Friday, February 22, 2013

Holy Conscripted Mercenaries, Batman!

Ever since I wrote that post on coercion in the three estates, the idea of elite collusion keeps rattling around in my head. As Timur Kuran will doubtlessly testify, Sharia Law expressly unifies politics, religion, and business. Similarly, I might be easily persuaded that the Indian caste system is a way of integrating and partitioning the state, the church, and the marketplace. Soviet political economy attempted to bulldoze the first estate and lash the second and third together. Contrast these with Adam Smith (and many other Enlightenment thinkers) who issued dire warnings of the abuses wrought by collusion between princes and guildmasters, between dukes and cardinals.

The topic of conscription happened to come up in conversation the other day. You may not be shocked to discover that I don't find pacifist arguments in favor of conscription convincing. In case you've yet to run across the argument, it goes a little something like this: the median voter has little interest in the conduct of wars waged abroad. Since military service is voluntary, there is little incentive for the public to raise much outcry over American-led violence abroad. With conscription, Suzy Midwest risks her son being sent to a war zone, so she'll be more prone to campaign against wars overseas and to vote for candidates that pledge peace. Now, apart from conscription merely being economically inefficient and morally reprehensible, this analysis is at odds with common biases and the historical record. It is my experience that the ability to see through political kayfabe is limited to a rarefied few. The median voter will shrug at a reinstated draft and basically agree that it's for the good of the country.

Anyway, this all got me to thinking about attitudes towards different sorts of military service. Recall how much contempt dripped from Princess Leia's lips when she derided Han Solo as being "quite a mercenary". Libertarian types (including me) are quick to point out that the alternative to paid military service is armed slavery. You're either a paid volunteer or a victim of pressed service. Which is more morally objectionable?

But thinking about it more, I think that this dichotomy is a shade too facile. It's not the exchange of money that matters so much, it's the estate. During the Bush the Dubya years, there was no shortage of support for the troops, nor was there a dearth of contempt for Blackwater employees. Both sets of Soldiers were paid to deliver violence, only one was for political elites, the other for business elites. I can recall from my elementary school education that the Hessian forces employed in America's Revolutionary War were regarded with skepticism even though they were on our side.

Then there's the attitude folks have towards the enemy. Which is scarier: holy warriors, Soldiers in service of the state, or hired swords? Which fights with more moral legitimacy? How do opinions change when estates collude? Where would you put soldiery on the euvoluntary spectrum? Why?

And what about vigilantism? Should Batman be measured alongside the armed forces?

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?