Peace Requires Anarchy

“The Problem of Political Authority” by Professor Michael Huemer


The Problem of Political Authority | Michael Huemer

The Problem of Political Authority

Michael Huemer is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he has worked since 1998. He is also an anarcho-capitalist.

His book “The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey” is divided into two parts. The thesis of Part One is that no government (nor other person or group) genuinely possesses the special moral status called political authority. I already agreed with the thesis before I began reading, but I must say that I have never seen it argued so well. I interrupt my reading of the book to tell you about it.

Huemer bases his argument on common sense moral premises that essentially everyone already accepts. He has said that he believes this approach of arguing for libertarian political views is superior to using rights-based arguments or economic arguments. Two weeks ago I wasn’t so sure. I said that I would wait until I read his book to decide whether or not I agree that the common sense approach to arguing for libertarianism is best. Now that I have read Part One of his book I can say confidently: I agree, definitely. This is the kind of argument that is most likely to be effective at converting the masses of intelligent people to libertarian anarchism.

Bryan Caplan has said:

I’ve read almost every major work of libertarian political philosophy ever published.  In my view, Michael Huemer’s new The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey is the best book in the genre.

I assumed this was exaggerated, but surprisingly it may not be. Of the books I have read, including Murray Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty,” David Friedman’s “The Machinery of Freedom,” Gary Chartier’s “The Conscience of an Anarchist,” Gerard Casey’s “Libertarian Anarchism: Against the State” and many essays and other works related to libertarianism including classics such as Lysander Spooner’s famous essay “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority,” Part One of Michael Huemer’s “The Problem of Political Authority” is simply the best.

Michael Huemer

Professor Michael Huemer

Whether you are a libertarian or not, you should purchase a copy of Michael Huemer’s “The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.” I recommend it, more highly than I’ve ever recommended any book, essay, article, or other work before.

After you buy it on Amazon, you can read the first chapter which is available online.

Now I am going to read Part Two, in which Huemer argues the practical case for anarcho-capitalism. His thesis is that “a livable society could exist with no recognized central authority.” Note that, in addition to the thesis of Part One, it is necessary to argue this thesis to convert the reader to anarcho-capitalism, because without it minimal state libertarianism would be justified since common sense morality dictates that aggressive coercion can be justified if it is necessary to avoid a sufficiently great harm. Huemer’s lead essay for Cato, “The Problem of Authority,” which summarizes the content of his book well, elaborates on the need for this second thesis.

UPDATE 08/21/2013: I finished reading Mike Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority today. It is better than any other book on libertarian political philosophy I have read. I highly recommend it.

I really think his “common sense morality” approach to defending libertarianism (as opposed to the rights-based approach or the consequentialist economic argument approach) is most likely to be the most effective way to persuade people to reject political authority and embrace libertarian anarchism.

Other Blog Posts on The Problem of Political Authority:

Author: PeaceRequiresAnarchy

“A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.” – Roderick T. Long

10 thoughts on ““The Problem of Political Authority” by Professor Michael Huemer

  1. I think I’m sold on buying this book. Great review! You should post it on amazon if you haven’t already.

  2. Great! I’m sure you’ll find it interesting. It’s a completely different approach to defending anarcho-capitalism than the austro-libertarian rights-based approach. I’m yet to see any data on this, but I am willing to bet that it will prove to be more likely to be effective at persuading most non-libertarians to libertarianism than the rights-based approach. Perhaps it is best if people are exposed to both kinds of arguments, but if I had to choose only one kind of argument to use with someone I would choose Huemer’s approach.

    I posted this very short review on Amazon.

  3. In a “College Fix” review of Huemer’s book titled “CU Boulder Professor Promotes Anarchism” the author writes:

    “Huemer’s case seems ultimately motivated by the claim that the state causes more harm than good. Huemer never makes this claim explicitly, but it seems implicit throughout his writing.”

    I replied:

    “Huemer never makes that claim explicitly or implicitly.

    “Huemer’s case for anarchism is motivated by the fact that all governments performs acts of kinds which nearly everyone agrees would be immoral if performed by any non-government agent (p. 4). He explains that the reason why people think it’s okay for governments to perform acts of these kinds, but not private agents, is because people believe that governments have political authority (p. 5). He then argues that no government actually has political authority (Part I). The upshot of governments not having political authority is that governments may not do what it would be wrong for any non-government agent to do (p. 177). Finally (in Part II), he argues that the consequences of anarchy would not be so bad as to justify having a minimal state (on the common-sense-morality ground that acts that are usually immoral can be justified if they are necessary to avoid something much worse from happening).

    “Nowhere in this case for anarchism does he rely on the claim that the state causes more harm than good.”

  4. Pingback: Reviews of The Problem of Political Authority | The Problem Of Political Authority

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