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Arm The People And Abolish The State

Standing Armies

Standing armies are full-time professional soldiers employed by the state to defend a country and attack other countries. They are largely an modern phenomenon, making their first appearance with the Fekete sereg (Black Army) of Hungary from 1458 to 1490, which started at approximately 8,000 soldiers but swelled to 30,000 as Hungary engaged invasions of Austria and Bohemia. As a prophetic warning, it was eventually abolished when the king, Vladislas II, realised he could no longer afford to pay for such a force. In the Ottoman Empire, the Janissaries, instituted sometime in the mid-fourteenth century, were also a standing army, used to replace tribal ghazi whose loyalty and training was often suspect. Adam Smith correctly remarked that standing armies are a sign of modern society, as such warfare requires increased skill (especially technical skill), and loyalty to country-wide authorities. However he incorrectly asserts "A well-regulated standing army is superior to every militia" and "... it is only by means of a well regulated standing army that a civilised country can be defended, so it is only by means of it that a barbarous country can be suddenly and tolerably civilised." (Wealth of Nations, Book 5, Chapter 1, Part 1).

Whilst Smith does recognise that standing armies have been a threat to liberty (citing Caeser's army against the Roman Republic and Cromwell's army used to purge dissenting opinion in the Long Parliament), Smith's argues in favour of standing armies on two economic claims. The first is that the cost "... of defending the society from the violence and injustice of other independent societies" increases with technical progress and the sudden possibility of war, requiring a state of constant alertness. The second is that the technical equipment itself is more expensive: "A musket is a more expensive machine than a javelin or a bow and arrows; a cannon or a mortar than a balista or a catapulta" (ibid). However these arguments are false on the very economic premises that Smith raises them. As has been increasingly shown, the cost of standing armies is greater than that of a regulated militia. The second is that, in terms of its capacity to defend and to inflict casualties upon enemies, the gun is less expensive than the javelin. It is very odd that Smith argued the opposite as it goes against the entire principle of his magnum opus.

An related and oft-overlooked factor in considering standing armies is that they are orientated towards aggressive wars, whether this is via invasion or, in the perverse and distorted language, "forward defense". Competitive states engage in a pursuit of natural resources against others for ownership and control of said resources for their own ruling class. It is the State's armed forces that raised the existential risk of planetary life through nuclear weapons, or with technologies designed specifically for invasion such as strategic bombers, aircraft carriers etc. As a result of an telic orientation towards invading technologies, wars between standing armies increasingly cause non-combatant casualties.

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism." Major General Smedley Butler, the highest ranking and most decorated United States Marine, in Common Sense, 1935

Police Forces

Standing armies are not, of course, the only armed section of the State; police agents and their agencies, are empowered to enforce law and order. In preventative and public uniformed roles, or investigative and detective roles, their functions include the executing of criminal investigation and law and well as public by-laws and regulations. Again, this is a largely modern institution with institutions with contemporary equivalence being first established by the French monarch Louis XIV in 1667 to police Paris and the London Metropolitan Police in 1829, established by the Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel.

As with standing armies, the equipment used by modern police forces is increasingly expensive and requires additional training, but provides greater effectiveness. Nevertheless it must be emphasised that this equipment largely lacks the capacity to engage in aggressive invasions of a military nature. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of this was the attempted use of large numbers of militia forces by the U.S. government in their invasion of Canada in 1812. Even today specialised police forces with the most advanced equipment (e.g., Special Weapons and Tactics) could be re-orientated, at best, 'commando style' raids. All lack the mechanised (this is despite occasional uses of armoured personnel vehicles etc) expression of the invading standing army. Instead, police forces "invade" their own (unarmed) population, in accordance to the laws of the land and the spirit of maintaining the existing order, even if apparently at times the two accords conflict.

With increasing technological capacity for surveillance, aided by both despotic and democratic governments orientated towards popularism rather than principles of the rights of the citizen, increasingly police forces are used against victimless crimes (c.f., Peter McWilliams, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country, 1996) resulting with additional expenses in incarceration and, ironically, empowerment of criminal syndicates. Further, the capacity of the population in removing authoritarian governments in power becomes increasingly difficult as the State establishes, for itself, a monopoly on violence (Gewaltmonopol des Staates, cf., Max Weber, Politics As A Vocation, 1919). Revolutionary attempts to overthrow authoritarian governments are opposed, in the final instance, rarely by soldiers, but instead usually by the police acting as the 'palace guard' of the State and ruling class.

The Civilian Militia Alternative

Supporters of the state monopoly on violence suggest, in the absence of the total adoption of pacifistic principles, individuals and groups will inevitably use violence to assert their will creating an anarchy, in the sense of 'no rules'. But that is not the sort of anarchy that an isocratic approach suggests which argues instead towards the 'no rulers' interpretation, a government that is limited its role to managing the public sphere, and is prohibited in its intervention in the self-regarding and consensual activities of free citizens. This has special implications for the technological development, organisation and use of weapons.

The appropriate organisational model for a classless, stateless, but organised society is the militia, the armed citizenry. This does not mean the militsiya of the former Communist states of the Eastern Bloc or Yugoslavia where, often despite their origins, were transformed into the equivalent of regional police in a class society. Nor does it mean the fascist milice of the French Vichy regime which also carried out the role of a police force against the population. Finally, nor does it mean a small, non-representative portion of the population or 'select militia' or 'self-appointed' militia, that occasionally makes its appearance among extreme separatist and religious cults.

Instead, what is meant is a trained, voluntary and well-regulated democratic and federal force that has more in common with the the tradition of the ancient Norse leidang and Anglo-Saxon fyrd, the cantonal troops of the Old Swiss Confederation (which is retained, albeit only in part, in the contemporary Swiss military), the Russian Narodnoe Opolcheniye, the militia of the American revolution and the period of the Articles of Confederation immediately subsequent and, in more contemporary times, French francs-tireursand résistants and the Timorese FALINTIL. Such organisations have shown on successive times in history that their capacity, local knowledge and morale in resistance and defense is exceptional; but their ability to wage an aggressive war is hopeless - this is a virtue.

Some key characteristics can be derived from this initial sketch.

Firstly, the defensive characteristics of standing armies, and the prevention of criminal violence is incorporated into the civilian militia, along with the capacity to deal with natural emergencies etc.

Secondly, the invasive characteristics and mechanised military of standing armies and the state terrorism and surveillance of the police is excluded.

Thirdly, the organisational principles of a civilian militia is prone to growth, both within a community governed by such force of arms and without; if a neighbouring state is engaging in suppression of its own people then the solution is to arm the people of that country, not to invade the country.

At risk of losing seriousness by utilising a reference from contemporary avant-popular culture, the argument for a civilian militia was put quite succinctly in the comic series turned movie by Allan Moore, "V for Vendetta". Indeed it possibly has never been expressed so well:

People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

NB: This article was written after the letter to Minister Fitzgibbon was sent (follows). The first four comments refer to the letter.

Dear Mr Fitzgibbon,

I understand that you are having some problems with the Department of Defense, which as Minister you are responsible for.

For those who can read between the lines in the recent article published in the Sydney Morning Herald ("Defence leaks dirt file on own minister", March 26) can see that there are a number of individuals who, overstepping their own jurisdiction, are engaging in spying of an Australian citizen with a view of generating salacious rumours to discredit your authority.

Evidently any attempt to reform the Department of Defense will be met with extreme opposition. The more than you attempt to reform the Department the greater the resistance and rumour-mongering which will be damaging among simple minds to both yourself and the Labor government.

There is an alternative however, one that thinks outside the square and should be unexpected by those who dislike their nest being disturbed by democratically elected officials such as yourself.

Abolish the Department of Defense.

The question ought to be raised; does Australia actually need a standing army? Could not the defense functions be carried out by a regulated civilian militia instead? Could our obligations to international peace-keeping forces be established through the same?

I refer you to the comments by Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton on the dangers of standing armies and their alternative.

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to future President James Monroe:

"The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier, and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so."

Hamilton wrote in the Daily Advertiser (1788):

"If standing armies are dangerous to liberty, an efficacious power over the militia, in the body to whose care the protection of the State is committed, ought, as far as possible, to take away the inducement and the pretext to such unfriendly institutions. [A citizen's militia] appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it."

I also refer to the actions taken by José Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica who, as the head of military junta after a dispute election, gave blacks citizenship, women the vote, re-established a democratic constitution, abolished military rule and abolished the military. Not surprisingly, Costa Rica has been one Latin American country that has not suffered any other military coups.

Likewise, the fascinating account of how Switzerland, through a civilian militia system, avoided invasion when standing armies failed (See: Stephen Halbook, "Swiss and the Nazis: How the Alpine Republic Survived in the Shadow of the Third Reich", 2006).

Finally, I refer you also to the essay by Robert Higgs, "The Living Reality of Military-Economic Fascism" (, published on the von Mises Institute website last year which explores how "military interests" distort democratic processes through contracts and donations.

I urge you Minister, to give serious consideration to these matters. Australia can lead by example with a policy of peaceful armed neutrality.

Abolish the Department of Defense.

Yours sincerely,

Lev Lafayette


Is this not a worrying notion? Working from the quotation, requiring a citizen to "repair to the standard of his country whenever it was reared..." Does this not sound to you like a death-wish to very many nations? Imagine any proactive action, such as the liberation of Darfur from the murdering extremists who control it, undertaken by such a nation. The elected officials of a nation decide that it is time to intervene, and the populace draws lots and marches off to war. Presumably, there would be systematized military training such as Switzerland has - but does this not abridge the freedoms of the individual? Are we not thusly voluntarily suborning ourselves to the whim of our elected officials, putting our lives on the line in the process?

I am an unapologetic member of the club that calls the current Iraqi struggle a "Liberation" rather than an "Occupation." I do not personally take issue with such actions, so long as they are undertaken in good faith by the officials who command their actions, both political and military. What I would take issue with is, say, the conscription of whole swaths of the population into an effort like the Viet-Nam conflict.

The only way a civil defense force works is when the leaders of the nation are wholly committed to a policy of "armed neutrality," it seems to me. Yet we live in a world where monsters and tyrants ascend to positions of power and authority - witness the crazed, zealous slaughter in Darfur, or the depradations of men like Joseph Kony in Uganda. These are not men who wish to be reasoned with, and diplomatic overtures to such men seem like madness where I'm sitting. Ought we not say that those nations with the power to free other human beings from bondage are all but morally bound to do so?

Standing, all-volunteer armies are the best chance we have of making certain that bloody-handed tyrants do not come to power. The moral fortitude to make use of them to this end seems sorely lacking in both the populations that produce them and in the politicians who ostensibly direct them, but nonetheless, the other option is either turning a blind eye to the suffering of others who cannot emancipate themselves by a pseudo-Swiss policy of neutrality, or risking any politician having hold of a population that the law forces to fight in conflicts that may be against their will.

I'm afraid I am an unapologetic member of a different club; if you recall, our time-honored clubs played a rather droll game of cricket one sunny afternoon in the Mediterranean -- history likes to call that little encounter by the name Thucydides gave it: the Melian Dialogue. My club was in vogue in the nineteenth century; yours, the twentieth.

But the objections of the Realist School aside, I'd like to point out an inherent contradiction in your thoughts.

You begin indignantly: "Is this not a worrying notion? Working from the quotation, requiring a citizen to "repair to the standard of his country whenever it was reared..." Does this not sound to you like a death-wish to very many nations? Imagine any proactive action, such as the liberation of Darfur from the murdering extremists who control it, undertaken by such a nation. The elected officials of a nation decide that it is time to intervene, and the populace draws lots and marches off to war... does this not abridge the freedoms of the individual?"

You end filled with righteous energy: "These are not men who wish to be reasoned with, and diplomatic overtures to such men seem like madness where I'm sitting. Ought we not say that those nations with the power to free other human beings from bondage are all but morally bound to do so?"

There is a contradiction here. Your first contention is a liberal one; you argue, rightly, that leaders oughtn't translate their personal moral code into foreign policy, dragging their constituents (who may individually have different moral beliefs) into it. You end defending those very leaders, arguing that they must be craft a national foreign policy to reflect their pangs of conscience. There is no way to resolve the two.

I am compelled to end with the same question you posed at the beginning of your argument: "Are we not thusly voluntarily suborning ourselves to the whim of our elected officials, putting our lives on the line in the process?"

Yes, I believe we would be. The problem with foreign policies founded on moral indignation is that most situations are rarely as simple as the Holocuast, Darfur, or Rwanda. Should Tibet be invaded and the Chinese government overthrown? Should the Australian government be toppled and the land restored to the Aboriginal people? Should Washington be dismantled, and the Native Americans be given back their sprawling fields? As you said we are "risking any politician having hold of a population that the law forces to fight in conflicts that may be against their will."

And on the other hand, we too often hid behind the standard of Realism and its motto (put simply, "Things Are More Complicated Than You Think") to justify inaction. If Hitler did not conquer any land and simply exterminated the Jewish race, I doubt the Realist School would have lifted a finger, much less choke on their morning coffee. In response to your question: no, I do not believe we are always bound to free other humans from bondage nor to pre-emptively prevent tyrants from assuming power. But we are bound to prevent the extermination of innocent people. The difference is that the former would mean we should invade Venezuela and Singapore; the latter would impel us to intervene in Darfur.

If I began bitingly, I apologize. I take the Nietzschean view of things when I have to be harsh: best to get it over with all at once and quickly, rather than slowly and drawn out. You make a compelling case for the creation of an international police force that would intervene to prevent gross human rights violations. But rare is the case of human rights abuse so simple that good and evil are plain to see; far more often are cases like Tibet or Palestine where both sides have, at some point or another, lost their moral high ground.

I don't find it a contradiction. I may have been strident and long-winded enough to suggest such a case, though.

I was presenting reasons why Switzerland's "Armed Neutrality" stance is not a desirable one - their disciplined policy of complete non-intervention would render a nation completely unable to contribute to truly morally sound wars such as the ones I described. Therefore, mere Swiss-style armed neutrality is not the answer. Yet the abolition of standing, volunteer-military forces means that, without creating a citizen-defense-force such as what Switzerland fields, there is no military strength in a country at all - and the world we live in is far too uncertain for that.

My argument was against Lev's - that we should abolish standing militaries. I disagree - there are wars worth fighting, and they require militaries. An all-volunteer force is composed of people who make a moral choice to support the values of the nation and the leaders it elects, which is much more individually responsible than the drawing of lots when the time for Just War comes about.

The argument is not for 'armed neutrality', but rather the abolition of standing armies in favour of a regulated civilian militia. As mentioned in the letter, "obligations to international peace-keeping forces" could still be maintained.

For example, a civilian militia would see a reduction in the scale of weaponry to defensive small arms. "Armed neutrality" still sees the use of attack aircraft such as the Saab 39 Gripen; this is not a defensive weapon!

NB: I see where the confusion may lie; in the final lines of the letter I referred to Australia leading through 'armed neutrality'. This however should be in reference to all earlier material and indeed, the conclusion, which refers to the abolition of standing armies. The emphasis must be made; a civilian militia is a defensive force, highly efficient at protecting a country from foreign invasion and protecting a population from local dictators.

hey thanks for the post! i really enjoyed reading it and hope to be seeing more of it in the future. keep up the good work.

A FORMER Australian Army chief has cast doubt on tens of billions of dollars of spending on defence hardware and advocated slashing in half the nation's commitment to buy next generation fighter planes.

Peter Leahy, who retired in 2008, called for a radical rethink of spending priorities, saying more emphasis should be placed on non-military security and aid programs.

He said Australia should buy 50 Joint Strike Fighters from the US, rather than the 100 it has committed to at a potential cost of $20 billion.

He also questioned the wisdom of Australia's commitment to spending an estimated $36 billion on 12 new submarines, saying the purchase had never been adequately explained.

Professor Leahy, who now heads the University of Canberra's National Security Institute, said there was sympathy for his views within the Australian Defence Force.

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"A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretense of defending, have enslaved the people." - James Madison, speech at the Constitutional Convention, June 29, 1787

"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.

"The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." -

James Madison, "Political Observations" April 20, 1795

War Is A Racket

A speech delivered in 1933, by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.

Smedley Butler

WAR is a racket. It always has been

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

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From the Anarchist Age Weekly Review No.953

It’s interesting to note one of the Libyan National Transitional Government’s main aim now it has crushed the Gaddafi forces and killed Gaddafi is to disarm the militias that bore the brunt of the losses during the fighting. It’s highly unlikely the militias that did most of the fighting will lay down their arms at the request of a government that has no legitimacy in their eyes. Revolution is a bloody business, the intervention of NATO in the dispute tipped the balance towards the anti-Gaddafi forces.

Their triumph would not have occurred without the United Nation security council agreeing to intervene in Libya. The question that is now exercising Libyans minds is what price will NATO ask for its support? Gaddafi had partially privatised the Libyan oilfields to curry favour with the West in a post Soviet world. Whether the privatisation of the oilfields will continue or whether they remain in public hands is pivotal to the future of Libya, a country that is almost totally dependent on oil exports.

What will happen now will be dependent on the militias pivotal role in the revolution being recognised by the new government that emerges. Whether the National Transitional Government reflects the will of the Libyan people or is a hostage to NATO will be dependent on whether the militias refuse to lay down their arms or not. While the people remain armed the chances of foreign intervention on the ground remain low, once they give up their arms it won't be long before they suffer the same fate the people of the Soviet Union suffered with the collapse of the Soviet Empire when the carpet baggers stole public resources to enrich themselves at the expense of the people.

What role NATO plays in the evolution of a new Libya will be determined by the Libyan people while the citizen militias that have made this new era possible refuse to lay down their arms. If they allow the new government to rule them it won't be long before the Libyan people find their rulers may have changed but their lives haven’t.

Immanual Kant also suggested that the abolition of standing armies was necessary for perpetual peace.

3. "Standing Armies (miles perpetuus) Shall in Time Be Totally Abolished"

For they incessantly menace other states by their readiness to appear at all times prepared for war; they incite them to compete with each other in the number of armed men, and there is no limit to this. For this reason, the cost of peace finally becomes more oppressive than that of a short war, and consequently a standing army is itself a cause of offensive war waged in order to relieve the state of this burden. Add to this that to pay men to kill or to be killed seems to entail using them as mere machines and tools in the hand of another (the state), and this is hardly compatible with the rights of mankind in our own person. But the periodic and voluntary military exercises of citizens who thereby secure themselves and their country against foreign aggression are entirely different.

The accumulation of treasure would have the same effect, for, of the three powers--the power of armies, of alliances, and of money--the third is perhaps the most dependable weapon. Such accumulation of treasure is regarded by other states as a threat of war, and if it were not for the difficulties in learning the amount, it would force the other state to make an early attack.