A person’s right to their own self defense is both a self evident right and, in addition the only possible moral building block of a safe and secure society.
That is the proposition I am arguing for.
There is a motto that is both profound and incredibly useful, both in personal and societal usage.
“Si vis pacem, para bellum”
It translates to “If you would see peace, prepare for war”
It derives from the work of the Roman General Vegetius who said “Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum” which translates to “Therefore, who desires peace, prepares for war”.
Please note – and note carefully – it does NOT say “he who wants peace must fight a war” “ or “war brings peace” or anything like that. It merely states that in order for a person or a state to be secure in its peace it must be prepared for war.
But why is this the case?
Immanuel Kant in an Essay of 1795 entitled “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” had many things to say about the ingredients of a “perpetual peace” and how it could and should be achieved. I am including a link to that sketch and I would urge you, if you have not read this, to go, now and read it.
I shall be using a couple of quotes from that article – and want to be sure that they are read within the context of the overall article itself.
Section two of the essay has the following opening paragraph:
“The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state (status naturalis); the natural state is one of war. This does not always mean open hostilities, but at least an unceasing threat of war. A state of peace, therefore, must be established, for in order to be secured against hostility it is not sufficient that hostilities simply be not committed; and, unless this security is pledged to each by his neighbor (a thing that can occur only in a civil state), each may treat his neighbor, from whom he demands this security, as an enemy.”
Kant goes on to show that the establishment of a peace can only occur when states adhere to a republican form of government. (I am probably being overly cautious here but Kant is not endorsing the Republican Party in the USA or the Republican Guard in Baathist states) Kant goes on to lay out why this is the case and is well worth the read.
“The only constitution which derives from the idea of the original compact, and on which all juridical legislation of a people must be based, is the republican. This constitution is established, firstly, by principles of the freedom of the members of a society (as men); secondly, by principles of dependence of all upon a single common legislation (as subjects); and, thirdly, by the law of their equality (as citizens). The republican constitution, therefore, is, with respect to law, the one which is the original basis of every form of civil constitution. The only question now is: Is it also the one which can lead to perpetual peace?”
Kant’s essay contains some interesting arguments on “republican government” versus “democracy” and lays out the philosophical underpinning of why democracy is a despotic form of government.
But the purpose of this essay/blog post is to lay out why it is that self defense is an inherent human right that, when denied by the ruling class, leads not only to threat and violence but also to decay in the society.
Why must this be the case?
The fundamental building block of a society is the individual.
John Locke in his Second Treatise Concerning Civil Government says:
“every•·individual·man has a property in his own person[= ‘owns himself’]; this is something that nobody else has any right to. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are strictly his.” (chapter 5 – Property).
Your right to your life is a building block of any civilized society. It is the ONLY approach that guarantees respect for every individual.
In order to maintain your life you must have the right to defend it from the aggression or ill will of others who might seek to harm you. If you do not have the right to your own defense then you do not have a right to your own life. Does that mean that we are in the Hobbesian nightmare of “ The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.”? No it does not.
What it means is that we owe ourselves a duty to protect our lives. No-one else has that duty to us. Only us. I can defer part of that duty to those who might volunteer to defend me, but the final responsibility is mine – not theirs.
If we return to the quotes at the start of this article – if I am to see peace, I should prepare for war. I should, at all times be willing to defend myself against anyone seeking to harm me. My choice of defense is mine. Not the aggressors, and not the authorities, Mine. It has to be that way because the life I hold is mine.
If we, as a society, are each determined to defend ourselves then we have that in common with each other. We can enter into business and dialog and agreements and contracts and partnerships and families in the knowledge that we share this attribute. We have respect.
But if some force ( the Leviathan that Hobbes thought was the answer) interferes in that compact, what happens?
You no longer know where I stand on the fundamental facts of our existence. Do I respect YOUR life? Do I respect YOUR rights? What was previously an established fact between us has now become a conditional – only resolvable by appeal to a third party. Which has now assumed a power over that one inviolable right – our own lives. And, in a “democracy” that power is wielded by those that command a “majority”.
When the power over our own lives, our personal property, becomes the plaything of the mob – we have reached the condition of war of every man against every man. Instead of our own personal judgment we are at the mercy of of rabble-rousers who can command a majority to take away the rights that we should hold.
And once lost those rights will only ever be restored by the blood that established them in the first place.
Kant summed up, nicely, why Democracy is Despotism
“Thus in a despotism the public will is administered by the ruler as his own will. Of the three forms of the state, that of democracy is, properly speaking, necessarily a despotism, because it establishes an executive power in which “all” decide for or even against one who does not agree; that is, “all,” who are not quite all, decide, and this is a contradiction of the general will with itself and with freedom. “
Please re-read that.
It is simple – if we wish to see peace we must be prepared for war.