Peace Requires Anarchy


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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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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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Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice

I just purchased Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice edited by Edward P. Stringham on Amazon. It is shipping from the Ludwig von Mises Institute warehouse in Colorado. I’m excited to read it as soon as it arrives.

Private-property anarchism, also known as anarchist libertarianism, individualist anarchism, and anarcho-capitalism, is a political philosophy and set of economic and legal arguments that maintains that, just as the markets and private institutions of civil society provide food, shelter, and other human needs, markets and contracts should provide law and that the rule of law itself can only be understood as a private institution.

To the libertarian, the state and its police powers are not benign societal forces, but a system of conquest, authoritarianism, and occupation. But whereas limited government libertarians argue in favor of political constraints, anarchist libertarians argue that, to check government against abuse, the state itself must be replaced by a social order of self-government based on contracts. Indeed, contemporary history has shown that limited government is untenable, as it is inherently unstable and prone to corruption, being dependent on the interest-group politics of the state’s current leadership. Anarchy and the Law presents the most important essays explaining, debating, and examining historical examples of stateless orders.

Section I, “Theory of Private Property Anarchism,” presents articles that criticize arguments for government law enforcement and discuss how the private sector can provide law. In Section II, “Debate,” limited government libertarians argue with anarchist libertarians about the morality and viability of private-sector law enforcement. Section III, “History of Anarchist Thought,” contains a sampling of both classic anarchist works and modern studies of the history of anarchist thought and societies. Section IV, “Historical Case Studies of Non-Government Law Enforcement,” shows that the idea that markets can function without state coercion is an entirely viable concept. Anarchy and the Law is a comprehensive reader on anarchist libertarian thought that will be welcomed by students of government, political science, history, philosophy, law, economics, and the broader study of liberty.

Edward P. Stringham is professor of economics at San Jose State University and a research fellow at The Independent Institute. He is president of the Association of Private Enterprise Education, editor of the Journal of Private Enterprise, and the editor of Anarchy, State, and Public Choice.

For other books I have read on libertarian anarchism and my thoughts on (some of) them, see the Works Page of this blog.

UPDATE 08/30/2013: It arrived this morning, less than three days after I purchased it! Expected delivery was September 4, 2013 – September 19, 2013! Great service. I intend to begin reading it this weekend after I finish Solomon Northup’s book Twelve Years a Slave.


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

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 response he sent me addressing the question I asked him in a previous email: How Bad Would Anarchy Have to Be to Justify Unjust Government Activity?

Your question is an instance of the broader question: “How large must the benefits be to justify a rights violation?” (For instance, for what number n is it permissible to kill one innocent person to save n innocent lives?) One extreme answer is “Rights violations are never justified,” but for various reasons, I think this answer [is] indefensible. Another extreme answer is consequentialism, “Rights violations are justified whenever the benefits exceed the harms” – which is really equivalent to saying there are no such things as rights. This is not indefensible, but it is very counter-intuitive. So we’re left with a seemingly arbitrary line somewhere in the middle. Obviously, no one knows precisely where the line is. Fortunately, we also don’t need to answer that question to choose a political philosophy.

Patrick Stewart

Patrick Stewart

Analogously, you don’t need to answer “exactly how many hairs must a person have on their head in order to not count as ‘bald’?”, in order to say whether Patrick Stewart is bald, because Patrick Stewart is nowhere near the borderline; he’s deep into “bald” territory. If you have a 2000-pound pile of sand in your back yard, you don’t need to answer “exactly how many grains of sand make a heap?” in order to know that you have a heap in your back yard.

Similarly, we don’t need to answer “How Bad Would Anarchy Have to Be to Justify Unjust Government Activity?” because our predictions for how bad – or rather, how good – anarchy would be are just going to be nowhere close to the line. We’re nowhere close to the case where government would be justified.

Now, I did not discuss roads or schools in my book, as you (and another reviewer) mentioned. That is because the book was already at the word limit, there are about two dozen other things that someone thinks I should have put in, and they couldn’t all go in. (For example, should I have deleted the chapter on national defense, so I could talk about roads?). However, there’s really no reason to think that roads or schools in the anarchist society would be worse than in a governmental society.

The argument from schools strikes me as particularly lame. I think it’s mainly professional educators, who are worried about losing their huge government subsidies, who are worried about this. If you learn that your next door neighbor isn’t sending his kids to school, would you be justified in kidnapping the kids to force them to go to a school run by you?

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This is the third 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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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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Morally Permissible Unjust Acts: Defending the Rights-Based Approach to Defending Libertarianism

Michael HuemerLiterally minutes ago I purchased Professor Michael Huemer’s newest book “The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey,” which, in the opinion of Prof. Bryan Caplan, is “…the best book [in the genre of libertarian political philosophy].”

In other news, Michael Huemer pointed out in a presentation he gave at Porcfest X called “Defending Libertarianism: The Common Sense Approach” that there are three main ways to defend liberty: One can use economic arguments, rights-based arguments, or common sense. Huemer believes the common sense approach is best in some sense. I will wait until his book arrives and I have read it to decide whether or not I agree with him.

In the mean time, I would like to explain why I disagree with a criticism of the rights-based approach to defending libertarianism that Huemer gave in his presentation. See the relevant portion of his presentation here:

In summary, Huemer criticizes the rights-based approach by arguing that in some extreme situations we do not intuitively agree with the rights-based libertarian position that peoples’ libertarian rights should be upheld. In other words, “rights can be overridden.” Continue reading