Monday, May 4, 2009

An Outline of a Tentative, Contingent Case against the State

I dislike the state. I would much prefer doing without the violence and oppression being ruled by the state seems to involve. But it's worth asking whether this is more than a preference on my part (“Some people like chocolate, others support anarchism”).

Some kinds of moral stances—for instance, those that support unqualified (Lockean? Rothbardian?) property rights—can readily dismiss all taxation as theft and thus all states as robbers. I don’t dislike this conclusion; indeed, it warms my heart whenever I’m reminded that it invalidates the kind of petty local tyranny expressed in zoning laws and eminent domain action. But my political morality is rooted in the thought of Aristotle, Aquinas, and their modern interpreters (who have tended to offer pragmatic arguments for state authority), and that means that my account of rights and duties is somewhat more complicated. That means that I can still offer a credible case against the legitimacy of state authority; but it will be qualified, tentative, and contingent on at least some empirical claims that might be contestable.

I’d like to outline the multi-part case I’m inclined to offer against state authority and benefit from the responses of my readers. It would be good to hear from both Rothbardians and others who think it is obvious that the state is always and everywhere illegitimate (and who will therefore think I have been insufficiently radical) and from minarchists and other statists (who will doubtless think I have been excessively so).

I brief: I think anarchism is defensible on at least the following tentative but substantial grounds:

  1. The Absence of Justification for the State. There is no natural right to rule. The authority of the state seems arbitrary and indefensible. The state lacks legitimacy, but it may often be argued that, pragmatically, the state still does something useful. However, there are both negative and positive reasons to regard this as unpersuasive.
  2. Unjust and Destructive State Behavior. The state tends to be destructive. It engages in war and plunder, it oppresses, it excludes, and it subordinates.
  3. Undesirable Consequences of State Behavior. The state tends to promote inefficiencies through subsidies, monopolies, patents, tariffs, and other mechanisms that allow corporations to escape the cost principle. It also burdens people frustratingly.
  4. Positive Consequences of Anarchy. An anarchical society will foster efficiency and productivity.
  5. The Possible Effectiveness of Anarchical Social Institutions. (i) An anarchical society can provide the coordination needed to ensure social order. (ii) Anarchical social institutions can provide the services the state provides efficiently.
  6. The Capacity of Anarchical Social Institutions to Foster Creativity. An anarchical society can make possible a range of social and cultural experiments, the exploration of a range of possibilities, experiments in living.

What’s wrong with this list? In what ways is it too short, in what ways too extensive? I look forward to hearing from you.

14 comments:

Mike Gogulski said...

Hi, Gary!

One potential item for your list is that states violate the egalitarian principle with respect to rights, though this may well be subsumed under your first point.

My (sloppy) reasoning goes like this. If we hold that all people have equal rights, then any mechanism (voting, inheritance, etc.) which purports to give some people, who constitute the state, more rights than others is either a logical impossibility or ethically impermissible. Combine this with the contractarian suggestion that the individual members of society cannot possibly delegate to a select group of said members rights which they, themselves, do not already possess.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Gary,

A few comments.

"I dislike the state. I would much prefer doing without the violence and oppression being ruled by the state seems to involve. But it's worth asking whether this is more than a preference on my part (“Some people like chocolate, others support anarchism”).

"Some kinds of moral stances—for instance, those that support unqualified (Lockean? Rothbardian?) property rights—can readily dismiss all taxation as theft and thus all states as robbers. I don’t dislike this conclusion; indeed, it warms my heart whenever I’m reminded that it invalidates the kind of petty local tyranny expressed in zoning laws and eminent domain action. But my political morality is rooted in the thought of Aristotle, Aquinas, and their modern interpreters (who have tended to offer pragmatic arguments for state authority), and that means that my account of rights and duties is somewhat more complicated. That means that I can still offer a credible case against the legitimacy of state authority; but it will be qualified, tentative, and contingent on at least some empirical claims that might be contestable."

***

You wonder if your preference against the state's "violence and oppression" is "more than a preference on my part". You appear to contrast this with the "moral stance" that, say, "dismiss[es] all taxation as theft and thus all states as robbers"--which proposition you "don’t dislike".

I would first note that all such moral stances are necessarily based on "grundnorms" (see my post related to this here) that the person holding the moral stance necessarily adopts (for whatever reason).

When we argue about libertarian principles, we are chiefly appealing to these grundnorms, and trying to show the non-libertarian partner in discourse that his unlibertarian views are incompatible with the more basic, and undeniable, base values he holds (such as peace, civility, honesty, cooperation, and so on--which are undeniably held by those engaged in peaceful justificatory, argumentative discourse). For those who do not care about truth, fairness, reason--for criminals, for the animal-like--we have to treat them as animals and deal with them, not with reason, but with force--we treat them as technical obstacles.

Note that the case is no different even if you could somehow find an unassailable "natural law" "final" argument that "proves" the hard-core Lockean-anarchist-libertarian case for rights: still, you would be addressing this argument either (a) to those who are already basically civilized and willing to listen to reason--to treat you as an end in yourself rather than their means; or (b) to those don't care that you can prove they shouldn't do something; who are determined to violate your rights, even if it's wrong. So an absolute proof of rights is insufficient for (b); and it's not necessary for (a), because for them, you can just show them that the anti-libertarian (socialistic) norms they propose are inconsistent with the grundnorms of civilized discourse.

My point is--it's not a denigration of one's position to show that it rests on personal preferences; they are not "merely" personal preferences: they can be nothing else. The point is to sift out two basic types of such preferences: those accompanying the basically civilized stance; those accompanying the criminal perspective. And we civilized people--we libertarians--ought have no qualms whatsoever at proudly proclaiming which side we choose to be on; and then siding with that side. There is nothing wrong with choosing to side with good, peace, prosperity, over its opposite. One doesn't need to justify one's choice to be good, by some "ultimate argument" (any more than Randians needs to come up with hand-wringing, overdone treatises showing why it's okay... to be benevolent to other people--as if one needs to justify being benevolent in the first place!).

So I think there is a mistake in your implicit contrasting of having a preference against violence, with the moral stance that, say, opposes taxation as theft and the state as robber. In fact, to oppose theft and robbery is merely a consequence of having a preference for civilization and its associated grundnorms. And to have these preferences, is to commit yourself to opposing theft on principled grounds (which implies, of course, opposing the state and seeing it as a robber).

Which leads me to a suggestion to improve your list:

0. Incompatibility of any political ethic other than libertarianism with undeniable grundnorms adopted by any participant in discourse arguing for any anti-libertarian norms. Anyone engaged in the civilized activity of reasoned discourse and seeking and discussing justification of norms necessarily adopts and presupposes certain argumentative norms--such as predispositions towards peace, the value of truth and honesty, prosperity, cooperation, and the conflict-free and productive use of scarce resources--which are incompatible with any essentially socialistic (anti-libertarian) ethic. [For more on this see my post Revisiting Argumentation Ethics]

wombatron said...

If you haven't already read it, I would recommend Geoffrey Allan Plauche's dissertation Aristotelian Liberalism, especially Chapters 2 and 3, on the issue of justifying anarchism from a neo-Aristotelian point of view.

Piquant Tactics said...

It uses too many big words and philosophical concepts. I understand it, but Homer Simpson never could. Until the libertarian case can be explained simply, political power through elections is impossible. So - it's the right length, but too complicated, assuming that electoral success is an achievable or desirable goal...
What are you trying to achieve? Who is you target audience? If it's just something to show libertarians, well, frankly its been done to death.

Gary Chartier said...

Stephan: your comment deserves a more thoughtful response than I can offer at present, so, for now, thanks, as usual, for being a great dialogue partner."

Wombatron: great! I'm very interested in seeing how the argument works in Plauche's book, which I haven't read.

Piquant: the goal here is to reflect on how a position like broadly natural law view I tend to endorse could think beyond the state. Most of the contemporary proponents of this view are pretty confident statists, and I'm interested in asking what might be wrong with their view on its own terms.

Gary Chartier said...

Mike: really great, basic point—statism seems to run a serious risk of being fundamentally arbitrarily discriminatory, given that state actors don't have to adhere to the same moral constraints as everyone else. Thanks.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Gary, I should have added one more comment -- once you show how the basic non-aggression principle is implied in and the only political ethic compatible with the undeniable grundnorms of argumentative justification and discourse, it's easy to show that this implies anarcho-libertarianism, as I argue in my article What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist. Some of this is also present in my article How We Come To Own Ourselves.

Neverfox said...

Stephan,

Were you aware that Marian Eabrasu, despite his article in Libertarian Papers defending argumentation ethics against popular criticisms, published his own rejection of it? Is his more recent defense meant only to clear the field for his own argument alone or does it represent a change of mind? I would very much like to hear your response to his argument.

Gary, you might find this article interesting for your purposes also since it discusses the ramifications for libertarianism if axioms like "self-ownership" or "homesteading" can't be shown by deductive argument to be necessary.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Neverfox,

I was aware Eabrasu had his own critique of Hoppe's AE that he thought was not subject to his criticisms of other critiques of AE. I have not read it, and had not seen the 2005 paper. He submitted his criticism of AE critiques to me this year, and then he revised it after being made aware of other material, such as Van Dun's pro-AE work. So I have no idea what Eabrasu's current thoughts are on AE--whether he stands by his 2005 critique or not.

Gary Chartier said...

Thanks to everyone who's contributed so far: I appreciate this conversation, and it's likely to contribute to an article I hope to finish in the next couple of months.

I think what I'm trying to accomplish with this list is to deal with a puzzle on which I've reflected personally for some time. I'm drawn both to market anarchism and to the new classical natural law (NCNL—sorry this is clunky; the label seems to be the proponents' own) theory. The proponents of that theory tend to be statists (as I said, I've just been debating Mark Murphy (whose own approach is a kind of close cousin of the "standard" new classical natural law view) on this point in the pages of the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies). I'm really inclined to wonder whether NCNL theory and anti-statism are compatible. If NCNL theory seems—as it does—to provide a plausible account of moral reasonableness, does that mean that, by accepting it, I undermine my attachment to anarchism?

My answer to that question has been that, within the terms of NCNL theory, one can offer a contingent case for anarchism, one that depends on the accuracy of a number of claims about the behavior of states and the capacity of a stateless social order to function effectively.

I think I'd put the relevant philosophical points a bit differently than you do, Stephan, but the practical impact on an actual conversation would likely be fairly similar. I think all conversation is situational, and can proceed only on the basis of some common ground endorsed by the parties (at least, say, the principle of non-contradiction).

But I'm asking here not so much about how a good conversation about this topic might proceed but rather about how someone ought to understand her own position. I think that one can't understand one's endorsement of aGrundnorm as simply a matter of preference, or it couldn't actually function as a Grundnorm. And even less is this true of a judgment in favor of anarchism, which is almost always, I suspect, going to be a derivative one.

I think the project of grounding anarchism in discourse ethics is fascinating, and I'm not seeking to dismiss it. But in this post I'm trying to ask about the compatibility of a judgment that support for anarchism is justified with a particular moral theory.

That theory, in brief, comprises two key elements:

I. An account of flourishing

The idea here is that well being (human well being, at least) is a matter of participating in range of diverse kinds of fulfillment. The NCNL theorists differ about just what these are—a standard list might include life, knowledge, ├Žsthetic experience, practical reasonableness, play, and friendship, and I might be inclined to add peace of mind and sensory pleasure—but the details aren't overly important. What is important is that the goods are incommensurable and non-fungible: they can't meaningfully be aggregated, which means that any sort of utilitarianism is ruled out from the start, since you can't maximize or optimize what you can't commensurate.

II. A set of practical principles

The idea here is that reasonable participation in these goods is a matter of adhering to a set of practical principles, which constrain options but leave many open. A decent list, pared down from the longer ones endorsed by many NCNL theorists, is:

1. The Pauline Principle: don't purposefully or instrumentally cause harm to one of the basic aspects of well being (causing harm as a side-effect can be OK if it's consistent with the other principles of practical reasonableness—so the use of force in self-defense is ordinarily acceptable).

2. The Golden Rule: don't discriminate arbitrarily among people. "Arbitrary" here means (a) unless required by one of the basic aspects of well being (think: friendship) and (b) unless the harm or risk of harm one's action imposes on someone else would be a risk of harm or harm one would be prepared to accept in similar circumstances for oneself or one's loved ones.

3. The Efficiency Principle: given reasonable objectives, pursue them efficiently.

* * * * *

Obviously, there's a lot more to be said about this theoretical position. But it's really intended to provide the frame within which I pose the question that began this conversation.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Neverfox,

Eabrasu wrote me and basically confirmed my guesses that his position has changed. He gave me permission to post the following summary/redaction of his comments to me:

"Dear Stephan,

Thank you very much for forwarding me this exchange and for making me aware of the blog of Gary Chartier! I am reading right now some stuff published on the blog and I appreciate very much the quality of arguments.

As to the article presented 2005 at Mises Seminar in Sestri Levante was the first draft of my reflections on the justification of libertarianism which evolved very much since then; this explains also why this conference presentation was never published [nor cited in his LP article -- NSK] In the light of the discussions stimulated by ulterior presentations (especially in Guido’s seminar in Paris) practically all the arguments (including the critiques formulated against the article of Gene Callahan and Bob Murphy) evolved very much. I consider my current position very different from the conference presentation in 2005. As I told you, right now I am working on a project composed of several articles. In addition, to the reply to the current critiques of argumentation ethics, I plan to reassess the arguments from reductio ad absurdum and performative contradiction, to distinguish two meanings of self-ownership and, finally, to propose a new justification of libertarianism. [Other issues are distracting me at present from making progress on this as quickly as I would like.] But, I hope to quickly overcome these impediments and to provide shortly new results of my research project on the justification of libertarianism.

Due to the lack of time I didn’t react to the comments posted on lp.org and mises.org,but I [will say that it appears to me that Callahan simply reiterated his position without giving attention to the substance of the criticisms of his article.] However, as to the upshots of my article, I received several emails pertinently addressing some features of this debate. Also (but maybe you are already aware of it), Rothbard Institute in Antwerp will organise a Summer University and invited me along with Professor van Dun to discuss the topic of argumentation ethics.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Gary:

I am very intersted in seeing the article you are working on (and feel free to submit it to Libertarian Papers :)

I am not familiar with "the new classical natural law (NCNL)" school of thought. Is there anything you can recommend to read up on this? And why you find it possibly relevant for libertarian theory? Do you have papers on this you can link to? What's this in Oxford?

"I think I'd put the relevant philosophical points a bit differently than you do, Stephan, but the practical impact on an actual conversation would likely be fairly similar. I think all conversation is situational, and can proceed only on the basis of some common ground endorsed by the parties (at least, say, the principle of non-contradiction)."

Yes; and there are normative presumptions too, not just factual or logical. Argumentation is a certain type of action, that can only take place if the parties, for example, are agreeing to persuade each other by reason, and not threatening to hit the other to coerce him to agree. This has normative implications.

"But I'm asking here not so much about how a good conversation about this topic might proceed but rather about how someone ought to understand her own position."

Let me interject: I view the argumentation ethics approach as an argument not about how to actually engage in actual conversation with people--but it's an explanation to those seeking understanding, of why the norms of libertarianism are undeniable and in a sense need no justification. It's a way of revealing to people that they alreayd hold certain views. It's similar in that respect to the "proof" of the law of non-contradiction--you can't really prove it, but you can show that any attempt to challenge or deny or question it already rests on it.

"I think that one can't understand one's endorsement of Grundnorm as simply a matter of preference, or it couldn't actually function as a Grundnorm."

This may be; and I do not deny this. Similarly, even if we understnad intellectually that we are determined instead of having real free will, we as actors have no choice but to understand ourselves as acting beings as having choice. But I don't think this gainsays my point: the fact is that value is both subjective, and fairly meaningless unless demonstrated in action. The way you understand your own normative preferences "internally" may be from some kind of moralist point of view, sure. If I choose civilization, then I probably "feel" or "regard" my choice as "the right" one. But from the point of view of external characterization of this, and for interpersonal interaction, the fact remains that this value is demonstrated and manifested in action, and the activity of argumentation in particular necessarily requires certain presupposed grundnorms -- regardless of how the actor who has adopted them feels about why he did adopt them.

"And even less is this true of a judgment in favor of anarchism, which is almost always, I suspect, going to be a derivative one."

Well... I am speaking here of more basic, fundamental norms, not high-level ones like anarchism. Yes, I think this has to be derivative in a sense.

"I think the project of grounding anarchism in discourse ethics is fascinating, and I'm not seeking to dismiss it. But in this post I'm trying to ask about the compatibility of a judgment that support for anarchism is justified with a particular moral theory."

I understand. I was not really critiquing your project. It's just that you provoked me to interject these thoughts; and I did it mainly as an explanation of why I suggested you add something like item 0 (zero) to your list, since you asked for comments on yoru list; I felt you left out that one key point. Maybe it's not a good point for practical rhetorical or pegagogical purposes, but at least having it in mind may be helpful (to the extent you agree).

Neverfox said...

Thanks for sharing that, Stephan!

Maurizio said...

"For those who do not care about truth, fairness, reason--for criminals, for the animal-like--we have to treat them as animals and deal with them, not with reason, but with force"

Stephan, do you realize that there are pacific animals as well as aggressive animals? What is your rationale for initiating force towards them?