A Circular Argument in Libertarian Reasoning?

December 22, 2009

by Gene Callahan

Although I have touched briefly on this topic at my (mostly) solo, non-serious blog, the volume of response I received there has prompted me to flesh out my argument and present it here, on the blog where I limit myself to my more sober postings.

The proximate cause of my addressing this topic was a post by Brian Doherty at Reason.com, where he wrote:

“States, after all, cannot function without first aggressing against someone, if only to get tax money to fund their activities.”

But the ultimate cause was my much longer-term conviction that such reasoning simply begs a central question that political theory is seeking to answer, namely, just when is coercion justified and when isn’t it? After all, every wavelength of the political spectrum considers some coercion to be OK, and some to be “aggression.” Anarcho-capitalists believe that coercing a trespasser off of one’s property is OK coercion, and collecting taxes to be “aggressive” coercion; while Marxists consider dividing up the social product per “each according to his need” is OK coercion, while hiring guards to block workers from ownership of the means of production to be “aggressive” coercion. So the question is not who is for or against coercion (since everyone is for “just coercion” and against “unjust coercion”), but, rather, what makes a particular act of coercion just or unjust?

And to turn to that question, regarding the State, is to ask whether its existence is justified. While there are many possible justifications for the State, for our purposes, it is sufficient to consider just one of them, which recommends itself because of its simplicity and philosophical clarity. Hobbes contended that the only way that rational individuals can escape the “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” life of humans without a sovereign is for them to surrender some of their natural liberties to a sovereign power. Now, if Hobbes is correct, then the individual who refuses, for instance, to pay the sovereign’s tax assessment has declared himself to be in the state of nature with regards to his fellows, a state in which, as Hobbes sees it, they are justified in regarding him as at war with them, and therefore can justly coerce him to pay the taxes the sovereign asks of him.

Against such a position, it just won’t do to say, “I haven’t voluntarily agreed to pay my taxes, therefore they are a form of aggression against me.” Per the Hobbesian view, the refusal to submit to a sovereign is the act of aggression here, and the tax collector is only enforcing what the demands of rational human behavior require of everyone.

Thus, we can see that this common libertarian argument (as exemplified by Doherty’s statement of it above) against the State is entirely circular as it is typically formed: The State is illegitimate because it engages in aggression, and we can say it must engage in aggression because its collection of taxes is illegitimate — but, of course, since the collection of taxes is how the State survives, to say their collection is illegitimate is to just re-state the thesis that the State is illegitimate. Thus, once one analyzes it carefully, that argument runs, “The State is illegitimate because the State is illegitimate.”

Or, to put it differently, if the State is legitimate, then so is its collection of taxes, and therefore collecting them is not an act of aggression. (In that case, in fact, it would be withholding of taxes due that would be theft!)

If this type of libertarian argument is actually to go through, here is what must be done:
1) It must be shown that the State is not a necessary element of social order. Now, libertarians have done some work showing that it is possible it is not — see, for instance, the work of Ed Stringham on early stock exchanges, Peter Leeson on pirate economics, David Friedman and Roderick Long on Icelandic anarchy, etc. But, I think, none of this is conclusive — the fact that I might sometimes hit a baseball with my eyes closed does not prove that opening one’s eyes is not essential to hitting success.
2) Having shown 1), then the State no longer has the status (as it does in Hobbes) of a unique constitutive element of social order, so that…
3) Now, since the Leviathan is no longer necessary for social order, the argument that the State’s collection of taxes are “unjustified coercion” has some bite!

But the work is all in #1! After all, if Hobbes is right, and without Leviathan we are in the “Warre of all against all,” then the sovereign is justified in doing whatever is necessary to keep us out of that state. And that, my friends, is the argument libertarians really need to address.

87 Responses to “A Circular Argument in Libertarian Reasoning?”

  1. Hume Says:

    One first needs a theory of justice if one wants to say that this or that is “justified.”

  2. Gene Callahan Says:

    Or you can work in the other direction — start with what thinks is justified, and look for a theory of justice behind the examples!

    In any case, a theory: “To each according to his due.”

  3. saifedean Says:

    ‘After all, every wavelength of the political spectrum considers some coercion to be OK, and some to be “aggression.”’

    I would argue that Anarcho-Capitalism is simply the rejection of coercion in all shapes or forms, under whatever justification. The example you cite of “coercing” a trespasser off of one’s property does not, in my opinion, constitute coercion, because this is the owner’s property, and people can do what they want with their property. By trespassing on your property I open myself to being the subject of whatever you please to do to me. I do not see it as coercive for you to decide to shoot at me on your property, because you are shooting at your property and I have no permission to be there.

    If you accept this as true, then the State is never justified, because its inception and all its actions are inevitably coercive.

    This, I feel, would make Anarcho-capitalism the one strand of thought that does not have to resort to some arbitrary and necessarily unrobust justification for some form of coercion to initiate the State.

    I think I’ve seen (all or parts of) this argument made by Rothbard somewhere, but can’t recall where exactly. Probably The Ethics of Liberty.

  4. Pietro M. Says:

    Any theory of justice is based on a value judgement by part of its proponents. Value judgements are propositions to which the labels “true/false” can’t be applied, and in which, thus, there cannot be a role for logical necessity.

    Ideologies are sets of ethical propositions, and they all are to some extent arbitrary. For instance, the hobbesian argument is made of two parts: a value judgment (total authoritarianism is better than the war of all against all), and a judgement of fact (lack of total authoritarianism results in the war of all against all).

    Science can’t do anything but assessing the validity of the latter part. But nobody’s is logically compelled to prefer dictatorship to anomy or viceversa.

    From this indetermination, some have tried to argue that a world without ethical judgements can exist, and that politics shouldn’t be based on morality because there is no shared morality. This is worthless rubbish: men require a value judgement even to get up in the morning, because actions are always purposeful, and purposes are not given by reason alone. Ethical judgements are a fundamental part of the human world, they simply are simply groundless.

    Societies work because the greatest majority of the people tend to converge to a shared set of value judgements regarding the use of violence. Without this convergence, there would be the war of all against all by definition: a central all powerful authority may or may not be required for this convergence. The foundation of this convergence point lies only in individual ethical beliefs.

  5. Skye Stewart Says:

    It is the purported legitimacy of the state (it’s right (ie., legitimately enforceable moral claim) to taxation and the obligations we have to respect that right) that presupposes those norms of justice that it necessarily violates.

    It seems to me that you are arguing, that if a contract is legitimate, for example, the parties involved are obligated to it. But this seems wanting.

    “You can voluntarily submit to the will of another; but, should you change your mind, no legal force can compel you to obey another’s bidding. Why not? Contract, to reiterate, does not stand as an absolute: only what fits together with self-ownership can be enforced. You can only give away your property, not yourself.”
    (Gordon, http://mises.org/misesreview_detail.aspx?control=48 )

    It is by means of ethical principles that we judge whether an action or institution is legitimate.

    A Lockean equality of authority, as posited by certain libertarians is arguable the only universalizable ethic pertaining to rights. As Long has written,

    “In short, the equality that Locke and Jefferson speak of is equality in authority: the prohibition of any “subordination or subjection” of one person to another. Since any interference by A with B’s liberty constitutes a subordination or subjection of B to A, the right to liberty follows straightforwardly from the equality of “power and jurisdiction.”

    As Locke sees, equality in authority entails denying to the legal system’s administrators—and thus to the legal system itself—any powers beyond those possessed by private citizens” Long, Equality: The Unknown Ideal http://mises.org/story/804

    This ‘assumption’ in ethics of an ‘axiom’ of non-aggression is similar to the assumption of reasoning is dialogue. No matter what we call it, however, the point is that there is, as Jasay would argue, a presumption of liberty, or as Rothbardians would insist, the fact of freewill (and one ought not to be coerced). It provides a sensible bulwark others must argue passed, as possession (of person or property) is 9/10ths of the law, as they say (or should say).

    The ethic or ground rule of voluntary relations is not derived from consensus itself. It’s own legitimacy as a principle or good rule of thumb for human affairs is derived from a source other than the behavioristic criterion (‘voluntarines’)to which libertarians sometimes refer.

    I do not think Natural Law (libertarianism) is necessarily circular. Arguably, it is not an arcane metaphysical speculation but simply a necessary guide of principles that illustrate proper modes of action in accordance with conceptual truths about human nature, action, fundamental aspects of the world, and interpersonal relations between human agents in that world.

    In appealing to ‘classical logic’, certain propositions can be ruled out because they deny or are incompatible with proper and fundamental assumptions about the nature of logic. So also, (and for reasons necessarily derived from the former example) can certain actions be categorized as improper and unjustifiable.

    The ethic of voluntary relations can be examined, recognized, and justified (to whatever extent) only by recourse to rational examination.

    “Quite a number of Hoppe’s critics like to argue that the ethics of argumentation binds only at the moment of argumentation itself and then only those who take part in it. If these critics were right, they would not only have “scored” against Hoppe, they would also have deconstructed the entire edifice of reason, law and justice without which the West would never have risen above the level of barbarism.” van Dun, AEPF

    ( http://libertarianpapers.org/articles/2009/lp-1-19.pdf )

    Just as two separate beans being put in a pile do not itself constitute or justify the mathematical truth of 1+1 = 2, so it is with two persons engaging in some mutual endeavor. There are fundamental norms we must first appeal to in order to even attempt to understand the phenomena or fact in question.

  6. monximus Says:

    Ludwig von Mises already solved this conundrum with the scientifically accurate observation that people are either freely trading with one another or they are not. There is no third way possibility.

    All trade exchange only occurs because that which is received is valued more than that which is given away in exchange. Free market trade exchange is win-win. All else is a degree of state of nature aggression war, which is win-lose, lose-win, or lose-lose. Peace and cooperation only exists to the extent free market trade exists. All individual instances of all human action is necessarily in one of those two categories.

    Whether you call groups of individuals engaged in state of nature aggression war “bandits, plunderers, marauders, or the State” is immaterial to the actions of those groups of individuals. It will always remain either or free trade versus political intervention aggression, consensual trade, consensual sex, and live and let live cooperative society versus theft, rape, and murder.

    The whole notion and labeling of individuals engaged in actions as a “State, Blue Team, or whatever” is nothing but a red herring which distracts from the only thing that can always either be occurring, or not occurring, free trade or political warfare. People get confused because force can be so overwhelming that they capitulate and submit to political rulers, whether despotic, monarchy, democracy, or communism/socialism/fascism. This is falsely labeled as peace, falsely labeled as cooperation, and falsely labeled as society.

    Those who wish to argue otherwise are free to make the mathematical full set null hypothesis case that theft, rape, and murder are social actions, cooperative actions, and civilized actions. But even then they will remain contradictory creationists in the classical political social thought tradition, necessarily arguing “people want what they do not want, people do not want what they do want”, or the macro economics version, “magical ghosts make you buy things you do not want to buy”. And of course, they will be right back to a Hobbesian war of all against all until society and civilization is destroyed. That’s the source of circular reasoning, and it is definitively and wholly anti-libertarian.


  7. […] Callahan at ThinkMarkets offers an excellent post explaining why axiom-of-non-coercion-style libertarian arguments just aren’t very […]

  8. Gene Callahan Says:

    “I would argue that Anarcho-Capitalism is simply the rejection of coercion in all shapes or forms, under whatever justification. The example you cite of “coercing” a trespasser off of one’s property does not, in my opinion, constitute coercion…”

    OK, you can just define why the coercion you like “isn’t really coercion” while the coercion others like is, but i don’t think that advances the discussion much, do you? So the egalitarian now says, “Ah, I see the way this game is played! Well, collecting taxes to even out distribution isn’t really coercion at all, well acting to protect the unjust distribution is!”

  9. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Any theory of justice is based on a value judgement by part of its proponents. Value judgements are propositions to which the labels “true/false” can’t be applied, and in which, thus, there cannot be a role for logical necessity.”

    I understand this meta-ethical position, and although I think it’s wrong, I don’t want to get into that argument here. What I will point out is that this certainly isn’t the position the argument I’m criticizing adopts! People who use this think they are making a true ethical statement: “The State taxes, which is stealing, therefore the State is illegitimate.” So as interesting as meta-ethics are, I think Pietro’s post is just beside the point here.

  10. Gene Callahan Says:

    Ahem, my second “well” two comments back was supposed to be “while.”

  11. Hume Says:

    Gene,

    Is it possible to distinguish between “the initiation of coercion” vs. “coercion”?


  12. I generally agree with Gene. I’d say, in a Randian vein, that to determine what is “justest,” we should find out what is best for human life. Since the state only interrupts people’s demonstrated desires in the market (as opposed to expressed desires), it is unjust — if human happiness is the end.

  13. david Gordon Says:

    Determining when coercion is justified depends on a view of what rights people have. But your argument about Hobbes and libertarianism seems to me open to objection. Doubts about libertarian contentions that social order without a state is possible do not show that a Hobbesian state is necessary for social order. What about a state with less power? Must such a state have the power to tax?

    Further, your Hobbesian argument needs the additional premise that the war of all against all is worse than life under the Hobbesian state. Perhaps conditions under such a regime would be unbearably bad. Also, suppose someone refused to agree to surrender his liberties (all of them, not some of them, according to most interpretations of Hobbes). Why should one think that he should be treated as at war with those who do? My question here is not whether Hobbes thought this, but why he is correct to do so.

  14. Mario Rizzo Says:

    Suppose #1 cannot be shown. Does the State then have the right to take any amount from me? If not, how much?

  15. Jayson Virissimo Says:

    “Hobbes contended that the only way that rational individuals can escape the “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” life of humans without a sovereign is for them to surrender some of their natural liberties to a sovereign power.”

    In Hobbes world, people can’t enforce contracts because they lack a final sovereign power that will adjudicate disputes, thus the need for the state in order to prevent the kind of life that would result from living in the state of nature.

    The problem I see here is that states themselves don’t have a final arbiter to adjudicate disputes and so live in a kind of state of nature with respect to each other. You can look around the world and see that for the most part states aren’t hacking each other to pieces and are generally fulfilling their agreements with each other in international trade.

    If the states can get along without a superstate in the state of nature, why do people need a monarch (or any kind of state) to get along? Shouldn’t we expect people to trade peacefully and refrain from battle even more often then states would do to the principle agent problem? If so, the state of nature wouldn’t be quite as bad as Hobbes makes it out to be.

  16. Skye Stewart Says:

    Callahan:

    “1) It must be shown that the State is not a necessary element of social order.”

    If this is more than a mere personal preference, are you already assigning a positive (perhaps enforceable) moral obligation? And what happens to those who refuse this directive? Do we not have the right to refuse, and if so, how do you know this and how come you’re assuming this?

    What does “necessary” mean and what kind of “social order” are you talking about? Would it include that kind of social order determined by individuals not organized by a state? (Since there have been examples of such historically)

    Furthermore, how or by what means? Argumentation and respect for persons I assume? But again, you’re already assuming what you seem to be attempting to deny. Why not just force people right now to ‘accept’ something else? Why not form a state and have it decide for us?

    To advocate a consensus of sorts on the issue of state legitimacy is to grant too much, given your acknowledged objective. How could we – upon agreeing consensually on the ‘necessity’ of the state – acknowledge the legitimacy of such an agreement to that effect (and of that nature), and then not acknowledge it for those who did not partake in the discussion?

  17. Andy Cleary Says:

    I’ve never been comfortable with a derivation of libertarianism (or any other government form) that is based in philosophy or morals or ethics, because there are as many of those things as there are people, and ultimately any derivation based on one of those things is going to rest on some set of assumptions that will be widely disputed, and thus any debate about what form “government” should take (if any) devolves into an untenable debate about whose assumptions are “correct”.

    The only way I’ve found to avoid this fundamental problem is to not *assume* underlying principles, but to *contractually agree* to them. In this sense, it is easy to imagine something akin to the libertarian principle of non-initiation-of-coercion and a concept of “property” to be simple, widely accept contractual clauses agreed to for simple self-interest.

    Take any two, relatively normal people, and assume they have no contractual agreements, they are in a “state of nature” with respect to each other? Are there simple contractual agreements they can easily be mutually convinced into signing for mutual self-interest? How about “I will not try to kill you if you don’t try to kill me?” It’s an easy sell for most pairs of people, because absent a minority of brutish people and another minority of desperate people, most people don’t actually want to advance their personal situations or lives by killing others who do not want to kill them (and if you don’t believe that; if you believe that most people secretly want to kill others that aren’t attempting to kill them to advance their own personal circumstances – then there’s really no point in anything, because *any* system that isn’t “you are the omnipotent master of the world” is going to suck for you).

    Libertarianism (in some form, since there are so many) basically follows from that: you just scale up that one pairwise contract to many, many pairwise contracts (probably not literally, since that is unwieldy; in reality, you’d like one contract that applies to all people that sign it), and you expand the “I won’t kill you” clause to include other easy sells like “I won’t rape you” and a notion of “property” and thus theft (property, also, can really only be derived as a contractual agreement), and now you’ve got the “libertarian principle” as a shared “assumption” that can be built on intellectually (obviously in practice there are important details like enforcement of the contract and clauses for violation, but those are doable).

    The entire intellectual problem then shifts from a philosophical one – one that I think is untenable, as the current discussion illustrates: you can’t even get libertarians to agree on libertarianism via philosophical derivation, much less the numbers of people you’d need to have meaningful change – to a pragmatic one: can we sell individuals on the notion that they gain in net by giving up the choice – one they had no intention of using anyway – of murder, rape, theft, etc, for the benefit they get from having many others agree to give that up when dealing with them. It’s a sales effort, not a philosophical one. In a sales effort, you don’t have to be that one “right” thing, you just have to show a net advantage. The bar is much lower for getting people on board.

  18. Nick Danger Says:

    David, I am not in the least trying to argue that Hobbes is correct, or that his view is not open to objections — my only point is that the argument I present in my post has no force against Hobbes’ argument, and that Hobbes must be defeased by other means.

    (Side note: The Hobbesian State is only maximal in one dimension: the Sovereign may do whatever he has to to maintain social peace. So he may ban a divisive religion, but, to Hobbes, the idea that he should undertake an anti-smoking campaign or seek to eliminate adolescent obesity would be bizarre. As Oakeshott put it, Hobbes was not a totalitarian because he was an authoritarian.)

  19. Gene Callahan Says:

    Oh, my, Firefox’s “fill-in-the-blank-for-you” feature put my name in above as “Nick Danger,” but it was me.

  20. Gene Callahan Says:

    monximus wrote: “Ludwig von Mises already solved this conundrum with the scientifically accurate observation that people are either freely trading with one another or they are not. There is no third way possibility.”

    Well, OK, but Mises’ “solution” contended that:
    1) The State is necessary; and
    2) Citizens are obligated to pay taxes.

    Is that the solution you are suggesting?

  21. Gene Callahan Says:

    “The only way I’ve found to avoid this fundamental problem is to not *assume* underlying principles, but to *contractually agree* to them. In this sense, it is easy to imagine something akin to the libertarian principle of non-initiation-of-coercion and a concept of “property” to be simple, widely accept contractual clauses agreed to for simple self-interest.”

    But this already assumes the underlying, liberal conception of the the rational actor as an atomic, utility maximizing individual whose being is not constituted by any pre-existing social bonds, obligations, etc. If that is your input, it is not surprising that your output is some liberal conception of the proper social order!

  22. Gene Callahan Says:

    “If this is more than a mere personal preference, are you already assigning a positive (perhaps enforceable) moral obligation? And what happens to those who refuse this directive? Do we not have the right to refuse, and if so, how do you know this and how come you’re assuming this?”

    Skye, in this discussion, I’m not assuming any of these things — what I’m trying to point out is that the “taxation is theft” type of argument already assumes that anarcho-capitalism is the right answer in order to show that taxation is theft! For instance, for Hobbes, whom submission to the Leviathan was a requirement of rationality, or for Aristotle, who thought that humans were only rational within a polis, or for Augustine or Aquinas, who held that government was given to Man by God to mitigate his fallen state, you certainly do not have the “right to refuse” to submit to proper authority!

  23. Gene Callahan Says:

    Jayson, your points are valid, but they back my argument: to defease Hobbes, one needs to show that flourishing social order is possible without the Leviathan. The “taxation is theft” argument has no weight against Hobbes.

  24. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Suppose #1 cannot be shown. Does the State then have the right to take any amount from me? If not, how much?”

    Mario, Hobbes’ answer would be, “However much it needs to take to ensure social peace, and no more.” In general, various justifications for the State would result in various different maximal taxation rates. (E.g., Aquinas might up the ante to include some minimal provisions for the poor, while Plato would up it further to include proper education in the virtues. I might be mis-characterizing these positions somewhat, by the way, but I only intend them as examples of the range of answers possible, not as historically precise answers!)

  25. Pietro M. Says:

    Gallaghan:

    I’m sorry to be apparently off topic, but I think I’m not (although I had been unfocused).

    Your post says that a line of argument made in terms of value judgements (VJ) is circular. I claim that it can’t be otherwise.

    You further say that a factual cricitism of Hobbes is necessary toanswer his argument. I argue that the two approaches – influencing individuals’ preference orderings and assessing the validity of the underlying factual judgments (FJ) – are complementary.

    Legal naturalist libertarianism says “The state is unjust by definition, so whatever it does is unjust”. Does it presuppose a VJ? Yes, of course. How could it be otherwise? There cannot be a VJ that doesn’t assume another VJ, because by Hume’s Law FJs can’t beget VJs.

    Does Hume’s Law force us to accept Hobbes’s preference orderings, or any other preference ordering, as given, and base our criticism only on FJs, like pure wertfrei scientists? No, it’s a non sequitur. There can be a line of argument based on a factual criticism of Hobbes’s assumptions, as your post rightly claims there should be, and a line of argument based on an ethical criticism of the underlying preference orderings, which I admit would be quite pointless in this case, if Hobbes were literally right.

    People who think to be making true ethical statements are wrong, because truth in ethics is like the shape of a liquid: a quality that does not apply to the entity. But, Rothbard’s non-sequiturs about legal naturalism aside, we must not forget that institutions are based on citizens’ VJs, so there is always some room for moral persuasion, i.e., for convincing people that certain things are wrong. They are wrong, of course, because they are considered wrong by the one who says they are wrong, of course: there’s no objective definition of wrong and right. That may be circular, but no alternative can ever avoid the circularity, ad ad impossibilia nemo tenetur.

    There are cases in which moral persuasion is pointless: if Hobbes is right, then no non-masochist person would ever crave for liberty. There are, on the other hand, cases in which factual analyses are pointless, when people do not agree because they don’t share compatible ethical priors. The marginal value of factual arguments is higher in the former case, and the marginal value of moral persuation is higher in the latter.

    PS A theory of justice is necessarily a theory of coercion. People call it a theory of justice because it sounds better.

  26. Gene Callahan Says:

    Pietro, you don’t seem to realize that the meta-ethical view you are pushing is controversial, that many people don’t agree with “Hume’s Law,” that Hume himself was not an ethical relativist, and most of all, that you try to keep drawing the discussion off topic, because the people who I am arguing against themselves believe they are making a true ethical statement, so this bee in your bonnet is beside the point.

  27. Gene Callahan Says:

    Pietro: When I put up a post entitled, “Ethical Emotivism: Right or Wrong?” then that would be a fine comment thread in which to have this discussion.

  28. Skye Stewart Says:

    All purported assumptions aside for now, it also appears there are a number of unmentioned variables that could have significant import, such as;

    1) In positing the Hobbesian state as potentionally necessary to secure general welfare, it seems your invoking this organization as a solution due to it’s status as a (right’s holder of a) monopolistic arrangement. But from whence does it follow that a monopoly on service provision or production of goods could better procure increased welfare?

    Surely, the Austrian contribution over the last century has steadily supplicated the opposing contention.

    2) Even if we grant that there were observable or quantifiable elements of increased welfare upon the establishment of an Hobbesian state, it does not follow that, a) such is the causative result of that state, or b) that such is justified. Unless you would like to explicitly endorse an ethical theory that makes that claim, it remains a mere observation.

    If I rob Peter, am I therefore justified in doing so simply becasue I have benefited myself as a result? A whole collection of people could do the same. Does the increase in our numbers justify that action? Do we somehow gain the right to continue in this behavior (we’ll call it taxation) once we find ourselves better off as a result?

    How can any such gain or increase in social welfare lead to the conclusion that it is therefore a legitimate policy?

    Long has written,

    “We may have utilitarian reasons for adopting moral commitments, but once we have adopted them, we can no longer regard them as resting on purely utilitarian foundations — because so regarding them would alter their status as commitments.” (review of L.B. Yeager’s, Ethics as Social Science: The Moral Philosophy of Social Cooperation; QJAE Spring 2003.)

    Furthermore, in his speech, Why Does Justice Have Good Consequences?, he writes

    “If indirect consequentialism is praxeologically incoherent, we cannot accept the indirect-consequentialist solution to the question of why justice has good consequences. But then we are left with a puzzle: the same conduct is both just and beneficial, but it’s not just because it’s beneficial. So is it just an extraordinarily fortunate coincidence that justice and benefit tend to go together?

    “If we tried to specify the content of benefit without bringing in considerations of justice, or virtue generally, we would get something broadly like long-run preference-satisfaction. If we tried to specify the content of justice without bringing in considerations of beneficial consequences, we would get something like libertarianism.

    “My argument for this latter claim is that, absent consequentialist considerations, the libertarian conception of equality in authority — the kind of equality enjoyed in a Lockean state of nature — answers better than any of its rivals to the basic Kantian demand to treat persons as ends in themselves rather than as mere means.”
    (Long, 26 October 2002 . http://praxeology.net/whyjust.htm)

    3) Granting the existence or ‘justification’ of a ‘Hobbesian’ (monarchical) state, it seems your referring to a state of substanrial size? But could it not be 30 persons as well three hundred million?

    Authors such a Leopold Korh have argued that when a multitude of small-scale monarchies exist simultaneously and adjacent, citizens can move from one to next, undercutting the hegemonic structures and apparent authoritarian capacities of these organizations, exemplifyng the beneficial aspect of competive systems that allow this autonomy and secession (See Korh’s, The Breakdown of Nations, ch. 4, 10)

    4) If the justification of a your Hobbesian state purportedly rests upon an increase in social welfare, then what is the proper approach to those agents outside the state in relation to the issue of externalities? If they benefit in any observable or quantifiable aspects, do they become under it’s jurisdiction? Does the “legitimate authority” of this state extend to them as it could be argued that they “owe” compensation to the state?

    5) With the variable of time included in this analysis, what happens if it becomes apparent that the Hobbesian state decreases social welfare? If the citizens have given all up their liberties (save their right to resist conscription or murdered by the state, according to Quentin Skinner) then have they entered a suicide pact fromwhich they cannot legitimately secede? And if not, at what point can they, and by what right?

    In his, If Men Were Angels: The Basic Analytics of the State versus Self-Government, Higgs has written,

    “Suppose, if only for purposes of discussion, we conceded that the initial establishment of the state reduces the degree of social disorder. The obvious question, however seldom philosophers may have asked it, then becomes, What happens next? Does the degree of social disorder remain constant” ?
    . .
    “Everything we have discovered in theory and by observation flies in the face of such constancy. . . Under state domination, social disorder tends to increase.”

    “Thus, although the (mythical) people entering into a social contract might have considered their sacrifice of liberties to the state at that time a price they were willing to pay, they could scarcely have suspected that with the passage of time, their remaining liberties also would be “paid,” one after another, notwithstanding that the social order they initially received from the state in return would systematically diminish. (Higgs, JLS. Vol. 21, No.4 http://faculty.msb.edu/hasnasj/GTWebSite/AnarchyDraft.pdf)

    I would argue, in conclusion, that anyone who advocates subordination of other persons presumes more than those who do not. Therefore the burden is placed on them to show that a state is in fact a necessary conditions

  29. Mario Rizzo Says:

    EDITOR’S NOTE: IF YOU WANT PEOPLE TO READ WHAT YOU WRITE, PLEASE KEEP YOUR COMMENTS SHORT.

  30. Lee Kelly Says:

    If your argument is logically valid, and you expect the premises to justify the conclusion, then you are begging the question, and therefore, you are justifying nothing.

    I see no alternative. (Also, this argument is not self-contradictory: although it implies that its own conclusion is unjustified, it does not follow that it is false).

  31. Skye Stewart Says:

    I mistakenly provided a link for John Hasnas’ paper The Obviousness of Anarchy, when it was suppose to be a link to Higgs;

    http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1982

  32. Andy Cleary Says:

    Gene, you say “But this already assumes the underlying, liberal conception of the the rational actor as an atomic, utility maximizing individual whose being is not constituted by any pre-existing social bonds, obligations, etc.”

    I find it kind of… irritating, I guess, for someone to tell me what assumption I am making, because then I am forced to defend something I never said. In essence, you are creating a strawman argument and then knocking it down.

    I assumed no such thing. I am not in fact making a traditionally “philosophical” argument at all. I am constructing a pragmatic real-world idea based not on an “assumption” of “utility-maximizing individuals”, rather a claim of an *observation* of average human nature, and that is that on average, to the extent that people understand that something benefits them they are generally willing to agree to it. The second observation is that for most people, in the circumstances that they actually face in their lives, they get far less benefit from considering the choice “murder, assault, or steal from the people I interact with” than they get from a guarantee that the people they are interacting with will not murder, assault, or steal from them.

    I started my post with a rejection of “traditional philosophy” as a way to derive libertarianism/government, so to invoke it against my argument seems to miss the point.

    We do not have to argue “assumptions”; we get to argue *observations*, which means we get to look at data, do experiments, and otherwise rely on the scientific method to investigate those claims.

    There are then two ways to proceed: to dispute or otherwise challenge those claims, as mentioned; and to discuss what *follows* from those claims if they are true. Amongst a largely “libertarian” crowd as you likely have here, the latter isn’t particularly controversial, because if the claims I am making are true, then it follows that most people would be willing to “sign” a contract of nonaggression that is essentially equal to the libertarian principle, and most of us have already thought and discussed at length the visions of “government” (or lack thereof) that follow from the libertarian principle.

    I want to restate this simply: instead of either *assuming* the libertarian principle or attempting to derive if philosophically (ultimately from set of other philosophical assumptions that are widely divisive and quite possibly not particularly rooted in reality), another way to get wide acceptance of the libertarian principle is simply to sell it as a contract to people based on a simple demonstration that it is in the self-interest of the signatories.

    In any practical world, “libertarianism” actually being adopted in the real world will require a lot of people to *buy into it*. It is simply unrealistic to expect a majority of people to be swayed by a deep philosophical argument the likes of which you guys are discussing here. Any argument needs to be simple and obvious.

    Not only does that work better for actually affecting change, but it is internally consistent, makes no assumptions that cannot be tested and confirmed, and cuts through a lot of what appears to me to be wasted effort in what become self-contained but impractical philosophical arguments. Philosophy can be fun but in my observation, the vast majority of the time it has little to tell us about the real world.

  33. No State Says:

    I understand the point you are trying to make by offering the suggestion that simply saying,”Thus, once one analyzes it carefully, that argument runs, “The State is illegitimate because the State is illegitimate.” is not a logical argument. However, to say all actions which constitute “force” are the same (or even be categorized as such) to me muddies the waters and does not move the conversation forward. Murray Rothbard in several writings I believe said that for something to constitute aggression or coercion there must be a trespass (an invasion of person or property by another). Clearly if you invade my home for the purpose of robbing it then my actions to defend said property is not an invasion and therefore (at least from an Anarcho-Capitalist perspective) not viewed as either aggression or coercion but rather defense against coercion or aggression.

    Your suggestion that Taxation is not theft doesn’t make sense either…

    I am confident that you check pretty much any dictionary (online or otherwise) you will find that theft is nothing more than the forcible taking of property from the owner. If I am not the owner of the money I own then who is the true owner? I realize the State takes money by force (taxation) and presumes ownership of anything within it’s jurisdiction but that does not change who is owner anymore than would a woman still retain ownership of her body even if she gives in to a rapist to protect her life.

    Help me out here….

    What I am I missing?

  34. V. Jenks Says:

    “Anarcho-capitalists believe that coercing a trespasser off of one’s property is OK coercion”

    In this case, the property owner is defending himself. This is not “coercion” in the same sense of the state using aggression to achieve its own end. It is defensive, not aggressive. That sentence contradicts itself, if you believe in the personal, private ownership of property. AnCaps definitely do.

    You’re building a circular argument where there need not be one – out of tax collection, which is aggressive. The state is a group of people, just like any other people. Their existence as individuals doesn’t depend on extortion of the rest of society, just their existence as a criminal gang.

  35. J R Says:

    it seems fitting that after all the comments posted on this thread, it comes right back to v. jenks making the exact same libertarian argument laid out in the post and defended in the thread. there is a reason for this. and perhaps it’s just that an person’s views on coercion are inextricably likned to their taste for the rights of individuals versus the demands of society.

    there’s another factor at work here as well. on a one-to-one basis, coercion is a linear operation: a robber plus his gun equals you minus your wallet. in the same manner a free-market exchange is also linear: you minus a dollar equals you plus a cup of coffee, with the barrista experiencing a similar operation. once, however, you began to add more and more people, across a larger and larger geographic area, and over successive generations these are no longer linear operations.

    the problem with the pure libertarian argument is that it doesn’t provide a real mechanism for adjuticating degree. for the anarcho-capitalist a robber who demands payment with a gun is no worse than the tax man who does the same, and that’s not the real problem. the real problem is the idea that the tax man representing a despot who demands all of your money and repays you in “services” you didn’t ask for is no better than the tax man who demands one percent of your money in exchange for the protections of a minimal government. any system which cannot make that distinction is seriously flawed.

  36. J R Says:

    i should add, as somewhat of a libertatian, that most libertarians are perfectly capable of making that distinction; therefore, avoiding the circular argument. it seems that your gripe is more with the anarcho-capitalists than with libertarians in general.

  37. Skye Stewart Says:

    Andy Cleary;

    Whether the contractual method of organization and development occurred or not, it seems Gene could still posit his original question; “when is coercion justified and when isn’t it?”

    How does a contract between two or more people in anyway abrogate the purported “legitimate authority” (statist, religious, humanitarian, etc.) of another to force them into another arrangement? (And how would you, especially without relying upon “philosophy or morals or ethics” as you mention)

    No State and V. Jenks;

    It seems to me Gene is asking a more fundamental question than you are addressing: Why is aggression against a person and theie property wrong or unjustified? He’s saying, let’s grant ‘ownership’ or ‘rights’. So what, how does it follow from that that anyone else should respect them? To say it’s wrong does not explain why it’s wrong.

    J R ;

    I think Gene’s question is for anyone who claims an action is illegitimate, or that they have a right to resist someone else’s claim. He’s asking what grounds an ethic, in so far as we can be justified in asserting that we have a right to do this, rather than what someone else claims we must do instead.

    So he has a ‘gripe’ with all libertarians, or anarcho-capitalists, as well as anyone who adheres to any conception of an ethic that purports to bestow ‘rights’ or “legitimately” enforceable moral claims.

  38. Dylboz Says:

    saifedean, please explain to me how I, a fully conscious human being, a moral agent and person imbued with the same claim to rights as you or anyone else, becomes “your property” when I cross some arbitrary line in the sand. Under your absurd construction of anarcho-capitalist property theory, a property owner could set up a road that leads onto his property, without any obstruction or impediment, no warnings or signage of any kind (perhaps he finds them ugly or inconvenient) and then, should some traveller follow the road onto the property, this property owner could extinguish the innocent life of this wayward walker with a rifle shot from his front porch, and be fully within his rights and morally blameless, because said traveller is just so much inert matter to be disposed of as the property owner sees fit, having stepped across the magical boundary of his property line and transmutated into something less than human and devoid of a right to life. Right?

    That is fucking stupid.

  39. Gene Callahan Says:

    “In this case, the property owner is defending himself. This is not “coercion” in the same sense of the state using aggression to achieve its own end. It is defensive, not aggressive.”

    Apparently, if you just re-state a circular argument again and again, it flattens itself out!

  40. Gene Callahan Says:

    “I think Gene’s question is for anyone who claims an action is illegitimate, or that they have a right to resist someone else’s claim.”

    Hmmm, I sure didn’t think so!

  41. No State Says:

    @Gene… I don’t follow how defending ones property is aggression or coercion.. Help me out here…

  42. Gene Callahan Says:

    No State, I think the American Heritage Dictionary could “help you out here” quite fine. Just look up ‘coerce.’

  43. Skye Stewart Says:

    Gene, the word “illegitimate” as I used it was within the context of what immediately followed; “He’s asking what grounds an ethic [has], in so far as we can be justified in asserting that we have a right to do this, rather than what someone else claims we must do instead.”

    Is it not true that the whole dialogue here is about the justification of non-aggression., ie., that we should respect rights? Since IF the hardcore libertarian position is correct as it is usually given, then the state is illegitimate.

    So if I were “justified in asserting that I have a right” to engage is action, A, B, and C, then it follows that no one else, including your hypothesized hobbesian state, has a right to prevent me.

  44. Skye Stewart Says:

    NO STATE,

    Gene is asking what makes your use of force in defense of your person or property justified.

    And how does that “justification” deal with other claims of purported “legitimate authority” that demand something different of you?

  45. Skye Stewart Says:

    Dylboz

    On the issue of proportionality, I would start here, if you’re interested;

    Long’s lecture, Justice, Rights, and Consequences, as well as his, Property, Land, Contract;

    http://mises.org/media.aspx?action=category&ID=90

    And Rothbard’s essay,

    http://mises.org/story/2496

  46. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Gene is asking what makes your use of force in defense of your person or property justified.

    “And how does that “justification” deal with other claims of purported “legitimate authority” that demand something different of you?”

    Yes, I think this is more accurate. For instance, pacifists like Tolstoi and R. Murphy think using violence in defense of your property is unjustified. I’m not saying it is, I’m just saying that the fact tax collection is ultimately backed by a threat of violence does not, by itself, differentiate collecting taxes from collecting on a loan.

  47. lazyfair Says:

    The legitimate use of force is indeed the crux. The libertarian position is steeped in a respect for the individual’s right to choose what is best for his life as long as he does not violently interfere with that of another. The statist position advocates that other individuals have the right to violently impose their vision of the good on others.

  48. gcallah Says:

    “The legitimate use of force is indeed the crux.”

    Yes, indeed.

    “The libertarian position is steeped in a respect for the individual’s right to choose what is best for his life as long as he does not violently interfere with that of another.”

    Oh boy. Does lazyfair really consider this an “argument,” as opposed to just re-stating what is in contention.

    OK, lazyfair, let’s say I decide what is best for my life is to wander into your house and grab a beer from the fridge. You tell me to get out, and I refuse. At that point, you get a gun and repeat your demand. It’s pretty apparent that I used no violence against you, but that now you are attempting to limit my (non-violent) choice with the threat of violence. So, you are against any right to eject trespassers from your home?

  49. gcallah Says:

    “I find it kind of… irritating, I guess, for someone to tell me what assumption I am making…”

    Sorry, but others are often the best perceivers of what one’s own position assumes.

    “I assumed no such thing. I am not in fact making a traditionally “philosophical” argument at all. I am constructing a pragmatic real-world idea based not on an “assumption” of “utility-maximizing individuals”, rather a claim of an *observation* of average human nature…”

    Which displays exactly the same assumption that you claim you do not have!


  50. As noted over on Gene’s other post, Gene has not shown that the libertarian view against aggression is circular at all. Libertarians conceive of aggression in terms of property rights–not in terms of the state. We don’t say “if it’s legitimate for the state to do it, it must not be aggression.” Rather, we say that certain actions invasive of Lockean property rights are aggression and thus unjust; and we conclude that the state, since it engages in these things, is thus unjust. Our view of the state is a consequence of our views about aggression. Gene seems to want to do it the other way around: to view aggression as a consequence of one’s views about the state.

    In any event, I do not see that it is “circular” to oppose aggression, and to oppose the state because it also commits aggression.

  51. Skye Stewart Says:

    “For instance, pacifists like Tolstoi and R. Murphy think using violence in defense of your property is unjustified.”

    Libertarianism asserts that certain moral claims can be legitimately enforced. To deny that there are any legitimately enforceable moral claims is to deny the central claim of libertarianism. It in fact denies the very idea of a “right” (if we define a right as a legitimately enforceable moral claim.) One must therefore then suppose that there are no moral claims or that there are no moral claims that can be justifiably enforced.

    To my knowledge Tolstoy and Murphy advocate pacifism largely as a consequence of their Christian beliefs, rather than it being a specifically libertarian claim. For them, by my understanding, persons have moral claims but are directed (purportedly) not to resort to violence in defense of those claims.

    Now someone like Robert LeFevre held that it was bad and ‘impermissible’ to use violence, but I have not seen his argument claiming how one literally cannot have such a right.

    One could argue against employing the right of self-defense but I see no possibility for a doctrine of “rights” that are non-enforceable (legitimately) unless we simply redefine the term. This of course, however, would not address the issue.

    The issue is perhaps made clearer when we ask, “does the Pacifist has a right to resist?”

    Would you concede, that given situation A, force is either justified or not, but not both or neither?

    “the fact tax collection is ultimately backed by a threat of violence does not, by itself, differentiate collecting taxes from collecting on a loan.”

    Of course not, as no concise libertarian would hold. The actual claim is that the use of force is unjustified in this case because the force does not constitute a defensive action of legitimate property. Thus we arrive at the issue of original appropriation and homesteading, as well the limited possibilities of action due to scarcity and first person acquisition.

    As Hoppe has written,

    “The proof can be provided in a twofold manner. On the one hand, in spelling out the consequences that follow if one were to deny the validity of the institution of original appropriation and private property: If a person A were not the owner of his own body and the places and goods originally appropriated and/or produced with this body as well as of the goods voluntarily (contractually) acquired from another previous owner, then only two alternatives exist. Either another person B must be recognized as the owner of A’s body as well as the places and goods appropriated, produced or acquired by A. Or else all persons, A and B, must be considered equal co-owners of all bodies, places and goods.

    “In the first case, A would be reduced to the rank of B’s slave and object of exploitation. B is the owner of A’s body and all places and goods appropriated, produced, and acquired by A, but A in turn is not the owner of B’s body and the places and goods appropriated, produced and acquired by B. Hence, under this ruling two categorically distinct classes of persons are constituted – Untermenschen such as A and Übermenschen such as B – to whom different “laws” apply. Accordingly, such ruling must be discarded as a human ethic equally applicable to everyone qua human being (rational animal). From the very outset, any such ruling can be recognized as not universally acceptable and thus cannot claim to represent law. Because for a rule to aspire to the rank of a law – a just rule – it is necessary that such a rule apply equally and universally to everyone.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe7.html

  52. lazyfair Says:

    “OK, lazyfair, let’s say I decide what is best for my life is to wander into your house and grab a beer from the fridge. You tell me to get out, and I refuse. At that point, you get a gun and repeat your demand. It’s pretty apparent that I used no violence against you, but that now you are attempting to limit my (non-violent) choice with the threat of violence. So, you are against any right to eject trespassers from your home?”

    I’m sorry Gene for my simplistic response. But upon rereading your question, and the above quoted response, I feel like my answer matched the depth of your critique. I did not fathom that we would be revisiting the evolution of rights, specifically property rights. Your questions amount to “why is it bad to steal?” & “are property rights legitimate?”

    This is simply a property rights question. Are you asking your readers to rehash the mountain of academic, historical, and philosophical literature/reasoning – from Locke to Alchian – of which you are undoubtedly familiar? That is of course a quite fine intellectual exercise – one that many may feel exhausting into the wee hours with you. But perhaps more clarity could be brought to the discussion by presenting your case as one of questioning the validity of property rights – as many, many have done before – instead of the discovery of some new circular flaw in libertarian reasoning.

  53. Bob Murphy Says:

    A few points for those foolish enough to still be reading:

    (1) I get what Gene is saying, and I think some of the quick posts here confirmed his suspicions, but in general I think the standard libertarian view is just fine. People have ideas about property rights and what would constitute “theft,” “murder,” and “crime” in general if committed by private citizens. In normal everyday life, 80% of my neighbors can’t hold a vote and take my car. In fact, even if they thought it necessary to do so to prevent something bad from happening, a lot of people would still want to say, “OK it’s technically stealing, but it was for a good cause.”

    (2) I don’t think it’s useful to start with principles and then bend them to fit utilitarian purposes, if we are not going to just say from the get-go that our principles are derived from utilitarian considerations. E.g. David Friedman has the courage in his thought experiments (where society has to kill somebody in order to prevent an asteroid from blowing up the world etc.) to say something like, “In cases like this, I am forced to say that it is a violation of the guy’s rights to kill him, but I really hope somebody violates his rights.” It seems Gene wants to duck these hard cases and just define away any such difficulty, when he thinks that it’s his opponents who are playing games with definitions.

    (3) I am indeed a Christian pacifist. To reconcile it with standard libertarianism, I would say something like this, “People have the right to use their justly owned property. That means it would be unethical for someone else to use force to, say, prevent me from paying someone less than minimum wage. However, as a Christian I view it as sinful to use violence in turn against an aggressor, even though it wouldn’t violate his property rights if I did so.”

    I have more to say but I don’t want Mario to deploy MORE EDITORIAL NOTES.

  54. Bob Murphy Says:

    Gene wrote:

    It must be shown that the State is not a necessary element of social order. Now, libertarians have done some work showing that it is possible it is not — see, for instance, the work of Ed Stringham on early stock exchanges, Peter Leeson on pirate economics, David Friedman and Roderick Long on Icelandic anarchy, etc.

    Gene, this is getting serious. I enjoy a good Rothbard bashing as much as the next flippant guy, but here it sounds like you are no longer sure that a monopoly institution of organized violence is detrimental to society.

    Really? I personally don’t think the historical work is all that relevant. Don’t get me wrong, it helps, but even if we didn’t have good information about those episodes, that wouldn’t make me hesitate in the slightest to say that abolition of the State would lead to an incredible reduction in crimes, even if we are just considering non-State crimes.

    You’re really not so sure anymore?

  55. Bill Ross Says:

    Typo, should read:

    Survival EQUALS ability to adapt to environment EQUALS ability to choose correctly EQUALS freedom:

    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/36

  56. Bill Ross Says:

    Previous post apparently too long (suppressed), break up:

    #1

    This argument is falsely framed to NEVER be resolved but to be subject to perpetual conflict. The most basic reason is the underlying issue of morality is represented as subjective (matter of opinion) as opposed to objective (matter of fact).

    Neglecting morality, there is a factual line between legitimate and illegitimate coercion.

    We live in an action precedes consequence reality. It is a FACT that we are FREE to choose and do anything allowed by the laws of physics. The only choice of others, organized force included (states, law) is what do they choose to do in response (consequence)? The “give me freedom” argument is falsely framed. It is really “stop sanctioning me when I exercise my inherent freedom”. Since consequences of force are actions in the real world, there is a cost (to taxpayers) for sanctions against those power does not like. The real question of law (organized power of we, the people) is what actions of inherently free individuals are worth the cost to sanction? The answer of our far wiser ancestors was: sanction those who cause harm (and therefore disturb the peace, creating defensive conflict).

    So the answer is: Coerce and sanction those who cause harm. The law is a social self-defense mechanism, REACTING against those who cause harm and compensating victims (prey) at the expense of criminals (predators).

  57. Bill Ross Says:

    #3

    If you want to survive, learn how to THINK:

    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/c1/33

    Our “division of labor” civilization has been redefined to a “division of spoils” civilization. We remain in a war of all, against all situation until this is resolved.

    On the general topic of coercion, this is just Environmental Control 101. Charles Darwin and Evolution tried to warn us:

    Survival EQUALS ability to adapt to environment EQUALS ability to choose correctly EQUALS freedom:

    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/36

    The arguments of coercion and “necessity” (Machiavelli) are not circular. They are falsely framed lies, intended to keep idiots confused and fighting to feed predators who profit by conflict.

    Clear enuf?

    Bill Ross
    (Electronics Design Engineer)

  58. Skye Stewart Says:

    @ BOB MURPHY;

    On #1 I would add that even in those situations where it seems “necessary” or socially beneficent to transgress another’s property or person, the deontological libertarian must argue that this in no way nullifies that person’s rights. Therefore restitution should be provided to that person or their succeeding agent. Not only would this be ethical, arguably, but it would provide an incentive, a price tag that is, to such invasions.

    On #2, you seem to dismiss out of hand the very idea that certain normative truths can be determined. From that position it can only seem disingenuous of someone to advocate a principled approach to these matters. But I think Roderick’s discussion of the “principium essendi” and “principium cognoscendi” of justice helps dispel this criticism;

    “The fact that moral theorists in both camps rely on consequentialist and deontological considerations alike, not just to convince others but to convince themselves, suggests that members of each camp implicitly regard both sorts of considerations as principia cognoscendi of moral justification; and there is no inconsistency in doing this while at the same time regarding only one sort of consideration as the principium essendi. Just as a sandalwood-detector can take a certain smell as a reliable sign of the presence of sandalwood without taking that smell to be the essence of sandalwood, so deontologists and consequentialists can take beneficial consequences and respect for persons, respectively, as reliable signs of moral justification, though not as its essence.”

    See his section, 5. First Digression: Counterfactuals and Moral Knowledge, from his essay, Why Does Justice Have Good Consequences?

    http://praxeology.net/whyjust.htm

    On #3, it appears my original argument remains. For anyone that is not a christian, for example, such “sinful” behavior does not seem to constitute lawfully unjustified behavior (given the deontological status of rights to which I have previously referred), as it still appears Just to defend against aggression. It should be noted that self-defense does not necessarily mean “violent” behavior towards an aggressor. It merely means the right not to submit. There are however different strategies one could employ, whether they be gauged by degree of “violence” or degree of effectiveness in thwarting that aggression. Perhaps this clarification of the right to resist not being synonymous with the use of violence could be useful.

    In other words, the doctrine of proportionality purportedly demands the use of the least amount of force towards an “aggressor” (whether he be violent or simply a reluctant boundaries trespasser). Now it seems to me that the christian pacifist can be just as competent in deciding the least amount of “force” being justified (lawfully) to repel an aggressor as anyone else.

    For example, imagine if a flashlight you had were extremely bright and the aggressor attacking you could not physically approach you when you shown it in his face. It seems in this case, you would be employing a means that physically constitutes some kind of force, in so far as it being a tangible causative variable that determines deterrence and results in cessation of aggression.

    Could not the christian-pacifist agree such to be a legitimate example of exercising the right to repel aggression?

    My point is that the Christian pacifist is not necessarily making a claim that disputes the libertarian deontological claim. It may rather be a variance in degree rather than kind.

  59. Bill Ross Says:

    #2

    Our far wiser ancestors once encoded this crucial knowledge required to protect civilization in the “rule of law”:

    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/c1/34

    Which in turn is based on the “Social Contract”, a MUTUAL agreement to remain peaceful, the very basis of civilization and division of labor:

    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/c1/37

    Since the very basis of civilization has been legally rationalized away by power, we are involved in a perpetual war between the productive (those who produce more than they consume) and the greedy (those who consume more than they produce). The grim reaper of “Mathematics Of Rule” proves where this folly leads, as if living it is not proof enough:

    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/c1/32

  60. BrianW Says:

    I think it’s worth remembering that “The State is illegitimate because the State is illegitimate” is actually a logically valid argument, since the conclusion does follow from the premise. We call it a “fallacy” because it doesn’t accomplish anything, merely leaving where it starts, but it isn’t wrong. I mention this because a circular argument can have its place.

    Libertarians often make the argument in question is when debating minarchists who already accept the requisite notions of aggression, but support the state as legitimate anyway. Here, the purpose of the argument is merely to show that the premises which someone already holds as true necessarily imply state illegitimacy, and that the person in question contradicts themselves.

    In such an instance, the circularity of the argument isn’t a problem. It is, rather, precisely the point; to show that the illegitimacy of the state follows from someone’s own stated beliefs, becuse it is already implicitly built into those beliefs. A formulation that amounts to “The State is illegitimate because the State is illegitimate” becomes entirely appropriate.

  61. Bill Ross Says:

    Agree that states by current definition are illegitimate if for no other reason than they operate using “consent of SOME of the governed” as opposed to “consent of ALL of the governed”. The only way to achieve consent of ALL is to harm NONE (unless a consequence to those who initiate harm).

    IMHO, the issue of states is an issue of definition. If they were limited to “common interest”, where all equally benefit and pay as demanded by the “rule of law”, states may have a place. In this case, we may benefit by economies of scale in the provision of the basic services required by all of us. I say may because competition is mandatory to prevent monopolies (except self ownership, monopoly of self) of any type from exploiting their position to the detriment of all others.

  62. Gene Callahan Says:

    Lazyfair wrote:

    “This is simply a property rights question. Are you asking your readers to rehash the mountain of academic, historical, and philosophical literature/reasoning – from Locke to Alchian – of which you are undoubtedly familiar?”

    Well, I would never suggest they start with Locke! That’s about 2000 years too late. (Although, of course, the concpt of “rights” was not invented until about 1400.) It is worth noting that almost none of the great thinkers who have looked at this have arrived at the anarcho-capitalist theory of property. That doesn’t mean that theory is wrong, just that it can’t be assumed!

    “That is of course a quite fine intellectual exercise – one that many may feel exhausting into the wee hours with you. But perhaps more clarity could be brought to the discussion by presenting your case as one of questioning the validity of property rights – as many, many have done before – instead of the discovery of some new circular flaw in libertarian reasoning.”

    But you have put your finger on the circle yourself. If we assume a libertarian theory of property, then the State is engaged in aggression. But of course, if we assume a libertarian theory of property, we’ve already assumed libertarianism! So the argument should run, “If the libertarian theory of property is the right one, then taxes are aggression.”

  63. Gene Callahan Says:

    “Libertarians often make the argument in question is when debating minarchists who already accept the requisite notions of aggression, but support the state as legitimate anyway.”

    Good point, Brian! Anyone who accepts the libertarian theory of property ought to regard taxes as illegitimate, but some who accept the first deny the latter.

  64. Lazyfair Says:

    Thanks Gene for your clarifying & insightful remarks. And my apologies for the somewhat short, flippant 1st remarks. I likely judged your arguments in haste.

    I would not start with Locke either, by no means. Simply a decently understandable common
    ground for a public forum.

    I’d like to think on your response’s main points for a bit. If you’re still following the thread, I’ll post my best shots at answers when I can intelligently muster them.


  65. Gene, I must disagree with your point that defense of private property is coercion. I traded away hours of my life in order to get that property. If someone steals it, or harms it, they have taken my time against my will. That is properly considered slavery. I hope that you count aggression against slavers as self-defense and not coercion.

    If you agree with this point, then I have to ask where is the coercion in propertarianism (which is I believe a reasonable renaming of anarcho-capitalism given Horwitz and others’ rejection of “capitalism”).

  66. Gene Callahan Says:

    Russell, I think you have confused coercion tout court with unjustified coercion.


  67. I’m not following you, sorry. Are you claiming that when I *stop* someone from coercing me, that that is itself coercion? If so, doesn’t your whole argument fall apart?

  68. Gene Callahan Says:

    Russell,
    coerce: to compel by force, intimidation or authority (Webster’s Unabridged)

    Shooing a trespasser off of my land by getting out my gun fits that pretty exactly, does it not?


  69. Hrm. I think, then, that you’re using a different definition coercion from any libertarian. This introduces a break in the circle you claim exists in libertarian reasoning.

    You haven’t convinced me, but I thank you for trying.


  70. Russel, in my view libertarians misuse “coercion” to mean “aggression”. In my view it is just a type of force, and force is not always aggression. See my post The Problem with “Coercion”.


  71. Fair enough, Stephen, but the circle of reasoning remains broken.

  72. O.P. Says:

    Does it follow from Hobbes that ANY group of people having good intention to protect social order has a legitimate right to levy taxes on me?

    I don’t think you could use Hobbes to prove legitimity of the government – “legitimacy” should follow from “general rules” while applying Hobbes in practice would constitute that I have to surrender my rights to a particular authority.

    Which authority is the legitimate one considering that all the others are illegitimate? Even assuming that Hobbes is right, how does it prove legitimacy of a particular government?

  73. Gene Callahan Says:

    That’s right, Stephan, there’s justified coercion and unjustified coercion, and the issue between different political stances (often) turns on which is which.

  74. Gene Callahan Says:

    OP wrote:

    “Does it follow from Hobbes that ANY group of people having good intention to protect social order has a legitimate right to levy taxes on me?”

    Whether it follows or not is contentious, but certainly Hobbes thought that any one who could establish sovereignty and keep the peace did have such a right.

    “I don’t think you could use Hobbes to prove legitimity of the government – ‘legitimacy’ should follow from ‘general rules’ while applying Hobbes in practice would constitute that I have to surrender my rights to a particular authority.”

    Well, not all rights, but, in any case:
    1) I’m not trying to “prove” anything from Hobbes — I’m trying to say the argument I’m addressing would not work against Hobbes, for instance; and
    2) Who could ever be sovereign except a “particular authority”? (You can’t grant sovereignty to “authority in general”!

    “Which authority is the legitimate one considering that all the others are illegitimate?”

    Whichever one can establish rule and stop the war of all against all! (Again, I’m just explaining Hobbes here, not saying he is right.)

    “Even assuming that Hobbes is right, how does it prove legitimacy of a particular government?”

    Quite easily — if that one is in charge, it is legitimate! (Hobbes thought that establishing a sovereign was so important that it mattered little what sovereign you established. And this, by the way, is why Rothbard is incorrect in calling his work a defense of “monarchical absolutism” — Hobbes didn’t care if it was monarchy or oligarchy or democracy, as long as someone is in charge!

  75. Gene Callahan Says:

    An interesting side note: A couple of days after making this post, I was reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, and found him pointing out that Nozick’s argument in Anarchy, State and Utopia is circular — Nozick starts with libertarian premises, and gets a libertarian system out as a result!

    And, in case anyone, like Stephan has, thinks I’m “dumping” on libertarians, I’ll note that MacIntyre points out that Rawls’ argument is just as circular — he starts with “social democrat” premises and — surprise! — it turns out to be a social democratic system that is just.

  76. Gene Callahan Says:

    Well, Russell, I just don’t see how Stephan pointing out your use of a quirky definition of ‘coercion’ says anything about whether the argument I am criticizing is circular or not.


  77. Okay, I re-read the article with a new understanding of how you are using the word coercion, as opposed to the way libertarians actually use the word (it helps when everyone uses words the same way).

    Reading your #1, the actions of the state are separable. Can you or I enjoy green beans that are not cut at the angle that the US government says they must be cut at in order to be “green beans”? Certainly. Okay, so the taxes that support the enforcement of that law are illegitimate because the function is not necessary.

    Can you see how we can go through every bit of legislation and dispose of them one by one until we get to a state that libertarians agree is non-aggressive?

  78. David Gordon Says:

    If the premises of a valid deductive argument are true, then the conclusion is true. It does not follow from this that deductive argument is circular,i.e.,that the conclusion of the argument is used to argue for at least one of the premises. It also does not follow that deductive argument begs the question, i.e., uses the conclusion as one of the premises in the argument for that same conclusion.

    I think that MacIntyre is not making a general complaint about deductive arguments. Rather, he thinks that unless one already found libertarianism plausible, one wouldn’t accept Nozick’s initial premise, i.e., that individuals have rights, as he interprets that premise. In my view, MacIntyre is incorrect, but his claim is not that Nozick’s argument is circular.

  79. Gene Callahan Says:

    David, Mill’s problem of deduction is a tricky issue, and I don’t think either of us want to try to solve it here!

    Unfortunately, my copy of After Virtue is at another location, but I do think he accused both Nozick and Rawls of question begging. (I looked up circular argument in Wikipedia and see that Aristotle held it is not the same as question begging — when you argue with David Gordon, you’d better get your ducks in a row!)

  80. Gene Callahan Says:

    Ed Feser: “libertarian polity is neutral between the various comprehensive moral and religious doctrines that prevail in a pluralistic society – as long as they are willing to incorporate into themselves a basically libertarian conception of rights and justice.”

    <a href="http://www.edwardfeser.com/unpublishedpapers/libertarianimpartiality.html"Here.

  81. Gene Callahan Says:

    Oops — Here.


  82. What, no more comments? Oh, come on people! You’re not trying!

  83. Skye Stewart Says:

    i will “try for sheldon . . .

    Gene;

    With your insistence that libertarians (among others) are engaging in “circular reasoning” and “begging the question” are you claiming that it is advisable to arrive at conclusion[s] that are not supported by their premise[s]?

    Furthermore, it may be said that any genuine argument that could be advanced presupposes those logical constructs that are necessary for the conclusion to necessarily follow. Do you view this as yet another vicious example of circular reasoning, and therefore invalid?

    Lastly, in ASU, Nozick made it clear that there was much work to be done in so far as justifying the premise of natural inviolable rights, and that the “gap left without it’s accomplishment so yawning, that it is only a minor comfort to note that we here are following the respectable tradition of Locke” [p9, AS] He then appeals to Kantian ethics to help ground this position [p 30-33].

    If you have not yet, I think you would be interested in reading Hasnas’ essay, Toward a Theory of Empirical Natural Rights, in which he states that, given certain purportedly unwarranted assumptions “Nozick’s argument is hopelessly circular,” and that his “remarks have little prospect of convincing those who do not already agree with him.”

    He then advances his case for “empirical natural rights” in which, “arguments based on empirical natural rights should have the power to persuade not only those who do not subscribe to a Lockean or Nozickian theological or metaphysical position, but also those who do not engage in theological or metaphysical reflection at all. Answering the question of why one should believe that natural rights exist by pointing at the way the world works is a much more promising way of persuading those of primarily empirical intellectual orientation than is presenting a complex theological or metaphysical disquisition. Further, one need not subscribe to any particular moral theory to recognize the normative force of empirical natural rights. One need only appreciate that empirical natural rights are productive of peace and that peace is a primary value.”

    http://faculty.msb.edu/hasnasj/GTWebSite/SPPCNovDraftFoot.pdf

  84. Skye Stewart Says:

    I think much of this revolves around the definition and use of the term “right”. Libertarians tend to mean something that is inviolable and cannot be rendered annul – something prior to and thus largely exempt from – political institutions, and societal arrangements.

    To assert, as libertarians do, that “other people are not your property” is to reveal certain presuppositions, of course, but arguably warranted ones and fewer in number than those who argue that other people OUGHT to be treated as your property. It could be argued that everyone supports “rights” in so far as an analysis of their statements and assumptions necessarily suppose such for those actions to be justified. Whether they are consistent is another question. To act and make use of property – or other persons – is to beg justification for such.

    “For every one, as he is himself, so he has a self-propriety, else could he not be himself; and of this no second may presume to deprive any of without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature and of the rules of equity and justice between man and man.”
    ~ Richard Overton, ‘An Arrow Against All Tyrants’ 12 October, 1646

    “But if rights are defined in terms of force, then there are conceptual constraints on what we can say about the relation between rights and aggression. For aggression and force are conceptually linked; aggression is initiatory force – or conversely, force is that mode of conduct which, if initiated unilaterally, counts as aggression.

    “If I gain a right to be treated in manner M, you must correspondingly lose the right not to treat me in manner M. Hence every time we add a right here, we ipso facto subtract a right there; the total quantity of rights can thus be rearranged, but not increased.”
    ~ Long, Why Libertarians Believe There Is Only One Right

    Thus the insistence of a “right” to forcefully subordinate another person not only blatantly begs justification but is arguably untenable on it’s surface as it necessarily cancels out any ethic (which by nature must be universally applicable if existent at all). If it is not universally applicable, arguably, then it is not an ethic, and therefore the whole charade to attempt to justify it in the first place is vacuous.

    Similarly, we could ignore consistency and valid arguments in dialogue – insisting that such conventions rely upon the unwarranted assumptions of classical logic – but we will have to throw out the whole idea of justification in terms of argumentation consequently, just as we would have to throw out the idea legitimate action or the notion of a “right” in terms of justifying human action as ethical.

  85. Skye Stewart Says:

    GENE;

    “So, for example, when Aquinas said that it was OK to take food for your family if they were starving, he didn’t say “It’s OK to steal sometimes.” He said, “This doesn’t count as stealing.””

    There are several issues here. I think there is reason to believe that in most cases, this is mere semantics. If you’re arguing something is “justified”, or permissable in a given emergency scenario or “lifeboat” situation you’ll of course use terminology borrowed from or conducive to the vocabulary of justification, ie., NOT “stealing” or “robbery”.

    Just as someone would not say they were “assaulting” someone after the person refused to quiet down (after you politely asked them) but rather “i told him if he didn’t I would hit him!” is stated with an air of justification. And it doesn’t necessarily assume a disingenuousness on their part to do so.

    But it could be argued that “principles” of ethics (deon., conseq. or virtue) could be invoked to clarify whether his actions were correct or not, and whether the words he used were in fact the most appropriate ones.

    Secondly, in this scenario of a poor desperate man “stealing” from someone, the libertarian would insist this does not constitute nullification of his right to restitution. Therefore, it arguably doesn’t invalidate the ethic of libertarian property.

    Long takes up this issue in his Seminar on Libertarian Foundations. If he is correct, then this example of “stealing” is a straw man.


  86. […] ondersteuning van deze visies! (Ik zat al langer met deze gedachte te spelen, maar Gene Callahan zijn post was daarover doorslaggevend. Lees ook de discussie die daarop […]


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