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Beyond Objectivism—About Force

The previous article on retaliation is related to the subject of this article, "force." In this case, however, it is not the concept itself which is questioned, but the particular emphasis Objectivism gives it. This article is a little lighter than the previous ones, and is meant more to stimulate thinking about an approach to a philosophical issue with important practical consequences.

Ayn Rand correctly identified coercive force as the only factor in human relationships that can limit the freedom of any individual:

"The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others." [Ayn Rand, Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, "Theory And History," "What Is Capitalism?"]

But there is in Objectivism a view of force which is somewhat troubling.

There is no justification for the initiation of force by any individual or groups of individuals against any other individual or group of individuals, ever. Anyone who knows anything about human nature and history, however, knows there are always men who do initiate the use of force against others. If there is to be a society where such force is banished, how is it to be accomplished? Both Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff think an agency with the exclusive license to use force, and only against those who would initiate it against others, is the means of eliminating the initiation of force from a society. That agency, they agree, is government.

Force as Defense

In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand "Chapter 10—Government," under, "Government as an Agency to Protect Rights," Leonard Peikoff writes:

"If society as an organized body is to protect man's rights, the citizens must create an agency with the power to do the job. Since force can be stopped only by force, such an agency must banish coercion by itself using force against the force-wielders. This agency is the government.

In Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, in the chapter, "Theory And History, What is Capitalism?", Ayn Rand writes:

"The government acts as the agent of man's right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use; thus the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control."

In the previous article I used this quote to emphasize the Objectivist use of the word retaliation. Here I am emphasizing the word force.

I would like to draw your attention to these words from the above quotes: "force can be stopped only by force," and, "government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control." Since the stated purpose of government is to protect individuals from the initiation of force by others, it is obvious both Rand and Peikoff see force as the only means of doing it. It is not!

A Wrong Emphasis

If an individual must defend himself, his property, his loved ones, or anything else he values, against force, or the threat of it, force to any degree may and ought to be used in that defense. The mistaken assumption in Objectivism is one clearly stated by Mr. Peikoff, that "force can be stopped only by force." It is this assumption that misdirects much about Objectivist politics, and the assumption is wrong.

Every lock on every door, every safe, every wall, burglary alarm, and fence are ways of defending against force without the use of force. There are countless ways to defend against force which do not require the use of force, but so long as it is believed, "force can be stopped only by force," that is the only kind of defense that is going to be considered and developed.

In Atlas Shrugged, there is an entire community protected without an army—Galt's Gulch. The protection against foreign invasion is implemented by means of a shield that hides their existence from the world. This is a fictional example of protecting against force without force. If written by anyone else, we might say it is a wrong-headed idea; but it was written by the same author who names the second function of government, "the military forces, to protect men from foreign invaders." [Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal, "America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business"] With the exception of Ragnar Danneskjöld, and during the rescue of John Galt, none of the characters in Atlas, who were under the worst of government oppression, ever once resort to force either to defend themselves or to, "retaliate."

Force Always the Worst Way

The purpose of life is not to avoid evil but to pursue good, not to avoid suffering, but to achieve happiness. Force never produces anything good. When it must be used in defense, it can only prevent evil, but cannot produce any good, and usually produces harm, even in a right cause. Decent, honest, self-sufficient individuals do not like to use force, because its use, for them, is contrary to everything they believe and feel and opposite all their values. Whenever possible, rational individuals will avoid the use of force, even though they are, when threatened by force, the only ones who might rightly use it.

So long as, "force can be stopped only by force," is accepted as a principle, all thinking about defending against force will be in terms of ever greater amounts of force. But there is a better principle. Force is perfectly legitimate in defense, but there is almost always another way, and any way that accomplishes the same defense without the use of force is better than force. There is a corollary: any way that accomplishes the same defense with less force is better than one using greater force.

There is a very important caveat to this principle, however. The defense must truly be a defense—it must not be compromise, capitulation, appeasement, or surrender. Within that criteria, however, the method that requires no force or the least force should always be sought in defense, because it causes the least harm, is the least expensive, and most consistent with rational objective values.

Other Ways

What are the methods of defense that do not require the use of force? Besides those already mentioned such as locks, walls, and alarm system, there are many others. My emphasis is on the fact, so long as it is assumed force is the only defense against force, no other ideas will even be considered, but once it is realized that force is the method of last resort, and that almost always there is a better way, methods of defense will not only be discovered, but ultimately will make force unnecessary.

It is impossible to know what methods, devices, and inventions the best of human minds may develop, once the principle of minimal force is understood and pursued. To illustrate that such ideas and methods are possible, the following are suggested, but they are only suggestions of other ways of thinking about defense that do not involve the use of force or use less force. It is only when thinking about defense along these lines that superior ways will be developed.

Better Walls—One example of the right kind of thinking about defense, is what was originally call "Star Wars," but more recently the "Ballistic Missile Defense Shield." The idea is to attack only missiles an aggressor launches, destroying them. It is conceptually like a wall, somewhat like some of those walls built in this county during the late 1800s and early 1900s with spikes on there tops. If anyone was foolish enough to scale them they were impaled. Whether or not a ballistic missile shield, as currently designed, will work, it is the right approach to defense—far superior to attempting to have enough nukes to obliterate twice as many of the enemies cities as they do one's own.

The Right Targets—A country's methods of defending against foreign aggression are the costliest of wrong-headed efforts, because the defense targets the wrong thing. All the planning and all the preparation are aimed at fighting other nation's armed forces. Armed forces do not make the decisions that result in invasions and aggression, the nations leaders make those decisions. The right targets are the leaders who choose to go to war. For a fraction of the price of the huge war machine necessary to defend against foreign armies, special forces, devices, and methods with the sole purpose of eliminating the leaders of a country that threatens or attacks with force would provide all the defense needed. If the leaders of a country knew they would be the first to go when they threatened another country with force, they would be very reluctant to do so. It worked with Kadafi.

Don't Be There—I have a personal first rule of self-defense. "Don't be there when it happens." It is based on the observation that most of the bad things that happen to people happen mostly in certain places and situations. It means thinking, before I go someplace or do something, what is the risk and is the prize really worth it? There are some places I do not go, and some things I do not do, because I know the kind of people who are there and the kind of things they do. I am not the least bit deprived by making that choice. When I explain this to some people, there is often a reaction that amounts to, "why should I allow other people to tell me where I can go and what I can do. I should be able to go anywhere I like."

I am very sympathetic with this view being the independent individualist that I am. But, we are talking about defense and the best way to do it. You have to have some kind of defense, and it's going to cost you something. So what are the alternatives. The Police? Of course the police never tell you where you can go or what you can do, do they? Besides, we already have the police, and bad things keep happening to people.

Hiding—There are two kinds of hiding meant here. One is, "hiding in plain sight." The other is hiding things, like property that is subject to theft or destruction. There is nothing wrong with hiding. Essentially that is what the denizens of Galt's Gulch were doing with their shield.

Another example is what the British did in 1940 to protect all the royal pictures from the palaces, the Tate Gallery and the National Gallery, together with the Crown Jewels, from possible destruction or confiscation by the Germans. They hid them in the Manod Quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The might have tried protecting them militarily, which would have been protecting against force with force, but would probably not have worked and would have been much more costly.

Hiding in plain site is nothing more than the application of common sense and prudence to one's practices. Almost everyone reveals much more about themselves than is necessary or wise. One ought to enjoy such wealth as they have earned in any way they choose, but flaunting it, making one's own business public for no other purpose than to be known do not increase one's enjoyment of wealth. If your lifestyle requires you to make your property and your own appearance in a community tempting to those who might be a threat to it, choose a different community. The objective is to protect yourself and your property and loved ones from physical coercion, not to prove a point to a world that is not interested in your point.

When Force Is Necessary

When force is necessary, when no other defense is possible, there is no limit on how that force ought to be used or how much force is to be used. It must be used only against those who are initiating or threatening to initiate the use of force, but otherwise there is no principle determining how it is to be used.

When one must resort to the use of force, it means there is no longer any other rational means, no human means, of dealing with those who are a threat. Talk of humane treatment, reasonable force, or moderation have no meaning in those situations—those concepts pertain only to those with whom dealing rationally is possible. Reason is the only right means of dealing with other rational beings. Force must always only be used when dealing with the irrational, the inanimate, vicious beasts, and human beings who have declared themselves irrational. How much force should be used in such cases is determined only by how much will do the job, and do it without question or danger to the one required to use it.