Guest Post: Moral Relativism And Patriotism As Weapons Of The State

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by James E. Miller of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada,

Over the weekend, a suicide bomber suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda struck a funeral in Yemen, killing forty five individuals.  The funeral was attended predominantly by members of a militia which aided the Yemeni Army in recapturing a town held by Al Qaeda.  The attack was rightfully condemned by major media outlets.  Viciously killing mourners at a funeral is the very definition of terrorism as it sends a message that no time or place is off limits from a surprise attack.  It shows a complete lack of respect for the sanctity of life.  Al Qaeda has become known for these attacks in recent years.  American national security officials and politicians have reacted by denouncing such attacks as a sign of the utter savagery of the terrorist group.

Yet Al Qaeda is not alone in this tactic.  The CIA’s not-so-secret drone campaign is also guilty of targeting funerals attended by civilians.  According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone attacks have been responsible for the deaths of “dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals.”  As of February of this year, at least 535 civilians have been killed by drone strikes since President Obama took office; 20 of which were killed while attending funerals.  Last June, a gathering of mourners was targeted for a strike in Pakistan.  The 10 people killed in that attack had come together to grieve over the death of a “brother of a militant commander” killed just a day before in another drone strike.

There is little denouncement of the civilian casualties that are a product of the U.S.’s foreign policy.  The narrative presented by Washington lawmakers and the press is that of a struggle between the forces of good and evil.  The terrorists of the Middle East are ruthless barbarians while the troops and Pentagon officials are goodhearted protagonists trying to liberate an oppressed people.  The blood of innocent women and children on the hands of Al Qaeda is damming evidence of their depravity.  That same blood on the hands of the U.S. defense establishment is a sign of triumph.  It is moral relativism on a national scale; slaying of the innocent is terrible on one hand while honorable on the other.  As LRC columnist Laurence Vance notes in regard to how atrocities committed by private individuals are perceived differently than those committed by the military:


I don’t know if there are theaters in Afghanistan, but if U.S. soldiers enter a building in Afghanistan and kill twelve and wound fifty-eight – like James Holmes allegedly did in Colorado – they are lauded as heroes.

Military officials frequently go on television and tell not just Americans but the rest of the world that they are making a sacrifice for maintaining safety and freedom around the globe.  They invoke patriotism to justify their actions.  Taxpayers forced into picking up the tab for the endless warfare repay the favor by unquestioningly handing their respect over to crusaders of state-sanctioned mass murder.  From the perspective of enhancing and enlarging the central state, it’s the prefect scheme.  Force feeding the concept of “patriotic duty” is a great way to get people to accept the otherwise deplorable actions of government officials.  It is why Randolph Bourne aptly recognized war as the “health of the state.”

Today, the conduct committed by state enforcement officials, whether they be imperialistic endeavors or the negation of human liberty at home, are rationalized by the way of apologetic relativism.  This relativism stands in opposition to absolute moral principles.  Theft, murder, eavesdropping, lying, issuing threats, and beating upon others are all actions looked down upon by sensible individuals.  They lead society astray from an amicable coexistence.

The state, by the doings of its executors and administrators, embodies everything you were told was wrong as a child.  Children are usually taught straightforward rules of acceptable behavior at a young age.  As they grow older, they are bombarded with propaganda from school, television, and even their own parents that attempt to remove the government away from basic considerations of right and wrong.  These efforts are part of an ongoing agenda to convince the public what they see as morally repugnant behavior is justified when done under the refuge of government authorization.  The institutional predation of the state is supported by a kind of war on reason fought by those seek most fervently to maintain the exploitive status quo.  The objective is enough consent on the part of the people to overwhelm any high-spirited protest.  While independent and intellectual criticism is the state’s worst enemy, unthinking acceptance is its greatest ally.

The ruling establishment sees little danger in violent uprising.  What they fear most is the turning of public opinion against their legitimacy.  They fear losing consent above all things because soon after, their lordship must come to an end.   Support among the people is what keeps tyranny alive; not a violent clenching down upon personal freedom.

Though the American Revolution is frequently evoked as a display of this truth, a better example exists in colonial Pennsylvania nearly a century before the Declaration of Independence was penned.  Upon being granted the lands of Pennsylvania by King Charles II in March of 1681, William Penn proceeded to establish a colony governed over by a constitution of sorts.  The positions of governor and proprietor were created along with an elected Council that saw to executive and judicial functions.  An appointed Assembly was also formed which had the authority to levy taxes and veto laws passed by the Council.  Because of the liberties guaranteed in the new colony, the low tax burden, and Penn’s selling of land at cheap prices, immigrants flooded into Pennsylvania in its formative years.  Penn would eventually return to England in 1684 but upon doing so found that the colonists were refusing to pay taxes including the land taxes he counted on to maintain a hefty profit.  The Council, which was elected by the people and had the sole authority in executing laws, refrained from collecting taxes and left the colony autonomous.  Penn would eventually appoint a commission to restore his lost opportunity of compensation through force.  The colonists simply ignored the commission which led to its collapse.  Penn then instituted a deputy governor to ensure for the collection of taxes but that effort was also came to be in vain.  As Murray Rothbard summarizes

William Penn had the strong and distinct impression that his “holy experiment” had slipped away from him, had taken a new and bewildering turn. Penn had launched a colony that he thought would be quietly subject to his dictates and yield him a handsome profit. By providing a prosperous haven of refuge for Quakers, he had expected in turn the rewards of wealth and power. Instead, he found himself without either. Unable to collect revenue from the free and independent-minded Pennsylvanians, he saw the colony slipping gracefully into outright anarchism—into a growing and flourishing land of no taxes and virtually no state.

The peace-loving Quakers and colonists were able to dissolve an intrusive government by their sheer unwillingness to recognize its legitimacy.  They properly regarded the various attempts at governance and taxation imposed upon them as thuggish means of exploitation.  In short, they saw through the facade of the state being above moral considerations.  Rejecting state rule did not make them bad citizens but admirable in the sense that they ended up living harmoniously with each other in its absence. As Penn would lament in the midst of Pennsylvania’s brush with halcyon anarchism, he and his appointed rulers had lost “their authority one way or another in the spirits of the people.”  The idea that men are born to be free instead of in shackles was enough to overcome government compulsion.

The first step toward liberty is to see through the masking fog the state engulfs itself in to carry out its deeds of conquest.  It is the realization that murder is murder no matter if it is committed by a street thug or an army captain piloting a remote controlled aircraft armed with hellfire missiles.  It is the realization that debasing of the currency by a select few central bankers is no different from the shysters of old who would shave off small portions from gold bullion so that it would appear to retain the same weight.  Finally, it is the realization that glorifying war in the name of “loving thy country” is a grand swindle used to deceive the simple-minded into falling in line like a herd of sheep soon be slaughtered.

Using reason to discover absolute truths is an essential part of determining how one should live their life in accordance with sound ethics.  Relativism denies this.  It can deny that evil is committed by the state and that reprehensible acts are perfectly okay when done by individuals with guns and badges.  All it takes to reverse such destructive thinking is the realization that state authority deserves no pass in moral scrutiny.  Withdrawing consent comes next on the path to a free society.

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Jam Akin's picture

Absolutely on target.


CH1's picture

And this line was magnificent:

Withdrawing consent comes next on the path to a free society.

Obedience is SO last century... and SO servile.

engineertheeconomy's picture

Most excellent article in its entirety

Mr. Fix's picture

I don't think "Uncle Sam" will be that easy to ignore.

CH1's picture

Freedom ain't free.

Either we have the guts for it, or we don't.

You Didn't Build That's picture

"Escape from Freedom" lead to Hitler's rise and WWII according to Erich Fromm.  He says "freedom takes work."


He's right.

Seize Mars's picture

By the way, I think the "Freedom Isn't Free" slogan is a dark and dangerous plant.

Of course freedom is free. You don't owe anybody anything. If you owe the State something in return for freedom, then it's not freeedom is it? It's a license. Licenses aen't freedom.

Usually this bumper sticker phrase is pushed by people who want you to get maimed in a desert to force dictators to engage in drilling contracts with Exxon.'s picture


Of course freedom is free. You don't owe anybody anything. If you owe the State something in return for freedom, then it's not freeedom is it? It's a license. Licenses aen't freedom.


Well reasoned and concise. I'm going to use that. Individual sovereignty occurs as a natural right.

CH1's picture

Okay, I will restate:

In our current situation of state tyranny, freedom isn't free.

Better? (And I have no obligation to answer for bumper-stickers.)'s picture

Freedom is a negative right so there's nothing for which to pay. That which you acquire through use of your freedom may require security and its attendant costs to maintain.

Conrad Murray's picture

Whenever I see people whining about the comment sections of ZH, I think about these sorts of conversations, and can't help but wonder how those whiners miss them. Priceless discussion. Cheers!

AustriAnnie's picture

This is a concept hard for many to grasp.  The idea that freedom is the default scenario, the natural state of man, and that it is not granted by some human authority in power.

However, it is not "free", meaning that as a right it requires a corresponding duty: that of accountability.  If we are naturally free this means we are responsible for our lives, we are responsible for our actions, and we cannot expect someone else to protect our freedom for us, we have to participate fully with regards to the things that affect our lives.  

The key is that we are naturally free, but if we act passively and sit in front of the TV while others take over the decision-making power of our lives: we have CONSENTED to a loss of freedom.  We have opted out.  We have transferred our rights and granted the authority to others to dictate our lives.  It is not just taken from us by evil sociopaths.  We have given it away freely.

Sadly, the minority of us who choose not to give that freedom away are swept along by the majority who do.  Since we live in a society with others and not in isolation, we cannot defend our own freedom without convincing those around us to do so as well.  This is the challenge.

Things that go bump's picture

I choose civil disobedience.   

Nachdenken's picture

.......(CHI)...and so widespread.

Thought provoking Post with some uncomfortable but necessary insights.

Withdrawn Sanction's picture

Withdrawing consent comes next on the path to a free society.

Indeed.  It is the only PEACEFUL way to a free society.   The purveyors of force are always dumbstruck when confronted by quiet, determined intransigence.

Dr Benway's picture

A street thug murder and the inadvertent killing of innocents in war is not the same.


You are a fool for suggesting so.

CH1's picture

And you are being thuggish by calling him names.

If you have an argument to the contrary, MAKE IT.

Dr Benway's picture

OK I will expound on the argument I made, namely, that a street thug murder is not the moral equivalent of the killing of innocents in war


Let's say you have a friend in the armed forces. Let's say he is in a combat situation and tragically causes the inadvertent death of innocent civilians or his own forces.


Would you say he is a murderer and should be treated as such? It's patently ridiculous!

engineertheeconomy's picture

Lets say I don't, because once a person joins the military or law enforcement, they're no longer my friend. But let's say you have a friend in the military who kills civillians. He's guilty of murder. He took those innocent human beings lives. He should be hung

piceridu's picture

You sir must be wearing red, white and blue underwear...

Carmagnole's picture

So you think they are allowed the "I was just following orders" defense?

They would be not only guilty of murder, but also of the cowardice that enables totalitarian abuse

Dr Benway's picture

Please learn to read. I am saying that an inadvertent killing is not morally or legally equivalent to murder.


You, and everyone else who disagrees with this obvious truth, are not the sharpest nihonto in the shinsa.

Carmagnole's picture

What you seem to be studiously ignoring is that the civillians killings commited by the US army are all but inadvertent.

pies_lancuchowy's picture

Putting yourself volutarily in a situation where you walk armed up to the teeth, in a country attacked by the aggressive Obamerikan Zionist Regime, as a voluntary representant of this regime, with the outright intention to crush the resistance of patriots defending their motherland.. may not exaclty be called 'inadvertent' .

CH1's picture

Dr Benway:

Contrary to some others, I agree that intent matters.

And, even though you matched the others one to one, I'm almost sorry that I drew you into an insult fest. That said...

Intent matters, but so does using "orders" as an escape from culpability. The drone operator MUST say NO and walk away from his console, when it comes to raining death upon a funeral procession - it is obvious that innocents will be wounded. As yet, I have heard no such report, and that is deeply troubling. Such people ARE murderers, and no hiding behind orders can absolve them.

As for anarchy, you are fully incorrect that you know "where that leads." If fact, real anarchy is the only escape from 5000 years of states, wars, mass death and general barbarism. States ARE barbarism incarnate.

But, we can leave that subject alone for now.

Firing Pin's picture

"Anarchy may be the only escape from 5,000 years of states..." but anarchy may not be some peachy feel-good alternative. Look to the anarchy wrought by the Bubonic Plague for examples.

CH1's picture

Look to the anarchy wrought by the Bubonic Plague for examples.

What? Arachy is relevent to a plague that killed half a continent?

And if you're going for the period after the plague, you're wrong. (Though correct that anarchy is not pie-in-the-sky.)

Not to be rude, but if you're going to use an example, you should not rely on schoolbooks (which are crap) or 5 minutes of the History channel (which is often lame). You have to read real books.

And, FWIW, I didn't say anarchy MAY BE the only escape from the tyranny of states, I said it IS the only escape.

Firing Pin's picture

CH1, do your own research. There are many documented cases of lawlessness brought on by the breakdown of society caused by the Bubonic plague. Don't argue with're arguing against history. Fftt fftt.

CH1's picture

Dude, you don't know me. I have done the research. Because of that, I know that trying to use that as an example of anarchy is false.

Chaos - as in mass death and confusion - is NOT anarchy.

The peasants didn't want anarchy after the plague; they fought to remain in their positions as serfs. (Their children did better.)

Like I say, real books are required.


Firing Pin's picture "intellectual" post referring to me as "Dude."

Comfort Eagle.

CH1's picture

You make yourself a troll.

Ah well, I tried.

Likstane's picture

Judge Likstane stops this one in the third...Firing Pin is in the wrong weight class. 

AustriAnnie's picture

The word "anarchy", like the word "capitalism" should be used with caution, as different definitions of the word lead to complete misunderstandings.

Some refer to anarchy as chaos (assuming that the absence of political power and control could only result in chaos)

Others refer to anarchy as the ultimate form of individual autonomy, whereby individuals do not seek protection of the state or to rise to power to control others.  They choose voluntary association as a means to maintain order.  

We can argue till eternity for and against anarchism.  But the point here is that like CH1 says, the bubonic plague is one of the worst examples of anarchy.  The civil unrest which follows from mob panic is not anarchy.  The unrest and confusion during the plague still existed within a political structure that gave absolutely no autonomy to individuals.  Nor did they seek it.  It is a perfect example of what happens when people become DEPENDENT upon authoritarian rule.  One can argue that the chaos was a result of not having enough anarchy: that if people had felt the locus of control to be closer to the individual, chaos would not have erupted, but individuals would have fended for themselves and their local communities more effectively.  

Sean7k's picture

The Bubonic plague was a very important episode that resulted in greater wealth and freedom for serfs and artisans (making the latter class a reality), and  helped create the conditions necessary for the reformation and renaissance. It changed land holdings and their management by feudal lords and freed the people from land slavery. 

The plague resulted in periotic die-offs of 15-25% of the population in cycles. While it created great fear and did extensive damage to the reputation of the church- anarchy was not one of the results. The people that lived (the large majority) were better off and had more equality in dealings with the landowners. 

Like any negotiation, they were given greater influence because the landowners were too lazy to work their own land. 

Anarchy is not a utopia. What we have now is a nightmare from Dante's hell. I can't see where we are risking all that much in the changeover. Especially, when the current regimes can only lead to more tyranny, not less.

Try, "The Black Death" by Gottfried.

monad's picture

Yes, we must thank the Mongols for that genocide. Where's my reparations, bitchez?!!

CH1's picture

Like I said, real books. :)

Thanks, Sean.'s picture


Let's say you have a friend in the armed forces. Let's say he is in a combat situation and tragically causes the inadvertent death of innocent civilians or his own forces.!


What do you call the leadership which orders soldiers and airmen to target weddings, funerals and rescue operations?

Things that go bump's picture

Benway, In what way are those deaths different, precisely?  I would be interested in a defense of this conclusion.  

Dr Benway's picture

TTGP, in one word, the difference is one of intent.

There is a grayscale of intent, from premeditated murder to pure accident, with various shades of negligent responsibility in between.

But this is obvious. Noone feels the same about a car accident and someone running over pedestrians on purpose.'s picture

Civilians have been deliberately targeted. That's the issue.

AustriAnnie's picture


This is what makes it WAR.

The argument can be held as well that it isn't just the targeting of civilians that is wrong.   You have to realize that the way the White House defines "civilian" is pretty slim.  They view any boy old enough to hold a gun as a "militant" whether he is actually holding a gun or not.  Furthermore, even if the boy of 12 years is armed, is that not his right?  Can we target him with a drone and call him a militant just because he was armed to defend himself and his family?

The fact is that the number of innocents killed is far FAR FAR higher than officially stated.  They massage the definition of "militant" to fit their agenda, as they massage the definition of the CPI to fit the economic agenda.  The fact is that many of the so-called militants killed (to much applause and patting-on-the-back and giving out of medals of bravery) are simply individuals who feel threatened in their own homes on their own properties in their own country by a foreign army who has made a habit of breaking down doors in the night and carting people off for "questioning".  

If owning a firearm and having the will to defend one's life and family and property makes one a militant then I am a militant and so is most of my family and so are most of my friends.  Yet I would argue that killing me or my family or my friends is not justified, PERIOD.  I have a right to a trial to defend my right to life and liberty.  The second you say that humans do not have this right, you have chosen moral relativism: you have decided that rights only exist for some people some of the time.

AustriAnnie's picture

Secondly, the cowardly use of "inadvertant" in itself is flat-out immoral.

It implies that cleverly-used phrase "collateral damage".  Inadvertent means truly ACCIDENTAL.  It does not mean that in order to obtain a certain goal, we will allow for a certain amount of collateral damage.

What is "collateral damage"?  Collateral damage are those INDIVIDUALS who are not viewed by the Pentagon as having a right to life or liberty, because the ends justify the means.

War, by definition, views individuals as subservient to the "cause".  War, by definition, allows for the death of innocent civilians as not accidental, not inadvertent, but both expected and justified.

I'll say that again: EXPECTED and JUSTIFIED.

The military only tries to keep the collateral damage to a minimum because they know that the average person views life as sacred and they know that the "ends justify the means" argument will only go so far before there is political backlash.

engineertheeconomy's picture

Benwards you deranged bastard...

Are you saying that you join the military and fly overseas with guns and bombs, but it is not your intent to kill innocent people? What exactly the fuck makes any of them guilty.

You fucking psychopath cocksucker

Whatta's picture

and where exactly is this "war". I see no declaration of war.

We are allowed to go where we want and kill who we want without consequence? But if an act is perpetrated on our soil by one of the nations where we are acting...woe be them?'s picture

We were attacked by Saudis on 9/11. When the families of the victims sued the Saudi government the Saudis were defended by James Baker who was given a free White House office by G. W. Bush.

NidStyles's picture

What's this we stuff, I don't recall being attacked on 9/11/01. I do recall a bunch conspirators taking down WTC7 though.'s picture

I recall US policies which radicalized and armed militant Islamists in an effort to combat Russian efforts in Afghanistan. I also recall US policies designed to spread American hegemony in the Middle East which were (and are) unwelcomed by the local populace at large and the radical Islamist in particular.

Seize Mars's picture


"Grade Nine, chopper Five. Anybody On?"