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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/12327/machanarchy/


March 29, 2010 by

Tibor Machan in Essay on “Government” v. “State” distinguishes between state and government, and says:

Labeling an allegedly “near pure” libertarian opponent a “supporter of the state” or “a statist” does carry a painful sting. One would hope, however, that just this temptation is resisted by serious scholars.

Now, sure, if you distinguish government from state, it’s unfair to call an advocate of government a statist, just as it’s unfair to call anarchist pro-chaos. However, anarchism is anti-state, not anti-government–if we are keeping these distinctions in mind. So if you carefully distinguish government from state, so that you are advocating only government but not advocating the state, it seems to me this makes you an anarchist. That is, unless you are advocating government and the state, in which case the charge of “statism” is more accurate.

So are anarchists in favor of “government,” as distinct from the state? well, I suppose it comes down to a question of what you mean by “government”. If we all agree that libertarians should be against “the state,” and we all agree that even anarchists favor some institutions regarding justice, defense, law, then the question now is: is the government you advocate a state, or merely a private institution?

And I think we can answer this not by engaging in continually nuanced semantics but in looking at the fundamentals of libertarianism: the anarchists oppose the state because they oppose aggression (see my What It Means to be an Anarcho-Capitalist and What Libertarianism Is). If there is an agency that commits institutionalized aggression then they (we) oppose it because it commits aggression. And they have to give a name to this “agency that commits institutionalized aggression”: we call it “state”. Hoppe, in my mind, accurately defines “state” as follows:

Let me begin with the definition of a state. What must an agent be able to do to qualify as a state? This agent must be able to insist that all conflicts among the inhabitants of a given territory be brought to him for ultimate decision-making or be subject to his final review. In particular, this agent must be able to insist that all conflicts involving himself be adjudicated by him or his agent. And implied in the power to exclude all others from acting as ultimate judge, as the second defining characteristic of a state, is the agent’s power to tax: to unilaterally determine the price that justice seekers must pay for his services.

Based on this definition of a state, it is easy to understand why a desire to control a state might exist. For whoever is a monopolist of final arbitration within a given territory can make laws. And he who can legislate can also tax. Surely, this is an enviable position. [See Hoppe, Reflections on the Origin and the Stability of the State.]

So when you talk about government, the question is not how we classify it or what the best words are for state, government, etc., semantically: but rather: the question is: does the “government” that “minarchists” (?) favor engage in institutionalized aggression, or not? If not, it’s not a state, and it’s not unlibertarian. If it does, it’s merely a type of state.

Now the anarchists believe you can have private institutions provide law, justice, defense, without necessarily engaging in systematic and institutionalized aggression–that is, without being a state. Whether you want to call such institutions “government” or not seems to me to be purely semantic, esp. if we grant there is a distinction between state and government. The remaining question is simply what type of government the “minarchists” (?) favor: do they favor a government that has the authority to commit institutionalized aggression, or not? If they do, then they are pro-state, since such a government is a state. If they do not, they are anarchists, it seems to me, since private, non-state, non-aggressive institutions of law, justice, and defense is exactly what we anarchists favor.


Gary Chartier March 29, 2010 at 10:07 am

Thanks for this, Stephan. I found Machan’s piece puzzling. I’m not sure whether it reflects some ambivalence on his part about anarchism. Is it perhaps the case that he recognizes that there’s no meaningful difference between a “government” from which anyone is free to secede and which isn’t tax-funded–the sort of government he professes to favor–and a private defense association/coop(!)/agency, but doesn’t feel comfortable acknowledging that this really makes his position indistinguishable from anarchism? Does he have some sort of æsthetic disaffection for anarchist language? I’m not trying to be catty; I’d be curious to hear from him or from someone who knows him well enough to enlighten us.

Russ March 29, 2010 at 10:33 am

This is just a justification for reading minarchists out of the libertarian movement by calling them statists. It just burns SK that not all of us agree with him and Rothbard about what libertarianism is. But nonetheless, the non-aggression principle is not the “fundamentals of libertarianism” to all of us. Some of us are not so rigidly rule-bound, just care about maximizing freedom, and happen to believe that this “sweet spot” will occur with a small state as opposed to no state.

Stephan Kinsella March 29, 2010 at 11:33 am

Russ, as a libertarian I am opposed to aggression. It’s long been my contention that a principled opposition to aggression implies anarchy is the only justifiable political position; and that if you are not an anarchist you must endorse aggression. Thanks for illustrating my contention by saying that non-aggression is not fundamental to your “libertarianism”–which is basically an admission you endorse some acts of aggression. You know, like criminals.

newson March 31, 2010 at 4:36 am

…not to mention the difficulties of locating the s-spot! plus the divergence of interpersonal s-spots makes calibration tricky.

Larry Martin March 31, 2010 at 9:17 am

Hey! That sounds like a personal issue between you and your girlfriend… ;-)

Gary Chartier March 29, 2010 at 11:07 am

Russ, that still leaves on the table the question of just what Machan’s up to. An entity that doesn’t tax and from which one may freely secede doesn’t sound very state-like. So the question is why Machan would be thought to be a minarchist.

Stephan Kinsella March 29, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Gary, Tibor insists he’s a minarchist. But he also says he is completely against aggression, unlike Russ here who admits he’s in favor of aggression if it’s necessary to form a minimal state that is itself necessary to “maximize freedom.”

Apparently some soi-disant minarchists believe the minarchy they favor is a state–a minimalist one, but a state–and one that uses aggression, albeit a minimal amount, in order to reduce other aggression even more, thus maximizing freedom. But other minarchists deny that the minarchy they favor is a state, and deny that it may or needs to use aggression. They seem to believe that minarchy is possible without the minarchist government committing systematic, institutionalized aggression. Anarchists do not object to such an agency and would not regard it as a state. I’m not sure it’s possible or exactly what its nature is, but if it is not empowered to commit legal aggression, then it’s okay with us.

Contrast this to Russ’s comments: he is not against aggression, he is for “maximizing freedom”. I.e., if we have to have a little aggression to achieve a state that will maximize freedom–so be it. Now his view may be justifiable but it is aggression he thinks can be justified. This is typical of many minarchists in my experience. That’s why I think if someone adopts a principled anti-aggression view, as Machan does, … he’s an anarchist.

Gary Chartier March 29, 2010 at 12:26 pm

OK, Stephan, I was waiting for the punch-line. Yes, I think Machan is an anarchist—not just because he foreswears aggression, but because the model he’s at least willing to contemplate defending doesn’t involve aggression (depending, at any rate, on how the right to secede is cashed). So I continue to puzzle over the question why he resists being labeled an anarchist.

Stephan Kinsella March 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Gary, I’m not sure, to be honest. It could be that he thinks anarchists are against the (non-state) “government” that he thinks is necessary, and/or that the “government” that he favors is sort of a natural monopoly and people “would” consent to this… so that a sort of “monopolistic” government could form and exist in a given region, but without using aggression… but it still somehow maintains a monopoly. I think that’s what they think, but I could be wrong.

Michael A. Clem March 29, 2010 at 11:26 am

On the one hand, as an Ancap, I certainly want to distinguish myself from not only left-anarchists with their vaguely-defined legal system but also from the mainstream anarchist = chaos view. Redefining “government” as a legal system but not as a monopolistic state would accomplish that. However, this distinction between government and state still seems like semantics to me, because most people don’t make that strong a distinction. Besides, most minarchists do believe you need a final arbiter, i.e. a state monopoly, to ensure a just legal system, and that you should not to leave it to private institutions to provide. That’s the crux of the difference between minarchists and anarchists. They’re all for non-aggression with this one exception.

Gary Chartier March 29, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Lots of minarchists clearly take this position, but if I read Machan correctly, he doesn’t. If there’s a right to secede, then a given government will serve as the final arbiter only within the property owned by people voluntarily choose to place that property within its jurisdiction. So the puzzle for me is why Machan resists just admitting that he’s an anarchist.

When I posted a link to this piece on Facebook, Aeon Skoble indicated that he’d had multiple exchanges over the years with Machan on precisely this point.

Michael A. Clem March 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Is Machan merely trying to resist the label “anarchist”, or is he trying to redefine mainstream views and avoid the connotation of bomb-throwing anarchists and chaos? Or perhaps, instead of trying to “read minarchists out of the libertarian movment”, as Russ suggests, he’s actually trying to bridge the gap and bring anarchists and minarchists together.
Yes, some people go to great lengths to justify their position, but I wouldn’t suspect that Machan is doing this simply to justify himself and his minarchist label.

Stephan Kinsella March 29, 2010 at 12:58 pm

It could also be because lots of anarchists present it as a positive thing that we are FOR. They talk about our imagined and proposed anarchist institutions as something they are in favor of; this leads minarchists to ask, well what’s your justification for this? I think that we should just be AGAINST aggression. If you just recognize the state commits aggression you are against it as a type of criminality. It does not depend on your “justifying” whatever structures would arise in a free society that does not have public criminality. At most such ideas about PDAs etc. are just our intellectual musings and predictions about what it might look like under freedom; but our opposition to aggression and crime does not depend on justifying any particular picture of what freedom would look like.

So maybe Machan doesn’t buy into our predictions. If we stop equating our anarchy with predicted institutions, and equate it with principled opposition to aggression coupled with a recognition that the state employs aggression systematically, we might win more soi-disant “minarchists” over. Other than people like Russ, most minarchists are against aggression!

Michael A. Clem March 29, 2010 at 2:08 pm

While I would agree that the principled anarchist is against aggression, I’ve long resisted the temptation to merely argue “the market will take care of it” (one of those things I picked up from Advocates for Self-Government), because it’s hardly a convincing argument to the minarchist or statist. That makes it harder to argue, though, as the temptation is to describe possible solutions, especially in reference to existing institutions (i.e. things that people are already familiar with), without trying to make it appear as the only possible solution.

geoih March 29, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Ah, more wasted space and effort trying to root out evil libertarian heretics, while the statists are destroying civilization right before our eyes.

Gary Chartier March 29, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I didn’t notice Machan being called an evil heretic. I for one am just trying to understand his position and why he characterizes it as he does.

Stephan Kinsella March 29, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Incidentally, I see in David Miller’s lengthy review of the Machan/Long book on Amazon, he highly recommends Hasnas’s and Long’s contributions to the book, which are: John Hasnas, The Obviousness of Anarchy; and Roderick Long, Market Anarchism as Constitutionalism. These papers are really good.

fundamentalist March 29, 2010 at 1:37 pm

The term “liberal” meant something until socialists adopted and perverted it. “Conservative” also used to mean something until Republicans adopted it and made synonymous with big government in the service of war and social engineering through the promotion of certain moral/religious values. So real conservatives had to adopt another name, “libertarian.” Now Kinsella wants to exclude all who might have been libertarian in the original meaning of the word and accept only Rothbard and Hoppe’s definition. He would exclude Mises and Hayek, two of the greatest champions of liberty that ever lived.

Those of us who love liberty as Mises and Hayek did should reclaim the old term “liberal” for ourselves, since socialists have abandoned it for “progressive.” Let anarchists have the term libertarian, but let everyone understand that libertarianism means nothing but anarchism.

But as the Acton article today demonstrates, the problem is not the state. The problem of liberty lies with the worship of democracy and the idolatry of absolute majority rule. Anarchists attack the mask, not the evil behind the mask. As long as the majority worships itself, no liberty or anarchy is possible. If the majority ever comes to its senses and repents of its self-worship and adopts the rule of law, libertarianism will be the result, though maybe never anarchism.

DixieFlatline March 29, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Fundamentalist, you evaded Stephan’s point about aggression. Regardless of label, do you feel that some aggression is necessary to maximize freedom?

Democracy is a flawed system without a doubt. But is it flawed because it is majoritarian, or flawed because it institutionalizes aggression?

fundamentalist March 30, 2010 at 11:45 am

I oppose agression, too. But anarchists don’t define all violence as regression. For example, retrieving stolen goods and self-defense are not aggression because they are justified violence. According to natural law, taxation is justified violence because the state has a legitimate role to perform. If the state collects taxes above the amount needed to perform its legitimate role, then it has committed agression.

Democracy is flawed because it gives absolute power to the majority, which is no different from giving absolute power to a king.

Peter March 31, 2010 at 7:36 am

That’s a non-sequitur. Even if “the state has a legitimate role to perform”, it doesn’t follow that “taxation is justified violence”. “Retaliatory” violence, e.g., in the process of getting your stolen property back, is justified precisely because it’s retaliatory: the other guy started it, so he can’t complain about it; taxation is not retaliatory, it’s “initiatory” — by definition, unjustifiable!

Tibor R. Machan March 29, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I have spent a great deal of my life discussing anarchism vs. minarchism, writing about it in several of my books–most recently, The Promise of Liberty, A Non-Utopian Vision (Lexington, 2009), so I hesitate to jump in here to repeat it all. (I am actually just now preparing a second edition of my first major book in political philosophy, Human Rights and Human Liberties, A Radical Reconsideration of the American Political Tradition (Nelson-Hall, 1975). My stuff is easily available all over the place, so instead of guessing at what I think, perhaps some of this could be looked up and read (assuming serious interest). Alternatively, if someone here wishes to pose some questions to me, in a civil tone, I would gladly spend a bit of time addressing them and then this could be posted. I am not assuming that there is much interest in this but given the discussions above, I simply don’t wish to seem reclusive.

Michael A. Clem March 29, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Are you kidding? We love the minarchist vs. anarchist debates here at Mises! ;-) I’m surprised that some others haven’t jumped onto the thread, except maybe we’ve debated it ad nauseum and haven’t really come up with anything new to contribute (or else they were thrown off the scent by the title and lead of the blog post)
Anyway, I’m not looking for a long answer, just a short response to Kinsella’s comment: “So maybe Machan doesn’t buy into our predictions.”

Gene Berman March 30, 2010 at 8:54 am

To both sides of the quarrel:

If you believe, as do I (and, in my estimation, from frequent review of these back-and-forths–most of all on both sides), that one of the largest (if not the largest) obstacles to regaining freedoms that we all value (including the very concept of individual freedom fast disappearing), it would seem to me that the single largest “job” incumbent upon us all is to de-marginalize the Austrian School and its adherents in the view of the larger public, those whose votes directly and indirectly determine policy
and whose very behavior (including attitudes toward everything) ultimately constitute what we appreciate as “society.” I cannot conceive that I misrepresent the importance of this function; if not precisely “all-important,” its importance is such that all other matters are of distinctly secondary
significance. Further, not a few of these “other matters” may serve to diminish or even oppose any progress in a direction that all of us agree (I would hope) would be more agreeable to us (and, we believe, to the great majority of others).

And, although my argument (at least so far) is somewhat general (and therefore somewhat vague), I intend to develop at least a few specifics before resting my case for your consideration. At the outset, though, I want to ground what I have to say in specifically Misesian propositions with the suggestion, though I cannot prove it, that Mises himself would approve both method and tone.

Mises was, by all reports, an intransigent supporter of what he believed right or correct, whether in a scholarly or moral sense. But he was neither stupid nor unrealistically radical. He acknowledged, even celebrated, that “half a loaf is better than none,” that we should not “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and, most importantly, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” But he did much more than pass along aphorisms for our amusement or even our appreciation. He’s left us with concrete and demonstrably accurate descriptions of “how things work” in the field of human economic behavior–descriptions which will work in our favor if attention be paid them and will certainly work against–and defeat–us if we do not heed their message. (“descriptions” and “their” implies these are plural–and they are–but my main message shall focus on one in particular).

One of Mises most insightful (and important) messages is little-heralded and, indeed, takes up so little space, for instance, in HUMAN ACTION, that it may be forgotten from time to time and is often overlooked, though familiar to us all: it is the description of how government intervention, failing to achieve the economic result sought by its promulgators (even in their own view) or by leading to a result even more undesirable (again, in the view of those very promulgators) than that they hoped to ameliorate by their action, presents those worthies with the stark choice of either applying more widely-applicable, more stringent, more restrictive, or more punitive measures in support of the original OR abandoning at least that particular method for reaching the “promised land.” Though brief, this message is as “Mises 101″ as it gets; an expansion of this recogntion and its exposition in fuller form for those who’d never read (or even heard of) Mises afforded material for a book “THE ROAD TO SERFDOM” by Hayek (and got him one of those not-quite-Nobels, to boot). The message, whether from Mises or Hayek (or even from “common sense”) is that, even though the desired end of the road (or spectrum between “free” and “unfree”) can possibly be reached by great leaps, every small step in a particular direction leads to further progress in that same direction. Indeed, though some of those aiming at “all-’round control” (totalitarianism of one or another sort) are convinced of the “right’ of their aims and cannot be influenced to change, the great majority of those ideological “enemies” are of no such opinion; rather, they believe, more or less honestly, that theirs is “the way to go” to reach the same goal of maximizing human prosperity and happiness. Even more so is this true of the great mass of common men–those before whose private opinions, expressed in both behaviors and votes, no mere academic prepossession can stand. These are worthy targets of a campaign of correct propaganda (and almost the only targets that really count). They are, ultimately, the target for which the Mises Institute was created (and in reaching which an already demonstrably effective record is obvious. In 1972, I’d never heard of Mises and, for about 20 years, never met anyone even recognizing the name who wasn’t already seriously interested in Economics, usually a professional in the field. But now, even though somewhat reclusive, I run into many who not only recognize the name but are even a bit familiar with the thought system. And it’s all the fault of this site! And, though more, obviously, could be done, there cannot be any doubt that this site is quite a bit more than a single step–and in the right direction.

But now we come to the matter of whether the frequent (interminable, I’d actually call them) radical arguments advanced on the site are actually productive of any greater agreement or unity on the part of Misesians (especially with respect to advancing the Misesian views for advancement through understanding by the public at large) or whether, in fact, they tend toward “splintering” of such views and even their perception (by the ultimate target audience–the public) as the infighting of merely diffent groups of radicals, of zealots, of folks with their “heads in the clouds,” of “utopians,” i.e., of people similar to the derelicts in the carnival “geek show” of yesteryear–folk to be watched for amusement, pitied, but ultimately degraded and scorned insofar as being considered as being formative of opinion worthy of close attention.

I don’t intend to exhaust the possible list of topics or contributors I believe counterproductive to the true focus and purpose of the site. I’ll mention just the two I believe most egregious. First (and foremost) is the continuous spat between “mainstream” Austrians and what I would term “left-wing libertarians,” anarchists (not to be confused with antichrists), etc. If I’ve mis-named, I apologize in advance–I’m ignorant of the nuances. You know who you are. I even respect your beliefs–you’re entitled to them–they’re just not potentially convincing either to me or to most people (and “most people” or a very large part of them is whom you’re going to have to convince if you really wish for your concept of a proper society to be, ultimately, realized). I don’t need to reiterate my “sticking points” for you–you know those also from their being raised numerous times by others. They’re worthy of discussion, certainly,–just not at this site, a “Misesian” site more or less devoted to the explanation, defense, spread, popularization, and ultimate ascendancy of the Misesian “take” on matters economic, including those aspects of governance as may be aptly included. To the extent that you are Misesians and desirous of extending sway of his understanding of such matters, you will also understand the legitimacy of this criticism of counterproductivity (and I mean from a Misesian viewpoint). Indeed, were I an anti-Misesian intent on disrupting the progress of the first actual spread of the Misesian “message,” I could devise no more clever attack nor one more thoroughly debilitating than one disguised as an internal discussion of an interminably insoluble difference of opinion (especially an opinion that Mises NEVER, even in a single sentence, expressed nor in any way indicated was possible in the real world).

The other repetitive or ongoing argument is that advanced on the particular topic of whether ideas are, can be, or should be “property.” In the world as it is, the concept of “intellectual property” has been recognized as valid and supported by law in most of the advanced nations, honored in the breach as well as in the observance. If only because the state (meaning the condition) and particularly the advancement of technology and art as appurtenances of civilization are integrally related to the treatment of such ideas, it is certainly a worthy topic of discussion. And one frequent contributor here (of the Mises Institute staff, I believe), Mr. Kinsella, has made himself, in every respect, an expert on the presentation of the argumentation against the institutionalization of “property rights” in ideas. I have read none of Mr. Kinsella’s books nor longer works but have managed to read articles and comments here from time to time. I must say that I find his arguments interesting and, in some cases, somewhat persuasive, though in no case convincing. Mr. Kinsella may be completely correct in his views regarding intellectual property; I certainly am in no position to refute even a single one of the arguments of his that I’ve read thus far; moreover, I find his basic argument very interesting. But, that being said, I am still far from convinced he’s right and I am convinced of one thing bearing on my own discussion: that such a focus and the argumentation generated is distinctly “out of place” on the Mises.org site and, like the “anarchist” matter, detracts from the site’s original and supposedly primary purpose. My own view is that the entire matter would be better presented on a site of its own, even one associated with the Mises.org site (for both intellectual property arguments and “anarchist” arguments, I could see either separate sites or even a single site, whether or not connected or “linked” to the Mises.org site). The object, in my view, would be simply to remove such argumentation from discussion of topics actually of importance in explaining, clarifying, and advancing Misesian/Austrian views (and science).

Lastly, think of it another way. The LewRockwell.com site is closely associated with the Mises.org site. There even, occasionally, pieces that are fit for both. But a great many of the pieces at Lew’s site are extraneous to or unsuitable for inclusion here. Lew is even fond of certain “nutcases” and even rogues, plus a certain amount of what amounts to “woo-woo.” No harm in that–we’ve all got a shaker of salt, handy for fixing a proper margarita–or for taking a grain of with some of the pieces there. The discussions I’ve noted could well be presented there or on separate sites–without what I view as deleterious to the intent of the Mises.org site.

mpolzkill March 30, 2010 at 9:33 am

Gene Berman “You know who you are. I even respect your beliefs–you’re entitled to them–they’re just not potentially convincing either to me or to most people (and “most people” or a very large part of them is whom you’re going to have to convince if you really wish for your concept of a proper society to be, ultimately, realized).”

It is analogous, today’s political, corporate and banking slavery to 19th century chattel slavery. A Spooner then (and his counterpart of today) was not (and is not) primarily concerned with tailoring facts to better suit the billions of radicals who believe in the possible efficacy of coercion. The billions are radically wrong, and just like the abolitionists, we are radically right. I, for one, am only interested in delivering the message that there is no efficacy in State coercion and all of you radicals will forever fail in your Utopian schemes until you give up on your dreams born of ignorance and/or self-deception.

DixieFlatline March 30, 2010 at 9:35 am

Mises is not the last authority on everything Austrian, nor everything discussed at Mises.org. To claim that the boundaries of the discussion should be so narrowly limited to what we think his opinions were, is closer to dogma than scientific inquiry. Mises himself I suspect would reject such an adherence to cults of personality over a dogged pursuit of the truth, and the development of increased understanding about human action.

Also, how can you label something you admit ignorance about, as “egregious”? Isn’t that very shallow argumentation?

Patrick April 3, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Good points Dixie.

newson March 31, 2010 at 11:25 am

i think that hoppe is right. selling a radical message is a plus, rather than a negative. a moderate, but muddled or logically indefensible argument won’t win over the majority in any case.

i can’t help thinking how hoiles makes mises look awkward in these letters over public schooling -

Mark Humphrey April 6, 2010 at 1:59 am

Steven Kinsella’s comment on Machan is vapid. As in airy, an exercise in “semantical” truism, of no account. I suspect that Kinsella doesn’t understand what Machan thinks and that he doesn’t care to learn. So he wraps up his airy commentary with a quote from….not Machan, of course….but the sainted Hans Herman Hoppe! And a Brilliant Light Shone Down Upon Them. The joy….the exhileration!!… of entering the Church of Anarchism. It sends chills down one’s spine.

Here are some “non-semantical” distinctions that are worth actually thinking about.

First, the primary “axiom” of “Anarchism”–of Hoppe, or Rothbard, or of any of their followers, is not axiomatic. It cannot be proven as such. Moreover, it is conceptually flawed and utterly insufficient as a foundation for ethics–the area of inquiry from which natural rights are derived.

Libertarians are opposed to the initiation of force in social affairs, for all the elegant and powerful reasons upon which various great thinkers have elaborated. But the fact that aggression is destructive in society–that aggression is bad—does not explain the meaning of good or bad, of moral right or wrong. What is the source and nature of moral right and moral wrong? What purpose do moral values serve? Where do moral principles come from? The rather pompously named “non-aggression axiom” fails as the foundation of ethics and natural rights, because it contains no answers to these crucially important questions. That’s why Rothbard and his followers elevate this idea to its hallowed status as an “axiom”–which means in philosophy an idea that cannot be proven by reference to other more fundamental ideas.

In addition to leaving unanswered crucial questions about the source and nature of moral principles, non-aggression cannot be used as a moral axiom, because its observance leads to unacceptable outcomes in certain perfectly realistic situations. For example, in an emergency, one might have to break into an empty or occupied rural house to avoid freezing to death, or steal food to avoid starvation if society falls apart. Is preserving one’s life by breaking and entering or stealing meat immoral? The non-aggression principle sheds no light on this issue. Anyone who chooses non-aggression in such circumstances will die. Is this the purpose of morality, to instruct one in the proper means of securing one’s death?

There are sound answers to all these questions about the foundations of morality, but one will never find them in the dogma of Austro-anarchism. The purpose of moral values is to secure an individual’s survival, well-being and fullfillment, meaning: to secure a good life. The source of moral values is the fact of human life: people must live by proper thinking and appropriate choices. Moral principles define conceptually the kinds of choices that are pro-life or anti-life, given the distinct requirements of living life as a human volitional being.

In light of the foregoing, applying the “litmus test” of non-aggression doesn’t explain enough about the nature and purpose of government. Government should exist to outlaw force from social affairs, because people need moral sovereignty to properly live their lives. But legally outlawing force is not the same as positing “market anarchism”. One reason is that “anarchism” makes unproven and unwarranted assumptions about market structure. Would there be several or many “competing” private defense agencies in a state of nature? Or would one successful firm–a Microsoft of defense–establish legal principles and rules of procedure that come to dominate the market, so that lesser firms choose to enter into cooperative contracts with Microsoft? Austro-anarchists believe without proof that a natural monopoly is impossible.

However, it is clear that a natural monopoly is both possible and likely. In the market process that gives rise to money, Mises explained that one monetary commodity–the most widely marketable–eventually dominates the market, until it drives out all money-commodity alternatives. The reason that the market produces a single money-commodity is because money is more useful to people if everyone uses the same kind. The same process in legal affairs would give rise to a federalized monopoly Government.

Government cannot properly use taxation to fund its activities, because taxation is theft. A natural monopoly would charge for legal services its customers choose to purchase–from the enforcement of contracts to the prosecution of criminals. Sub-firms might perform services of their choosing, but always in accordance with the requirements of the legal system.

Austro-anarchism tends to be sympathetic to the idea of moral subjectivism. Moral subjectivism posits that not only should values be taken as subjective for the narrow methodological purpose of sound thinking about economics; values are subjective in human life. This is why anarchists often refer to private defense agencies performing the service of “arbitrating disputes”. But government should not arbitrate value differences. It should define and enforce objective law–law that is consistent with objective ethical-political principles that are based on the requirements of human nature.

“Anarchism” means literally “No Rule”. That’s logically consistent with the idea of moral values as subjective. “To govern” means to organize actions in accordance with some natural order. That’s consistent with the idea of moral values as natural, real and objective.

Peter Surda April 6, 2010 at 8:27 am

There is so much incorrect with your post that it’s difficult to begin. Therefore I will only concentrate on several core aspects.

One of the basic errors is not to separate the logical and the moral evaluations of actions. It is important not to intermix them within a single argument. It is consistent, for example, to agree with the austrian economic theory, while at the same time consider the initiation of force to be morally correct. I don’t know if anyone does it but these are separate issues.

The other error is the misinterpretation of axioms. Kindly read how wikipedia defines axioms. Axioms are unavoidable in any theory.

The quest for the source of morality is in my opinion moot. It is undeterminable. I for example, being an atheist and determinist, do not see a metaphysical source of morality. What is important is not the source, but the content, of morality.

Anarchy does not mean “no rule”, but “no rulers”. Again, consult wikipedia.

Michael A. Clem April 6, 2010 at 10:41 am

As Peter notes, there are several different items that could be challenged, but for now, let me tackle just one: The market would indeed provide a single money-commodity, but no single issuer or monopoly on the issuing of money or money certificates.
Likewise, the market, or more specifically, common or customary law, would tend to generate one standard, objective set of laws, without the need for monopoly agency to create or enforce these laws. Yes, man needs values to live his life, but you’d have to be crazy to think that an organization with a monopoly on the use of force is pro-life and not anti-life. Government pretty much represents everything that Objectivists are supposedly against–capricious, whimsical rule by men, not law, enforced by initiating coercion.
Finally, you should look up the definition of “axiom”. An axiom is a self-evident truth that cannot be, and shouldn’t need to be, proved. Admittedly, some premises are asserted to be axioms when they are not, but simply stating that the premise cannot be proven isn’t enough to disqualify it as an axiom.
Check your premises!

Zorg April 22, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Wow. So non-aggression is “pompously named”? What else would you call it, assuming you
were intent upon being non-pompous (is it pompous to call yourself non-pompous?) : )

Actually, I think it is referred to as the NAP (non-aggression principle). I think the underlying axiom – that which is self-evident – is self-ownership. So the NAP would be derived from
self-ownership: If I own myself and you own yourself, then I may not initiate force against you and you may not do so to me. This allows us to be free to pursue our own ends in peace and to
cooperate socially in a mutually beneficial manner. It is a universal ethic since it can be applied to all human beings without contradiction.

As far as I know, there is no other ethic which can be applied universally without contradiction. You offered none that I see. You merely offered a collectivist dogma whereby
some group of people claim the *right* to a monopoly rule over others. This immediately
creates two classes of human beings – the rulers and the ruled. It is NOT a universal ethic,
so it cannot be said to be just. It reduces to a might-makes-right claim, a justification of
“the ends justify the means”.

Either human beings are equal or they are not. If you start off with an ethic built upon
a manifest injustice, then there is no hope for what follows after, for you can then justify
*anything*. You will endow your ruling group of humans with special rights that no others
have, and they will proceed to engage in collective actions which no individual may engage
in without rightly being considered anti-social and immoral. Is that what you want to argue for? Really?

You make a fundamental mistake by referring to gold (or any universally preferred medium
of exchange) as a “monopoly”. Gold (or other money) is a product, not a producer. There
is no producer (gold miners or goldsmiths) forcing others to use gold in a free market. It
arises due to its natural properties as an excellent medium of exchange. Likewise, law
in a free society may reach many points of consensus over time such that there may be
one preferred body of law. It is self-evident that a truly free market in law will eventually produce a specific code which is preferred over others due to its excellence in serving
its purpose in society. As long as there are no imposed barriers to entry, free competition
tends to keep improving the product (in this case, the law) and lowering the cost because the providers, in order to prosper, must provide something that is beneficial and efficient to their customers.

An arbitrator who makes the most timely, just, and economical decisions for litigants will be sought after and will gain market share over inferior providers. This, in turn, causes competitors to mimic the most successful in the field while attempting to add improvements
in a never-ending drive for long-term success and acclaim.

You say: “Government should exist to outlaw force from social affairs…”

Is that your axiom? If so, it is self-refuting since a state (what you mean here by “government”) can only impose itself on society by means of that same force which you say ought to
be outlawed from social affairs!

Any attempt to counter this analysis amounts to special pleading. I have heard people
go through all sorts of logical contortions to justify the state and none of them can do
so without contradicting themselves. They shift definitions and they make logical leaps;
they appeal to emotion – usually fear; and they make the state a special case of special
people with special purposes which can ride roughshod over reason. In no other case
do the arguers allow for different people to have different rights. In no other case do
the arguers allow coercion to be initiated against those who are innocent of any crime.

The very idea that you claim that a gang of special people have special rights and may
FORCE an innocent peaceful person into a social relationship they do not willingly chose
and for which purpose you are willing to employ violent threats and actions even to
the point of MURDER for those who absolutely refuse to submit, is absurd on its face.

There is NO logic or reason whatsoever involved in this claim to have the right to murder
others. What is the reason to punish the innocent? They are not guilty of any crime against
society, but in the name of protecting society you become the aggressor and carry out
crimes against the innocent simply for refusing your IMPOSED “protection”? In saying that
you must commit violent acts against innocents in order to be able to protect them, you
are literally abandoning reason and cursing society. You have perverted the very concept
of society, the very concept of rights, and the very concept of protection!

In the “state of nature,” these people would flee you and your monopoly as they would
an invading army. That is what statists cannot face. They know that, given the choice,
people would flee and/or refuse compliance with any imposed system. That’s why they all say, “If you don’t like it here, you can leave!” Of course, there’s no place left to go which offers a viable escape from this madness of control. But they all claim to offer you a choice when they know full well that states are violent lawless institutions built upon conquest by definition. They just can’t face the truth.

Objectivists certainly would not countenance the monopoly state-creating claimants if those special people were communists! They would not say that *those* people have a right to impose a state. Well, if one group may impose a state and another may not, then this must mean that there are criteria for who may initiate the territorial monopoly, right? What are those criteria? People with good intentions to create a nice minimal objectivist state, I suppose (non-objectivists would reject these criteria, of course). So then what if there are multiple groups wanting to impose the monopoly all with good intentions of making nice laws for nice people (and they’ll kill you if you resist)?

Gee, we can’t have competing governments; we must have a monopoly because one-size-fits-all, and if not there will be chaos – and who will build the roads? So I guess that gives us elections. We have democracy – majority rule. Why? Because the majority are invariably wise, moral, and correct! Everyone knows that if you want to know the truth about something,
you take a vote. After all, you have a 50-50 chance of getting one answer vs another, and
that sounds really smart and progressive. I feel like putting on a bow tie and announcing
the results.

Now we can all vote for our preferred communists, socialists, fascists, demagogues, idiot sons of the power elite, etc. And that gives us a compromise among the several very bad forms of statism. Hurray! Problem solved! Now any moron, con artist, or scoundrel can “run” for “office” to acquire the special right to make laws for everyone (conveniently for sale to the highest bidding lobbyist, naturally). And so now we spend the rest of our lives trying to convince the masses that it’s really better for them if they don’t loot others, and it’s really better for the banksters if they don’t counterfeit and make billions off of the dupes, and it’s really better for the politicians if they decide NOT to use the POWER to TELL OTHER PEOPLE WHAT TO DO


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