To defend one’s life is to vindicate one’s natural equality — an equal right to exist in peace: our self-sovereignty. We cannot, however, merely exist together on this plane: we must perpetuate our existence, providing sustenance and shelter both for ourselves and for any children we choose to have. Yet no one person on this Earth has any natural, inviolable, exclusive claim to any material part of this planet — let alone to any other person dwelling upon it — beyond children to their parents.
Though we now guard national borders and enforce private property rights — in order to improve our chances, first, for survival and then, unconsciously, for genetic success — pitted primarily against one another — the warm light of each rising sun might just as well cross a planet newly shared by all of us — never claimed by any one of us — if we were only, in the main, a more enlightened race of beings.
That we are not so, however, does not exonerate us from the distance we put between our lives today and that idyllic, more natural state of human equality. Our almost compulsive propensity for having children — whose own needs justify the further pursuit of property and of wealth — quite often of one another’s — fuels our territorial claims, our private property ownership, our nation states — and our wars.
Those states or tribal communities, then, whose members make the least claims to territory and to property would seem in many ways the more moral ones. But they too are often blindly driven to perpetuate themselves, often heedless of resource scarcities, thus failing to provide properly for what children they have — heedless too of worldly threats from outside their socio-ecosystems — or ill-prepared to defend against them, often warring among themselves or neighbors seemingly out of traditional sectarian or ethnic intolerance, even where natural resources and territory are not actually claimed.
To be moral, either as an individual or as a society, necessitates conscientiousness.
Free market capitalism may be relatively moral in comparison to other socio-economic systems by virtue of its theoretical free exchange of goods and services — thus its amenability to the expression of an equal self-sovereignty. Yet our own marginally free markets lead us only further from that graceful state of natural, non-materialistic equality.
Our system may be a rational recourse in a world where most humans cannot appreciate our fundamental equality — gathering unto us as many resources as possible and building over us a protective military shield. But that this, our system, more efficiently exploits and distributes the world’s resources, providing more people enough wealth to blindly have yet more children — while further insulating us interpersonally from the immediate needs of our fellow human beings — this is neither moral nor remotely conscientious.
Furthermore, a political system like our own representative democracy, in which elected politicians provide intractable entitlements to the most active and successful resource exploiters, i.e. the big corporations, and to the most prolific and irresponsible child bearers alike, undermines any of the theoretical virtues of a republican system. Our polity actually rewards best those who lead us furthest and fastest from an enlightened natural existence. And the characteristic American pursuit of wealth for its own sake, where the needs for survival and the basic comforts have already been met — especially where there are not even children to be provided for — this is a self-evidently vulgar and immoral life: it leaves the world a worse place than it might have been.
Like so many citizens within sovereign states have been we find ourselves at times committed by an acting head of state to armed engagements against foreign states or terrorist groups whose leaders have purportedly moved aggressively against us and our interests or against an ally in the international community. And whether an ensuing military intervention were waged overtly, as has been the case in Afghanistan, or covertly, as so many CIA operations have been — we may well incur blowback.
But are we, as mere citizens, to be held accountable for the actions of our leaders? Are we liable for their decisions and thus ourselves legitimate targets?
The reflexive, defensively patriotic answer would be: No — that’s exactly what they want us to believe.
But as moral human beings don’t we owe at least an equal regard for the relative innocence of citizens within countries condemned by our leaders as aggressive? Do they not find themselves in the exact same situation as we are in? One could even argue that the less free and fair their political systems are, in comparison to ours, the more immoral we would be to hold such citizens personally accountable for the actions of their leaders — and thus the more egregious would be any harm done to their persons or to their property.
Are we, who live under a constitutional republic, this representative democracy, any less — or perhaps even more — obligated morally to risk, even to sacrifice, our own lives to be rid of our elected aggressive leaders?
No. We humans owe our lives to no one else, except those to whom we have ourselves given life — and then only while they are young and dependent. No citizens, ours, or those of any other nation on Earth, must risk or sacrifice their lives to spare the life of an unrelated other — whether a fellow countryman or a foreign stranger — unless doing so would spare the lives of their own children. The childless need not even act in defense of their own lives, though to not fight against one who knows no respect for self-sovereignty would be immoral by inaction — leaving to the innocent a world less secure.
Furthermore, if one were to risk his life, let alone to sacrifice it, for the sake of those outside of one’s relative proximity — therefore outside of one’s immediate capacity both to judge the merits of those to be aided and to monitor the actual effects of the aid — if one were to attempt, for example, for the sake of foreign citizens, to assassinate the President, this would be immoral. To blindly forsake those in one’s immediate proximity for the sake of aiding unseen strangers would amount to a retreat from one’s soundest moral footing in the direction of a defiantly symbolic amoral gesture. And if this sacrifice then proved harmful to those within one’s own relative proximity — if the President, in this example, retaliated with an ill-measured use of force — this would clearly only deepen the immorality of an already empty sacrifice.
Better to walk the night streets in aid of strangers for whom one might, after first judging their plight, more judiciously and thus more morally sacrifice oneself. In a nation as large, as technologically advanced, and as secretive as ours, we citizens never possess all the knowledge necessary to make an informed, moral decision about the worthiness of an intervention overseas. The latest Iraq war clearly demonstrated that even our elected representatives are not necessarily in a position to weigh the appropriateness, to say nothing of the morality, of foreign military intervention. The most important decisions with regard to foreign intervention are therefore best left not to the voting public but to the widest feasible array of public officers charged with our protection:
No declaration of war, nor any peacetime initiation of military force outside the borders of the United States and its territories, shall be undertaken without the consent of two-thirds of the Governors of the states and a unanimous vote of assent between the President and the Defense Cabinet, whose membership shall include the Attorney General, the Secretaries of State, Defense, Homeland Security and the Treasury, the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency; the number and composition of which may be altered by a three-fourths majority vote among the Governors of the states, but shall not exclude the Attorney General.
(from Article II, Section 2)
We Americans seem to be distinguished by our willingness to fight for our own lives, for the lives of others, and for freedom itself. But these strong convictions and lofty ideals do not justify the war deaths of relatively innocent citizens abroad. To act morally in a defensive war every effort must be made to eliminate individual aggressors or an isolated aggressive element without punishing the relatively innocent, e.g. an unwilling citizenry. Where possible, even troops ought to be considered unwilling actors, attacked only when they themselves attack or when they persist with aggressive actions after their leadership has been eliminated.
Nor does our fighting spirit exempt the citizens of these foreign states from a defense of their own lives and of the lives of their own children. The firm resolve of some Americans to commit us all to war, in order to spare any foreign citizens from fighting their own governments or from killing one another — where such a commitment so often means sending someone else to risk and sacrifice his life, rather than going there oneself — represents a particularly immoral impulse. Surely this paves the road to Hell.
Political assassinations since the Ford administration have been — at least officially — prohibited. An ideal policy, though, isolates individuals for the fullest consequences of their own choices and of their own actions — or of their inactions. Where possible no one else ought to be held to account. That the one leader might then be replaced by one far worse, or that such a policy might often prove impracticable, makes it no less a worthy, moral guiding principle. And to refrain from such a policy for fear that our own leader might in turn be assassinated implies that a presidential candidate has not already faced and accounted for the dangers inherent to the office.
The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of the military of the United States and of the National Guard. But directing of forces in a time and a theater of war and determinations of rank within the forces shall be determined, or delegated to inferior officers, by the Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an appointment of the President; so that the President may set, or reset, the objectives of military action, or order the cessation of military action.
(from Article II, Section 2)
In as much as we begin as self-sovereign equals, yet become unequal only in our demand for private property ownership, no threat solely against property justifies a violent self defense — not by an individual nor by a nation state. Only an earnest, tenable, impending threat against self-sovereignty itself or against national sovereignty — against the freedom to exist peacefully and to use any property as freely as any other, under the laws or customs of a prospectively shared community — only this threat to peaceful coexistence justifies a violent defense or the taking of a life. And in conflicts over territory, whether between sovereign nations or religious, ethnic, or tribal communities, those who more actively respect their own members’ self-sovereignty and the self-sovereignty of those outside their ranks — i.e. the more enlightened people — have a stronger moral claim to the disputed land.
As humans we gradually mature into conscientious beings only after enduring as individuals the fullest consequences of our decisions, our actions, and our inactions. Direct democracy, particularly within the constitutional design presented here, is an ideal polity then by virtue of its maximization of individual voter and public official accountability, as well as its strong limitations upon the federalization, or unnecessary collectivization, of statutory law. While we are now far from an ideal human race, this participatory direct democracy like no other political system inculcates the conscientiousness necessary to guide the greatest majority of us toward our enlightened, idyllic future.