Peace Requires Anarchy


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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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WWYD?: Good People, Peaceful Parenting, and Agorism Today

What Would You Do?: A Television Show that Reveals Human Nature

There are more good people in the world than many anarchy-skeptics would have you believe, the ABC television series “What Would You Do?” shows.

From Wikipedia:

“In the series, actors act out scenes of conflict or illegal activity in public settings while hidden cameras videotape the scene, and the focus is on whether or not bystanders intervene, and how. Variations are also usually included, such as changing the genders, the races or the clothing of the actors performing the scene, to see if bystanders react differently. Quiñones appears at the end to interview the bystanders about their reactions.”

Host of the television show “What Would You Do?”

A few weeks ago I discovered this fascinating show on YouTube and have already watched a significant portion of the episodes.

Many of the people on hidden cameras who witness the scenarios the actors act out are revealed to be mean, vicious, racist, sexist, ignorant, or intolerant people, while others are revealed to be very kind, caring, generous, and loving people.

Sometimes we observe the bystander effect, but on other occasions we witness people go out of their way to selflessly help strangers in need.

Since the producers of the show act out each scenario several times over the course of one or a few days of filming and yet only select a few of these run-throughs to be included in the show, we viewers cannot always gather accurate information about how most people respond to each scenario.

However, the show host usually fills us in on how people tended to react, often with specific numbers: “Of the 22 shoppers we confronted, Chris is the only one who really questioned our authority figure.

This means that in addition to providing proof that there are some good people in the world, the television show also provides us with evidence that a large number of people are not the evil selfish kind of people that Thomas Hobbes believed would fight against each other in a war of all-against-all were it not for the “common Power [state] to keep them all in awe.” Continue reading


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Stateless Societies: Ancient Ireland

By Joseph R. Peden

April, 1971 The Libertarian Forum [PDF]

Libertarians have often dreamed of escaping the tyranny of the State; some have sought to do so by seeking refuge in distant and uninhabited lands where they could live in solitary hermitage or in small communities held together by the principle of voluntary association and mutual aid. But historians know that such experiments seldom survive in peace for long; sooner or later the State finds and confronts them with its instinctive will to violence, its mania for coercion rather than persuasion, for compulsion rather than voluntarism. Such has been the fate of the Mormons and Mennonites, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Amish people, among others.

As exploited peoples all over the world are beginning to realize, their true enemy is always within their midst – the coercive violence of the State – and it must be fought constantly in the very heart of its dominions. Every libertarian must fight the State from where he is: in his home, his place of business, in the schools, community and the world at large. His task is to resist the State and to dismantle it by whatever means are at hand.

Historically, States do not dismantle willingly or easily. While they can disintegrate with startling speed, as in Russia in 1917 or France in 1968, almost always new States arise to take their place. The reason for this, I believe, is that men cannot bring themselves to believe in the practical feasibility of a society in which perfect liberty, security of life and property, and law and justice can be attained without the coercive violence of the State. Men have for so long been enslaved by the State that they cannot rid themselves of a Statist mentality. The myth of the State as a necessary part of social reality constitutes the greatest single obstacle to the achievement of a libertarian voluntarist society.

Yet the historian, if he but chooses to look and report his findings, knows that many societies have functioned successfully without the existence of the State, its coercive apparatus and monopoly of organized violence. It is my purpose here to present one example of such a society, one that existed for more than a thousand years of recorded history, terminated only by the massive military efforts of a more populous, wealthy and aggressive neighboring State. I will describe for you the millennial – long anarchic society of Celtic Ireland – destroyed after a six-century struggle against the English State in the wake of the military victories, confiscations and genocidal policies of successive English governments in the 17th century.

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David Friedman On Medieval Iceland

David Friedman, son of Milton Friedman, is an economist and anarcho-capitalist.

In his 1979 essay Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case Friedman examines “the legal and political institutions of Iceland from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries.” These political institutions of medieval Iceland are of interest to the anarchist because, as the title of the essay suggests, they involve private enforcement and private creation of law. Once one understands how the service of law can be provided privately in a society without a government, then everything else seems to easily fall into place. (Note: Medieval Iceland was not quite anarchy, but the fact that creation and enforcement of law were provided privately means that an examination of medieval Iceland can be a good way of understanding how an anarchist society could potentially provide law.)

Upon completion of his examination, Friedman reaches the following conclusion:

Whatever the correct judgment on the Icelandic legal system, we do know one thing: it worked–sufficiently well to survive for over three hundred years. In order to work, it had to solve, within its own institutional structure, the problems implicit in a system of private enforcement. Those solutions may or may not be still applicable [to today’s societies], but they are certainly still of interest.

According to his Wikipedia page: “Friedman advocates an incrementalist approach to achieve anarcho-capitalism by gradual privatization of areas that government is involved in, ultimately privatizing law and order itself.” He offers how this gradual privatization might occur in the appendix of his essay:

The first step in applying the Icelandic system of private enforcement to a modern society would be to convert all criminal offenses into civil offenses, making the offender liable to pay an appropriate fine to the victim…. The second step would be to make the victim’s claim marketable, so that he could sell it to someone willing to catch and convict the offender…. Once these steps were taken, a body of professional “thief-takers” (as they were once called in England) would presumably develop and gradually replace our present governmental police forces.

Unlike some anarchists, I am optimistic that one day governments will be abolished and peace and anarchy will be achieved. Having said that, I would not be too surprised if 100, 200, 300 or more years from now, most societies are still ruled by coercive governments. So anarchy may be a long way off, but I am optimistic that one day the status quo will be that the vast majority of people will not consider government aggression acceptable. While it is possible that humans will go extinct before this stage in our social evolution I do not think it is very likely. Truth has a way of spreading, slowly but surely.

So having said this, what is the most likely way that a free society will be achieved? Perhaps it will be achieved by gradual privatization as Friedman advocates. Who knows? In any case, a necessary first step will be to spread the idea of anarchy far and wide to everyone.


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An American Experiment In Anarcho-Capitalism: The Not So Wild, Wild West

The following is an excerpt from the 1978 essay An American Experiment in Anarcho-Capitalism: The Not So Wild, Wild West by Terry L. Anderson and P. J. Hill.

Perhaps an even more revealing example of anarcho-capitalism at work is found in the dissolution of the Boone County Company. When the eight members of the company fell into rival factions of 3 and 5, dissolution became imminent. Negotiations continued for some time until all the company property (note that none of the private property was divided) was divided between the two groups. When negotiations appeared at an impasse because of the indivisibility of units and differences in quality, prices were assigned to units and the groups resolved the issue by trade. However, a $75 claim of the majority group proved even harder to resolve. The claim resulted from the fact that a passenger who owned two mules and a horse and who had been traveling with the company chose to take his property and go with the minority. The disadvantaged majority demanded compensation. Unable to settle the dispute, arbitration came from a “private court” consisting of “3 disinterested men,” one chosen by each side and a third chosen by the two. Their decision follows.

“[W]e can see no just cause why the mess of 3men should pay anything to the mess of 5 men. It being… a mutual and simultaneous agreement to dissolve the original contract. The fact that Abbott joins in with the 3men does not alter in our opinion the matter of the case—for the dissolution being mutually agreed upon, all the parties stand in the same relation to each other which they did, before any contract was entered into. And Abbott might or not just as he chose unite with either party. If he chose to unite with neither party, then clearly neither could claim of the other. If he united with a foreign party then who could think of claiming anything of such a party.”61

The important point of this example is that when the Boone County Company could not renegotiate its initial contract the members did not resort to force, but chose private arbitration instead. The many companies which crossed the plains “were experiments in democracy and while some proved inadequate to meet all emergencies, the very ease with which the members could dissolve their bonds and form new associations without lawlessness and disorder proves the true democratic spirit among the American frontiersmen rather than the opposite.”62 Competition rather than coercion insured justice.

While the above evidence suggests that the wagon trains were guided by anarcho-capitalism, it should be noted that their unique characteristics may have contributed to the efficacy of the system. First, the demand for public goods was probably not as great as found in more permanent communities. If nothing else, the transient nature of these moving communities meant that schools, roads, and other goods which are publicly provided in our society were not needed, hence there was no demand for a government to form for this purpose. Secondly, the short term nature of the organization meant that there was not a very long time for groups to organize to use coercion. These were “governments” of necessity rather than ambition. Nonetheless, the wagon trains on the overland trails did provide protection and justice without a monopoly on coercion, did allow competition to produce rules, and did not result in the lawless, disorder generally associated with anarchy.

The entire essay is 19 pages. It provides historical examples of private law and private dispute resolution, among other things, in the American West from 1830 to 1900. It concludes:

“1) The West, although often dependent upon market peace keeping agencies, was, for the most part, orderly.”

“2) Different standards of justice did prevail and various preferences for rules were expressed through the market place.”

“3) Competition in defending and adjudicating rights does have beneficial effects.”

I found the essay thought-provoking and educational. I recommend it in its entirety to anyone interested in the possible workings of a free society.