Peace Requires Anarchy


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Political Authority is an Illusion: The State is Not Special

In his book The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey Professor Michael Huemer asks “Why should 535 people in Washington be entitled to issue commands to 300 million others? And why should the others obey?”

He examines several leading answers to these questions—theories about social contracts, the authority of democracy, fairness, and consequentialism—and concludes that none of them is satisfactory, meaning no person or group genuinely possesses the special moral status called political authority.

The implications of this are substantial: Taxation is theft or extortion, war is mass murder, military and jury conscription are forced labor or enslavement, imprisonment of those who perform so-called “victimless crimes” is kidnapping, and so on.

This conclusion is very controversial today. Nearly every political philosopher and layperson supports the idea of having some government with the special kind of authority Huemer describes. While most people disagree with some of the government’s laws, few people other than those who identify as voluntaryists or libertarian anarchists would describe most of the government’s actions as crimes.

But if we want to explain to others why taxation is theft and why most of the government’s other activities are unjust, we must explain why political authority is an illusion and the state is not special after all.

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

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