“We cry, but we never fear.”

These were the words written on a sign, held up by a citizen in a mass rally in Paris, the day following the ghastly slaughter of innocents. The rally itself took place in defiance of the nighttime curfew that had been instituted by the French government (the first since 1944). This curfew came with other methods of control such as a border closure (again, first time since WWII), tanks on the streets, and a de facto end to free movement and assembly.

What does the state of emergency mean? It means: no liberty. The Guardian explains:

The procedure harks back to the start of the Algerian war in the 1950s, giving exceptional powers to authorities, including the right to set curfews, limit the movement of people, forbid mass gatherings, establish secure zones where people can be monitored and close public spaces such as theatres, bars, museums and other meeting places. It can also allow for controls to be imposed on the media (though the government has said there would be no controls on media in this case).

Most significant for the French state in the current context are the powers given to the security services and police to act without judicial oversight. They can conduct house searches at any time, enforce house arrest and confiscate certain classes of weapons, even if people hold them legally.

What has happened so far?

Using the special measures, 168 homes have been raided and 104 people have been placed under house arrest in the past 48 hours. These have led to 23 arrests and the seizure of 31 weapons.

If the post-9/11 U.S. case is the model, this will be ongoing. Without much thought or legislation, liberty, equality, and fraternity are to be replaced by authority, hierarchy, and compulsion. The revolutionary slogans of the past are a luxury that no government will indulge in a crisis. And it all has to be paid for by someone.

This is what governments do. They clamp down. They use force. They depend on fear to grow their power. When they can’t isolate the terrorists for control, they control their own people. It’s about the symbolism of doing something, anything, to display resolve. That usually means dispensing basic human rights and freedom in favor of authoritarian methods.

And this underscores the point. There are two great horrors of terrorism: the violence itself and the state’s response to the violence. Both represent a vital threat to liberty and life itself. They are mutually reinforcing, one power fueling the other power and back again. Destruction and murder are met with destruction and murder, and on it goes.

The Paris massacre illustrates just how fragile are both life and liberty. A few can cause mayhem, and, when successful, governments can sweep all liberty and human rights away without a thought.

The Loathing of Commerce

Societies that are victimized by terrorism should put some thought into what would constitute a victory for terrorism generally. Consider that hatred of commercial capitalism was a theme of the Paris attacks. Concerts, restaurants, bars, people having fun, spending their own money in an exchange economy — these were the targets. Here we see the violent core of the atavistic longings of the anti-capitalist mind. ISIS can only hope for the end of freedoms that made possible the settings that the terrorists targeted.

The terrorists sought to change the French way of life, and, ironically, the government’s response will help them in this attempt, just as the U.S. government did after 9/11. In the U.S. case, 9/11 marked not just a horrific attack on U.S. soil but the dramatic ramping up of the police state and intervention in U.S. wars abroad. In the decade and a half since then, economic freedom has declined dramatically, harming prosperity, opportunity, and, perversely, our sense of security as well.

The War on Terror Creates Terror

And what of the goal of eliminating terrorism? The 25-year war on Iraq and Afghanistan have not produced stable, prosperous, peaceful societies but rather the reverse. Nation building laid waste to what existed and hate grew in its place. Combined with interventions in Syria and Libya, the military actions inspired the coalescence of the Islamic State that is wholly dedicated, life and limb, to the destruction of modernity itself.

When does it all end? And can anyone really believe that a wholesale war on Syria and an external overthrow of Bashar Hammar al-Assad is going to be some kind of blow against terrorism? Many Syrians would rejoice, and rightly so, but the resulting power vacuum would be a gift to ISIS, and hence a classic case of government actions producing results opposite of their stated intentions.

France can learn from this experience. But will it? Thus far, all indicators suggest no.

Just as the terrorists claimed to be responding to French military intervention in Iraq, Syria, Chad, Mali, and the Ivory Coast, the French government can cite the terror as a case for doubling down, which it did immediately with bombing in Syria, knocking out electricity for the innocent residents of Raqqa. The New York Times, in passing, said the targets “included clinics, a museum and other buildings in an urban area.”

Are such actions going to inhibit or help ISIS recruitment?

War Is Not the Way

And there’s a broader question: is war really the way? The 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat wrote that “war is always the greatest of the upheavals that a people can suffer in its industry, the conduct of its business, the investment of its capital, and even its tastes. Consequently, it is a powerful factor in creating disruption and misery among the classes who have the least control over the course their labor is to take.”

The answer to terrorism is not more war, control, and the abandonment of human rights and liberties. The path only creates more of the same. It is unfashionable to say it, especially now, but the only long-term answer to humanity’s plight is peace, trade, and freedom.

The immediate response these days is: these killing monsters have no interest in peace. But what created that attitude? What sustains it? What can be done about it without injuring the core principles of freedom?

These are the central questions and none admit easy answers. It is undeniable that the rise of terrorism is inseparable from the militarism that has wrecked so many countries in the region where ISIS was born and bred. There is a reason people choose war over peace, poverty over prosperity, conflict over community. If unending conflict and misery creates only one path for them, that is the path that will be chosen.

Nor is there an easy fix for decades of folly, and for the deepening of so much resentment and hate stemming from an ideology of destructionism. Once unleashed, there is no policy that can end such an ideology. But this much we know: the enduring principles of peace, trade, and freedom provide an ideal that no malice can be permitted to destroy. The path forward requires rejecting war and sanctions as means of policy.

The outpouring of sympathy, grief, and donations of money and time — these are tributes to the goodness of humanity against the malice of the murderers who caused the City of Light to turn dark. Even in the context of seeking justice, the goal of humanity today must be to keep the lights burning bright.

We cry, but let us never fear embracing the values we know to be true.