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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Why are YOU a libertarian? – LearnLiberty Meme

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

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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:

ywvaycr

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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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.”