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?


Anonymous said…
I agree that an MNGS would qualify as Leviathan. But (III) makes this seem like a negative. If an MNGS fills the role of Leviathan, where are you distinguishing risks of invasion and conquest from a high probability of invasion and conquest?

I'm with you that MNGSs would provide internal peace better than classic Leviathan. But why would MNGSs interact more--or equally--peacefully with other MNGSs than big states with other big states?
Danny said…
Interesting post, Dr. Chartier. One thing on which I'd like to hear your thoughts is the role of the state as source of public reason in the Hobbesian account. As I'm sure you're aware, Hobbes argues for the state on the grounds that so long as people follow their own private reasons, they will sometimes find themselves with good reason to defect from social agreements in order to pursue their own self-interested motives. But, Hobbes notes, this leads everyone to prepare for war even though none of them want that. Accordingly, he thinks it makes sense for each of them to subordinate their private reason to The State, which provides them with a sort of public reason for acting in concert with other people.

It seems to me that whatever we think of this account, it at least isn't clearly compatible with some of the clauses in your post. If we're subordinating our private reasons to The State's public reason, then it seems like we would want to recognize some pretty significant constraints on our ability to question the state's policies and structure. Something like the Lockean story in ch. 11 of the Second Treatise, where a government loses its legitimate authority by failing to carry out the tasks which are the purpose of its existence, would fit the bill: insofar as a government fails to be an adequate source of public reason, the Hobbesian may support some sort of action. But it seems to me that so long as The State fulfills its role as source of public reason, the Hobbesian is going to be hard-pressed to impose too many further limits on it.

I'm no expert on Hobbes, though, and as I've articulated it I don't think the Hobbesian position can stand up to scrutiny. So if you have any insight as to what's wrong with my interpretation, that would be greatly appreciated!
Gary Chartier said…
Again, my point isn't to stop with MNGSs, but to show that, ultimately, there's no clear line of demarcation between a Hobbesian state—or, at any rate, the kind of state a Hobbesian argument might be thought to justify—and a private, competitive, voluntary protection agency. This is a point that's been made before many times; but I'm trying to make it by stripping away the state-specific features of Leviathan, an approach that is, I hope, imaginatively effective and rhetorically useful.

I have no reason to think that a MNGS would be more peaceful than a current state, but I can't imagine why it would be less peaceful, for the usual reasons: (a) the costs of violence and (b) the internalization of norms enjoining fairness, cooperation, etc. In addition, a genuinely minimal (“night-guard”) state would have limited capacity to develop the kind of military force needed for offensive action, since it would either (as in step VI) have no tax system at all or else would, at most, have the kind of tax system needed to maintain police and court services.
I think there's no doubt: you do show that the Hobbesian is in a pickle.
PlanetaryJim said…
Millions of free countries would be better. There is nothing about the lines drawn on maps by Europeans that is sacrosanct. It is time to stop sending troops to bleed and kill and fight and die over artificial lines on the map.

The trend has been more and more countries. The faster that trend moves, the fewer wars, the less genocide.
Gary Chartier said…
Jim: I don't think we disagree at all—this is a thought-experiment, and I'm trying to describe a movement toward statelessness that involves stripping away successive features of the Hobbesian state. So: a million micro-states? Sure, works for me.

Danny: your comments are insightful and helpful. I guess I wonder if you could elaborate a bit on the point at which the entities on which my story focuses couldn't provide the relevant sorts of public reasons.
martin said…
VII. Finally, it is not clear that there would be a strong Hobbesian reason for an MNGS to be geographically localized

There is:

the people with whom one were most likely to have disputes would also fall within Leviathan’s jurisdiction

My response to a Hobessian would be that I don't accept this.
Danny said…
I guess the idea of limiting a state to a "night-watchman"-type entity seems to suggest that people could reasonably use their own private judgment to determine whether or not The State was overstepping its bounds. This seems like it would go against Hobbes' contention in chapter 17 of Leviathan that when the people form a sovereign, they grant it authority to "beare their Person" and they "submit their Wills, every one to his Will, and their Judgments, to his Judgment," so that each might say, "I Authorise and give up my Right of Governing my selfe, to this Man, or to this Assembly of men." Hobbes makes clear just how far this goes in chapter 20, when he writes that the sovereign "cannot be Accused by any of his Subjects, of Injury: He cannot be Punished by them: He is Judge of what is necessary for Peace; and Judge of Doctrines: He is Sole Legislator; and Supreme Judge of Controversies; and of the Times, and Occasions of Warre, and Peace: to him it belongeth to choose Magistrates, Counsellours, Commanders, and all other Officers, and Ministers; and to determine of Rewards, and Punishments, Honour, and Order."

If we follow Hobbes as far as he wants to go in subordinating our will to the will of the sovereign, I can't see how we could get to the limited night-watchman state (or really any other limited state). I mean, I don't think Hobbes is right about all of this. But it seems to me that putting limits on the state's domain of authority is going to force Hobbes to pull back from his core argument: that avoiding conflict and the state of war requires us to completely submit to public reason as defined by the sovereign.
Gary Chartier said…
OK, so I think that's entirely fair as a reading of Hobbes, Danny (though I'm more interested in considering a bare-bones Hobbesian argument than in addressing the details of Hobbes's own position).

If I understand you correctly, you'd suggest that the Hobbesian gets off the bus at the beginning of the argument, the point at which I maintain that, with its focus on the state as a means of preventing "the war of all against all," the argument justifies only a night-watchman state, since so many of the things the state does have nothing to do with civil peace and so admit of no Hobbesian justification. Your response, if I understand correctly, is that the Hobbesian will want to say that the kind of entity actually capable of preserving civil peace will be unlimited, that a limited entity couldn't actually succeed in achieving the goal Hobbes wants it to achieve, so that, even though, say, regulating people's peaceful sexual behavior is no part of maintaining civil peace, a state that couldn't regulate other people's sexual behavior wouldn't be properly equipped to maintain civil peace.

Now, I think it's worth noting that, even if one were to accept this much from the Hobbesian, I think she would still confront some of the continuum problem I pose here. That is, zillions (that's a technical term) of micro-states could likely perform the needed trick as well as large ones, one might be able, even on Hobbes's own terms, to make some of the other needed moves--allowing free immigration and emigration and making Leviathan non-territorial.

Maybe. But maybe not. Clearly, an absolute sovereign could prohibit free movement and insist on territorial control. So I think the real question here is whether the Hobbesian is right that civil peace requires an authority with an unlimited mandate. Hobbes may well have thought so; but I think I'd want to maintain that, if your responsibility is preserving civil peace, you largely need the authority required to preserve civil peace, not the authority to do just anything. I emphasize, I don't intend that as a rebuttal of anything you've said, but just a sketch of my likely response to Hobbes; the more reasonable neo-Hobbesian argument I envision at the beginning of this post is still, I think, subject to the objection I've leveled here that one doesn't really need a state to do what the argument supposes we need done.
Danny said…
I guess Blogger's length limits won't allow my extremely verbose reply...please see my blog here.
gcallah said…
A point I will make in my lecture on the history of political thought this week is, as Oakeshott puts it, that Hobbes is "not a totalitarian because he is an authoritarian." This means that he thinks Leviathan can and should do whatever it has to to maintain civil peace (e.g., supress religious dissent or ban revolutionary texts) but only those things, e.g., there's no call for campaigns to get people to exercise or enjoy the arts more.
Gary Chartier said…
Thanks for this, Gene. As I've emphasized hee and in my response on Danny's blog, I'm concerned with a very limited Hobbesian argument, not with Hobbes's text itself. It seems to me that the Hobbesian argument I envision, concerned with how people can be enabled to avoid killing and robbing each other, provides support only for a minimal state. But I'm very interested in your reading of Hobbes himself. Is it your sense that Hobbes would argue that, even though religious dissent, say, is not a violation of civil peace, religious dissent will lead to violence, so it's better to stamp it out now, before it does? Also: as regards how Hobbes himself would react to the continuum I've outlined: do you have a sense of how he viewed immigration and emigration?
Anonymous said…
When the MNGs relinquish their map of contiguous properties, they will become more vulnerable to a fascist thrust, and therefore taking the ideology further along the transition would be self-defeating. Their morality would be intact, but they will never have the freedom to enjoy it. If we want to grow a civilisation (cress) on tissue paper, and we assert that the thinner the paper is, the better the cress will grow (more freedom), then at some point the paper falls apart. Anything below a ULTRA-minarchist state (don't really like the term night-watchman) will not work, IMO

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