Defense is the thing without which Freedom (the absence of Coercion) cannot occur.





3-1  Aggression vs. Defense


Most people other than sadists are repulsed by violence—at least the kind that isn't subtle enough to escape easy detection.  But when it comes to politics, there's more to violence than meets the eye.  Is all violence really the same?

For instance, suppose someone jumps out of the bushes and begins to try to throttle you.  Suppose also that you respond by pummeling your attacker in an effort to prevent being murdered.  You're both clearly being violent, but is that the whole story?

There is a difference between your assailant's actions and yours, and it is the difference between Aggression and Defense.  Yet as the illustration shows, violence by no means automatically qualifies as Defense.  Your violence is Defensive but your attacker's is not.  Evidently, Defense is constrained by something—that is, it must meet certain criteria.

Now, answer this: how upset do you have to be before it's okay to hurt someone?

Okay, that was a trick question.  There is no amount of anger that makes it okay to hurt people.  It is in fact never "okay" to hurt anyone, and anger has nothing at all to do with Defense.

It's highly debatable whether anger is more of a help or hindrance to Defense, since, while anger may add motivation to a fight, it also interferes with thinking.  Violence doesn't require thought—Defense does.  Otherwise, how are we to know that what we assumed was Defense hasn't become Aggression instead?

Likewise, Defense isn't based on some notion that it's somehow "okay" to hurt people under certain circumstances.  What it is based on is the realization that a bad outcome is not necessarily the worst available outcome—it may even be the best available outcome.

Unfortunately, we're sometimes faced with limited options, consisting only of bad and worse.  In such situations, to be unwilling or unable to choose the bad option yields the same result (politically, at least) as choosing the worse option outright.  In our earlier example, to be unwilling or unable to stop your wannabe murderer is to wind up being murdered.

If all this sounds like an unhappy state of affairs—it is.  From a moral standpoint, it's possible to argue that allowing yourself to be murdered is superior to doing anything that might hurt your wannabe murderer.  From a political standpoint, however, that looks like a recipe for achieving a surplus of aggressors and a shortage of pacifists.  In any case, Aggressors are in a pretty poor position to question the morality of Defense.

At its most basic (and expressed in political terms), Aggression is about pulling rank on others.  All Coercion, obviously violent or not, is actually Aggression.  The purpose of Aggression is Slavery, and the purpose of Defense is to prevent Slavery.

Defense sometimes needs to happen at gunpoint, in dire circumstances (as we shall see later when discussing Defense constraints).  Coercion never needs to happen at gunpoint, because Coercion never needs to happen at all!

If Aggression would somehow go away by itself, Defense would be literally effortless.  Since long human experience shows that isn't going to happen, it's necessary to understand and effectively counter Aggression in order for Defense to occur.  Unfortunately, many people seem fairly clueless on the subject.

Would-be pacifists sometimes act as if they believe Peace can be achieved by surrender.  Forgiveness and compassion are a believable manifestation of Love for your enemies—masochism or cowardice is something else.  Aggression isn't Peace, and neither is accommodating Aggression.  Only the absence of Aggression qualifies as Real Peace, and Aggression is never more absent than when Aggressor wannabes don't expect to win.

Vulnerability is what Predators look for.  Conversely, fearsomeness goes a long way toward quelling the worst ambitions of the badly-motivated.  People who aspire to self-ownership can't afford Ignorance, Immorality, or any other form of weakness, most particularly an inability or unwillingness to fight when necessary in their own defense.

The rules for fighting are simple: If you can reasonably avoid a fight then do so, otherwise don't lose.  It's an interesting irony of our modern times that Aggressors can often improve their lot by losing, but for Defenders to expect the same is highly unrealistic.

The "Live Free or die!" mindset may seem rash to some, but it's actually quite rational.  Slavery isn't Life.  It's a zombie state that has little potential for allowing you to accomplish your mission here—unless your mission is to help march the Human Project off into the ditch.

If the Human Cause is important in itself, then it matters how things go here on Planet Earth.  That would offer an explanation not only for why doing Evil is a bad thing, but for why opposing Evil—not with more Evil but with something whose only purpose is to thwart Evil—is a helpful thing.





3-2  Defense Properties


So, the goal of Defensive force (in sharp contrast to Coercive force) is a net reduction in human tragedy.  That is its political justification, and to the degree that such a thing is possible, its moral justification.  (Of course, the tendency of Aristocrats to view Oppression as a joy rather than a tragedy is a serious handicap when it comes to telling Aggression from Defense.)

And just what are the characteristics of Defense that may be used to distinguish it from Aggression?  Defense is:

(1) proportionate
(2) timely
(3) restrained
(4) rooted in Real Law


It's important to understand fully the implications of these constraints.

For starters, Defense is by its nature a response to something—namely Aggression.  Therefore, its measure is determined by whatever particular Aggression it is intended to meet.  A disproportionate response to Aggression becomes simply more Aggression.

For example, once upon a time, it was popular to fight duels to the death over perceived insults to honor.  (Actually, this kind of behavior remains popular in some culturally-backward circles.)  Killing people over insults is a ridiculous, obscene overreaction to an "injury" of that kind, and in no way qualifies as a Defensive act.  Rather, it is murder—an act of Aggression.

The timeliness of Defense arises out of its mission to prevent, or at least reduce, tragedy.  It is impossible to prevent what has already happened.  Thus, Defense can be real-time or even preemptive, but there is no such thing as retroactive Defense.  To help nail down the principle being described (and to defeat the legalistic word-parsers), here is a list of synonyms:

Retaliation, retribution, Revenge, settling scores, "payback"


The effect of Retaliation is a net increase in human tragedy, not a decrease.  It is Aggression, not Defense.  An obsession with getting revenge and settling scores is why endless, multi-generational wars are fought by people who just can't let go of the past—something that's already a done deal and can't be changed by anyone.

Restraint is another key feature of Defense.  Force should be a last resort, not a knee-jerk reflex.  Defense isn't some hair-trigger thing that goes around with a chip on its shoulder, spoiling for a fight.  It can't be mindless if it hopes to reduce rather than increase tragedy—it's obliged to be thoughtful.

Defense is practically synonymous with Forbearance.  Forbearance should be as conspicuously present in Defense as it is conspicuously absent in Aggression.

Having said that, Defense also requires good judgment.  Wait too long and the window of opportunity to effect any improvement in a situation disappears.  Unlike thoughtful restraint, mindless procrastination hardly ever leads to the path of least misery.

Lastly, while all manner of Coercive acts have managed to receive the blessing of various human-invented laws, Defense remains rooted in Real Law.  It is about the preservation of unalienable Rights, not the usurpation of Political Power.

A textbook example of how all these properties of Defense come together in the real world would probably be the destruction of Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osiraq by the Israeli air force in 1981.  The threat posed by nuclear weapons in the hands of a maniacal and aggressive dictator was very great, and the response was highly targeted.  It was preemptive because it was obliged to be under such circumstances, but it was neither unnecessarily hasty nor did it wait until it was too late.

Now, it may not have escaped your attention that the act of eliminating a known predator can serve two conflicting purposes at the same time.  That is, it can serve as retribution for past offenses (an act of Aggression), while also preventing future offenses (an act of Defense).  Does the fact that already-injured parties might derive some satisfaction from otherwise-appropriate sanctions necessary to halt a predator's pattern of abuse mean that effective Defense has to be disallowed?

Of course not.  The necessity and justice of interrupting criminals' careers have nothing to do with whatever unpleasantness that may cause them—or with whatever joy that may give to their erstwhile victims.

The point is simply that Vengeance is one sort of spirit, and Defense is a very different sort of spirit, and over time the two will bear very different fruit, whether or not they might produce similar results in some particular instance.  Vengeance is pathological, but Defense is anti-pathological.  Society can tell the difference between Vengeful and Defensive measures, and will have more respect for the latter because Defense is no more optional than Freedom itself is.

If you think about it, the best "revenge" for past abuse is to prevent any more abuse going forward—which is what Defense is all about.  Obviously, preventing a murder is much better Defense than allowing it to happen and then trying to "get even" with the perpetrator.  Crimes already committed can't be Defended against, but crimes-in-progress can sometimes be stopped by fighting or the threat of force, and future crimes can sometimes be deterred.

Deterrence is a psychological tool based on convincing wannabe criminals to restrain themselves in the face of assumed failure.  As such, it requires at least nominal rationality from malefactors, and so can never be 100% effective.  Also, it seems to be human nature that people will cease to believe threats they haven't seen carried out recently, as if threats had a limited shelf life.

While it's impossible to change the past, the past does give us a way to try to predict the future.  Statists, who (allegedly) don't even believe in individuals, predict that all civilians are equally liable to commit crimes and that government isn't liable to commit any—even though history shows no such thing.  But those individuals who've transgressed in the past have already proven that they lack the self-control needed by citizens in a Free Society.  That creates the possibility of Freedom, by supplying external control only to the control-deficient, and allowing well-behaved people to control themselves.

As for telling the difference between Aggression and Defense, it's sometimes described as a matter of being the first party to resort to violence.  That's basically true, but a bit simplistic.  Certainly, a violent response to a non-violent provocation is not Defense, but is a looming and otherwise-unavoidable threat really a "non-violent" provocation?  Defenders are under no inescapable obligation to hand the "first-strike" advantage to Aggressors, if the result is a catastrophic disadvantage—which is where preemption comes in.

The bottom line is that, like everything else associated with Freedom, when it comes to Defense, good judgment is essential.

For example, it isn't only tangibles like our persons and property that we want to protect.  Intangible things like our dignity and point of view are important to us, too.  Shouldn't we be able to use force to "defend" them?

No, on two counts.  First, a disproportionate response to a threat is Aggression, not Defense.  Having people disrespect or disagree with us may be psychologically painful, but there's nothing dire or immediate enough about that to warrant a violent response.

The second misunderstanding is pretending that force even works in those situations.  Force can't be used to create respect or agreement—only fear and submission.  If we genuinely are respectable and others don't show us respect, or if we are right and they don't agree with us—so what?  Is the goal really to convince our opponents of anything, or simply to punish them for having the audacity to have their own minds?

If we really believed we're right, we'd take an approach—Persuasion—that sets the highest possible standard for merit.  Coercion not only shows no confidence in our audience, it shows no confidence in our argument by adopting an approach that does nothing to weed out bad ones.

Freedom is the absence of Coercion, not the absence of hurt feelings.  There's no such thing as the "right" not to be offended, and an unoffended society will not be a Free Society.  The cure for offense is to eliminate hypersensitivity, not Freedom.

All of which goes to show that Defense is a bit of a tricky subject, but a tremendously important one, because to get Defense exactly right is to get Freedom exactly right.





3-3  Defensive Institutions


Since Freedom is self-determination (or the absence of Coercion), the goal of pro-Freedom (Defensive) institutions is simply stated: to thwart control by others and to promote self-control.  That means opposing Force (overt Coercion) and Fraud (covert Coercion), and supporting Persuasion.

And because Power Accumulation and human-invented law ("decree") are by their very nature coercive, Defense also means replacing those with Power Retention and Real Law.  It goes without saying that Defensive institutions must be non-Coercive, since the express purpose of Defense is to prevent Coercion.

A Free Society—that is, one in which coercion is effectively held in check—has never existed before.  How can Freedom possibly work?  One way to answer that question is by studying how Slavery already does work.  Whatever supports Slavery stands in the way of Freedom, since the two states are mutually exclusive.

One popular tactic used to advance Slavery is to exploit the public's fear of Anarchy.  Another one is to choose a coercive approach of known ineffectiveness like prohibition, and use its inevitable failure as an argument for more of the same (meaning more and more government, of course).

So it stands to reason that any (perceived) ineffectiveness in Defensive institutions will be exploited to argue in favor of replacing Defense with Coercion ("We need law and order!").  The public's confidence in its Defensive institutions needs to be rock-solid.  That's not going to be the case unless those institutions can: (1) get the job done, and (2) stick to the original mission.

Thus, denial of reality won't cut it.  People who have a problem, when told they have no problem, will simply look elsewhere for answers.  One of the reasons Marxism has proved so enduring, despite having nothing real to offer, is that it at least pays lip service to real problems that non-Marxists seem happy to ignore completely.

Failure won't cut it, either.  The very idea of "career" criminals would be anathema to a Free Society.  Any criminal career exceeding maybe 2 crimes is a sign that something isn't working, and that Defense ain't happening.  Robust Defense means wannabe abusers and exploiters are being effectively neutralized.

On the other hand, mission creep is just another path to failure, because when Defense ceases to be proportionate and restrained (as described earlier), it has become something other than Defense.  In such a case, Freedom's enemies won't have to argue for replacing Defense with Coercion because it will have already occurred.

What would Defensive institutions look like?  Two familiar institutions are quite similar to their Free Society counterparts: law enforcement and the military.

Modern law enforcement is substantially a Defensive institution already, and to the degree that it isn't, the blame lies mostly with the authors of human-invented law.  The signature motto of law enforcement—"To protect and to serve"—is very telling.  Neither protection nor service requires Coercion, and Coercion could not be fairly characterized as either protection or service!

A lot of work and thought have gone into tactics and procedures, contributing to the safety of officers, the innocent, and even criminals, who nowadays have to try pretty hard to get themselves hurt.  That kind of practical knowledge and experience is directly applicable to the public safety function in a Free Society.

Pretty much the same thing can be said for the military in any democratic nation.  To the degree that its role is not Defensive, that can be attributed to the inappropriate adventures of politicians and to foreign policy incompetence.  (Dictatorships, of course, are another matter.)

Numerous other organizations serving a Defensive role already exist that are completely unaffiliated with government: consumer groups, people involved in Real Journalism and Debate (more or this subject later), Mothers Against Drunk Drivers—you name it.  There's no reason why the institutional network supporting Freedom has to be monolithic.  It's probably much better if it isn't monolithic, so long as all the bases are covered (preferably redundantly) by somebody.


Oppression may be thought of as coming from two potential sources: foreign and domestic.  The United States has long been well-protected from Foreign Oppressors by the world's best military.  But if it were the military's job to protect us from Domestic Oppression, they'd be conducting an unending series of campaigns against Washington, DC.

And even the Soviet government ultimately managed to protect Russians against Nazi Aggression.  (Of course, it was Real People—not Joe Stalin—who did the actual fighting and dying.)

All governments in fact, from the worst to the best, combine Coercion and Defense in some proportion, where the ratio of the two is what determines whether a particular government is among the worst or best.  Typically, government is much better at Defending against Coercion from non-government sources than it is from government itself.  The usual M.O. for Coercion+Defense government is to giveth with one hand while it taketh away with the other.

This institutional schizophrenia is a natural result of the inherently Coercive nature of human-invented law, combined with the fact that whatever Defense it provides to the People is their most common justification for wanting to put up with government in the first place.

Obviously, there is a vast difference between the most corrupt and Oppressive governments and the least corrupt and Oppressive ones.  Societies blessed with the best governments can actually be quite liveable.  That's both good news and bad news.

The good news is that Limited Slavery offers really the only opportunity for taking the next step toward do-it-yourself Freedom, which involves inventing and perfecting the purely-Defensive institutions necessary to finally eliminate Coercion altogether.  The best governments create an environment where such a thing is at least theoretically possible—something that would be out of the question under the worst governments.

The bad news is that Coercion+Defense government invariably grows, meaning that the Coercion increases while the Defense decreases.  Even if legislators were paid twice as much to repeal old human-invented law as to enact yet more of it, it would still balloon over time because a Coercive, Power Accumulation institution like government is just too much of a temptation to the Aristocrat-minded, who're all too eager to tell the rest of us what we must and mustn't do—at gunpoint.

From a logic standpoint, it doesn't make much sense to let things steadily deteriorate until the situation gets so bad that it triggers some cataclysmic adjustment.  But it's human nature to give our most immediate concerns a high priority and to let our less pressing problems pretty much fall off the radar.

This phenomenon is so well known to the politically ambitious that they've adopted "boiling the frog" as a formal strategy (so named because, by turning up the heat a little at a time, frogs are too stupid to jump out of the pot until their goose is cooked).  The same incrementalism that's being used to create the Total State, however, would also be a way to create Real Freedom if it were aimed in the opposite direction.

It probably doesn't help that many people don't really understand the difference between Anarchy, Slavery and Freedom.  Lots of us have bought into the idea that Slavery is the only alternative to Anarchy, or don't see how Freedom can be possible without devolving into Anarchy.

But the notion of Coercion+Defense government as some kind of "necessary evil" is a misconception.  A Free Society needs effective Defensive institutions.  It doesn't need any Coercive institutions whatsoever—in fact, it needs a complete absence of those in order for Real Freedom even to exist.

The very idea that people need to be "governed"—told what they must and mustn't do by their "betters" or Masters—reeks of arrogance.  People who can behave themselves can govern themselves, and moreover have a Right to do so.  Those who can't behave themselves need to be Defended against.  None of this requires any Coercion, or institutions that resort to Coercion.

You could continue to use the word "government" to label a new kind of institution that keeps the Defense but loses the Coercion.  As we've seen, it wouldn't be totally unfamiliar to us, and would in fact bear a noticeable resemblance to government (insofar as it currently serves a Defensive role).  But these institutions really deserve a new name, because relying exclusively on a system of non-Coercive, Defense-only institutions has never been attempted, let alone achieved.

If you were to go back in time a few centuries and try to convince people that it's possible for human beings to fly, you'd likely be considered crazy.  At best, people might be amused but wonder what the heck good flying would be to anyone.

But Freedom isn't just some idle amusement.  Freedom is the thing that makes the most of our human potential, just as Slavery makes the least of our potential.  Maximizing our potential—or not—could very well be the difference between Success and Failure of the Human Cause itself.

And just like human flight was possible all along, only awaiting sufficient understanding and the development of suitable technology, so Human Freedom awaits a common understanding of what it is, what it has to offer, and what's required in the way of political technology to finally make it happen.

Defensive institutions are that technology, and human ingenuity is more than up to the challenge of their creation.