The Myth of National Defense: A Review
December 15, 2010
by Austin White
The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the Theory and History of Security Production, edited by Hans-Hermann Hoppe and dedicated to Gustave de Molinari, the first known anarchocapitalist, provides one of the most compelling cases ever published on the incapability of the state to provide adequate security. Although other libertarian and economic books have featured a chapter or two on the subject, as well as a handful of wonderful essays, Hoppe is the first to present such a large, scholarly elaboration on the subject of privately produced defense. The work is composed of eleven hefty papers by authors Luigi Marco Bassani, Carlo Lottieri, Murray Rothbard, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Bertrand Lemennicier, Gerard Radnitzky, Joseph Stromberg, Larry Sechrest, Jeffrey Hummel, Walter Block, Hoppe, and Jörg Guido Hülsmann.
The Myth of National Defense shines uncompromising light on the failures of governmental protection and the intolerable conduct of inter-state wars and then provides historical examples of private alternatives to state defense and extensive explanations on how entrepreneurs could, would, and should produce all security in the future. Hobbes was wrong.
Hoppe starts the introduction to the book off quoting Thomas Jefferson from the American Declaration of Independence, which states that the only legitimate purpose of government is to protect people’s liberties and when a government’s means begin to contradict this purpose, when a government begins to violate people’s natural rights instead of protecting natural rights, when a government fails in performing its only legitimate function, it is a people’s right, their duty, to dissolve or secede from that government and “provide new guards for their future security.”
The state is then taken to task for its complete failure to provide security and property protection and makes the case that not only has the state failed to provide adequate protection, but it is the biggest threat to our liberty and security. The state in general is the biggest hazard to mankind presently and it is indeed time to throw off the state and begin to think about alternative, market-supplied, guards of our liberties.
We are less safe and there is more harm with a state than without. No fact illustrates this case more than the conservative estimates that the governments of the 20th century murdered 100,000,000-200,000,000 of their own people –not including wars. The sum of all violent crimes committed by private individuals in last century is a mere fraction of the ruin the state wrought.
The largest state in the history of the world – with its nearly 1000 foreign military bases; vast global networks of spies and intelligence gatherers; air defense systems; the largest air force and navy in the history of the world; and defense budgets larger than the rest of the worlds countries’ defense budgets combined – was powerless in protecting its own defense headquarters on 9/11 from fanatics armed with only box cutters. Not only was the American state incapable of protecting itself, but its own military actions (sanctions, bombings, occupations in the Middle East) of previous decades are what contributed to the attack. To add insult to injury, the American state responded to the attacks with more of the same foreign interventions that contributed to the 9/11 attacks – increasing the likelihood of future similar offenses.
Domestically, the American state reacted by dramatically increasing spending on its failed defense and security methods. New bureaucracies were established. Security services formerly provided by the market were nationalized and bureaucratized. The state granted itself gargantuan amounts of new surveillance, torture, and police powers – further violating the liberties it is supposed to be protecting.
Unlike in the market where the failures of a supplier result in losses or bankruptcy, the state wins when it fails. The state even has an incentive to fail. Government failures lead to budget increases. “If the Department of X only had more funding catastrophe Y would surely not have happened.”
Not one bureaucrat was ever fired over the defense failures on 9/11 and nines years after the attack the elderly, sick, and resourceless Osama bin Laden has still not been captured.
It is almost universally accepted by political economists that monopolies, where there is a single supplier of a good or service and no other suppliers are permitted to compete, are bad for consumers. The monopolist has no incentive to supply a high quality product and can charge whatever price the monopolist desires – only being limited by the eventual inability of buyers to afford the product. Even worse is a situation where the monopolist also has the power to force people to purchase services.
Hoppe rightly condemns this as a racket and this is precisely the scenario we are living in now: we are subjected to the will of what Hoppe calls the territorial monopolist of compulsion and ultimate decision-making that enjoys the power to unilaterally decide what protection services we must buy, the quantity, and the price – combined with the related power to tax. It faces no negative financial consequences for not pleasing consumers. The state doesn’t get fired when it fails – it uses its failures as a justification to further expropriate the fruits of the citizens’ labor. If people refuse to pay for the services, that they never signed a contract agreeing to pay for, they are imprisoned. Government is inherently incapable of being a property protector because its process for doing so starts with the theft of people’s property.
Governments are motivated, like everyone else, by self-interest and the disutility of labor and will always seek to maximize protection expenditures (through taxation) while simultaneously minimizing the production of protection.
Government monopolies produce lower quality products at higher prices. The competitive, voluntary market produces higher quality goods at lower prices. This book forever deflates the myth that security is an exception and, as the authors show, it does not matter what type of government, whether democratic or totalitarian, is producing the defense.
All of the tools we use to protect ourselves emerged from the market: locks, alarm systems, guns, guard dogs, surveillance systems, and the gated community – the gated community with its private security guards is all you need to think about to realize that many people already implicitly know that the government is not a sufficient protector.
A private defense firm, because the owners would personally bear its costs, would have a much greater incentive to avoid unnecessary conflicts, to end conflicts as fast as possible, and to keep conflicts as contained and small as possible. It would not be in a private institution’s interest to maintain a global empire of expensive bases or engage in actions that would provoke future blowback. A private firm, unlike the government, would have an incentive to encourage its customers to arm themselves and to live in areas that are less vulnerable to foreign attack. A private firm would have a much greater incentive to not fail or else it would lose customers to a competitor.