Sunday, June 27, 2010
Can Pacifists Be Citizens? A Jewish Solution
As previously noted, I view government as a devil's bargain. I accept the existence of an institution with the power to engage in violence and whose main purpose is violence. This applies to fighting wars and even the punishing of criminals. Government authority means nothing if, at the end of the day, they are unable to physically harm those who defy them. The main reason why I endorse government violence is because I see it as the alternative to private vendettas. I am not about to accept a world in which "every man does what is right in his own eyes." I can fathom turning the other cheek precisely because there is a police officer out there who can strike the person for me. Thus my purpose is not to engage in violence, but to do whatever I can to limit it. Openly acknowledging the necessity of violence puts me in much the same situation as Machiavelli, begging to be misunderstood as endorsing tyranny. I would argue that, on the contrary, my willingness to acknowledge the Machiavellian reality of government allows me to be a true defender of liberty and limit government violence. I recognize what kind of deal I am making and have clear boundaries. This is different from the person who pretends to deal with government and not make compromises with liberty. Such a person has no protection when faced with the real moral dilemmas of a tyrannical government.
It is the common practice in times of war to grant draft exemptions to pacifists and "consciousness objectors." I fail to see the reason for this and fully agree with Richard Dawkins on the absurdity of giving people special protection simply because of "religion." By agreeing to be a citizen you accept the legitimacy of the government to fight wars and agree to help it do so. Since pacifists cannot agree to this, they cannot be citizens in any meaningful way. This is not a violation of anyone's religious liberties. Religious liberty only exists when you pay the door fee of becoming part of the system by accepting its validity. If you cannot pay that price then you are not part of the conversation.
The citizenship question really goes far beyond military service. If pacifists were consistent in their beliefs they would become "conscientious objectors" from jury duty and voting. By serving on a jury the government is asking you to accept their legal authority to punish people even with physical force. The government is also asking you to honestly declare whether you think a person is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Maximum security prisons are directly connected to the threat of physical violence; prisoners who do not comply face being beaten and if they try to escape they may be killed. How can a pacifist ever convict someone of a violent crime? I would add that since we can assume that any violent criminal was brought in by police licensed to engage in physical violence, such violence was either used or implicitly threatened. Thus a pacifist would have to automatically throw out any case rather than be an active participant in this system of government violence. If you let a person go who you believe beyond reasonable doubt is guilty because you object to prison conditions and police tactics you are not keeping your end of the bargain you struck with the government.
When you vote for your congressional representative, you are voting for someone licensed by the Constitution to vote to declare war. The President is the Constitutional Commander in Chief with the power to lead the United States military in battle. Participating in an election means declaring the moral validity of the Congress to declare war and the President to wage it as put down in the Constitution. Since the Constitution is war validating document, no pacifist can ever accept the legitimacy of the Constitution without making a hypocrite of himself.
Rather than forcefully expelling or killing pacifists, I would suggest a solution from Jewish history. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, Jews even when tolerated and allowed to live in peace, where not accepted as citizens. In each city Jews lived under the authority of their own kehilla system, operating as its own semi-autonomous government. It was the kehilla which negotiated with the Christian authorities for Jews to be allowed to live in the city and practice their own religion. These negations usually involved monetary payment, call it taxes or bribery. "In the pre-modern world there was no such thing as rights. There were privileges that you paid for." Jews were also subject to blasphemy laws which barred them from making statement offensive to Christianity. This was not due to "intolerance," simply a matter of Jews, by definition, not being able to accept the legitimacy of a Christian State, whose claim to authority rested on Christian theological claims.
Pacifists should be allowed to live in peace within this country; not because of any right to religious liberty (they lost that right the moment they rejected the government, which gives allows for religious liberty to exist), but because they are non-threatening producers, who presence benefits society at large. Pacifists would not actually be citizens. They would not have the right to vote, they would not serve on juries and would pay an extra head tax to cover their lack of military service. They would also have no free speech protection and be barred from making any statements deemed "subversive." Since they are outside the political system they have no reason involve themselves in it or even speak about it. Every American would have the right to put themselves down as a pacifist and pay the consequences. (Children of pacifists should have the option of going to court and rejecting the beliefs of their parents and immediately take the test and oath of citizenship without having to wait five years.) Those who do not and instead decide to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship, lose all claim to ever being "conscientious objectors."