I have just read one of the most fascinating and thought-provoking essays I have seen on the internet for some time. Once again that mystifying little imp, coincidence, has danced his little jig in my consciousness because only this morning I remarked in a comment thread on the fact that some people prefer the 'comfort' of crowds, and I posed one or two somewhat superficial reasons why. Also, on another blog I have been engaged, somewhat fiercely, on the subject of morality in politics and warfare. Thus, this deeply thoughtful paper on the subject of the relationship between the individual and society could not have come to me at a better time. It was written by the late Leonard E. Read, a gentleman hitherto unknown to me, and is entitled Conscience on the Battlefield. I urge you to read it! In doing so it will quickly become apparent that Read was motivated by two imperatives in his life, his Christianity and his libertarianism. I, myself, am not a theist and so his occasional appeals to God have no effect on me but, and this is important as you read him, they have no effect on his argument either. In effect, he treats God as the originator and standard-bearer for virtue in general, but in particular, His injunction that "thou shalt not kill!" Personally, I do not require the services of God to tell me that although I am content if others do. If you ask me, therefore, from where my 'authority' for taking such a moral stand emanates, I can only shrug and answer honestly that I do not know but that I firmly believe it is a view shared by most people for most of the time although the percentages will vary according to the circumstances and, confirming Read's assertion in his essay, my own personal belief will also vary under circumstances.
If Read's words were simply another pacifist treatise I would not bother myself, or you, with it. Not that I have anything against pacifism but it is a belief which simply beggars debate. If you say 'I will not under any circumstances kill another' then all argument ceases. But Read does not quite say that, and it is precisely that exceptionalism which makes his words worth reading and debating.
His other argument against war stems from his libertarian (and free market) convictions. He is not so much a small government man as a 'titchy-tiny' government man! He points out, with telling accuracy, I think, the fact, and it is a highly dangerous one, that government has the effect of standing between a man and his conscience and in doing so it absolves a man of his personal duty to think for himself and justify his actions to his God or to his conscience. There is also, perhaps, another unspoken (maybe because it is unconscious) imperative behind his philosophy - he is American. The notion of 'Fortress America' lies deeply embedded in the American soul and leads them to a very different world view than the rest of us.
Read presents telling arguments and they deserve an equally thoughtful response. I have only read his piece once so I have now printed it off and I will study it further before I return to the subject. And I must return because, whilst I am hugely sympathetic to much of what Read says, I do sense flaws. So, to be continued . . .