Twenty years ago, as I was completing my freshman year in college, I was a full-blown neoconservative.
I was already beginning to read libertarian literature by the early 1990s because of my support for the market economy. My reading of the economic works of Murray Rothbard led inevitably to his philosophical works. The Rothbard essay “War, Peace, and the State” leaves an impression on the mind one can never quite shake.
Rothbard famously observed that one could uncover the libertarian position on X by imagining a gang of thugs carrying out the state action in question. If thugs can’t just grab your money, for instance, neither can a well-dressed group of thugs calling itself “the state.”
“War, Peace, and the State” takes that analysis and applies it to war. If you steal my TV, I can take it back from you. But I may not walk down the street firing a gun every which way and harming third parties in order to make you surrender my TV. Likewise, even assuming a warmaking state to be absolutely in the right, it has no greater moral entitlement to harm third parties in pursuit of its ends than a private individual does.
Simply because some politician utters the word “war,” we have been conditioned to believe it just and good that the rights of everyone within the confines of an arbitrary border are abruptly cancelled. What would in any other circumstance be murder and atrocity becomes an antiseptic matter of public policy.