The problem of "almost"

The discussion of the month over at Cato Unbound revolves around Michael Huemer & his book “The Problem of Political Authority”. On the introduction page, he’s described as a philosophical anarchist. However, in reading his lead essay for the conversation some things throw up a flag to me other than the black one optionally including an encircled “A”…

Mike starts off stating his case with a comparison, a story of sorts:

Sam has a problem. He has a number of very poor nephews and nieces. He has been working with a charity organization to help them, but the organization needs more funding. So Sam goes out and starts demanding money from his neighbors to give to the charity group. If anyone refuses to contribute, Sam kidnaps that person and locks them in a cage.

Though charitable giving is laudable, as is the effort to care for one’s nephews and nieces, almost everyone who hears this story finds Sam’s extortion program impermissible…

You can tell right off the bat where this is going, pointing out how actions that would be frowned upon by anyone else end up accepted by agents of the state, even lauded. However, that he chooses the example first of armed robbery ostensibly to aid the poor shows a blind spot in his conception of what it is that government primarily does: the bulk of theft goes the other direction. His underlying assumption appears to be that there are no prior state collaborators among those from whom the money is taken, which conflicts with the very root of government as we know it. Mistaking revolt insurance for the reason for revolt is quite the trip up.

From here, Mike does at least acknowledge the falsehood of the “social contract” conception of government authority. Yet, the reason it is false — that no entity claiming a force monopoly can or ever will fulfill their end of the contract, since if you challenge them on it they can do anything from ignore you to kill you — doesn’t really come into focus. Invocation of Murray Rothbard’s view of state as criminal band* is there though, so more incomplete than outright wrong. Gotta save something for the book, right?

Serious cringe-inducing argument in 3…2…1…:

Now if, as I claim, all theories of political authority fail, what political conclusion should we draw? If there is no political authority, this does not immediately mean that we must abolish the state. Since this point is often misunderstood, it is worth repeating: the question of political authority is not “Should we have government?” The question is: Should the government be subject to the same moral constraints as apply to private agents?(emphasis mine)

But…you argued first thing in this post that what government does are things that are inherently wrong for private agents to do!! Holding government to same constraints as others means there is no government, which means the state is already void. This is basically to say “we don’t need to end the state, just keep it from being the state”, a snake eating its tail.

I’d rather simply ask “what is just?”. Some getting away with atrocities towards others because of class, race, or a flag is unjust, and for the same reason that a basketball game would be unfair if one team had their baskets count for quadruple points.

So what kind of anarchist are we looking at here? Apparently an anarcho-capitalist (it is Cato, after all. Are you shocked?), with descriptions of competing protection agencies and an overall emphasis on competition as the driver of a post-state society. Plus, what’s another whopper by now?

In particular, libertarian anarchists do not propose a world without law, nor do they propose to eliminate the functions of police and courts. Libertarian anarchists simply believe that the provision of law and order could best be structured in a different way.

Police? Speak for yourself buddy. The function of the police is intimidation in service to the political & social elite, so if it’s my call then hell yes I *am* eliminating that “function”. I suspect there’s way more that’ll back me up on that then on your view.

I’ve explained before how I see questions of economic organization in a post-state society. Basically, I think emphasizing a specific overarching character is overblown to an extent, and tips ones hand. I don’t expect all to be collectivized, yet Mike’s suggestion that all would be competition seems to miss the point as well. His suggestion that things wouldn’t be that much different strikes as, at best, a misguided pander, if not vulgar at its worst. Redundancies of contract in a form kept similar to today is not what I think of when it comes to liberty. Rather, choice of how we wish to live in the truest sense of the word, which is inherently radical change and does not keep the old system, is my aim.

After all, if the current ways are supposedly so great as to maintain post-state, why even bother? Might as well just sit down and shut up.

(* – In fairness, he does finish up with a description of government as giant corporate monopoly as one of his pre-emptive replies to skeptics, suggesting he at least realizes the state is it’s own agent — thus the “private vs public” sense in which people think of government & political power is called out as void. That a free society would not allow organization on imposed 3rd party interest basis should be clear: Voluntary or Bust)


About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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One Response to The problem of "almost"

  1. Todd S. says:

    Apparently an anarcho-capitalist (it is Cato, after all. Are you shocked?)

    Heh. I was going to point that out, but I saw you beat me to it.

    Rather, choice of how we wish to live in the truest sense of the word

    My personal feeling is that without a null hypothesis (ie, remaining exactly as I am or choosing not to choose), your options only ever constitute an ultimatum, not a choice.

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