The title of this article is an intentional contradiction. Not only is the modern state a coercive body that initiates and sustains itself through violence (thereby lying through its teeth about “national security”), but the real aim of this article is to bypass the state security apparatus altogether. In short, this article will make a modest proposal: in order to subvert the military-industrial complex, citizens and parallel alternative institutions should think of security in private terms.
First and foremost, security is the duty of individuals. Everyone should realize that nobody can care about their own lives as much as they do. Therefore, owning a gun or any other weapon is neither an extravagance nor an antisocial threat; it is the most effective means of protecting one’s most fundamental right, the right to life.
If a disability or some other impairment makes self-protection an impossibility, then families or communities should fulfill that role. In contemporary society, many people suffer when these steps of self-defense are bypassed completely and the state is given total control over security, especially those who live in urban centers or states with restrictive gun laws. The police cannot be everywhere at all times, and much of their time and effort is consumed by enforcing useless laws which actually endanger the public.
Besides inefficiency, relying on the state for one’s personal safety is a gross waste of money. On a national scale, there is no entity that drains the coffers quite like the Pentagon. Late in 2016, the Defense Business Board released a report criticizing the Pentagon for trying to cover up $125 billion in bureaucratic waste. Besides wasting roughly $400 billion on the clearly deficient F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the United States military apparatus wastes taxpayer money on such vague extravagances like “overhead” and “administrative fees.”
If such monumental waste is not enough to convince people that America has a problem, then the continuing mess in Afghanistan should. After sixteen years of warfare, the Taliban is still holding large swaths of the country, ISIS is putting up a fight, and the government in Kabul remains mind-numbingly corrupt. This is what $714 billion of taxpayer money has won us so far.
President Donald Trump came into Washington, D.C. with promises of making “America First” not only an economic slogan, but also a foreign policy motivation. Before he became a candidate, he railed against the waste of the Afghan war and hinted that, if elected president, he’d pull US troops out of the country.
The president had a chance to do just that in August 2017. He chose instead to send a small, additional force of 4,000 troops—the type of force that is big enough to look like his administration is doing something, but too small to have any meaningful significance on the ground. Half-measures usually mean nothing, but half-measures really mean nothing if they do not go hand-in-hand with policy changes or new modes of strategic planning.
President Trump’s Afghanistan strategy should only merit our attention because it briefly shined a light on a true alternative. Erik Prince, the former US Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater USA and now runs Frontier Services Group Ltd., proposed replacing America’s military with private contractors. Prince’s solution promised to not only save $40 billion a year, but its establishment of a “viceroy” (an old imperial term that Prince used in a somewhat cheeky fashion) and a smaller, more specialized American military force would mean less bodybags coming home on C-130s every year.
Prince’s proposal was not only shot down like an enemy plane, but, while discussing his plans on NPR, Prince was labeled a “warmonger,” criticized for trying to undermine the morale of military NCOs, and lambasted by nominal liberals for denying the state its right to unlimited control over violence. Throughout it all, Prince kept reminding his opponents that private warfare is as old as prostitution, and is certainly not uncommon in American history.
Private warfare is due for a comeback. However, not all mercenaries are equal. Each type of private warfare that can be found in history has had its downsides. Several will be discussed below with an eye towards finding which one could be best utilized in the fight against the tyrannical warfare-welfare state. A private military ethos could not only break the back of warfare socialism, which has become standard in the United States with or without war, but it could also begin the process of conditioning American citizens away from thinking about the state as being synonymous with security.
The Freikorps Model
Right after the armistice to end World War I was signed, millions of German troops returned to a Germany that they thought would welcome them as heroes. That is not what happened at all. Following the declaration of the German Republic, which was controlled by the Majority Socialists (the Social Democratic Party, or SPD), many on the German left seized the opportunity to formalize Karl Marx’s dream of a communist German state. The most organized of these groups were the Spartacists, a collection of radical Bolsheviks led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (the latter of whom was a naturalized German citizen of Polish-Jewish ancestry). The Spartacists and their sympathizers briefly controlled Berlin, and were in certain parts joined in their rebellion by mutinous sailors from the major German port of Kiel.
For the Sparticists, this revolution was not only in fulfillment of Marx’s dream of a proletarian utopia in Europe’s most industrially advanced nation, but it was also a way to kill the “sellout” republic in its infancy. In this one respect they were right, for many of the Social Democrats like President Friedrich Ebert and Minister of Defense Gustav Noske were Wilhelmian patriots who had supported the war and who were not entirely committed to the aims of the leftist elements in their party.
The new government needed to put down these rebellions quickly. The problem was that several members of the German defense establishment were on the side of the communists. The Chief of Police in Berlin at the time was Emil Eichhorn, a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) and a man dedicated to supporting the Bolshevik takeover of the Prussian capital. At one point, Eichhorn released several political prisoners, including several well-known communists.
Desperate to suppress this communist rebellion, the Republic turned to the new private militaries known as the Free Corps (Freikorps). Not wanting to return to normal life and what they saw as the constraining norms of the bourgeoisie, thousands of soldiers volunteered to serve in regiments headed by authoritarian junior officers. From the very outset, these troops loathed the new German Republic and saw its supporters as the chief reason why they lost the war (the “Stab-in-the-Back myth”). But, for the time being, Ebert and Noske believed that these battle-hardened veterans would need little encouragement to begin attacking communists on German streets. They were right.
However, in making a pact with the devil, the Weimar government spelled its own doom in 1919. After all, Freikorps soldiers despised liberal democracy and always saw the eradication of “Western” values in Germany as their raison d’être. In the book Vanguard of Nazism, Canadian historian Robert G. L. Waite quotes one Freikorps soldier as saying that their mission was always political:
“These people still believe that could build on the same lies and false sentiments with which—in spite of unheard of sacrifices on the part of soldiers—they had lost the war against the Western world. Now this lie was fulfilled through the acceptance of Western democracy. Now this blasphemy was made official. The western bourgeoisie had triumphed…We [the students of 1918] replied: We must become nihilists in order to crush tis rottenness underfoot.”
Not long after performing services on behalf of the government, the Freikorps soldiers became, in their own words, “outlaws” who rampaged and pillaged ostentatiously on behalf of German nationalism, but, more truthfully, on behalf of their own desire for action. Freikorps units, which designated their commanding officers as Führer, believed in the principle of “primitive man.”
One of the admirers of Captain Hermann Ehrhardt, the leader of the best Freikorps unit, the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, was positively described as having a “primitiveness and simplicity” that exuded a “stoic soldierly instinct” that had no time for “political or philosophical convictions.” Such mindless destruction saw Freikorps units pillaging the Baltic territories on behalf of Germany and the White Russian Army. Other Freikorps soldiers found more appeal in the violent radicalism of the Bolsheviks and the Führer Vladimir Lenin. These “Freebooters” craved action and violence. They became a law unto themselves, as evidenced by the Feme murders, a series of political assassinations that may have killed as many as 354 “traitors” on behalf of the German Volk.
The problem with recreating a Free Corps movement in America is obvious: such political militias can never be fully trusted by owners of property or those who seek a stabilized social order. The Freikorps glorified in chaos, and chaos is the enemy of liberty. The story of the “beefsteak” Nazis (brown on the outside, red on the inside) also sheds light on the fact that Freikorps soldiers routinely switched their allegiances, especially between the two most powerful totalitarian ideologies.
While a Free Corps movement made up of American veterans may not be so prone to utopian ideologies, America in 2017 is not Germany in 1918. American degeneracy is caused by prosperity, not material poverty or the shame of military defeat.
The Condottieri Model
It is easy to romanticize the military engagements of the Middle Ages. After all, unlike modern wars perpetrated by nation-states, warfare during the medieval age was a small-scale affair between kings and their private armies. Most of the time, medieval cities and villages were left alone so long as they paid a fee and offered up no resistance. In Anatomy of the State, Murray Rothbard quotes F.J.P. Veale in saying that “the rich burghers and merchants of medieval Italy were too busy making money and enjoying life to undertake the hardships and dangers of soldiering themselves.” Therefore, these townspeople hired foreign mercenaries to defend them. When a threat was neutralized and the job was done, these mercenaries were paid and told to go away.
The benefit of this system was that civilians were mostly left alone and could continue with life and trade. Theoretically, these mercenaries would try to avoid unnecessary casualties, and would only attack villagers and burghers if their payment was not forthcoming. Unfortunately, this is not always how it played out. As noted by Joseph R. Stromberg, many mercenaries of the Early Modern period set out to become territorial lords, which essentially meant that they began wars of aggression in order to claim private kingdoms. “Many mercenary captains aspired to become outright political rulers—men on horseback—rather than mere subcontractors in the business of security provision.”
Although these mercenaries, known in Italy as condottieri, did not engage in the type of warfare that indiscriminately killed civilians or created undue hardships to lives and property, they nevertheless injected political chaos wherever they went. Then as now, mercenary bands attracted men of action who grow easily bored with too much peace. Such men are prone to engaging in conflict only to satisfy their boredom. In the 19th century, American filibusters (not to be confused with the parliamentary tactic) undertook private military expeditions to Latin America in order to aid local liberals, establish private fiefdoms, and/or spread the business of slavery. In the 20th century, adventurers have had a hand in destabilizing Germany, Africa, and Asia.
The idea of creating modern mercenaries in America is downright silly. First, foreigners should never be in charge of another nation’s security. Second, mercenary warfare in the presence of states is almost always offensive in nature, thereby making imperial expeditions all but a certainty.
The Militia Model
The militia has a long and storied tradition in American history. Militia troops were key to the American victory in the Revolutionary War, for militia units utilized small-scale tactics, guerrilla warfare, and targeted assassination of British commanders that forced the British to penetrate deep into the American hinterlands. This over-extended British supply lines, thereby making it easy for American militia fighters to win the day in small to medium-sized battles.
Militias are also synonymous with republics. The Second Amendment not only enshrines the right to self-defense, but the right to form militias as well, though both came under heavy attack by the Supreme Court in the intervening years. In a better world, all American communities would be able to form their own militias in order to protect their property rights and dissuade the vampiric state from overstepping its official limitations. Militias do not have to be standing forces, but it would be in the best interest of a community if all able-bodied men were well-trained and adequately prepared for emergencies and insurgency-style warfare. The best feature about militias are that their small size and local focus make them best-suited for defensive warfare rather than offensive warfare. Militias are not designed for long, extended wars of conquest. Rather, a militia unit is designed for low-intensity conflict wherein they have the advantage in regards to intelligence, knowledge of terrain, and maneuverability.
Modern America will undoubtedly recoil at the very proposal of forming militias. Thanks to a campaign of disinformation during the 1990s, when homegrown militias became synonymous with white supremacist politics and domestic terrorism, any militia that forms today will be quickly infiltrated by government agents. A militia directly threatens the state’s monopoly on violence. The state and its supporters know this. Look no further than the overreaction surrounding the standoff between Ammon Bundy and Western ranchers against the Bureau of Land Management. The same people who fret over “Islamophobia” and police brutality towards blacks were the same ones advocating for dropping bombs on American citizens.
The painful truth is that all these options would be snuffed out by the modern Leviathan state. From a purely logical perspective, an American Free Corps might work, so long as sympathetic junior officers decided that it was right to let their men become political soldiers. The US military has many regulations dictating what service members can and cannot do while in uniform. Therefore, any Free Corps creation would automatically go against the oaths that many of its potential members took upon enlisting in the US military. Most take these oaths very seriously.
The likelihood of American mercenary bands serving stateside is nil. While libertarian or right-wing mercenaries serving abroad is a bettter idea than current practices, these men will undoubtably face prosecution on charges of treason or terrorism for daring to fight for a country or an idea that goes against progressive liberalism.
In the end, a militia force makes the most sense if Americans are serious about maintaining their local liberty in the face of an increasingly tyrannical state. That said, this militia must function in strict secrecy. Wearing uniforms and bearing flags is a sure way to draw the attention of the FBI or local law enforcement. Conversely, without such uniformity, many military bands lose cohesion and fall into infighting.
Unfortunately, there are no perfect answers to this situation. The idea of a powerful state is now unthinkingly accepted by Democrats, Republicans, and centrists. Republicans rely on the votes of military members past and present, and so would be unlikely to support any measure that threatens the force and violence monopoly enjoyed by the Pentagon. Democrats would shriek “racism” and “terrorism,” and would run to the receptive state in order to have these units put down with extreme prejudice. It is also unlikely that many ordinary Americans will rush to join bands of guerrilla fighters, despite the promise of status and a bit of excitement.
At this point in time, the best thing that could be hoped for is that a wide swath of Americans would come to accept the reality that the security of their lives and the lives of their neighbors depends on them and their willingness to use force in defense of life, liberty, and property. This thought crime starts the process of rejecting the state’s monopoly on violence, and could ultimately lead to a new, more privatized model of security. But until we can produce more thought criminals, arguing over how to best create private security entities is a fruitless endeavor.
1. Waite, Robert G. L. (1969) Vanguard of Nazism: The Free Corps Movement in Postwar Germany, 1918-1923. W.W. Norton and Company. p. 55.
2. Ibid, p. 165.
3. Ibid, p. 274-275.
4. Ibid, p. 216.
5. Rothbard, Murray (1974). Anatomy of the State. The Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. 49.
6. Stromberg, Joseph R. (2003). “Mercenaries, Guerrillas, Militias, and the Defense of Minimal States and Free Societies.” The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the theory and History of Security Production, ed. Hans-Hermann Hoppe. p. 219.