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Conscription Is Not Defensive Coercion

In some of my discussions about Ukraine and Zelenksy, people seem to think that I should be supporting Ukraine’s conscription efforts to fight against Putin.

I do not. I think conscription is slavery, and slavery evil, so I oppose it on principle.

If fighting for one’s country really is a good idea, the Ukrainian government should find it easy to convince its citizens to fight. The fact that it’s unable to do so, despite its presumably vast propaganda apparatus (state media), is just pathetic.

But wait, you say. Ukraine is the innocent victim of an unprovoked attacker. Don’t they have a right to defend themselves? Shouldn’t they stand up against their bully? Aren’t they justified in using force against their attacker?

The answer to all three questions is ‘yes’. But Ukraine is not justified in using force against its own citizens, eg through conscription. It is indeed important to stand up against bullies, but what good is that if in the process you become a bully yourself?

Some people seem to implicitly reference the libertarian non-aggression principle – that one should not initiate coercion – and, conversely, the fact that defensive coercion against an aggressor is fine. Again, I agree with that. But this situation is different. It’s not just using defensive force against an attacker. Conscription, in this case, is to use aggressive force against the victim of the attack first, and against the attacker only second. It is aggressive in nature whether another act of aggression preceded it nor it, and so it does not fall under defensive coercion and lacks the corresponding moral legitimacy.

If someone is the victim of a crime, he is right to defend himself, and the police are right to investigate and use (appropriate) force if the perpetrator is found. But what’s happening in Ukraine is more like the police forcing the victim of the crime, at gunpoint, to track down and shoot the perpetrator.

Years ago, some pacifists I knew repeated an old adage that goes something like: ‘waging war for peace is like fucking for virginity.’ They’re wrong. As I’ve written before, I’m not a pacifist; I instead subscribe to another old adage: if you want peace, prepare for war. Some people have misinterpreted my opposition to Ukrainian conscription as pacifism; as me saying Ukrainians should just keep their heads down as Russia invades and spread their legs as Russians rape them. That is decidedly not my view. It’s just a token of their pessimism and lack of creativity.

My view is that those Ukrainians who wish to stay and fight Russia should do so, while those who do not wish to fight should be free to leave, or stay without fighting. Much of the moral legitimacy of Ukraine’s defense against evil is lost if it employs evil means such as conscription. That would indeed be like fucking for virginity.

It is possible to wage war for peace; for good to fight evil. A morally good defense is necessarily voluntary. For example, it could consist of a group of soldiers voluntarily gathering and, being financed voluntarily (not through taxes), freeing the victims of an evil dictator. But they cannot commit evil in the name of good, as Zelensky is doing at the moment, and remain good in the process. Something’s gotta give.


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