city states eventually were destroyed for the simple reason that everything that has a beginning has an end.

The USA is historically a country like other countries. They are “pacifists” when they are too small to have effects on the world, and when it became a country to big to not have an impact on the world political order, the US was also like other countries and started to become a military power when it already was an economic giant.

These is no such thing as a pacifist country in the real world.

Switzerland and Sweden didn’t fight Germany for the reason that it was futile: they would be destroyed in a few days, like Yugoslavia, Belgium, Netherlands, Poland and Greece. The UK fought on because they could do something if they fought on, as the UK had 10 times the population and industrial resources that Switzerland and Sweden had. Therefore the UK could actually have a decisive impact on the war, and it did.

liberalarts April 25, 2011 at 7:53 pm

The Scots were already absorbed in before the U.K. formed when Great Britain was formed. And of course, the Scots were absorbed by taking over the English crown. One of the them was beheaded and another run out in the Glorious Revolution, but they did have their chance.

Gabe April 25, 2011 at 8:13 pm

I think some here are using different definitions of pacificism. I am against nation-state sponsored war in principle but I am always in favor of individuals bearing arms(as in Switzeraland) and I’ll always independently determine if I am willing to personally engage in a war/assasination/attack. Using Switzerland as an example AGAINST pacificism was extremely weak in my judgement.

adam April 25, 2011 at 8:34 pm

The rich can afford to be pacifists, because the poor are willing to fight their wars for them.

bbartlog April 25, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Berman’s contrast of Poland and Switzerland in WWII is frankly stupid. Had the Nazis actually *invaded* Switzerland, as they did Poland, then I daresay the Swiss would likely have fought just as heroically as the Poles, and probably more effectively. Or does he live in some alternate universe where Poland declared war on Germany in response to (say) the annexation of the Sudetenland? They too were cowed until actually attacked. Maybe he should have listened to what Churchill, who lived through the events of the day, had to say about the Swiss (see: http://www.davekopel.com/2a/Mags/TargetSwitzerland.htm among others).

georgi April 25, 2011 at 10:53 pm

@Gabe
Switzerland is a good counterexample of “Caplan’s” pacifism, because he is even against individual violence. The Swiss train and arm their citizens. Caplan believes that running away is the only moral individual response.

In that sense he is a free rider. And a smug moralizing one at that.

Gabe April 26, 2011 at 2:29 pm

That clears it up. Swiss model seems better than ours.

Tomasz Wegrzanowski April 26, 2011 at 4:20 am

Countries which collaborated with everyone like Sweden and Switzerland got off WW2 totally unscratched.

But thinking at the margin – contrast Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France, and other countries which put only token resistance against Hitler with Poland,
Soviet Union and other countries which fought as hard as they could. Even against Hitler, and with hindsight that Hitler will eventually lose (historically you cannot count on that ever),
it’s just better to bite the bullet and collaborate. Against someone less extreme than Hitler this point is even stronger.

Tracy W April 26, 2011 at 6:06 am

The Nazis had a racist ideology, which meant that they were planning to starve to death the Slavs, but not the Western Europeans (though I suspect that the Nazis, once they had eliminated their starting sets of scapegoats, would have moved on to new scapegoats). If the Soviets hadn’t fought and won, them, and the Polish populations and other groups of Slavs would have been wiped out entirely, by fighting at least some survived. The Nazis managed to treat the Slavs worse than the Stalinist Soviets did.

Furthermore, the Germans imposed military conscription on the Alsace and Lorraine territories – so not fighting against Hitler (well, surrendering) meant that men of military age wound up fighting *for* Hitler. And “collaborate”? You know who the collaborators were in WWII in occupied Western Europe? They were the ones who helped the Nazis, who did things like round up their fellow citizens who were Jewish, and sent them off to death camps, or who betrayed their fellow citizens who were in the Resistance to the Nazis, or the ones who actually enlisted in the German armies and fought for the Nazis. I can see pacifism in refusing to fight the Nazis, but what is pacifist about collaborating with them?

faze April 26, 2011 at 3:57 pm

We measure the costs of war in terms of losses to the state. This is deceptive. States survive wars. It’s individuals who are annihillated. Millions of Japanese and Americans died in World War II. But the emperor of Japan still sits on his throne. And the United States still dominates the Pacific.

Our assessment of wars are clouded by survivors’ bias: “The post-war world produced me, and I’m pretty happy and satisfied with my life. So the war must have been a good thing.” A six-year-old girl burning alive beneath the ruins of of Dresden might have a different opinion — no less biased, of course, but probably more urgently felt.

Alistair Morley April 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Well, its always a 100% for the indivudal concerned, of course, but no-one (or practically no-one) signs up knowing their fate with certainty.

It’s instructive to look at the actual numbers for WWII to put this in context. As a random Brit, my chance of death would have been about 1%. Would I, in 1939, take a 1% chance of death to destroy the Nazi tyranny? Absolutely; that’s not a bad deal, right? An American of course, would have even better odds. I suppose the Soviets get the short end of the stick, but even there the choice is 14% mortality by resisting, or nigh-100% mortality by submitting to the joys of a Nazi Slav-extermination programme.

Anyhow, I don’t think a pacifist should assume that foreknowledge would be helpful to their position from a rational choice / game theoretic perspective. You lose the uncertainty avoidance and the (large) majority of “knowing survivors” would more happily engage in war if the burden definately fell on someone else.

Tracy W April 27, 2011 at 6:04 am

And a six-year-old “Aryan” girl dying of malnutrition in northern France under Nazi rule might have a different opinion, no less biased of course, but probably more urgently felt than your or my feelings. And as far as being occupied by the Nazis went, the French escaped relatively likely. The situation of six-year-old Jews, Gypsies and Slavs was far worse under Nazi rule, as was the situation of a six-year-old girl in Manchuria, or during the Rape of Nanking.

(And state survive wars? Where’s the Austrian-Hungarian empire? The Kaiser? The Welsh princes? The Inca whatcha-ma-callit? The Athenian democracy?)

faze April 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Alistair — Good points. I was thinking of countering with something about how the burden of defeat is also unevenly distributed, and therefore … but that’s not a strong argument.

Jesse Koltes April 26, 2011 at 11:27 pm

For all the theoretical rigor of economics, it’s practitioners are often foolhardy explorers of other complicated fields. The theoretical similarities between orthodox economics and structural realism should be explored on this blog. The important tradeoffs in foreign policy shouldn’t be analyzed so superficially on such an excellent blog.

Tracy W April 27, 2011 at 6:07 am

Yet Tyler Cowan is a citizen of a democracy, and as such, has a responsibility to consider matters outside his narrow professional interest, as his vote may affect such matters. Everyone who votes, or might vote, is a foolhardy explorer of other complicated fields, and every serving politician even more so. But this is unavoidable.

Dean Sayers April 27, 2011 at 9:35 am

Can’t believe I didn’t notice this today. But it has been Israel’s insistence on a white nationalist, race-warrior regime that has kept its conflict with the Palestinians in full gear.

If the Israelis decided to stop seizing resources and multi-century-old homes and farmland from the Palestinians, the latter wouldn’t be fighting them. But then, I don’t expect much understanding from this crowd – after all, it was the introduction of property rights that started the privation regime in the Levant.

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