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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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.

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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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The Free State Solution (2013)

This 20-minute documentary is the best introduction to the Free State Project I have seen.

Please share it far and wide to help achieve Liberty in Our Lifetime. Peace.

Free State Project - Community Liberty Peace


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Rich Paul Found Guilty of Non-Aggressive Acts: Some Have No Sympathy

Over at Free Keene, Ian Freeman reports the sad news that activist Rich Paul, the creator of the historic 420 celebrations in downtown Keene, New Hampshire, was found guilty on April 18 for selling cannabis:
Rich Paul Found Guilty

Even though Rich Paul knew that what he was doing was illegal according to the criminal enterprise known as the State of New Hampshire, a lot of people were still sad to see him caged since the acts he performed were peaceful in nature.

Some people seemed to forget their consciences, however, and had no sympathies for Rich Paul simply because he did something the government said not to do. Thomas Clement was one such heartless person:

Offer to Hire Thomas ClementClement is not the only person who stops opposing aggression when government commits the aggression. I’ve encountered countless others who make this exception for government as well.

I sometimes wonder how personal slavery, a very serious form of aggression, existed for so long. Weren’t people repulsed by it? How did they stand by and let it exist? One hypothesis is that many people were obedient to government. Since government supported slavery many people may have consequently gone along with supporting slavery as well.

I wonder what Thomas Clement would think of Frederick Douglass‘ story if he read his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Would he agree with most people of our time and say that it was unjust for people to enslave him? Would he agree that the government’s fugitive slave laws were unjust? Would he have sympathy for Frederick Douglass?

If so, would he retract his comment pictured above that knowingly breaking a law is reason enough to not have sympathy for a lawbreaker?

It’s hard to imagine that many people in today’s world would not have sympathy for Frederick Douglass and his peers who were beaten or killed for breaking unjust laws. I bet that Thomas Clement would feel sympathy for them and I bet that once he realized this he would be more inclined to be sympathetic to other heroic people who bravely break unjust laws for the sake of their own freedoms and everyone else’s freedoms.

People like Frederick Douglass and Rich Paul make the world a better place. It’s sad to see them harmed, especially when so many people support the aggression against them.

Activists standing outside the Cheshire County Courthouse in Keene, NH a few days before Rich Paul's trial.

Activists standing outside the Cheshire County Courthouse in Keene, NH a few days before Rich Paul’s trial.

Free Keene

Consider moving to New Hampshire for the Free State Project to help achieve Liberty in Our Lifetime.


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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.