Peace Requires Anarchy


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“The Most Dangerous Superstition” – Insightful, but poorly argued

Following is my Amazon Review of Larken Rose’s book The Most Dangerous Superstition.

3 stars out of 5

I believe that the two very controversial central claims of Larken Rose’s book “The Most Dangerous Superstition” are correct:

(1) No government genuinely has the special moral authority that most people think governments have.

(2) The belief in government authority is incredibly dangerous and destructive.

Indeed, as Rose writes on the back cover, “The vast majority of theft, extortion, intimidation, harassment, assault, and even murder––the vast majority of man’s inhumanity to man––comes [from the belief in government authority]. If humankind could give up this one false idea, even without otherwise acquiring another scrap of wisdom or compassion, the vast majority of injustice and oppression would instantly cease.”

Further, I agree with Larken Rose’s statement that the belief in government authority is “the most important issue in the world.”

So why am I rating this book only 3 stars?

Briefly, because I believe Rose’s arguments defending his two main claims are rather weak.

To give one example, Rose begs the question when he writes: “There is no ritual or document through which any group of people can delegate to someone else a right which no one in the group possesses. And that self-evident truth, all by itself, demolishes any possibility of legitimate ‘government’” (p. 35).

For a much stronger defense of the anarchist libertarian view that no government has political authority, see the first half of Professor Michael Huemer’s outstanding book “The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.”

Rose also does a poor job making a case for the position that the belief in government authority is the most dangerous superstition. While he succeeds in showing that it is dangerous and can make basically good people do wicked things, he does not include an economic analysis showing the magnitude of the impact. Certainly this economic discussion would be needed to adequately defend the thesis that the belief in political authority is the *most* dangerous superstition in the world today.

Lastly, I would like to say that I greatly appreciated the valuable insights into the nature of the belief in political authority in Larken Rose’s book. The insights in his book go beyond those presented in his popular YouTube animations. He expertly illustrates the many senses in which people believe that governments have a special right to rule and the many senses in which people believe subjects have an obligation to obey. (In fact, Rose’s book may be more aptly titled “The Nature of the Belief in Government Authority.”) Most of these insights are not to be found in Michael Huemer’s book. For this reason, I recommend “The Most Dangerous Superstition.”

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Other Blog Posts on The Most Dangerous Superstition:


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The Enormous Effects of the Widespread Belief in Government Authority

The back cover of Larken Rose’s book The Most Dangerous Superstition reads:

Most people, looking at our troubled world with its long history of injustice and human suffering, will attribute social evils to the greed, ignorance, hatred, or lack of compassion of others. Rarely does anyone consider the possibility that his own attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs may be the root cause of most of the world’s suffering.

But in almost every case, they are.

The vast majority of theft, extortion, intimidation, harassment, assault, and even murder–the vast majority of man’s inhumanity to man–comes not from the greed, hatred, and intolerance that lurks in our hearts, but from one pernicious and almost universal assumption, one unquestioned belief, one irrational, self-contradictory superstition that infects all races, all religions, all nationalities, ages, and income levels.

If humankind could give up this one false idea, even without otherwise acquiring another scrap of wisdom or compassion, the vast majority of injustice and oppression would instantly cease. But this cannot happen until people are ready and willing to turn their judgmental eyes upon themselves–to objectively examine their own belief systems, to recognize and understand, and finally to abandon, the most dangerous superstition.

This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s not–I think he’s right about the absolutely enormous magnitude of the negative effects of this widespread superstition. (And no, the positive effects are nowhere near as great.) The superstition Rose is talking about is of course the belief in political authority.

In the words of Professor Michael Huemer:

The Problem of Political AuthorityPolitical authority (hereafter, just ‘authority’) is the hypothesized moral property in virtue of which governments may coerce people in certain ways not permitted to anyone else, and in virtue of which citizens must obey governments in situations in which they would not be obligated to obey anyone else. Authority, then, has two aspects:

(i)   Political legitimacy: the right, on the part of a government, to make certain sorts of laws and enforce them by coercion against the members of its society–in short, the right to rule.

(ii)  Political obligation: the obligation on the part of citizens to obey their government, even in circumstances in which one would not be obligated to obey similar commands issued by a non-governmental agent.

If a government has ‘authority’, then both (i) and (ii) exist: the government has the right to rule, and the citizens have the obligation to obey.

In his book The Problem of Political Authority, Huemer argues that political authority is an illusion. No government, nor anyone else, actually possesses the special moral status that most people believe governments have.

While Rose also argues that nobody has political authority, he only devotes a portion of a single chapter (“Disproving the Myth”) to this task and the arguments he makes are quite weak. For example, in the section “Who Gave Them the Right?” Rose writes:

There are several ways to demonstrate that the mythology the public is taught about “government” is self-contradictory and irrational. One of the simplest ways is to ask the question: How does someone acquire the right to rule another? The old superstitions asserted that certain people were specifically ordained by a god, or a group of gods, to rule over others. Various legends tell of supernatural events (the Lady of the Lake, the Sword in the Stone, etc.) that determined who would have the right to rule over others. Thankfully, humanity has, for the most part, outgrown those silly superstitions. Unfortunately, they have replaced by new superstitions that are even less rational.

At least the old myths attributed to some mysterious “higher power” the task of appointing certain individuals as rulers over others – something a deity could at least theoretically do. The new justifications for “authority,” however, claim to accomplish the same amazing feat, but without supernatural assistance. In short, despite all of the complex rituals and convoluted rationalizations, all modern belief in “government” rests on the notion that mere mortals can, through certain political procedures, bestow upon some people various rights which none of the people possessed to begin with. The inherent lunacy of such a notion should be obvious. There is no ritual or document through which any group of people can delegate to someone else a right which no one in the group possesses. And that self-evident truth, all by itself, demolishes any possibility of legitimate “government.”

In reality, what Rose says above is true only given a certain individualistic conception of rights, such as Lockean property rights. Those who have not already been convinced that moral rights should work this way would be correct to point out that this is a weak argument.

Huemer’s arguments against political authority do not rest on controversial assumptions such as this, and I invite anyone who is not convinced by Rose’s rhetoric to consult Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority. (Note: Prof. Bryan Caplan has said the same.)

Despite Rose’s arguments against political authority being less rigorous than Huemer’s, The Most Dangerous Superstition definitely has its strengths. A majority of the book is dedicated to describing the effects that the belief in authority has on peoples’ actions. Politicians, law enforcers, their targets, spectators, and advocates of government all behave significantly differently as a result of their belief in political authority.

For example, consider one effect of the belief in authority on police officers:

It is very telling that many modern “law enforcers” quickly become angry, even violent, when an average citizen simply speaks to the “officer” as an equal, instead of assuming the tone and demeanor of a subjugated underling. Again, this reaction is precisely the same – and has the same cause – as the reaction a slave master would have to an “uppity” slave speaking to him as an equal. There are plenty of examples, depicted in numerous police abuse videos on the internet, of supposed representatives of “authority” going into a rage and resorting to open violence, simply because someone they approached spoke to them as one adult would speak to another instead of speaking as a subject would speak to a master. The state mercenaries refer to this lack of groveling as someone having an “attitude.” In their eyes, someone treating them as mere mortals, as if they are on the same level as everyone else, amounts to showing disrespect for their alleged “authority.”

Similarly, anyone who does not consent to be detained, questioned, or searched by “officers of the law” is automatically perceived, by the mercenaries of the state, as some sort of troublemaker who has something to hide. Again, the real reason such lack of “cooperation” annoys authoritarian enforcers is because it amounts to people treating them as mere humans instead of treating them as superior beings, which is what they imagine themselves to be. To wit, if someone was confronted by a stranger (without a badge) who started interrogating the person in an obviously accusatory way and then asked to be allowed to search the person’s pockets, his car, and his home, not only would the person being accosted almost certainly refuse, out he also would probably be outraged at the request. “Of course you can’t rummage through my stuff! Who do you think you are?” But when strangers with badges make such requests, they are the ones offended when the targets of their intrusive, unjustified harassments, accusations and searches object, and refuse to “cooperate.” Even when the “officers” know full well that the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution specifically dictate that a person has no “Legal” duty to answer questions or consent to searches, such “lack of cooperation” – i.e., the failure to unquestioningly bow to the enforcer’s every whim and request – is still seen by the “police” as a sign that the person must be some sort of criminal and enemy of the state. From the perspective of “law enforcers,” only a despicable lowlife would ever treat representatives of “authority” in the same manner as he treats everyone else. [pp. 64-5 (PDF pp. 60-1)]

Now consider the effect of the belief in authority on spectators observing conflicts between police and others:

The double standard in the minds of those who have been indoctrinated into authoritarianism, when it comes to the use of physical force, is enormous. When, for example, a “law enforcer” is caught on film brutally assaulting an unarmed, innocent person, the talk is usually about whether the officer should be reprimanded, or maybe even lose his job. If, on the other hand, some citizen assaults a “police officer,” nearly everyone will enthusiastically demand – often without even wondering or asking why the person did it – that the person be caged for many years. And if a person resorts to the use of deadly force against a supposed agent of “authority,” hardly anyone even bothers to ask why he did it. In their minds, no matter what the agent of “authority” did, it is never okay to kill a representative of the god called “government.” To the believers in “authority,” nothing is worse than a “cop-killer” regardless of why he did it. [pp. 103-4 (PDF p. 97)]

Given Larken Rose’s understanding of the two points above about how the belief in government authority influences peoples actions, I am sure that he would not be surprised by the recent case of Kelly Thomas, which I learned of last night. Police were caught on film brutally murdering Kelly Thomas in July 2011. The jury saw the video and, on Monday, amazingly declared the police not guilty. As Scott Wilson writes:

Kelly Thomas was a homeless, mentally ill man who was murdered by Fullerton, CA police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. The police told him before they beat him to death that they were about to beat him. That is a fact that was part of the evidence, not a suppostion or hearsay — and was on video. The victim never resisted, unless you count trying to stop them from killing you by trying to get away “resisting.”

In this video, http://youtu.be/e6yaeD-E_MY?t=15m21s, at 15:21, killer cop Manuel Ramos says “see my fist, they’re getting ready to fuck you up,” and within 30 seconds they begin to beat him to death. As they were beating the life out of him, he was calling for his daddy saying “they are killing me.”

The cops outweighed the man by 60+ pounds, and there were first two of them and eventually six of them wailing on him, tasing him, literally physically suffocating him.

Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli were merely charged with “striking Kelly Thomas with a baton and a stun gun in a beating that left him comatose.” Got it? Not charged with murder, or even manslaughter, even though they absolutely killed him — an uncontested fact. He died five days later from injuries they gave him, on video, with audio.

Today they were found not guilty and walked as free “men.” Clearly, if you are a cop, you can put on gloves to deliver a beating to someone who hasn’t raised a hand to you, tell them you are going to “fuck them up,” and then beat them into a bloody pulp, then tase them and beat them some more, and having it all caught on video AND audio, means that you are innocent.

The four other police officers who took part in what amounts to a gang slaying weren’t even charged.

Ramos and Cicinelli are now free to rejoin the force, make fists, threaten beatings on camera, deliver the beatings that lead to the death of victims — and they know they can do it with impunity. So do all the other officers in that police department and region — and around the country.

Ramos’ attorney, John Barnett, told reporters: “These peace officers were doing their jobs…they did what they were trained to do.”

~Scott Wilson

The most powerful and important, uninfluenced witness testimony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYJi3lgXLBU ~Antonio Buehler

Both the police’s attack and the jury’s not guilty decision demonstrate the powerful influence of the belief in government authority.

Kelly Thomas

It should be noted that observations about police only make up one part of the analysis of the effects of the belief in political authority. If people stopped believing in political authority, many other things would change as well.

For example, essentially everyone would come to view immigration restrictions as unjust and they would soon be abolished. The effects of this would be substantial. As economist Bryan Caplan points out, “Under free migration, labor would relocate to more productive regions, massively increasing total production.  Standard cost-benefit analysis predicts that global GDP would roughly double.”

This is just one other example of many. For more, see the first section, “Some Policy Implications,” of Chapter 7, “What If There Is No Authority?” of The Problem of Political Authority.

Lastly, while my intention with this blog post was not to convince you to read either of the two books that I have mentioned, I do believe that they are both books that are definitely worth reading, regardless of whether or not you have already been convinced that there is no political authority. I highly recommend them both.


Advertisement: I tried Grammarly’s plagiarism checker free of charge because while copying is not theftcredit is still due. (See The Case Against IP: A Concise Guide for an overview of the many reasons why copyright, patent, and other laws protecting so-called “intellectual property” should be abolished.)


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My Thoughts on “The Tale of the Slave” by Robert Nozick

The Tale of the Slave

The Tale of the Slave from Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 290-292.

Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.
    Let us pause in this sequence of cases to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master. Perhaps the 10,000 even will be kindlier than the benevolent master in case 2. Still, they are your master. However, still more can be done. A kindly single master (as in case 2) might allow his slave(s) to speak up and try to persuade him to make a certain decision. The 10,000-headed monster can do this also.
  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?

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My thoughts on Nozick’s The Tale of the Slave: Continue reading


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Political Authority is an Illusion: The State is Not Special

Following is my entry for The Voluntaryist’s 2013 Essay Contest on the question “How Do You Explain to People That Taxation Is Theft?”

Political Authority is an Illusion: The State is Not Special

In his book The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey Professor Michael Huemer asks “Why should 535 people in Washington be entitled to issue commands to 300 million others? And why should the others obey?”

He examines several leading answers to these questions—theories about social contracts, the authority of democracy, fairness, and consequentialism—and concludes that none of them is satisfactory, meaning no person or group genuinely possesses the special moral status called political authority.

The implications of this are substantial: Taxation is theft or extortion, war is mass murder, military and jury conscription are forced labor or enslavement, imprisonment of those who perform so-called “victimless crimes” is kidnapping, and so on.

This conclusion is very controversial today. Nearly every political philosopher and layperson supports the idea of having some government with the special kind of authority Huemer describes. While most people disagree with some of the government’s laws, few people other than those who identify as voluntaryists or libertarian anarchists would describe most of the government’s actions as crimes.

But if we want to explain to others why taxation is theft and why most of the government’s other activities are unjust, we must explain why political authority is an illusion and the state is not special after all.


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Libertarianism as Common Sense Morality

A modest libertarian foundation in one minute.

Words excerpted from Prof. Michael Huemer’s book The Problem of Political Authority (page 177):

Libertarian political philosophy rests on three broad ideas:

(1) A nonaggression principle in interpersonal ethics. Roughly, this is the idea that individuals should not attack, kill, steal from, or defraud one another and, in general, that individuals should not coerce one another, apart from a few special circumstances.

(2) A recognition of the coercive nature of government. When the state promulgates a law, the law is generally backed up by a threat of punishment, which is supported by credible threats of physical force directed against those who would disobey the state.

(3) A skepticism of political authority. The upshot of this skepticism is, roughly, that the state may not do what it would be wrong for any nongovernmental person or organization to do.

Chapter 1: http://spot.colorado.edu/~huemer/book3.htm

Buy it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1137281650/


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Why are YOU a libertarian? – LearnLiberty Meme

LearnLiberty started a meme yesterday by asking “Why are YOU a libertarian?

Here is the photo I submitted:

WhyLibertarian_NoPoliticalAuthority

I am a libertarian because I do not believe that governments have political authority, as argued by Professor Michael Huemer in his book, The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.

Here are two other answers I came up with:

WhyLibertarian_NoConcealment

I am a libertarian because majority opinions, elections, flags, anthems, rituals, traditions, badges, uniforms, charismatic orators and neoclassical architectural buildings have all failed to conceal from me the truth that threatening peaceful people with violence through governments is still wrong.

WhyLibertarian_SameMoralStandards

I am a libertarian because I apply the same moral standards to governments as you apply to all nongovernmental persons and organizations in society.

Many of the people who participated in the meme are anarchist libertarians, but most appear to be minimal government libertarians. This may therefore be a fun way to expose many people to new views.

A few peoples’ photos received over a thousand “likes” on Facebook. Professor Steve Horwitz‘s received 820 “likes” as of the writing of this blog post:

I’m a libertarian because I do care about the poor… and I don’t care how good your intentions are

You can see all 140+ peoples’ answers here. For an archive of thumbnails of everyone’s answers see here.


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“Beyond Democracy” – Short, Accessible and Highly Readable

Following is my Amazon review for Frank Karsten and Karel Beckman’s book Beyond Democracy, which I received when I made a $25 donation to Tomasz Kaye’s crowd-funding campaign for his wonderful short animated film You Can Always Leave, the sequel to the famous George Ought to Help:

The main merit of this book is its short, accessible, and highly readable defense of the view that there are better ways to organize society than democracy. Any friend, co-worker, or family member could get through this book, even if he or she has no interest in politics.

I am a libertarian anarchist and strongly agree with the authors’ opposition to democratic governments. I fully understand that there is a shortage of libertarian books that are accessible to the general public. In fact, the only other libertarian book I am aware of that is of comparable accessibility and readability to “Beyond Democracy” is Dr. Mary J. Ruwart’s book Healing Our World.

You may thus be wondering, why am I giving “Beyond Democracy” only three stars?

My reason is that I do not think that the arguments contained within the book are good enough to persuade scholars, academics, or even average passionate supporters of other political ideologies to support libertarianism and oppose democracy. I think more rigorous arguments must be provided to defend the libertarian position.

You might point out that the purpose of this book was to reach a general audience, not to persuade intellectuals, so my low rating is not deserved. But, the reality is that that some of the people who read this book who support democracy and are skeptical of libertarianism may not be persuaded by the simple arguments contained within the book.

It is to them I wish to say: this is not the best book out there. Do not conclude that the views expressed in “Beyond Democracy” are “laughable” until you have read more rigorous defenses of them, as can be found in such books as Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty, Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy–The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order, and Michael Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.

Note that I have not read Hoppe’s “Democracy–The God That Failed,” yet I listed it anyway since my understanding is that many libertarians who have read it believe it provides a strong argument against democratic governments. In fact, it is mentioned in the postscript of “Beyond Democracy”:

Mises and Rothbard never produced a rigorous analysis of the phenomenon of democracy. The first libertarian thinker to do so is the German economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who lives and works in the US. His book Democracy — The God that Failed (2001) is for the time being the standard libertarian work in this area. [page 91]

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