Peace Requires Anarchy


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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

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.

The above is my entry for The Voluntaryist’s 2013 Essay Contest on the question “How Do You Explain to People That Taxation Is Theft?” My answer is to show people that their explanations for why governments have political authority are not satisfactory.


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Twelve Years a Slave | Solomon Northup

It is difficult to imagine how someone could regret reading this book.

Solomon Northup - Twelve Years a SlaveHere are a few select quotes from Twelve Years a Slave (1853) by Solomon Northup (b. 1808), who was kidnapped in 1841 and brought into slavery for twelve years prior to his legal liberation in 1853.

His psychologically influenced opinion of the character of one of masters:

“But I was sometime his slave, and had an opportunity of learning well his character and disposition, and it is but simple justice to him when I say, in my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford. The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of Slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection. Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light. Brought up under other circumstances and influences, his notions would undoubtedly have been different. Nevertheless, he was a model master, walking uprightly, according to the light of his understanding, and fortunate was the slave who came to his possession. Were all men such as he, Slavery would be deprived of more than half its bitterness.” [p. 41]

A defense of his view by appealing to the psychological influences* affecting his master:

“It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him. Taught from earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears, that the rod is for the slave’s back, he will not be apt to change his opinions in maturer years.” [p. 99]

Economically efficient slavery:

“It is a fact I have more than once observed, that those who treated their slaves most leniently, were rewarded by the greatest amount of labor.” [p. 45]

No stealing from slaves on Sundays:

“It is the custom in Louisiana, as I presume it is in other slave States, to allow the slave to retain whatever compensation he may obtain for services performed on Sundays.” [p. 94]

It is noteworthy that this is not the case today, since people are forced to give income taxes to governments for money they earn on Sundays.

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* Note that I link to Michael Huemer’s presentation The Psychology of Authority (also see Chapter 6 of his book The Problem of Political Authority for a more in-depth examination of the subject) twice intentionally, since the psychological factors Huemer describes that lead people to believe that governments have legitimate political authority are split in the case of slavery, such that some of those factors contribute to a slaveholder’s support of slavery (e.g. social proof, status quo bias, and political aesthetics), while others contribute to Solomon’s charitable view of the moral character of his master (e.g. Stockholm Syndrome and tendency to obey authority figures (see Milgram experiments) combined with cognitive dissonance).

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I also highly recommend Frederick Douglass’ fantastic Narrative of the Life of Frederic Douglass, An American Slave. Both books are very emotional and captivating true stories. Additionally, I appreciate the valuable information I gained from them about history, psychology, and justice.


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“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:


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How Bad Would Anarchy Have to Be to Justify Unjust Government Activity?

Michael Huemer is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is the author of the book The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey. The following is the body of an email I sent to him questioning the specifics of the criteria he uses to determine whether or not the relative consequences of not having a particular rights-violating government program are bad enough to justify having the program. His response can be found here.

In your Cato essay “The Problem of Authority” you write:

“If we really stand in danger of some sort of all-out Hobbesian war, then the state would be justified in employing the minimum coercion necessary to prevent the state of war from occurring.”

Allow me to clarify: Why? Because a society without law and order (a Hobbesian war) is a sufficiently disastrous outcome that aggression would be justified to avoid it.

In a Goodreads review of your book (that everyone should buy, like I just did two days ago) a critic writes:

“The second half of the book sketches how ‘law and order’ might work without government, and why a military might not be necessary, but there’s not even the briefest attempt to explain how things like roads and water supplies would be dealt with.”

Michael Huemer(Note that Bryan Caplan thinks this is a legitimate criticism.)

Is a road-less society or a society with poor water supply a sufficiently disastrous outcome that a minimal-road-building state or a minimal-water-supply-system state would be justified to avoid it?

In other words, if the critics were right that there would be very few roads in a stateless society, would a minimal-road-building state be justified?

As another example, if it were true that there would be very few schools and most people would be much less educated than they are today in a stateless society, would a minimal-school-system state program be justified?

To generalize this question: How bad must the free market disaster outcome be to justify extortion-funded state program intervention?

I am not sure how to answer this question.

On the one hand if I say that no outcome, even a society lacking “law and order,” is disastrous enough to justify a rights-violating minimal state fix, then you’ll accuse me of biting the bullet again. [UPDATE 08/07/2013 4:30 PM: This time, unlike the first time, I believe he would be correct to accuse me of biting the bullet.]

On the other hand, if we accept that a road-less society and a society with a slightly less educated public is a sufficiently disastrous outcome to justify an extortion-funded state school system and road system, then we’re faced with granting that all political authority is justified to the extent that it is beneficial. In other words, we risk conceding that the answers to these two questions are identical:

“The question is not, ‘Why are those programs beneficial?’ The question is, ‘How are those programs justified by the threat of the Hobbesian war that would supposedly result from anarchy?'”

Any state program that is shown to be “beneficial” can be claimed to be justified in light of the fact that it avoids a more disastrous outcome, just as you say a government that “make[s] laws against violence and theft and provide[s] a court system to adjudicate disputes [is justified] in order to prevent a Hobbesian war of all against all [assuming it is true that such a Hobbesian war would occur without government].”

My guess is that you will say that the solution to this problem is, instead of taking either extreme position, simply to draw an arbitrary line somewhere and say, in the words of Bryan Caplan, that aggressive government programs are justified only if they are “highly likely to lead to much better consequences.”

If this is the solution we pick then the task of the anarcho-capitalist ideologist is to show that no aggressive government program is “highly likely to lead to much better consequences” than the consequences that would occur without the aggressive government program.

In addition to debunking the myth that there cannot be law and order in a stateless society, this may or may not include debunking other factual beliefs that people have, such as that the state school system is necessary to educate the nation’s children, etc, since people may or may not think that these other government programs are “highly likely to lead to much better consequences.”

[End of email]

See Prof. Mike Huemer’s response here.

An Explanation of the Title: “How Bad Would Anarchy Have to Be to Justify Unjust Government Activity?”

The title of this post may sound contradictory. To clarify, it uses the term “justify” in the same way that Mike Huemer uses the term when talking about how minimal states would be justified if it were true that anarchy would necessarily be a Hobbesian war of all against all. The term “unjust” is used to refer to government activity that involves violating peoples’ rights as defined by libertarian principles. I believe the law should always uphold peoples’ rights, but if we lived in a world in which the consequences of the law upholding peoples’ rights all the time were somehow very terrible then I would be willing to consider making an exception and support making it legal to violate someone’s rights in order to avoid this terrible outcome. But how terrible would this outcome have to be for me to support making it legal to violate a person’s rights? Hence the title question, since all states necessarily make it legal to violate peoples’ rights by definition, since all states make it legal for them to imposes taxes on their subjects and outlaw competing rights-enforcement agencies, both of which necessarily involve employing aggression.

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This is the second of three related blog posts featuring discussion between Prof. Mike Huemer and I. All three posts deal with the question of when it is moral to support or commit aggression:

(1) Morally Permissible Unjust Acts: Defending the Rights-Based Approach to Defending Libertarianism

(2) How Bad Would Anarchy Have to be to Justify Unjust Government Activity?

(3) Mike Huemer: “We’re nowhere close to the case where government would be justified.”


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George Can Always Leave, But Taxation Is Still Theft

George Ought to Help is a wonderful short animation made by Tomasz Kaye that illustrates the fact that the organizations called states or governments are all guilty of theft or extortion. People call this legalized theft “taxation,” but Tomasz shows why taxation is no different than theft and suggests that it is consequently illegitimate.

After over two years of discussing the short video with people in the comment section on YouTube, Tomasz made a new sequel animation called You Can Always Leave to address many of the common objections to the first video. Bryan Caplan called it, “One of the best philosophy videos I’ve ever seen”:

I would be happy to discuss anything in either video here, however I also encourage you to check out the comment sections on YouTube to see what discussions have already taken place.


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War, Peace, and the State | Murray Rothbard

RothbardSmile

All government wars are unjust.”
– Murray N. Rothbard

Anthony Gregory has said “Every libertarian should read this article once a year,” in reference to Murray N. Rothbard’s essay War, Peace, and the State.

While I did not find it as impressive as Rothbard’s essay The Anatomy of the State, it is definitely an important work.

In the essay, Rothbard agrees with a critic who says that the libertarian movement does not have its priorities right. Specifically, many libertarians spend a lot of time worrying about issues such as the “demunicipalization of garbage disposal” rather than the major problems of our time.

Rothbard then argues that the most significant issue of our time is war. He argues that all wars waged by states are aggressive and that states commit the worst crimes in wars. As Randolph Bourne realized, “War is the health of the State.”

In accordance with the objective of reducing the amount of aggression committed by the state, Rothbard calls for libertarians to make reducing the number of innocent people murdered by states in war their top priority. This is achieved first by pressuring states to not wage war:

The libertarian objective, then, should be, regardless of the specific causes of any conflict, to pressure States not to launch wars against other States and, should a war break out, to pressure them to sue for peace and negotiate a cease-fire and peace treaty as quickly as physically possible. [page 7]

Secondly, this is achieved by disarming states so that they are less capable of committing aggression in war:

Highest priority on any libertarian agenda, therefore, must be pressure on all States to agree to general and complete disarmament down to police levels, with particular stress on nuclear disarmament. In short, if we are to use our strategic intelligence, we must conclude that the dismantling of the greatest menace that has ever confronted the life and liberty of the human race is indeed far more important than demunicipalizing the garbage service. [page 9]

So go read antiwar.com and donate. War is indeed the worst part of the state. For those of you who wisely embrace a non-interventionist foreign policy and oppose war, but are not yet anarchists, please consider reading Roderick T. Long’s An Open Letter to the Peace Movement. Thank you.

UPDATE 03/11/2013: Tony Liberté just posted a comic called Ban Government Weapons on his Facebook page Libertarian Humor that I thought was very relevant to Rothbard’s message in this essay:

Tony wrote a note on his cartoon saying:

Unfortunately, not very funny, but so very true. Our priorities should be more on disarming our violent government, not leaving the citizens defenseless against it.

I definitely agree, as did Murray Rothbard.