Let me begin by thanking Mike for being part of our symposium. I think we’ve been able to get into a lot of deep philosophical issues and that the discussion has perhaps the highest philosophical quality of any other symposium we’ve run. In that vein, I would like to reply to some of Huemer’s criticisms of my post on his book.
The key point of disagreement between Mike and me, after reviewing his post and our brief exchange in the comments section, is not whether a defense of the authority of property is important, but whether an account of the authority of property is necessary to vindicate market anarchism. Mike thinks even without a theory of the authority of property, he still has “a strong defense of An-cap.”
First, let me note that I don’t think a defense of market anarchism must give a full-blown theory of property rights. Instead, we just need some reason to think that while states can’t coerce without justification, that property owners can. I admit there are some paradigm cases where we think property owners can coerce with authority in ordinary interactions, but these are relatively simple cases where holding onto your property is necessary for your survival and basic well-being, rather than cases where, say, we exclude people who have very little.
So with that, I think Mike needs to show how market anarchist arrangements are authoritative, and not just workable. I think this for two reasons.
(1) Dialectic Effectiveness
Many of Huemer’s opponents in The Problem of Political Authority are in the contemporary democratic theory camp, from Rawlsians to deliberative democrats to Tom Christiano. To be dialectically effective, then, Huemer can’t simply refute their theories of state authority; he needs to answer what will be their first or second most pressing objection to his view, namely market anarchism. The most pressing objection is probably the issue of workability, which I think Huemer more than adequately addresses. But the second most pressing objection, if not the most pressing, is one that draws from the political tradition of the continental left that starts with Rousseau and runs through Hegel and Marx. These thinkers see the system of private property as a system of governance that stands in need of justification and that lacks such a justification. Such folk are tempted to agree with Noam Chomsky that, say, large capitalist firms are similar to states in the authority that they exercise over others. Perhaps they wouldn’t go so far as to call many corporations “totalitarian private tyrannies,” but they will argue that the systems of directives required to operate a market anarchist society rests on the widespread use of coercion and manipulation. And even in a private context, coercion and manipulation require justification apart from the fact that they bring about good consequences. Since Huemer does not address the objection, I predict that his opponents will take the book less seriously than they otherwise would. It’s the sort of oversight that will lead, I worry, to outright dismissal.
(2) Asymmetric Authority is Problematic because Authority is Problematic
In our exchange in the comments on his post, Mike stated that the problem of authority he worries about is trigged by an asymmetry of authority between state officials and everyone else.
A large part of the reason why I think we need a theory of authority has to do with the *double standard*, the fact that we’re applying different moral standards to different agents, and that just strikes me as puzzling on its face, and in need of explanation.
For Mike, then, the features of the nation-state in the most pressing need of justification are the huge range of rights and permissions it claims for itself and systematically denies to everyone else (even if in theory anyone can get elected to run the state, assuming it is democratic).
But we only have reason to worry about an asymmetry of authority because we already have concerns about authority, that is, coercive authority to impose your judgments on others about how social life should be conducted. If we were not worried about authority, we just wouldn’t be that worried about the asymmetry of authority claims.
Mike will probably reply that authority is worrisome in itself, but that an adequate defense of market anarchism needn’t address it. After all, no book can do everything. And more importantly, everyone has authority problems, not just market anarchists. So why does the anarchist bear some special burden?
My point is that the anarchist’s burden isn’t special – it’s a lot like the statist’s. Everyone who argues for the use of coercion needs an account of how coercion is justified, even if the coercion is committed by non-state actors alone.
After discussing the matter with J-Bren on Facebook, I suspect Mike will reply that a libertarian property system is justified based on the fact that it is the only system of coercion that is compatible with the moral facts, that is the non-naturally, mind-independent moral truth about politics. Natural property rights are simply a fundamental feature of the moral universe, one that everyone but social democrats blinded by ideology can intuit.
That’s a tried and true answer, with a respectable lineage. I don’t think it will satisfy Mike’s critics, but at least it’s an answer.
(3) Are Natural Rights Answers Good Answers to the Question of Authority?
The following isn’t a direct reply to Huemer, but here’s why I don’t think natural rights answers are very attractive. Basically, they just don’t answer the questions that Locke raised about how to handle disagreements about how to understand and apply natural rights. In any free society, there will be significant controversies about property, not just economic, but moral and philosophical. Natural rights-market anarchism deals with this disagreement entirely within the bounds of a system a great many people find profoundly unjust, which should lead us to wonder how it can be justified to them.
This gets to another disagreement between me and Mike, which concerns the forms that justifications for coercion must take. I think they must satisfy a kind of internalist test – all adequate justifications for coercion are ones that people can under some suitably idealized conditions appreciate. I suspect Mike thinks a satisfactory justification for coercion must meet an externalist test – coercive claims must match the mind-independent moral facts, which do not themselves include an internalist test of the sort I and other public reason types endorse (in contrast to Charles Larmore, who shares Mike’s views about moral metaphysics and moral epistemology, but is a political liberal).
This disagreement, about whether the use of coercion must be justified internally or externally, is one that Mike rightly leaves out of the book. But I think it helps explain why one might worry about Mike’s (presumptive) answer to the problem of the authority of property rights.
(4) No Statism Here
There are good reasons to think that property rights can ground authority claims, even in some market anarchist arrangements. My point is merely that a defense of market anarchism needs an explanation of property’s authority just as statism needs an explanation of state authority. I can acknowledge that states require more justification, not only because, as Mike rightly notes, states claim asymmetrical power for themselves, but also because they claim enormous power for themselves. And I think, as a result, that most states are unjustified.