"The basic test of freedom is perhaps less in what we are free to do than in what we are free not to do." ~ Eric Hoffer
An Anarchist's Reaction to Saddam's Capture
The good news failed to stir me. For a second I was back at the mandatory high school pep rally, listening to Master of Puppets on my walkman as the rest of the students screamed and cheered on the football team. I knew I was supposed to celebrate, but it just didn't feel right. In fact, watching it all made me feel somewhat embarrassed.
On Sunday, the nation's football team captured Saddam Hussein. Rah rah! Spending most of my time on pursuits other than following government news, I'm not sure if we just won the big Thanksgiving Day game or whether this was just an ordinary regular season match, but in any case the reactions were predictable. The Bushies are gloating over the victory and proclaiming their war to have been justified. After all, if it were up to the anti-war folks then Saddam would still be in power. So you either approve of the war, or you want Saddam in power. Simple, really.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are split. The 'see, we're pro-America too' pro-war ones are congratulating the Bushies and using the news to boost their dismal presidential candidates. The anti-war ones are also congratulating Bush but cursing what this may do to Agent Dean's poll numbers.
Everyone, it seems, is at least celebrating the capture of Saddam. A tyrant has fallen and will be brought to justice, they say. Even libertarians who otherwise object to the government stealing money to fund its foreign adventures are celebrating. Jesse Walker is happy for 'a chance to deliver a little justice,' Chris Mathew Sciabarra sees no reason not to join the party, and Jonathan Wilde goes so far as to say, 'if you do not see the particular fact of the capture of Saddam with at least a small semblance of satisfaction, you are no friend of liberty.'
No matter what the circumstances are of Saddam's trial, the result is a foregone conclusion. With the information the man possesses, he might not even live that long. This is indeed a rare event. A man has been captured who everyone agrees has committed horrendous crimes. And as a result, everyone is excited at the chance to carry out justice. Rare it is indeed for libertarians to join the yahoos interviewed on the local news in calling for someone's death.
Unfortunately, I seem to be the odd man out. Maybe I'm too much of a contrarian to join in the celebration. Maybe I've been reading too much Mark Gillespie lately. I don't know. But whenever I hear people applauding government actions against people who 'deserved it,' I can't help but think of those folks in Waco . They deserved it too, you know. And when people don't give Caesar his tribute, they deserve it as well when men with guns knock on their doors.
That is not to say that Saddam is in any way in the same moral position as someone simply trying to live his life free of government control. But it does occur to me that people, libertarians included, are quick to advocate that the government carry out justice when they find someone who they think 'deserves it.' In this case, what justice is and what the man deserves seem fairly unanimous. For other cases, though, the people may desire justice be served by sending a drug dealer to prison or killing a non-taxpayer who really doesn't wish to leave home. Obviously, libertarians would disagree in those cases. Justice can be funny like that.
Most people believe in justice. That is, they believe that for every crime or action they do not approve of, there is some punishment necessary to make things right. Unfortunately, this idea of justice requires government. Laws must be made to say what punishments are due for what crimes, and men with guns are required to enforce said punishment.
So does Saddam deserve to die? That is a question that I will not answer. Many people may deserve lots of things, but I will not support anyone who goes around delivering whatever they think it is. There is no cosmic justice that provides that using force on one person, no matter how evil, will make up for past crimes. And it is the idea that force must be used to give people what they deserve that allows the state to exist.
Some libertarians may celebrate the capture of Saddam in the same way they celebrate firefighters putting out a fire; they disapprove of the means but approve of the ends. However, if celebration turns into advocation, they are acting to support the state and its inherent violations of human rights. The truth is that none of us are born in a position to dictate government policy. We have no power to determine whether Peter or Paul is robbed except by seeking that power. And in seeking that power, we would have to become that which we most despise: tyrants and criminals. Such is the case for anyone who advocates justice be done to others. They are buying into the idea that force must be used to give people what they deserve, and as such they assent not just to the ends of government action but also advocate its very existence.
Am I happy to see Saddam captured? It does not please me, nor does it particularly displease me. In his current state, stripped of his power, Saddam was revealed to be what is at the heart of every politician: a pathetic, pitiable creature with no real power. Saddam was not the problem with Iraqi government. The problem with Iraqi government was the same problem with all governments everywhere: people believe in them. As long as there are people willing to use force on their fellow man and others to recognize such force as legitimate, it does not much matter who the exact people at the top are. There will always be Bushes and Saddams. And always they will be working in the name of justice.