War, by the broadest definition, is man killing man. One can argue for qualifiers in order to narrow the application of the term, something like “large numbers of men killing large numbers of men” or “the institutionalized or systematic state of men killing men” or “states fighting states”, etc. While I am sympathetic to the desire to make “war” a technical and precise term, the manner in which the term has been used historically has been intentionally broad and inclusive, with a few exceptions. Instead, qualifiers are typically assigned on top of the term to better explain the circumstance: “civil war”, “guerrilla warfare”, “world war”, “war of X”, “war on X”, etc. It is even said when small numbers of men are involved; when two tribes or gangs consisting of a few dozen engage in killing each other , it is called tribal or gang warfare.
Thomas Hobbes, the architect of contemporary views on the human condition, aptly used the term “state of war” to describe two closely related states of affairs. The first being any situation in which a man attempts to deprive another of their life. The second is an environment or state of affairs in which there is a known disposition for such an occasion. Hobbes then equivocates this second form of a “state of war” with what he calls the “state of nature”: that is, his impoverished view of anarchy. Of course, I disagree with his false dichotomy of either sacrificing any and all rights to a tyrant or living in a perpetual solitary state of war, but his definition of war seems solid enough.
What does a state of war look like, then? Some examples are easy to point out: Nazis marching into Poland, remote-controlled planes dropping “ordinance” on children, and gangs executing people wearing the wrong color, (or an environment where such things are common) for example. There are far less obvious examples to draw on as well, but these tend to be more controversial due to their more discreet nature. I will save those for later.
For now, let’s see whether war is ever justified. As I mentioned very briefly in “Towards a Definition of Anarchy” and hope to addressing detail later, one has a duty to life and a moral obligation to acknowledge and respect others’ duty to the same. It’s a very short axiomatic step to then say war (and the state of war) is categorically unjust. Simple and straightforward, right? Well, yes… but with a qualifier.
I have a duty to live and flourish, and by extension must not inhibit others from doing the same. In a purely rational and robotic world, this would mean that mankind would never encounter or even conceive of a state of war. Of course, experience tells us a very different, more Hobbesian, story. What happens when someone violates their obligation to allow another to live and flourish? What happens when there is a gun in my face? Does one have a duty to live or an obligation to let live? There is only one rationally consistent answer: the would-be-victim has a duty to stop the aggressor from taking the victim’s life. If this means the death of the aggressor, so be it.
It is always tragic when someone is killed; again, in a world of purely rational actors, such an event would not occur. However, it is infinitely more tragic when an innocent person is killed by a criminal rather than the other way around. Why is this the case? When one is innocent of a crime (using Spooner’s definition of a crime), the are to some degree fulfilling their duty to live and flourish. Conversely a criminal is not only acting in direct violation of their duty to live and flourish (from the virtue ethics perspective) which is a vice, but also depriving others of their ability to do so. The engagement in a criminal act is to enter into a state of war, and a systematic criminal rings a state of war with him wheresoever he may go.
We have touched on how one instigates war (by attempting to coerce, rob, or murder someone), but not what the target of said instigator ought to do in concrete terms. Firstly, of course, one ought to take all reasonable precautions to avoid such an occasion: moving to a safer region, locking doors, demonstrating a secure posture in both person and property, and behaving in a virtuous and amiable manner are all good examples. Secondly, one ought to be prepared for such an occasion. Both mental and physical preparedness are required; being able to tactically assess one’s environment at all times, to have the tools needed for security on-hand, and the mental and physical ability to use said tools are a requirement for preparedness.
Thirdly, if or when the first two steps prove to be insufficient, one will find themselves faced with the immediate threat of war. In such a situation, it would seem that there are a series of morally acceptable courses of action. If possible, one must try to defuse the situation before it escalates to violence. One such option would be to simply “talk down” their aggressor… to say something to the effect of “I know you don’t want to do this, let’s work through this together” another option would be to warn the aggressor that if he does not stand down, he will, in fact, be executed on the spot. Diffusing the situation is not always possible, as sometimes war sets in unexpectedly and with great intensity. Easy examples would be when a gang randomly assaults a bystander or when the SWAT team performs a no-knock raid, but I repeat myself. In the event such an action is impossible or fails, there remains the most primordial of dichotomies: fight or flight. If one can successfully flee with one’s life, liberty, and property intact one would be justified in doing so (as long as one later performs one’s due diligence in raising awareness of the instigator’s behavior). However, if any one of the three cannot successfully be secured and one parts with any of the three to any degree (even in the de-escalation phase), one is complicit in the crimes committed against oneself. In the act of turning over possessions or liberties demanded of oneself unjustly, one is enabling and condoning the theft and coercion occurring. Additionally, a compliant victim allows a criminal to pursue theft from others and such a criminal will likely become a repeat customer with regards to a compliant victim. Such is the case with murder as well, excepting the “repeat customer” portion of course.
The remaining and most unfortunately likely course of action available to one forced into a state of war is to fight. In the case of war, the victim of the instigator is thrust into an unjust situation by an unjust actor. How ought one conduct oneself in the state of war? Ultimately, there is only one acceptable answer: with all the fury, power, ferocity, and coldly calculated intent to kill that one can muster. Anything less would be, itself, a criminal and vicious act.
How could pulling punches of “showing mercy” be a crime and a vice? Well, it is quite simple, really. Once every option to avoid a state of war has been exhausted, the intent of the aggressor to commit a criminal act against the victim at any cost has been established. Any degree in which one is derelict in commitment to stopping an aggressor in the most efficacious and efficient manner possible is a degree to which one is complicit in an aggressor’s crime. In this degree one is derelict in combating the aggressor is a degree in which one is willing to allow the aggressor to commit a crime against oneself What’s more, not only a crime against oneself but the aggressor has effectively established the nature of his character to be a criminal one; therefore, allowing the criminal to commit a crime against oneself is to encourage him to commit crimes against others.
Remember, anarchy is a philosophy of personal responsibility, not winner-take-all violence. Those who believe it is their right or ability to act out a Hobbesian liberty (the ability to do literally whatever one wants with no regard to the rights of others) will not live long in truly anarchist society. An easy explanation as to why this is the case is to simply imagine a society in which a majority of people live by the standard outlined here and how such a society would respond to a Hobbesian.
I will follow-up on this post in the near future with regards to how one ought to conduct their affairs when living in an institutionalized state of war.
TL;DR: The state of war is is a state of affairs in which one or more individuals cannot be dissuaded from committing a crime. When one is faced with the prospect of war, one ought to do what one can to avoid it. If one is forced into a state of war, one ought to pursue the most effective and expedient method by which to halt said criminal. Namely, they must kill their aggressor.
There is a further discussion of this topic at about the 1:19:00 mark of Sovryh Tech Ep. 108: