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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/7030/f-a-hayek-and-the-concept-of-coercion/

F.A. Hayek and the Concept of Coercion

August 24, 2007 by

The fundamental and grievous flaw in Hayek’s system appears when he proceeds to define “coercion,” writes Murray Rothbard. For instead of defining coercion as is done in the present volume, as the invasive use of physical violence or the threat thereof against someone else’s person or (just) property, Hayek defines coercion far more fuzzily and inchoately: e.g., as “control of the environment or circumstances of a person by another (so) that, in order to avoid greater evil, he is forced to act not according to a coherent plan of his own but to serve the ends of another”; and again: “Coercion occurs when one man’s actions are made to serve another man’s will, not for his own but for the other’s purpose.”

It seems clear that the fundamental problem is Hayek’s use of “coercion” as a portmanteau term to include, not only physical violence but also voluntary, nonviolent, and non-invasive actions such as nagging. FULL ARTICLE

{ 35 comments }

Anthony August 24, 2007 at 8:02 am

This is where Hayek was perhaps at his most confusing. Unfortunate, he was a great thinker and extremely creative in areas where he was an expert.

TGGP August 24, 2007 at 12:18 pm

This is why disagree with what Roderick Long says here. Coercion is fundamentally different and of primary interest to libertarians. Cato Unbound had an interesting discussion on it here.

RogerM August 24, 2007 at 12:44 pm

Rothbard: “Thus, Hayek’s justification of the existence of the State, as well as its employment of taxation and other measures of aggressive violence, rests upon his untenable obliteration of the distinction between aggressive and defensive violence, and his lumping of all violent actions into the single rubric of varying degrees of “coercion.”

I don’t think that is a fair characterization of Hayek’s defense of government. It may be part of Hayek’s defense of government, but not the most important part. Hayek was very much concerned about pure, abstract reasoning divorced from tradition, which he called rationalism I believe. Hayek saw traditional values as the sum of human wisdom distilled from ages of experience that may not have a clear purpose or immediately observable outcome, especially in the short term, but have survived because they have beneficial long term results. It’s part of his idea of the spontaneous organization of society, along the lines of Smith’s invisible hand, an organization that no group of human beings could have invented or foreseen the benefits of, and it works better than anything humans could conceive.

I believe that is Hayek’s true defense of government. He doesn’t forbid experimenting with changes to traditional values such as government, but warns against a wholesale abandonment of it simply on the grounds that it doesn’t fit into someone’s rational scheme. Hayek recommends humility when dealing with ancient traditional institutions such as that of private property, but could equally apply to government. At least that is how I understood “Fatal Conceit.” I think Hayek may have offended Rothbard because of his criticisms of rationalism, which Hayek applied to socialist reasoning, but could apply equally to Rothbard’s system of ethics.

R. Halevy August 24, 2007 at 2:51 pm

Hi Austrian Folks,

Just a question: let’s suppose a person “A” is in an emergency situation or seriously ill and Doctor “X” (the only one in town), at the risk of “A”‘s death, refuses to provide medical assistance, based on the fact he is free to accept or refuse any exchange.

Is this an extreme form of “coercion”, or may Dr. X, according to the libertarian principles, let “A” die without assistance and still be right?

The main issue, IMHO, is that a 100% libertarian view, whenever applied without an ethical background, or humanitarian, or whatever you may call it, cannot succeed.

I’d like to hear some opinions to clarify this subject.

Thanks and regards from Rio/ Brazil.

L.R. August 24, 2007 at 3:29 pm

R. Halevy,

Here are my quickly thought-out 1.5 cents (I might need the other 0.5 if anyone else chimes in).

Dr. X does not “coerce” A by not treating him. I think that statement is correct on any reasonable definition of coercion (that is, the libertarian view, which is strong enough to include most state activity but weak enough to exclude most voluntary personal activity).

However, I’d submit that, assuming that Dr. X is a medical doctor in the US in the year 2007 or thereabouts, and that he has no other urgent matters to attend to, he would be derelict in his duties (promises to the people of his community) as a physician he swore to abide by when receiving his medical license. This is a sort of promise to the marketplace that he will do the things doctors are expected to do (a bit circular, I know, but think of the Hippocratic Oath), and if he doesn’t, he is in the wrong–he has breached his promise to the community, just as if I go to a restaurant called Pizza Hut, I expect them to sell me pizza, unless they are too busy, their employees just went on strike, robbers stole all the pizza, etc. And not a pizza made of poison, either. This isn’t a genie parable; it’s real life, where people don’t buy poison at a pizza place.

Things would be moderately different in a purely libertarian society. Since anyone would be able to practice medicine or declare himself a “doctor” with no state-imposed strings attached (just as anyone today may declare himself a businessman or artist) there is no implicit promise on a doctor’s part to treat someone in dire need. Hopefully, however, the citizens of that community would rally to protest the doctor’s callousness.

Ron August 24, 2007 at 3:33 pm

R.,

Indeed, we Austrians support Dr. X’s right to refuse to treat anyone, regardless of circumstance. This does not, however, mean that we wouldn’t feel that Dr. X acted abhorrently. Adopting Libertarian ideals doesn’t make one a heartless monster…quite the opposite. We defend each individual’s right to act freely, even though we may not like what they do. While Dr. X’s actions may be heartless and perhaps cruel, it would be immoral to compel him to act against his will by force.

Austrian Economics seeks to find and build on the root causes of social cooperation…the very morals and values that would cause Dr. X to WANT to help A. Libertarians believe that the absence of force (primarily in the form of government) fosters an environment that breeds concern for one’s fellow humans and brings about strong social norms and mores that are beneficial to society. Any attempt to FORCE these values upon society undermines that framework.

The principles upon which Libertarianism are based are universal. They apply equally in every situation. Just as we defend a man’s right to speak his mind though we may not like what he has to say, so will we defend Dr. X’s right not to treat A. It is doubtful, though, that any Libertarian who knew of Dr. X’s actions would ever visit him as a patient. With no patients to treat, Dr. X would soon find himself looking for another job. This in itself provides an incentive for Dr. X to act humanely and treat another person in need, even if his personal preference may be to not do so.

Libertarians object to “forced humanitarianism”, not to humanitarianism itself. We are, in fact, great supporters of private humanitarianism, particularly since it always helps more people much more efficiently than government largess ever could or ever will.

Ron August 24, 2007 at 3:34 pm

R. Halevy,

Indeed, we Austrians support Dr. X’s right to refuse to treat anyone, regardless of circumstance. This does not, however, mean that we wouldn’t feel that Dr. X acted abhorrently. Adopting Libertarian ideals doesn’t make one a heartless monster…quite the opposite. We defend each individual’s right to act freely, even though we may not like what they do. While Dr. X’s actions may be heartless and perhaps cruel, it would be immoral to compel him to act against his will by force.

Austrian Economics seeks to find and build on the root causes of social cooperation…the very morals and values that would cause Dr. X to WANT to help A. Libertarians believe that the absence of force (primarily in the form of government) fosters an environment that breeds concern for one’s fellow humans and brings about strong social norms and mores that are beneficial to society. Any attempt to FORCE these values upon society undermines that framework.

The principles upon which Libertarianism are based are universal. They apply equally in every situation. Just as we defend a man’s right to speak his mind though we may not like what he has to say, so will we defend Dr. X’s right not to treat A. It is doubtful, though, that any Libertarian who knew of Dr. X’s actions would ever visit him as a patient. With no patients to treat, Dr. X would soon find himself looking for another job. This in itself provides an incentive for Dr. X to act humanely and treat another person in need, even if his personal preference may be to not do so.

Libertarians object to “forced humanitarianism”, not to humanitarianism itself. We are, in fact, great supporters of private humanitarianism, particularly since it always helps more people much more efficiently than government largess ever could or ever will.

Anthony August 24, 2007 at 3:36 pm

No, of course the doctor is not coercing him! He is simply refusing to provide the individual with a service (that he owns.) Now in the context of a society this may give him a bad reputation, make him seem callous etc., but he is not engaging in coercive behaviour. In purely abstract terms of rights thouh no coercion can possibly be seen as having taken place – what would be coercion would be to allow any would-be consumer to force a producer into giving them a service. That would be coercion. This is an ethical statement (and thus does take place in an ethical background, whatever that may mean.)

L.R. makes some good points as well.

Ron August 24, 2007 at 3:36 pm

Sorry for the duplicate posts, there. My browser was acting stupid as I was trying to post.

Anthony August 24, 2007 at 3:43 pm

Well said Ron. Any form of humanitarianism that must arise by dint of force is void and meaningless.

Anthony August 24, 2007 at 3:49 pm

TGGP, I forgot to ask, what do you disagree with exactly and why? I am not saying you’re wrong to, just curious. From a superficial reading it seems that he’s trying to interpret Rothbard in ways that are specious in order to corroborate his overall thesis.

Niccolò August 24, 2007 at 9:33 pm

“I don’t think that is a fair characterization of Hayek’s defense of government. It may be part of Hayek’s defense of government, but not the most important part. Hayek was very much concerned about pure, abstract reasoning divorced from tradition, which he called rationalism I believe. Hayek saw traditional values as the sum of human wisdom distilled from ages of experience that may not have a clear purpose or immediately observable outcome, especially in the short term, but have survived because they have beneficial long term results. It’s part of his idea of the spontaneous organization of society, along the lines of Smith’s invisible hand, an organization that no group of human beings could have invented or foreseen the benefits of, and it works better than anything humans could conceive.”

Oh yes, right… The Mysticism of Hayek.

Too bad such a great economist turned out to be such a naive gnostic in the social sphere. Or perhaps… Too bad such a naive gnostic was such a great economist, thus giving him a “free pass” from most libertarian criticisms. Psh…

“However, I’d submit that, assuming that Dr. X is a medical doctor in the US in the year 2007 or thereabouts, and that he has no other urgent matters to attend to, he would be derelict in his duties (promises to the people of his community) as a physician he swore to abide by when receiving his medical license. This is a sort of promise to the marketplace that he will do the things doctors are expected to do (a bit circular, I know, but think of the Hippocratic Oath), and if he doesn’t, he is in the wrong–he has breached his promise to the community, just as if I go to a restaurant called Pizza Hut, I expect them to sell me pizza, unless they are too busy, their employees just went on strike, robbers stole all the pizza, etc. And not a pizza made of poison, either. This isn’t a genie parable; it’s real life, where people don’t buy poison at a pizza place.”

You’re conflating the term ‘fraud’ – your poison pizza example – with the concept of A not having to service X whether A’s career is based on the service of X or not.

This is just quite honestly a ridiculous argument. The assumption is again – pathetic, I know… – that society is a tangible and concrete entity that is somehow involved in a contract with obligations, duties, and claims to X because A decides to become a doctor or a dentist or a businessman.

Your appeal to the Hippocratic Oath is completely void of all knowledge on what it actually means. The Hippocratic Oath is a moral obligation FOR the doctor, not FOR the community. Its something saying that IF Dr. Johnson operates on a patient, he will do the moral thing; it does not mean that Dr. Johnson has an obligation to operate on a patient if he does not wish to do so, his absence of action is not indicative of an assault on a sick man because the sick man has no claim to the Dr.’s skills or to the hospitals capital.

This line of thinking is socialism, plain and simple. Its merely arbitrarily toned down and not followed through with.

Anthony August 25, 2007 at 6:04 am

Yep, claiming that the doctor MUST provide a service is essentially a claim that he is a slave to any needy person. As I said, a society may well view him negatively and make life more difficult etc., but he still has no real obligation to provide anything.

TGGP August 25, 2007 at 10:20 am

Roderick Long wants to tie libertarianism in with traditionally leftist opposition to non-coercive behavior that they dislike. There is no reason to do so. Coercion is an entirely separate issue from the rest, and unlike the “patriarchy” (ancient Hebrews excepted) or “white privilege” (in the Time Wise sense, not apartheid or Jim Crow) or whatnot the state is an actual organization with official positions, expenditure, revenue and so on so that objective falsifiable statements can be made about it. Political movements opposed to these non-coercive forms of “oppression” inevitably seek to use the coercive arm of the state to restrict people’s freedom and prevent them from using it in ways they don’t find acceptable.

Anthony August 25, 2007 at 10:54 am

Right, I agree on that.

TLWP Sam August 25, 2007 at 11:12 am

Bah humbag. A basis for any civil society does rely to some extent on ‘positive’ rights. That is to say there are some rights that place a certain burden of duty onto others. Heck, the Ten Commandments is a document of duties not rights. Either that or everyone personal ‘negative’ rights depend solely on their own ability to defend themselves. ‘Tis interesting to note the way Minimalist Libertarians have to occasionally to defend themselves against the accusation that they’re not anarchist. :\

Anthony August 25, 2007 at 11:29 am

So the basis of a sound society is partly based on the ability to enslave others into providing what we want? Then count me out. Negative rights are perfectly compatible with cooperation, unlike their positive counterparts. I am not even sure why you would bring up the Ten Commandments, given that many of us are not Christians (even though I value the Church’s value as an institution.)

And as for your note, I am a market anarchist. So far from being an accusation, it is an accurate claim. Minarchists can answer that as they see fit.

Anthony August 25, 2007 at 11:30 am

should read: even though I value the Church as an institution.

TLWP Sam August 25, 2007 at 10:28 pm

Well either that or your ideals of ‘no force and fraud’ are solely a criteria for knowing when to defend yourself. After all, strictly speaking what with ‘negative rights’ and all, it would mean that wanting ‘no force and fraud’ places no duty on anyone else not to use ‘force and fraud’ if they so desired.

Anthony August 26, 2007 at 6:12 am

Umm, where on earth did you get such an idea? First of all, nothing in negative rights precludes contracting with others to defend those rights (in fact that is commonly seen as the source of government’s legitimacy, leaving aside inconsistencies in the argument.) Secondly, as Kinsella has noted in his estoppel approach, a rights-violator cannot object to being punished for whatever rights he has violated. So negative rights face no problems in that regard.

TGGP August 26, 2007 at 11:28 am

What do you mean he can’t object? I can object to the sky being green and the grass being blue, even though it is in fact the reverse.

Anthony August 26, 2007 at 12:03 pm

Because he cannot at once violate rights and maintain he has rights. So he cannot coherently object to punishment.

Niccolò August 26, 2007 at 7:35 pm

“Bah humbag. A basis for any civil society does rely to some extent on ‘positive’ rights. That is to say there are some rights that place a certain burden of duty onto others. Heck, the Ten Commandments is a document of duties not rights. Either that or everyone personal ‘negative’ rights depend solely on their own ability to defend themselves. ‘Tis interesting to note the way Minimalist Libertarians have to occasionally to defend themselves against the accusation that they’re not anarchist. :\”

*cough* bullocks *cough*

TGGP August 27, 2007 at 12:32 am

Anthony, not being able to coherently object and object at all are two different things, since we could disagree on whether an objection is coherent, while agreeing he is exclaiming “I object!”. One way to coherently object would be to say that he has rights that others do not.

Anthony August 27, 2007 at 5:48 am

Wouldn’t that require a breach of the universalization test in ethics?

TGGP August 27, 2007 at 9:16 am

Who says we have to accept the universalization test? Ethics makes distinctions between people (and species, though only Singer-style utilitarians usually mention that) all the time, but people still usually claim it follows from some universal rule.

Anthony August 27, 2007 at 10:09 am

Ethical theories are constrained by the laws of logic. In what respect does one moral agent differ from another that is relevant enough to circumvent the universalization test?

TGGP August 27, 2007 at 2:15 pm

What is so important about the universalization test that it necessitates one to exceed some standard? One would have to know that in order to be able to answer your question.

Anthony August 27, 2007 at 6:20 pm

All the universalization test implies is that moral agents must play by the same rules. Justifying x rule for myself but for nobody else, when there is no relevant differentiating factor, is arbitrary and morally unjustifable.

TGGP August 27, 2007 at 10:56 pm

Why must we play by the same rules? Or why may not the rules distinguish between different agents? How is anything in ethics other than arbitrary?

Anthony August 28, 2007 at 6:15 am

Then give me a plausible basis for an ethic that says it is alright for one moral agent to do x, and not for another to do so, even though they differ in no relevant respect. I cannot understand opposition to universalization – it is the cornerstone of almost all modern ethical theorizing.

TLWP Sam August 28, 2007 at 10:25 am

Universality test? If one can’t do it then neither can anyone else? If someone said “well I can’t be a CEO therefore no one can be allowed to be a CEO” wouldn’t they get beat up for being a commie? But then on the hand, the golden rule ‘do unto others as they do unto you’ can be translated how you like. A lot of blokes might think it’s fun to have a barfight and be consistent in that they’re willing to throw punches yet not in any way complain when they receive a punch. Similarly, differences in outcomes for different people presumably rest on premise that ‘pursuit of happiness doesn’t guarantee attainment of happiness’. This can also mean people can be free to be slave owners but not complain if they turn out to be a slave. Perhaps slavery would still exist if it didn’t have racial overtones. If blacks were allowed to attain their freedom (in the way that Roman slaves could) and in time, perhaps, have white slaves then maybe people wouldn’t feel so bad and presume weaklings of all colours and races deserve what they get. Even in Bible the Hebrews although probably didn’t like being slaves to the Egyptians they’d probably didn’t despise it either because they enslaved surrounding tribes when they made it to the promised land. It many ways it’s all relative and keeps going back to my assertion that such freedoms therefore amount to the private ability to personally avoid enslavement. This I believe to be a statement of power (I mean it as in ‘the ability to do’) than of philosophy/ideology (sounds nice but alone is probably wishful thinking).

Anthony August 28, 2007 at 10:57 am

Using that logic I can turn all rights into a statement of power. Of course, that isn’t what a right is; all a right is is simply a statement to the effect that I am permitted (or even entitled) to do something for which I may not be admonished. They are not self-enforcing. A legal system based off negative rights would prohibit all violations of such rights, whereas one built off positive rights would enforce performance to provide for their beneficiaries. BTW, for your first example to work, it would have to be phrased as an “ought”, and I cannot see what the punishment for deviation would be; the person issuing the prohibition becoming a CEO themselves?

The universalization test merely stipulates why a criminal may not coherently object to punishment. It is a filter, of sorts, that ethical theories are built on to.

TGGP August 28, 2007 at 12:00 pm

I do not find any ethical theories plausible (emotivism is different because it is meta-ethics). What is relevant is inherently subjective.

Anthony August 28, 2007 at 12:36 pm

Fine, but my remarks were aimed at positive and negative rights, which are part and parcel of certain ethical theories.

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