Question for the 21st century Posted by: MichaelW
on Sunday, January 04, 2009
How does one physically fight an ideological battle and win? The precursor to that question was asked and answered during the whole of the 20th Century The real battle is between freedom and statism — i.e. how do you physically fight an ideological battle? But the ultimate question — how do you win? — remains a mystery. Why?
For centuries, if not millennia, wars were won by a superior show of physical power. If you demonstrated superior physical prowess, whether through strategy, tactics or sheer power, then you won. International opinion mattered only in so much as potential opponents to your dominance were dissuaded from launching ventures of their own to challenge your dominance. Ghengis Khan ruled over the largest land-based empire in history precisely because of such rules. The Roman Empire did much the same thing through the promise of Pax Romana, despite the rather unpeace-like means of creating that demesne. But that sort of warfare eventually disappeared with the advent of the battle of ideas. And with it the clear-cut demonstration of victory. Thus, wars that could be won through superior strength and tactics (e.g. Vietnam) are eventually lost in the world cowed by ideology.
We now find ourselves in a war for supremacy over the world in the narrow space of terrorism versus democracy. The U.S., as the world leader in military and economic might, is the focal point of the war, even as the physical battle is (usually) waged far from her shores. Yet, the real battle is between freedom and statism.
So long as freedom underscores,Each individual embodies an indomitable veto over the actions of the whole in any meaningful way, a viable and vibrant national state, that state will forever be assailed by the forces that oppose individual action. Indeed, even forces within the free state itself will seek to conform the will of individuals to the will of the collective. The reason, of course, is that individual action, regardless of import, directly threatens and actively undermines movements necessarily dependent on collective inertia. In other words, where the end goal is directly dependent upon every participant moving in the same direction, any willful actor opting for his/her own course ruins the entire process and can impetuously halt whatever plans the collective has in store. More precisely, each individual embodies an indomitable veto over the actions of the whole . Unless, that is, each individual succumbs to the will of the whole. Which fact inevitably leads to the eliminationist tactics practiced by governments/mass movements fueled by strict adherence to their ideological underpinnings.
Only one form of government has proven successful at protecting the interests of individuals while advancing the interests of the collective. It forms an uneasy, yet highly effective, marriage of both freedom and statism.
Democracy — or, more accurately, the republican form of democracy — relies on turmoil. Not the turmoil inherent to an anarchist or unorganized state, but that which is emblematic of free people speaking their minds within a unified state. A concourse of voices steeped in variant ideas, much like multicorded rope, produces an almost unbreakable strand of unity. In this way, each individual's self-interest is intertwined with the fate of his or her compatriots'. Jealously guarded self-interests, expressed at will and without fear of physical reprisal, create turbulent conversations, but also act as a check on the use of the collective physical power against either internal or external enemies of the state. Yet that very strength which feeds off the voices of the people, also carries with it the weakness that forebodes its undoing.
When any voice may be heard, then a battle of ideologies necessarily follows. The reason is that, where strength is limited in application (i.e. speech legally trumps strength), then opinions antithetical to the foundation and legitimacy of the state have just as much right to be heard as those completely in support. Thus, the differing voices will battle for control over the use and aims of the physical power. Assertions of national power, therefore, are subject to the will of the people as expressed through democratically elected stewards of that power. Without the consent of the people, the power may not be used. The physical battles for supremacy, therefore, are transferred to the battle of ideas and ideology.
Among the voices that may be heard, and that may influence the will of the people, are the very interests potentially (or actually) threatened by the use of the state's physical power. In other words, the very same check upon state power that protects the rights of individuals also provides the state's enemies a platform for challenging the state. Obviously these interests will countenance against the use of force, even while they employ their own. Because the use of power is limited by the will of the people, the ability to undermine the core support for using a state's power is always present. Accordingly, in a world dominated by democracies, ideological battles underlie nearly all assertions of power.
In this context then, the question arises as to how can one physically win an ideological war? When one side is estopped from employing the full brunt of its physical power because the will of the people is swayed by dissenting voices, then physical war must necessarily be dragged out longer than otherwise. Prior to the modern state of warfare, enemies either surrendered unconditionally or were obliterated. Little, if any, consideration was given to the devastation visited upon enemy civilians because their welfare was assumed to weigh into the enemy's calculus on whether to continue to fight or not. Nowadays, however, although democracies such as the United States, the U.K. and Israel are easily capable of demolishing their military enemies, world opinion
when demonstrations of superior strength are easily countered by accusations of "proportionality" then no victory is truly possible. Victims (martyrs) become heroes, and heroes become tormentors. Practically speaking, if the losing side in a physical battle can convince the