Monday, May 25, 2009

An Issue about Legal Enforcement

Suppose non-human animals have moral standing.

This is obviously a controversial supposition. My point here is not to debate it, but to treat it as a given, arguendo. If you want to debate it, I'm glad to do so at another time and in another post.

My question—and it is genuinely a question—is: how might this moral standing be reflected in the legal order of a stateless society?

At present, the state plays the role of half-hearted trustee on behalf of some non-human animals. Obviously, its doing so involves the same sorts of risks that are involved in any purportedly protective action by the state.

In a stateless society, it is often, and plausibly, suggested, property rights might well help to ensure the preservation of natural treasures like the Grand Canyon. And, even in an anarchist community with markets, these property rights could perfectly well be common. Similarly, more narrowly “environmental” concerns—effectively, battery and trespass concerns—could be aptly addressed by means of tort law.

But a crucial component of regarding non-human animals as having moral standing is denying that they are anyone's property. Clearly, though, they are most unlikely to be able to vindicate their own claims in any legal system, which means that others will need to act on their behalf. But those owners cannot, ex hypothesi, be their owners. Who might they be?

It is easy enough to imagine particular people being acknowledged in a given community as the trustees of non-human animals in that community, able to act on their behalf. But it is also, unfortunately, easy to imagine problems unavoidably associated with this sort of arrangement.

The trustees' interests would not be automatically aligned with those of the non-human animals they were expected to serve. They might easily opt to use their roles as putative protectors of the animals to advance their own.

What sorts of constraints might be built into the trustee model? What alternative models might be available? Your insights are welcome.

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.