Peace Requires Anarchy


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My Thoughts on “The Tale of the Slave” by Robert Nozick

The Tale of the Slave

The Tale of the Slave from Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 290-292.

Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave, and imagine it is about you.

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.
    Let us pause in this sequence of cases to take stock. If the master contracts this transfer of power so that he cannot withdraw it, you have a change of master. You now have 10,000 masters instead of just one; rather you have one 10,000-headed master. Perhaps the 10,000 even will be kindlier than the benevolent master in case 2. Still, they are your master. However, still more can be done. A kindly single master (as in case 2) might allow his slave(s) to speak up and try to persuade him to make a certain decision. The 10,000-headed monster can do this also.
  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?

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My thoughts on Nozick’s The Tale of the Slave: Continue reading

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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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“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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Libertarian Humor: Taxation Without Consent

Tony Liberté recently began publishing some very good libertarian-themed comics on his Facebook page Libertarian Humor. Here is one from today titled Taxation Without Consent that I found particularly great:

UPDATE 02/17/2013: Today Tony released another comic called Social Contract in response to a popular criticism:

I encourage anyone who believes that taxation is legitimate to read Lysander Spooner’s No Treason, a series of three essays: No. I (1867), No. II: The Constitution (1867), and No. VI: The Constitution of No Authority (1870).

Lysander Spooner’s quote from the first comic is from A Letter to Grover Cleveland:

If taxation without consent is not robbery, then any band of robbers have only to declare themselves a government, and all their robberies are legalized.


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The Definition Of Theft

In this article I will not be attempting to offer a full definition of theft. Rather, I will assume a background of libertarian property rights and will examine just one disputed aspect of the definition of theft. This aspect is raised by YouTube user Orygyn in his YouTube video Taxation Is Not Theft embedded below:

Note that my view is that taxation is theft.

Allow me to begin by explaining what I believe that Orygyn’s argument is by considering two scenarios:

Scenario A: I could go up to you and say, “give me your money or else I will use violence against you to try to seize your money.”

Regardless of whether you submitted to my threat and handed over your money, or whether you attempted to resist and failed, I think we would all agree that this would constitute theft.

If you managed to fend me off, we might call it attempted theft, but this is irrelevant to the discussion of the definition of theft. Therefore, assume for the sake of this article that the aggressor (me in this scenario) is always successful at seizing peoples’ money (or other property) whenever (s)he attempts to seize the money with physical force.

Scenario B: You want to buy a product from Bob. I tell Bob that if he does not give a certain percentage of the money he receives from you when you buy his product (a sales tax) to me, then I will use violence against him to seize the money from him.

In this scenario, you are not the victim of an act of theft as Orygyn rightly points out in his video (from 2:20 to 2:40). You are not the victim because nobody is threatening you with force. I am threatening Bob with force, however, and so he is a candidate theft victim.

Suppose Bob does end up selling the product to you for some money. Regardless of whether Bob submits to my threat of violence and hands over the money to me or whether he attempts to resist me and fails, I would say that this scenario would constitute theft. It would be theft for the same reason that Scenario A is theft.

Suppose Bob chooses not to sell you the product, however. If he chose not to sell the product then I would not take any money from him. Would he be the victim of an act of theft then? No, I do not believe he would. Instead he would be the victim of a bully threatening to steal from him if he acted in a specific way. But, as I would not have any of his money in the end, this situation clearly would not be theft. (Note, however, that because Bob has the freedom to sell his property to you my threat of force against him would still be immoral even though it is not “theft.”)

But, suppose that Bob does choose to sell the product to you, even though he knows that I threatened to take a certain percentage of the money he made from you if he sold it. Would it be theft then? As I said above, I would consider it theft, yes. But, Orygyn, apparently would not. “It’s not stealing if you agree to it,” says Orygyn in his video (3:28) referring to the fact that Bob (well not “Bob” in the video) choose to sell the product to you despite being able to choose not to sell it to you.

I think the presence of this choice in the matter is irrelevant as I will explain shortly with some examples. Before doing that, though, let me make sure that this picture of the difference between Scenario A and scenarios like Scenario B is completely clear to all of us.

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