This article was originally published in The Abolitionist: A Publication of the Radical Libertarian Alliance Vol. I, No. 11, February 1971, pp. 4-5. Roy Childs called it "a masterpiece" and got me to read it aloud to the other members of the Radical Libertarian Alliance. Murray Rothbard objected to the unrealistic restrictions it places on revolutionaries.
by Roy Halliday
Collectivism is the mistake of mentally lumping people into categories, making a few generalizations about the categories, and then treating people as though they are fully defined by the qualities ascribed to the category in which they were lumped. This is the best method ever devised for obscuring the rights of the individual.
Collectivism is used by Marxists when they dismiss the arguments of economists by calling them apologists of an exploiting class. It is used by racists when they deny a man his rights because his race is "inferior." It is used by social planners when they use people as though they are things to experiment with and arrange like flowers in their private gardens. But the most abominable form of collectivism is the philosophy of total war.
Each time the science of weapons advances morality recedes. With the acceleration of the arms race has come a proportional disregard for the rights of the individual in the logistics of war.
Modern weapons such as missiles with nuclear warheads, "conventional" bombs, and artillery are very good for obliterating all forms of life over vast areas of land, but they are very impractical for singling out particular individuals for destruction. So, in order to justify the use of such weapons, it has become necessary for modern war makers to spread the collectivist philosophy of total war.
To justify the use of weapons which cannot be used selectively, it is necessary to adopt concepts of collective guilt: guilt by association; guilt by nationality; guilt by geographic location. Whole populations of countries have to be considered responsible for the crimes of their governors. How else can one see any justice in the concept of nuclear retaliation?
The old conception of war was that the opposing armies would fight it out between themselves and leave civilians alone. The killers were satisfied in killing each other and the decent people were left relatively at peace. This was a much better theory than the present one.
The modern philosophy of total war lumps soldiers, civilians, men, women, and children together and holds everyone responsible for the crimes of their rulers. Modern war pits the collective us (all of us) against them (all of them). Individuals no longer merit consideration. The only personalities are the personalities attributed to nations. The "national interest," "national pride," and the "national will" become the supreme values. The "Enemy" becomes the scapegoat for the existing miserable state of affairs, and they are depicted as unfit to live. So, we can righteously use our nice modern weapons and vaporize the gooks, Japs, reds, or whatever. Besides, life is cheap to them. They don't appreciate it like we do--everybody knows that.
The thinking which morally justifies war is the worst kind of collectivism because it gives the greatest power to the greatest criminals--governments. The sole beneficiaries of war are the oppressors and their cohorts who use the hysteria generated by their wars to gain more control over people’s lives.
Those who wish to put an end to war and oppression must put an end to the governments which cause them. In doing this it is important not to fall into the collectivist way of thinking. If revolutionaries adopt collectivist premises they will not be likely to respect the rights of individuals during or after the revolution. They would be more likely to resort to terrorist tactics, use bombs and rockets, and escalate the struggle into a modern civil war in which innocent people are slaughtered by both sides. Those who wish to defend the rights of innocent civilians would have to oppose such revolutionaries as well as the forces of government.
The final revolution must be fought defensively. The means used must be guerrilla tactics which make it possible to single out the criminals from the masses. Each action by the revolutionaries should be a clear case of defending someone’s rights. Prisoners should be freed from their cells, selective slavery centers (draft boards) should be incapacitated, weapons of mass destruction should be destroyed, police should be prevented from kidnapping people, the commander-in-chief and other active conspirators in crime should be divested of their power to threaten people’s lives. When this is done, and only when this is done, will it be possible for men to live in peace in a society based on individual rights.
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