Walter Block has a very interesting defense of the inciter of a riot. He argues that a person who inspires others to commit violent acts is guilty of no violent act at all because the inciter is doing no more than engaging in free speech activity. The act of advocating violence is not a violent act and directly harms no one, therefore the inciter should not be held responsible for any chaos that ensues from his words. It is the fools who listen to and carry out the inciter’s wishes who should be held responsible. They were completely free to reject the inciter’s evil suggestions to loot or destroy, but instead voluntarily chose to do evil.
This is a sound argument and many libertarians would agree with it, but fail to apply it consistently when it comes to the lower-level members of government – especially the police and military.
Even among self-described libertarian friends I frequently hear excuses for the evils committed by police and soldiers. “They don’t know what they’re doing.” “They have to follow the lawmakers’ or their superiors’ commands.” “It’s not their fault; it’s the politicians’ faults.”
Perhaps it’s because more Americans than ever have a friend or relative who is a cop or soldier and they don’t want to rock the boat too much and lose that relationship. Maybe they daydream about converting their cop uncle and soldier cousin to liberty and so they tone down their libertarianism to make the philosophy appear more attractive to police and military men, knowing that the philosophy unadulterated condemns those chosen careers.
These motivations don’t change the fact that they are cutting cops and soldiers far too much undeserved slack and failing to hold them responsible for the evils they commit on behalf of the American State. Libertarians who do this are performing a disservice to the future of liberty because it is precisely allowing those who commit evil to get away without being held responsible that the evils continue. If cops and soldiers were instead condemned there would be a reduction in the evil they are willing to perform.
What are the legislatures, lawmakers, judges, generals, governors, and even the president of the State other than well-dressed and well-spoken inciters of violence?
It isn’t the legislatures kicking down doors and pointing guns at families during drug raids, pulling people over and taking hundreds of dollars from them for minor traffic offenses, and locking people up for years over marijuana possession. It isn’t the lawmakers out there using tasers, mace, clubs, fists, and guns to enforce and impose their political opinions on the citizens. It is the low-level cops who have voluntarily agreed to join and remain on the force with the job of doing whatever they’re told to do to whoever they’re told to do it to. The individual cops are fully responsible for the evils they commit on a daily basis; not the lawmakers.
It wasn’t Bush and it isn’t Obama dropping bombs in the Middle East and mowing down civilians. Members of Congress aren’t putting on helmets. The generals aren’t pulling the triggers. It is the young men who have voluntarily agreed to join an evil organization and voluntarily carry out its every evil command. The blood of all the murdered innocent Iraqis and Afghanis is on the soldiers’ hands, not the “politicians who sent them there.”
It makes absolutely no difference if the cop or soldiers disagrees with the orders he’s following. If anything that is even worse because in that case they know the orders they’re carrying out are immoral, but continue anyway.
To take the argument further: Hitler never killed a single Jew. Not one. Hitler probably never killed anybody after becoming the fuehrer. It was the men who voluntarily agreed to invade other countries and operate the concentration camps. Hitler was no more than a very persuasive inciter of violence. No one had to listen to him. No Nazi soldier had to follow his commands. This truth was partly recognized during the Nuremberg Trials. “We were just following orders” was not accepted as an excuse because indeed they did not have to follow the orders.
But why is this not consistently applied to American police and military by Americans? Surely everyone believes that the Nazis should have disobeyed Hitler. 99% of the entire world is probably even of the opinion that the Nazi soldiers should have turned on and killed Hitler for even making such insane and evil commands. Hollywood movies have been made glorifying attempts by lower-level Nazis to remove Hitler of power.
Ask people who proclaim to be opponents of the foreign wars or the domestic police-state and drug war if they think the individual soldiers and cops should be held fully responsible and given the same punishment a regular citizen would receive for bombing neighborhoods, tasering or beating innocent people, or breaking into homes with their guns drawn during a drug search and the majority of them will unfortunately deny this and say that it’s really the politicians’ faults – despite the fact that the politicians do no more than give speeches and write stuff on paper.
It is precisely the fault of the cops and soldiers and it is precisely they who deserve to be condemned. The longer this is denied, the longer it will be before the herds of state enforcers begin to question their orders a little more.