Bryan Caplan defends pacifism

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.


Comments for this post are closed