Friday, July 24, 2009

Show Some Respect

I've been fascinated and dismayed by the recent dust-up over the arrest of Harvard's Henry Louis “Skip” Gates for being locked out while black.

The bulk of the conversation—which has, of course, only been intensified by a presidential intervention—has focused on the degree to which racial profiling or actual racial animus might have played a role in the actions of the arresting officer. Given the history of police departments' abusive treatment of black people in the United States, that's hardly surprising.

But I confess to being a little puzled at the defense of his actions the arresting officer has offered. In an interview I heard broadcast this morning, he maintained that Gates in effect triggered his own arrest by being belligerent and that he could have avoided arrest by behaving more compliantly.

Nothing I have learned about the situation to-date suggests that Gates's conduct presented anything remotely like a credible threat of physical harm to the officer. And, indeed, there has been (as far as I know) no claim to this effect. Thus, Gates wasn't charged with assault or something similar, but rather with “disorderly conduct.”

It seems to me that this fact ought to elicit far more troubled comment than it seems to have prompted to date. (i) It underscores the fact that police officers have access to one or more catch-all charges they can use to justify arresting people who haven't done anything that actually threatens the physical safety or the property of others. (ii) It offers a less-than-gentle reminder that a responsible, relatively senior police officer can find it natural enough to suppose that invoking the power to make one of these charges is an appropriate response to someone's verbal combativeness: in short, this officer, doubtless like many others, seems to suppose that he has the right to arrest someone for treating him in what he judges to be an insufficiently respectful manner.

We should certainly emphasize the injustice of police racism. But, in addition, we need to protest the assumption by police officers, or other agents of the state, that they are entitled to attack people they judge to be insufficiently deferential.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Help Roderick!

Most or all readers of thie blog likely frequently Roderick Long's Austro-Athenian Empire. Anyone hasn't done so this week is encouraged to check out Roderick's remarks here and here, which detail a disastrous financial emergency. Please help Roderick out if you can—whether as a matter of friendship, of loyalty to an excellent left-libertarian thinker, or of desire for an uninterrupted flow of great things from his pen.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Moving along the State-Anarchy Continuum

Consider the characteristic Hobbesian argument for the state: we need Leviathan to ensure, through the use or threat of force, that conflicts are resolved peacefully. (I do not say “justly”—there is no structural way to ensure that the outcomes of any state-based judicial system [or any comparable system in a stateless society] will be procedurally or substantively just, though of course some structures will be more conducive to just procedures and outcomes than others.)

I. It is important to note how little this argument even seeks, on its own terms, to demonstrate: if it succeeds, it shows the need, at most, for a “night-watchman” or “night-guard” state.

II. It has limited implications for the size of the state. Again, assuming the argument were correct, there would obviously be some such limitations: the population governed by Leviathan would have to be sufficiently large that
  1. the people with whom one were most likely to have disputes would also fall within Leviathan’s jurisdiction
  2. relevant economies of scale could come into play
  3. Leviathan was sufficiently well funded to enable it to repel invasions by other states
III. This means, then, that nothing about Hobbes’s argument, per se, requires a world of c. 200 states, by his lights states that would need to be only night-guard states. A world made up of 100,000 micro-night-guard states (MNGSs—perhaps more limited equivalents of the basic social units in Murray Bookchin's libertarian municipalism)—the typical one perhaps comprising a small city and its suburbs—would seem to be one in which Hobbes’s stipulations were fulfilled: each of these micro-states could effectively perform the tasks for which Leviathan is, per Hobbes’s argument, purportedly needed. (If some of these micro-states were markedly bigger than others, of course, there would be risks of invasion and conquest. But that does nothing to show that micro-states couldn’perform the basic Hobbesian function of preserving internal peace.)

IV. Nothing about the basic functions of Leviathan precludes free departure from any of these MNGSs (presuming agreements across borders ensure that courts’ judgments could still be enforced against people who fleeing to avoid the enforcement of such judgments).

V. There would be no Hobbesian reason for general limitations on anyone's entry into any of these MNGSs, with the exception of someone with a history of violence that suggested that the MNGS would have more trouble keeping the peace were she to enter (and, even here, entry need not be precluded for a potentially violent person willing to post an appropriate bond).

VI. There would, again, be no strong Hobbesian reason for any MNGS to compel payment for its services by any resident. It could simply decline to provide direct protection via its police and judicial services for anyone who declined to contribute appropriately to support for these services. Of course, some people would reap positive externalities in this case, but it seems unlikely that most would because most would want personal access to police and judicial services.

VII. Finally, it is not clear that there would be a strong Hobbesian reason for an MNGS to be geographically localized: an MNGS could be a social network that provided police and judicial service to its members, who might be as geographically separated as proved economically efficient. It doesn’t seem as if having a territory is necessary for an MNGS to keep the peace: what matters is that it be clear which MNGS is responsible for resolving a particular dispute, something that can clearly be determined by the right sorts of agreements.

VIII. So we can imagine what seems to be a smooth conceptual transition from (1) the kind of large-scale state Hobbes himself doubtless had in mind to (2) an MNGS featuring unfettered emigration and largely unfettered immgration to (3) such an MNGS without compulsory funding to (4) such an MNGS without territory.

IX. It seems, then, that endorsing the Hobbesian argument for the state is consistent with endorsing market anarchy. Or, put another way, a voluntary protective agency could qualify as a Hobbesian Leviathan.

X. Clearly, this isn’t a conclusion the Hobbesian is likely to want to endorse. At what point along the continuum do you think she is likely to maintain that the MNGS would no longer be able to do the work Leviathan is supposed to do? And how would you respond?