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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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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The “Monkey Master” Fable

Following is an excerpt from Gene Sharp’s essay From Dictatorship to Democracy, pages 17-18 (PDF pages 25-26 of 102).

Whence Comes The Power?

Achieving a society with both freedom and peace is of course no simple task. It will require great strategic skill, organization, and planning. Above all, it will require power. Democrats cannot hope to bring down a dictatorship and establish political freedom without the ability to apply their own power effectively.

But how is this possible? What kind of power can the democratic opposition mobilize that will be sufficient to destroy the dictatorship and its vast military and police networks? The answers lie in an oft ignored understanding of political power. Learning this insight is not really so difficult a task. Some basic truths are quite simple.

The “Monkey Master” fable

A Fourteenth Century Chinese parable by Liu-Ji, for example, outlines this neglected understanding of political power quite well:

In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him “ju gong” (monkey master).

Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees. It was the rule that each monkey had to give one-tenth of his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly flogged. All the monkeys suffered bitterly, but dared not complain.

One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?” The others said: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?” The others replied: “Yes, we all can.” The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”

Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.

On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned. The old man finally died of starvation.

Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren’t they just like the monkey master? They are not aware of their muddleheadedness. As soon as their people become enlightened, their tricks no longer work.”

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For several examples of other great thinkers’ similar insights regarding this major source of government power, see the How to Achieve A Free Society section of the Quotes page.

Also recommended is Gene Sharp’s 2011 documentary How to Start a Revolution.


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First Anniversary of “Peace Requires Anarchy Blog”

A year ago today I wrote Peace Is The Purpose, the first post on this blog. In that post I said that the purpose of this blog was to advocate peace, but I have found that I have mainly used this blog to help improve my own understanding of what peace is and what it means to be “pro-peace” on various issues.

On the About page of this blog, I have clarified that being “pro-peace” means supporting peoples’ libertarian rights by abiding by the Non-Aggression Principle and by advocating that others do as well. Being pro-peace thus means more than simply advocating a situation in which physical violence is not used. As Gene Sharp says in his long essay From Dictatorship to Democracy:

What kind of peace?

If dictators and democrats are to talk about peace at all, extremely clear thinking is needed because of the dangers involved. Not everyone who uses the word “peace” wants peace with freedom and justice. Submission to cruel oppression and passive acquiescence to ruthless dictators who have perpetrated atrocities on hundreds of thousands of people is no real peace. Hitler often called for peace, by which he meant submission to his will. A dictators’ peace is often no more than the peace of the prison or of the grave. [page 14]

Being pro-peace thus also means advocating a situation in which there are no standing threats of aggressive violence. Advocating that people submit to Hitler’s will rather than use defensive force against him or disobey him nonviolently is thus not a pro-peace position. Further, a situation in which people do submit to Hitler’s will is not a peaceful situation, even if no violence actually occurs, due to the fact that if people have to submit themselves to Hitler’s demands then it must be the case that Hitler is threatening them with aggressive violence.

Note that the title of this blog, Peace Requires Anarchy, was inspired by a statement made by Professor Roderick T. Long in his brief letter, An Open Letter to the Peace Movement: “A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.”

When I created this blog a year ago I did not realize that February 4th was Roderick Long’s birthday, but it turns out that that is the case–an interesting coincidence!

Some other works by Roderick Long that I recommend include:

Happy 49th birthday to Roderick Long and thanks for helping to inspire this blog!

Lastly, a note on the subtitle of this blog: “Advocating peace in all situations, at all times, without exception” means advocating peace consistently, which, as Roderick Long points out, necessarily entails advocating anarchism.

Check out the Works page to see some of what I’ve read and written about this past year regarding peace and libertarian anarchism.

And look at all of the people (3750 views according to WordPress; 4530 according to RevolverMaps) around the world (80 countries according to WordPress; 85 countries according to RevolverMaps) who have found this site in the past year! Amazing. The market will bring peace.

Static February 4, 2013 map followed by current map:

4Feb2013BlogVisitorMap

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The Conscience of an Anarchist | Gary Chartier

“Today’s the big day; make sure you vote,” said my professor in class today.

“I voted today,” said a sticker with an American flag on it that one of my other professors was wearing on his shirt pocket.

When I got back from class I was delighted to learn that Gary Chartier’s book The Conscience of an Anarchist had arrived in the mail. The book is only 120 pages long so I was able to read it all this afternoon. It was very good.

Interestingly, Gary Chartier choose to avoid using practically every controversial word except “anarchy.” He avoids terms such as “libertarian,” “free market,” “capitalism,” and “socialism.” He often calls peoples’ “property” their “possessions,” presumably because many leftists have negative preconceptions about “property rights.”

Chartier is a self-identified leftist and it is clear from his book that he is a leftist. I don’t consider myself to be left wing (nor right wing) yet I agreed with almost all of the leftist views that he expressed. Something I noticed as I read his book is that there appear to be a lot of issues that leftists and rightists actually agree on, but appear to have different views on simply because they stress different aspects of the issues.

For example, on the subject of tariffs Gary Chartier writes:

I remember arguing about tariffs with dad when I was a high school student. I didn’t understand basic economics then. But I knew there was something wrong with treating goods and services differently because they came from other countries. It was chauvinistic, nationalistic, discriminatory.

Now I realize too how much tariffs disadvantage ordinary people in the territory of a state that imposes them–while benefiting elites. Tariffs are, effectively, subsidies by the state to favored industries and firms. A state’s tariffs may not actually exclude goods or services from outside its borders. But tariffs can make these goods and services a lot less attractive to purchasers inside its borders. In so doing, it props up wealthy, well-connected businesses that don’t want to be undersold by foreign producers. The foreign producers become victims of nationalistic bigotry–but so do the state’s own subjects, who cannot obtain goods and services as inexpensively as they otherwise could and who are forced to subsidize privileged businesses. A particularly stark example: agricultural subsidies, which prop up inefficient agribusinesses at the expense of foreign agricultural producers, and which therefore constitute significant, ongoing sources of poverty around the world. [page 33]

It definitely appears that a leftist wrote this, not a rightist, but do right libertarians or anarcho-capitalists actually disagree with it? I don’t think they do. How then can we even tell that a leftist wrote it?

I think the answer lies in the fact that Chartier stressed that the consequence of the tariffs is that they are effective subsidies that prop up domestic “elite” businesses by protecting them from competition.

I don’t think right wing people would deny that this is an effect of tariffs, yet at the same time I don’t think that the right wing people would necessarily stress this effect. Rather, I think the right wing people would focus on the small part of Chartier’s above quote that says, “The foreign producers become victims of nationalistic bigotry.”

The rightists would stress that tariffs are unjust because the state violates peoples’ rights–it makes them victims–when it threatens to forcefully prevent them from selling goods unless they submit to the state’s demands by giving a certain portion of the money they get for each good to the state.

The rightist may leave his explanation of why tariffs are unjust at that and thus possibly appear to leftists as if he doesn’t care about the ordinary people who now have to work for and shop from firms that manage to be artificially large, bureaucratic, “fat and lazy [page 27],” thanks to the protection from competition provided to them by the tariff.

But the rightist definitely might actually care about these effects on people. And if the rightest does care, does that make him a leftist? What if he cares, but does not always mention that he does? Does this make him a leftist that looks like a rightist?

Arguing over semantics is pointless. However, I just wanted to mention that I think many of the alleged differences in views between anarcho-capitalists and left libertarian “freed market anti-capitalist” anarchists do not truly exist. Their views just appear to be different because they stress different things. Of course, this is not to say that anarcho-capitalists and left anarchists don’t hold any different views. Some of their views definitely are different. I just think that they agree on more issues than it may seem.

It’s important to point this out because doing so makes it easier for all anarchists to work together for the same cause of achieving a free society. In a free society anarcho-capitalists and left market anarchists like Chartier may live very differently, but so long as we share the same goal of living peacefully and interacting with one another voluntarily I see no reason why we can’t work together. As Chartier said:

Anarchy as a Discovery Process

I’ve got fairly strong convictions about how I’d like to see things work without the state. Some of my convictions are moral–I think some things would be unjust and exploitative and subordinate and exclusive. Some of them are practical, empirical–I think authoritarian bureaucracies aren’t very adept at managing the production and distribution of goods and services. I wouldn’t hold those convictions if I didn’t think they were plausible. But I recognize that I might be dead wrong about any number of them.

Indeed, that’s one reason I find anarchism so appealing. Without a little cognitive humility, it’s easy to assume that I’ve got a model, a plan, that’s just right for everyone, that all I need is the right sort of benevolent philosopher-queen to implement it. But of course it’s that kind of naïve idealism about the capacities of states and the motivations of state actors that’s gotten us into the mess we’re in now, the mess in which the state tyranizzes [sic] us–supposedly for our own good.

Embracing cognitive humility, recognizing that I might well be dead wrong, is a crucial reason not to support some kind of cookie-cutter standard to be imposed across the board on communities in a stateless society. Anarchy will give people the freedom to experiment, to figure out what works, to test ideas and ideologies and figure out what happens when they’re actually put into practice. Some options will work well–people will improve on and refine them. Others will likely be disastrous–people will abandon them with relief. And others will likely prove stable enough that people who are attached to them will preserve them, and muddle through. The point is that, only by trying them out will people really discover effectively just how much merit they really have. (One advantageous feature of this kind of experimentation is that, if it goes badly wrong, the results won’t, can’t, be as catastrophic as they would be if a massive, powerful state apparatus messed things up dramatically. A large-scale, coercive state can do far more harm than a voluntary, small-scale, virtual or geographic community.) [page 91]

UPDATE 12/9/2012: Jacob Huebert’s Introduction to Chartier’s Conscience of an Anarchist is very good.


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The Machinery of Freedom | David D. Friedman

I just read The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.

Perhaps the most important part of the book is Part III: Anarchy is Not Chaos (pages 58-84). In this section of the book Friedman illustrates and defends his system of anarcho-capitalism. He discusses private police, private courts, private law, and private national defense. He gives his reasons for supporting anarchy over limited government and explains how we might get to anarchy from our present society.

One important thing to point out is that in the book Friedman argues for libertarian positions from a utilitarian or consequentialist perspective, rather than from libertarian principle. He explains why he does this:

[O]ne reason to base my arguments on consequences rather than justice is that people have widely varying ideas about what is just but generally agree that making people happy and prosperous is a good thing. If I argue against heroin laws on the grounds that they violate the addicts’ rights, I will convince only other libertarians. If I argue that drug laws, by making drugs enormously more expensive, are the chief cause of drug-related crime, and that the poor quality control typical of an illegal market is the main source of drug-related deaths, I may convince even people who do not believe that drug addicts have rights.

A second reason to use practical rather than ethical arguments is that I know a great deal more about what works than about what is just. This is in part a matter of specialization; I have spent more time studying economics than moral philosophy. But I do not think that is all it is. One reason I have spent more time studying economics is that I think more is known about the consequences of institutions than about what is or is not just—that economics is a much better developed science than moral philosophy. [page 93]

As much as I would love to now write down my thoughts on many of the interesting things he said in the book, I would love to keep reading even more (Gerard Casey’s Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State is next) (UPDATE: Here is my post on Casey’s book). Perhaps I will come back to this at some point in the future.

Before I get going, however, let me mention one of Friedman’s statements that I added to the Quotes page:

Why don’t we have libertarian anarchy? Why does government exist? The answer implicit in previous chapters is that government as a whole exists because most people believe it is necessary. [page 83]

And let me also mention one of his honorably honest, yet disappointing statements that I did not add to the Quotes page. Note that I am placing the above quote and the following quote together intentionally because they are very related:

What will I do if, when all other functions of our government have been abolished, I conclude that there is no effective way to defend against aggressive foreign governments save by national defense financed by taxes—financed, in other words, by money taken by force from the taxpayers?

In such a situation I would not try to abolish that last vestige of government. I do not like paying taxes, but I would rather pay them to Washington than to Moscow—the rates are lower. I would still regard the government as a criminal organization, but one which was, by a freak of fate, temporarily useful. [page 75]

In short, Friedman realizes most people support unjust government actions because they erroneously believe that those actions are necessary, yet he says that he would support unjust governments as well if he believed they were necessary.

How smart does he think he is? Isn’t it possible that he could be mistaken as well? Could he really be comfortable supporting certain evils in the name of necessity despite knowing that they may not actually be necessary? Apparently so. I think Rothbard was right: He doesn’t Hate the State.

To be fair to Friedman, he wrote The Machinery of Freedom a long time ago (“Most of this book was written between 1967 and 1973.” – page 3) and may quite possibly have a different view today.

Also, to be fair to 1970 Friedman, he’s almost certainly not nearly as bad in this regard as most of the people who support the state as a necessary evil. Specifically, I am sure that he would be far more careful in his analysis of the necessity of the state than the vast majority of other people. While most others would simply assume that the state is necessary, Friedman would only take such a position after putting a substantial amount of careful thought into the question. I have to give him credit for that.

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Dispelling the Myth of Violent Chaos with the Truth of the Free Market

One of the most common objections people make regarding a free market anarchist society is that such a society would be violent, chaotic and lawless. As economist Bryan Caplan writes in his Anarchist Theory FAQ, “The most common criticism, shared by the entire range of critics, is basically that anarchism would swiftly degenerate into a chaotic Hobbesian war of all-against-all.”

Economist Robert Murphy, in his article But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over? writes, “On two separate occasions in the last couple of weeks, people have asked me a familiar question:  ‘In a system of “anarcho-capitalism” or the free-market order, wouldn’t society degenerate into constant battles between private warlords?'”

Caplan and Murphy are two people among many market anarchists who have attempted to dispel this myth. Unfortunately, most people remain apathetic and thus go on believing that monopoly governments are “good” and “necessary” institutions despite the countless evils that each and every one of them have been responsible for throughout history. Most people imagine that there is no alternative to government that can be peaceful, orderly, and just. They falsely presume that Society Without a State must be violent and chaotic when in reality observation of The Anatomy of the State reveals that this is the nature of societies ruled by governments, not the nature of societies with voluntary, consensual (and thus necessarily anarchical) social orders.

Unfortunately, most people don’t care enough about peace, justice, and prosperity to bother doing a little reading and thinking, to bother paying attention to the thinkers before them who have already shown the myths to be false, beginning with Gustave de Molinari who first described in 1849 how market mechanisms could lead to the production of “governmental” services of security and justice in a free society and continuing ever since with people like Robert Murphy who continue to show today how The Market for Security is an efficient, just and realistic alternative to the coercive monopolistic governments that necessarily violate peoples’ rights rather than secure them.

If only people cared, the world would be a far better place. As abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison said in 1831, “The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal and hasten the resurrection of the dead.”