“Taxes are theft!” Maybe. But that’s a conclusion, not a premise.

Some people think it’s amazingly simple to argue for anarcho-capitalist libertarianism. They think anarcho-capitalist libertarianism follows straightforwardly and directly from a few unquestionable, obvious premises. They think they have a simple, knock-down argument for libertarianism. But they’re wrong, alas. (Too bad! I wish they weren’t!) Instead, what they think is a knock-down argument for libertarianism actually begs the question, and so isn’t a good argument at all.

Consider this argument:

The Aggression-Is-Bad Knock-Down Argument for Libertarianism:

  1. It is morally wrong to initiate an act of wrongful aggression against another innocent person.
  2. In order to maintain and fund a state, we must initiate acts of wrongful aggression against innocent people by stealing their property and using violence to force them to do various things.
  3. Therefore, only anarchist libertarianism is just.

I’m not inventing this argument as a strawman. I’ve seen it countless times, most recently yesterday, when a clan of mean-spirited cartoon libertarians  (e.g., this dude) went on a vile attack spree against Matt Zwolinski for writing this. (Matt’s been called a fascist, a communist, evil, a criminal, a “confused f*cker”, and a person who wants to aggress against the innocent.)

I actually agree with the conclusion of the argument. In my view, justice requires anarchist capitalism. I agree with Jerry Cohen that Rawls’s theory of justice concedes too much to human depravity, and so isn’t a theory of justice at all, but rather at most a theory of how to respond to depravity.

But, regardless, the argument above doesn’t prove libertarianism is right. Instead, it presupposes it. Rather than being a knock-down argument for libertarianism, it begs the question. That’s why so many non-libertarians are unimpressed by it. Non-libertarians are unimpressed not because they are vile, stupid, or evil, but because the argument doesn’t do any work. Let me explain why.

Everyone in political philosophy agrees that the state needs to be justified. After all, states claim a monopoly on the use of (most) coercive violence over a particular geographic area and claim a right to create and enforce rules within a certain domain against certain people. This requires justification. After all, as libertarians rightly note and pretty much every non-libertarian political philosopher agrees, states do a lot of things that look suspicious on the surface. Unless we can explain why states should exist and have some of the powers they have, then states are presumed unjustified.

But, then thing is, most political philosophers think it’s relatively easy to supply that justification. It’s relatively easy to show that states are justified. They think that have a bunch of compelling arguments on behalf of statism.

Now, for the sake of understanding the dialectic here, consider what would follow if they were right. Suppose JR is typical statist philosopher. JR adduces some argument A for a theory, call it ToJ, that, as far as he can tells, justifies the modern nation-state, including giving it a wide range of powers and rights to tax, though not an unlimited range. If A were a sound argument for ToJ, then ToJ would be true. And if ToJ were true, then all this would follow:

  1. The state (of the right sort) should exist.
  2. The state has the right to collect taxes (within certain limits as implied by ToJ) in order to promote justice.
  3. When the state collects the taxes needed to promote justice, it isn’t stealing your goddamn money or aggressing against innocent people. Instead, the money rightfully belongs to the state, not to the taxpayer. When the state taxes you (so long as it does so in accordance with ToJ), it actually takes what is rightfully its, not what is rightfully yours. If you were to withhold your taxes or resist paying, that would be equivalent to theft.

In short, if ToJ justifies state taxation, then the state isn’t wrongfully aggressing against people by collecting taxes any more than I am wrongfully aggressing against my neighbors by locking my house doors. What counts as aggression depends upon what rights people have. According to ToJ, people don’t have a right to the money the state taxes; instead, the state has a right to that money.

So, for example, Rawls has a number of arguments for the state. One argument, in abbreviated form, goes as follows:

Rawls’s Argument, Shortened:

 

  1. Our institutions, including the institution of private property, are not legitimate or authoritative unless they A) protect a specified range of basic liberties, and b) achieve social justice.
  2. In order to do A and B, we need a liberal, social-democratic nation-state with taxing powers.
  3. Therefore, a liberal, social-democratic nation-state with taxing powers is justified.

The Aggression-Is-Bad Knock-Down Argument doesn’t refute Rawls’s argument. It’s powerless against it. Rather, to refute Rawls’s argument, you need to explain why premises 1 or 2 are false, or show that Rawls’s sub-arguments for premises 1 or 2 are unsound.

So, the Aggression-Is-Bad Knock-Down Argument fails. It doesn’t prove that any particular justification of the state and state taxation fails. Rather, it works only if all such justifications fail. The “it’s my money and the state is stealing it from me!” line works only if the state doesn’t have a right to that money, and to know whether the state does or does not have such a right, we need to know whether there is any independent justification of the state.

If you want to defend anarchist libertarianism, what you need to do is show that none of the arguments for the state work. You have to take them down one by one.

Importantly, one the most impressive arguments for the state holds that life without a state would be such a disastrous hell that we need to and should create states in order to escape that hell. (That’s the Hobbesian argument.) To refute that argument, you need to prove that anarchism would work, which means you need social scientific evidence, rather than a few simple moral axioms. To refute that argument, you need to do what Huemer does in part II of this book.

So, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, people. Many libertarians think they have powerful knock-down argument for anarchist libertarianism, but, on the contrary, that argument is completely impotent. A sophisticated non-libertarian can just shrug the argument off–it doesn’t even merit a response. Premise 2 of the Knock-Down argument isn’t really a premise in an argument for libertarianism. Rather, it’s at most a conclusion. It doesn’t prove libertarianism is true; it begs the question.

Print Friendly
Tagged with:
 
  • Aeon Skoble

    “Some people think” I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Andrew about his “stoney-hearted” post: are you referring to lay people, like LP members or right-wing bloggers, or Republicans-who-like-to-use-libertarian-rhetoric, or are you referring to philosophers? If the latter, whom do you have in mind? No one I know.

    • Jason Brennan

      Aeon, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone whom I would call a philosopher make this argument. But it’s popular among laypeople, LP members, libertarian bloggers, people at various institutes, libertarians on Facebook, people whom I meet at events, etc.

      Someone will chime in here in a minute and say, “Ah, well so-and-so Austrian person Brennan hasn’t heard of it made that argument, and so Brennan is an arrogant prick for not calling that person a philosopher.”

      • Jason Brennan

        er, argument, not book.

      • Aeon Skoble

        Ok, I see what you mean, and am familiar with that phenomenon. To some extent this means that non-philosophers don’t do philosophy very well, but we already knew that, and it’s not obvious how much scolding they should get for it, unless they’re being jerks. But at the same time, I think things like NAP and self-ownership are very useful heuristics, effective for communicating something about philosophical libertarianism in non-philosophical contexts. So I don’t want to reflexively jump all over NAPsters; if we could get more people to refrain from initiating aggression, that would make the world a much better place, and then we could still take the time to hash out the philosophical nuances.

        • genecallahan

          But Aeon, Jason’s very point is that we “statists” DON’T see taxing people to, say, feed the poor, as “initiating aggression.” I am all in favor of getting people to stop initiating aggression… for instance, stop cheating on their taxes!

          • trent steel

            Oh my god, what is this. Stop being aggressive when they take your stuff. After all, I, GENE!, voted for it! Or not, whatever. Just do what you’re told. HA! Political theory!
            Children need parents, and so you love the State.

          • Libertymike

            On this site, they “do philosophy”.
            Put another way, if one is not trained in philosophy, one’s position is to be disdained – as if formal training in philosophy is the sin qua non of intellectual prowess.

        • murali284

          it seems that a lot of critical theorists say something very similar and that strikes me as very wrong. The way I understand it, the aim of enquiry for critical theorists is not to find out the truth about a matter, but to come up with a narrative that helps the exploited or something (usually with a lot of implicit Marxist premises hidden around somewhere.) If such theorising on the part of critical theorists reeks of intellectual corruption, then so does that of libertarians who claim that it is more important that people reach libertarian conclusions than they find the truth about justice whatever it turns out to be. Our goal shouldn’t be to spread libertarianism whether it is the right view or not. Our aim should be to convince others of libertarianism only if libertarianism is the right view about justice. If the grounds that support our belief in libertarianism are undermined, then that is good prima facie reason to think that libertarianism is not the right view.

  • Jameson Graber

    Why so negative all the time? Just put forward the positive arguments so we can battle them out. I’d like to hear about this social scientific evidence for an anarcho-capitalist society.

    • Jason Brennan

      Part of the reason is that the positive arguments go in journals and books so I can get a pay raise.

      • Jameson Graber

        Dang it, you can’t even give us a teaser?
        I mean, of *course* I’ll buy your book…

        • Jason Brennan

          Thanks! But, really, a good starting point for this would be to look at part II of Huemer’s book, as well as writing by Todd Zywicki, Peter Leesen’s forthcoming book, Elinor Ostrom’s stuff on how people solve coordination problems without government, David Schmidtz’s book the Limits of Government.

          • Aeon Skoble
          • Kevin Vallier

            What’s fun about the case is that my wife and I have started watching the show with our son. Oh if only we could set politics aside and do the hot dog dance!

          • J D

            Observing from outside, I am sometimes frustrated by the time and effort scholars invest in anarchism. Market Liberals have failed to establish so much as a competitive market in education via a voucher system, and are unable to liberalize a healthcare industry that badly needs it. I think the gains from winning those two battles would be difficult to overstate, and fantasize that people like David Friedman and Peter Leeson* will publish and speak on those matters rather than theorize anarchism. According to recent Pew polling, 49% of those aged 18-29 have a positive view of socialism, while 46% have a positive view of capitalism. In such an environment, sales of books like “Free to Choose” are more important than purported refutations of minarchism. Perhaps such refutations would be vital were many more people minarchists; instead, magazines like Jacobin and publishers like Verso are growing (incidentally, I would really love to see “Rivalry and Central Planning” republished by an academic press). I wonder what BHLs and their readers think.

            *I would not dream of telling anyone what kind of work they should do, and hope not to give that impression.

          • Sol Logic

            It does take away a lot of energy from some of liberty’s best minds IMHO.

  • Ben Kennedy

    Another setting where the traditional NAP concept is modified is the family. My kids have limited property rights, and are even subject to forced labor (aka, chores). Of course there are good and logical reasons why this is so having to do with the the nature of dependent children and concepts of the social responsibility of parents. The point though is that there is a setting (the family) where certain “aggressive” behaviors are morally permissible. The permissibly of the action is determined solely by it’s institutional context

    I think most non-Libertarians view the state as a family-like institution. Taxation is not theft and is morally permissible, for reasons similar to the why requiring chores from dependent children is not slavery

    • Jameson Graber

      “I think most non-Libertarians view the state as a family-like institution.”
      Perhaps this justifies the pejorative term “paternalism” to describe many non-libertarian policies?

      • SimpleMachine88

        And when they “help” you, remember it means they’re saying you’re a child.

  • jtlevy

    “I agree with Jerry Cohen that Rawls’s theory of justice concedes too much to human depravity, and so isn’t a theory of justice at all, but rather at most a theory of how to respond to depravity.”

    I agree instead with Hume. Responding to our moral limitations is *constitutive* of a theory of justice.

    “Again; suppose, that, though the necessities of human race continue the same as at present, yet the mind is so enlarged, and so replete with friendship and generosity, that every man has the utmost tenderness for every man, and feels no more concern for his own interest than for that of his fellows; it seems evident, that the use of justice would, in this case, be suspended by such an extensive benevolence, nor would the divisions and barriers of property and obligation have ever been thought of.”

    • Jason Brennan

      Actually, more precisely, I think nothing is at stake here about how we use the word “justice”. Hume might say that Cohen is talking about morality that transcends the circumstances of justice. Maybe he’s right. But it doesn’t really matter, or so I will argue in that new book. I think we can just by-pass the entire debate that Cohen started about this topic, because the even if we resolve the methodological debate in Cohen’s favor, Cohen still can’t successfully argue for socialism.

      That’s probably vague. What I mean is this: Cohen think Rawls and others are capitalists because they illicitly accept that facts about human motivation are a constraint on principles of justice. My response is to say that even if we grant that these facts are not a constraint, capitalist still ends up being morally better than socialism.

      • Kevin Vallier

        I’m more down in the dirt about justice than J, though a bit less filthy than Jacob in my Rawlsianism. I’d say more, but I really just wanted to abuse a metaphor.

      • https://twitter.com/willwilkinson Will Wilkinson

        My problem with ideal theory is summed up in the move you make against Cohen. It’s TOO EASY. All it shows is the uselessly inconclusive nature of reasoning about vaguely defined counterfactual worlds with vaguely defined properties.

    • https://twitter.com/willwilkinson Will Wilkinson

      I’d add that the world of moral limitations is the domain to which our intuitions apply. It’s a simple error and one would think obvious error to suppose it is possible identify an ideal order beginning from the moral intuitions of “depraved” humans.

  • TheBrett

    When the state collects the taxes needed to promote justice, it isn’t stealing your goddamn money or aggressing against innocent people.
    Instead, the money rightfully belongs to the state, not to the
    taxpayer. When the state taxes you (so long as it does so in accordance
    with ToJ), it actually takes what is rightfully its, not what is rightfully yours. If you were to withhold your taxes or resist paying, that would be equivalent to theft.

    I think that actually is the original legal justification for taxation and the US property regime, which came out of the British system wherein the King was the only real land “owner” and everyone else simply had very well established and protected tenure rights. We’ve replaced it with the state, but the idea is that if you don’t pay your obligations in exchange for your tenure rights, the state can take back what it owns by going after your financial assets and property.

    Or at least that’s what I’m getting out of Caine’s American Economic History textbook.

    I tend to stop cold on the “aggression-is-bad” argument when they get to this-

    In order to maintain and fund a state, we must initiate acts of wrongful aggression against innocent people by stealing their property and using violence to force them to do various things.

    What exactly does “property” mean in the absence of a legal regime enforcing it? Without it, it just becomes a matter of perspective – I could argue that you’re being aggressive against me by trying to forcefully deprive me of the use of land and assets simply because you say they’re yours. Matt Bruenig’s been making that point over at his blog.

  • Nicholas Geiser

    Wouldn’t a non-circular version of the NAP-knockdown-argument-against the state be:

    1. Common-sense morality enjoins us from wrongfully initiating force against innocent persons.
    2. The state of necessity violates common-sense morality
    3. Therefore the state must be abolished

    Admittedly the argument is now about the range of our common-sense moral intuitions, which is much more controversial.

    • Jason Brennan

      Nicholas,

      A typical statist philosopher would say that A) we know that it’s wrong to attack people or violate their rights, and B) on the surface, states seem to be doing things that would be wrong for anyone else to do. So, they take it that this is why states require justification. Then they adduce what they think is a justification for the state, and, viola, it turns out (they think) that what seemed like state aggression is actually not wrongful.

      So, for example, David Estlund would say that of course if I wanted to take your money to give it to the poor, I’d be stealing. And he’d say that if turned out the state making you pay taxes were the same thing, it would be wrong. But then he thinks that he can show you that whatever similarity you think you see between those two things is just an illusion–the state taking taxes to give to the poor is *not* the same thing as if I were doing it.

      • Nicholas Geiser

        Sure. All I’m trying to do is clarify where the disagreement lies. The objection to the libertarian’s revised argument is that the second premise is false, while the objection to the libertarian’s original argument is that the argument has hidden premises about the meaning of “stealing.”

    • genecallahan

      “Common-sense morality enjoins us from wrongfully initiating force against innocent persons.”

      Once again, Nicholas, we “statists” don’t think taxation IS “wrongfully initiating force against innocent persons.” We (at least I) think the community is fully justified in imposing (some) obligations on its members, and the vehicle by which it does so is the state. So, no, not non-circular at all.

      • Chris Pacia

        Gene how would you respond when people suggest that your argument is begging the question? ex) People have not consented to joining the community and to assume the community has jurisdiction over them is to assume what needs to be proven…

        • genecallahan

          “People have not consented to joining the community…”

          And they should be free to leave. But in fact, if they are living among the communities members, they HAVE joined it.

          • Aeon Skoble

            Tacit consent arguments don’t work any better now than they did in Hume’s day. That ultimately boils down to might-makes-right – there’s more of us than you, so we will make you do it our way.

          • genecallahan

            Yes, but this is not a tacit consent argument, Aeon. I am noting that if the person IS in fact living in the community, then they ARE in fact a member of it, whether they tacitly or explicitly consented or not, or even if they explicitly deny it. Nor does it have anything at all to do with “might makes right”: human beings are social animals, and cannot, in fact, even be human outside of the context of a community. (Aristotle) The individual and the community exist in a web of mutual (but not unlimited) obligations, and it has nothing to do with the “might” of the community that an individual has obligations to it.

            But I don’t think it is wise for us to threadjack this into a discussion of “Is the state justified?” do you? Jason’s point is sound on the NAP, and I am not here trying to defend the state, but just inform people of what a “statist” like me really thinks, so at least they don’t have a strawman version. (E.g., “Statists think aggressing against innocent people and robbing them is OK.”)

          • Predrag Rajsic

            The “you can leave” argument is problematic because it does not specify the conditions under which one can leave. It is not the same to leave with a bag of clothes in your hand and with a million dollars in your hands after selling your interest in the community to that community. So, the way one will leave depends on the rights one has. Therefore, the question of determining one’s rights and responsibilities must be answered before asking one to leave. This means that the “you can leave” argument cannot be used to justify the way an individual is treated by the community.

          • genecallahan

            ” before asking one to leave”

            Who suggested asking people to leave? We don’t practice ostracism anymore. And I was not using “you can leave” to justify any treatment at all. The situation would not change if, say, the person was bed ridden and actually couldn’t physically leave. I was just noting that I don’t think communities have a right to trap anyone, e.g., as the former Iron Curtain did.

            But in any case, really, let’s not threadjack this! I posted my thoughts because a couple of people made claims like “What statists believe is…”

            I wanted to explain, “Well, no, not this one, anyway: what I think is…” I had no intention of rehearsing all of political philosophy in Jason’s thread!

          • Predrag Rajsic

            To me, there is no substantive difference between saying that people “should be free to leave” and asking (i.e., telling them they are free to) leave if they don’t like the way they are treated. I am ok with replacing the word “ask” with “telling people they are free to”, but I don’t see how this would change the substance of the argument that rights and responsibilities to the group must be defined independently of one’s freedom to leave.

          • genecallahan

            “the argument that rights and responsibilities to the group must be defined independently of one’s freedom to leave.”
            But Pedrag, I already AGREED with you on this! Let’s return the thread to its rightful owner, shall we?

          • Predrag Rajsic

            Sure, let’s return it.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            In what useful or informative sense is a persecuted member of a community a “member, whether they tacitly or explicitly deny it”? Were Jews “members” of German society around 1936-45. Hutus “members” of Rwandan society? I’m sorry, but this is just really dumb.

          • genecallahan

            “a persecuted MEMBER of a community”

            Notice, Mark, that this issue actually goes all my way: persecution is done to those whose membership in a community (of which they actually are a member) is DENIED: e.g., Jews in Germany or black slaves in the antebellum south. Recognizing that they ARE members of the community is what stops the persecution!

            But lets not threadjack, OK?

          • Aeon Skoble

            Agreed.

          • genecallahan

            Thank you. It might be an interesting discussion, but it is not what Jason was writing about!

          • Gordon

            “Jurisdiction”, as Chris Pacia uses the term, is a normative concept; “joining” is, apparently on your view, a descriptive one. Assuming that “joining” a community in your sense also confers jurisdiction over the person in a normative context is question begging.

          • genecallahan

            Someone discussed “joining” somewhere above? Not me. In any case, what do you say we return to the thread’s topic?

          • SimpleMachine88

            If man is a naturally social animal, what is the state necessary for again?

          • good_in_theory

            No, a community is not necessarily a web of voluntary associations, except under entirely inapt and parochial uses of the word community. Some communities are voluntary associations, others are not, and among communities which are voluntary, they have properties which emerge which are not voluntarily taken up.

          • SimpleMachine88

            If we will at least acknowledge that communities may be voluntary, than the argument that force is necessary for community isn’t valid.

            they have properties which emerge which are not voluntarily taken up

            Of course, there’s spontaneous order. There are all sorts of customs that emerge through the interaction of diverse individuals over time. And it is their relatively better job at governing our interactions to each other that is an argument against replacing them with regulation.

            I do think the distinction between community and government, custom and law, free markets and central planning, is an important one. It is precisely that people cooperate voluntarily that is the strongest argument against force.

            Forced association, government control, comes at the expense of both individuality and free association. To promote the former, is to oppose the latter.

          • good_in_theory

            No one’s arguing force is necessary for communities, and the two alternatives aren’t voluntary and forced. Communities emerge without either “voluntary association” or “forced association.”

          • Wheylous

            Vague wording clouds the matter. People who live right next to the border also live in the community that crosses the border. Does that mean they must bow down to two countries? All of this depends on how you draw the border of the community.

            Plus, living among people doesn’t mean you consent to their acts. If I build a house in the middle of nowhere and a bunch of other people come in and start wrecking stuff, it doesn’t mean I consent to it if I stand my ground.

          • genecallahan

            ” People who live right next to the border also live in the community that crosses the border. ”

            So they are not sure which *political* community they live in? Nonsense.

            ” Does that mean they must bow down to two countries?”

            “Bow down”?! Who said anything about “bowing down” to even one country?

            “Plus, living among people doesn’t mean you consent to their acts.”

            No kidding! We regularly, in fact, arrest those of our fellows whose acts we especially disapprove.

            But, perhaps we should not threadjack?

  • guest

    My girlfriend and I are taking turns choosing readings for each other. I want to introduce her to political philosophy, so we’re beginning with Thomas and Gracy West’s 4 Texts on Socrates, which consist of translations of Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito. Yesterday we just finished Euthyphro. After seeing a lot of the responses to Dr. Zwolinski’s piece, it seems like a lot of libertarians could start from the beginning and re-read Euthyphro too.

    Anyways, I can’t speak for everyone, but I, for one, am much better at communicating ideas with non-libertarians since reading and taking notes from philosophers like you and Dr. Zwolinksi. I know you guys don’t need anyone’s approval but I would like to thank you guys for saving me from being one of those “cartoon libertarians.” Libertarianism is much better off with thinkers like you guys (and this blog) in its corner.

  • Joey Clark

    Serious question: wouldn’t a robust discussion of the NAP and its implications be a challenge to premise 1 and 2 from the get go?

    • genecallahan

      At least three sets of premises have been discussed above. To which set are you referring?

      • Joey Clark

        Sorry, Rawls.

  • Andrew Pearson

    Would it be unreasonable to describe the pro-state argument (consent-based arguments aside) as “Yes, taxation may well be theft, but sometimes theft may be justified.” For example, perhaps it might be justifiable for an individual to steal a loaf of bread in order to avoid starving to death. It seems highly plausible that state theft should be permissible if this is necessary to avert a Hobbesian state of nature. It seems far less plausible that the theft is permissible because a local councillor thinks it would be nice if more people had hanging baskets outside their front doors and wants to subsidise them.

    Certainly, I wouldn’t say (were I a utilitarian pro-statist) that the state has a right to its tax revenue – I would say that no-one had a “right” to it and that the most efficient use was for the state to spend it on averting the state of nature and maybe subsidising hanging baskets.

    • genecallahan

      ‘Would it be unreasonable to describe the pro-state argument
      (consent-based arguments aside) as “Yes, taxation may well be theft, but
      sometimes theft may be justified.”‘

      Yes, that would be unreasonable: that is not5hing like what most “statists” believe.

      • Moosebreath

        Agreed. Most statists take the view that the thieves are the people who want the benefits of civilization without paying for them.

    • good_in_theory

      It would be unreasonable in the same way that saying, “yes, killing someone in self-defense may well be murder, but sometimes murder is justified.” It’s not murder, it’s just killing. It’s not stealing, it’s just taking. Whether it’s stealing or murder depends on the question of justification. Of course this is just a semantic point. If one really wants you can redefine words however you’d like, as long as you’re clear about it.

    • Jay_Z

      When I lived in a condo, my condo fees weren’t theft because they were part of the contract that I agreed to so I could live in that particular spot.

      The condo existed before I bought into it, so since I knew what I was getting into. I think that when people living in states come to own property, the ownership is under terms of the state. So individuals effectively agree to the taxation system as part of the terms of ownership.

      Now people of an anti-state persuasion will argue they shouldn’t be bound by those terms, should be able to secede, etc. But those same arguments can be used against the individual property owner. For individual ownership to be non-coercive, every person alive, plus all people who are ultimately born, would have to sign off on the ownership. Which never happens.

      I don’t think individuals or states, other associations, whatever, can exist without some level of coercion. Moral judgments just need to be made by all of us as to which coercions are best, or least worst.

  • sam

    “It is morally wrong to initiate an act of wrongful aggression against another innocent person.”

    Yeah, that begs the question from the get-go.

    ‘wrongful aggression’, ‘innocent person’

    Hmmm.

    • Phillip Anderson

      I confess that I did not read ALL the responses to this post, but I couldn’t find one that addressed the issue of where the rights of states and governments come from. If you hold, as Bastiat wrote, that the only legitimate power of the state can be an extension of what is legal/moral for one individual to impose on another, the NAP holds. If you do not, I’m curious as to where the rights of states, to do anything at all, come from?

      • good_in_theory

        Well, Brennan is saying that yes, you have to address all those accounts. He had a post the other day about whether or not there is a duty to obey the state, for example.

      • Wheylous

        That’s a very good point.

      • genecallahan

        ” If you hold, as Bastiat wrote, that the only legitimate power of the
        state can be an extension of what is legal/moral for one individual to
        impose on another…”
        Well, at this point you have pretty much already embraced libertarianism. Certainly, if you have libertarian beliefs, you are likely to reach libertarian conclusions!

        • Phillip Anderson

          Gene, can you answer the question, ” If you do not, I’m curious as to where the rights of states, to do anything at all, come from?”

          • genecallahan

            I can but won’t. See me repeated pleas that we not threadjack this into “Is the state justified?”

          • Phillip Anderson

            I understand your position on this thread, but don’t see how NAP can be supported or refuted without a position or assumption on the justification of the state. If you hold that rights originate with individuals, the NAP obviously holds, and well. If you believe the NAP doesn’t hold, can you make an argument that eventually doesn’t lead to the issue you wish to avoid?

  • Motivated Cognition

    “Taxation is theft” is an empirical observation. People own their stuff. The government takes their stuff by force. QED

    This observable fact does not imply that the government is illegitimate, as you prove. But taxation is theft.

    • Kevin Vallier

      No. Theft is normatively loaded. You only count as stealing something from someone if they rightly possess it. If you steal my car and I take it back, I’m not stealing is from you. So you can’t just observe that taxation is theft, though you can observe that taxation is *taking*.

      • Motivated Cognition

        Taboo the word “rightly” and repeat the argument.

        • good_in_theory

          Well yes, that’s the point.

    • sam

      You own your ax. My house in burning down, and my children are trapped behind a door. I need an ax, which I don’t have, to break down the door. You refuse to lend me your ax, which you are holding. I wrest the ax from your hands.

      Have I stolen your ax?

      • Phillip Anderson

        yes.

      • genecallahan

        No.

      • Motivated Cognition

        No.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        You have stolen it, but with reason. It is possible to do something negative for a positive reason. Somehow a lot of people have a hard time with this simple concept.

    • genecallahan

      ‘”Taxation is theft” is an empirical observation.’

      If X is smashing my kid’s head in, and I shoot him, it is an empirical fact I killed him. But whether I murdered him is a normative judgment, and cannot be “observed.”

      “People own their stuff.”

      What stuff? Under what conditions? Based upon what? With what obligations?

      “The government takes their stuff by force.”

      Only true if:
      1) It really is “their” stuff and theirs alone; and
      2) They resist the taking: most people pay their taxes with no threat involved at all.

  • Gregory Patrick Wesson

    It is true that none can prove the NAP to be the only just ethical position but we can logically deduce it to be “more preferable” than others if we desire certain outcomes. For example, people usually agree that peace is preferable to war because war kills people and destroys wealth, besides being extremely expensive.

    • good_in_theory

      You can’t logically deduce it is more preferable if we desire (certain) outcomes. You can empirically examine whether or not it is more preferable if we desire outcomes. You can’t logically deduce the outcome of instituting particular political arrangements, though you can certainly construct models and make predictions.

      • Wheylous

        “You can’t logically deduce the outcome of instituting particular political arrangements, though you can certainly construct models”

        I found the contradiction! What prize do I get?

        Sure you can logically deduce things without empirical evidence.

        • good_in_theory

          You don’t appear to have found anything.

          No, you can’t logically deduce the consequences of particular political arrangements without empirical evidence.

          • Wheylous

            Yes you can. Watch: “If government mandates and properly enforces equal income for everyone, regardless of work status, national production would fall precipitously.”

          • Phil

            How do you know? That doesn’t follow by logic alone. You have hidden empirical assumptions.

            If you think it does follow by logic alone, then construct a sound argument where each premise is either a definition or an axiom of logic.

          • Wheylous

            Get over yourself. Do I also need to prove to you that gravity exists? Making the assumption that there is a labor-leisure tradeoff is extremely well-grounded and justified.

            What you’re doing is equivocating. By getting me to agree that yes, by definition, knowing this is an empirical observation, you’re trying to sneak in the idea that given that we make those assumptions, we can’t deduce the outcome of policy. We can.

          • good_in_theory

            Mandating equal income for everyone would cause production to fall precipitously if people’s productive activity depends upon their income, and depends upon it in a particular way, and the issuing of a mandate has particular effects. If people do work without regard for their income, then changing people’s income won’t have any effect on the work they do. What determines whether and what people do for work is an empirical question.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            What, you mean you don’t want to be operated on by a surgeon who earns the same as a waiter?

          • Phil

            No, he means these are empirical matters. He means that it is an empirical fact that people in general do a better job when they are paid more. Outcomes are empirical, not deduced by pure logic.

          • good_in_theory

            But even that’s not an empirical fact, since in many contexts after a certain point performance becomes insensitive to pay.

          • Phil

            Right, I wasn’t really talking about the content of the fact or whether it is really true or false. I was talking about the kind of claim it is.

            But yeah, that sounds plausible.

          • good_in_theory

            What does that irrelevant question have to do with anything (but I repeat myself)?

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            If you can’t figure it out I don’t think I will be able to tell you. but I was agreeing with you.

          • Wheylous

            It’s a very basic empirical question, akin to “Is there gravity?”

            That labor-leisure tradeoff is extremely simple to justify.

            Yes, of course, we also need to empirically verify that employers exist. But given that we know that such a decision exists, we can logically deduce the outcome.

          • good_in_theory

            No, you can’t.

          • Wheylous

            Yes you can. Working less than the mandated minimum will make you as well off as working right at the minimum, so you might as well not work. Working over the minimum results in the same thing. Hence, dramatic decrease in work.

          • Wheylous

            If you want to see it graphically, simply construct a utility function with a budget constraint flat at the given consumption level mandated by the law. The best utility-maximizing point is at leisure=24h/day

        • Phil

          “Sure you can logically deduce things without empirical evidence.”
          Of course you can logically deduce “things”, but what good_in_theory is talking about is logically deducing causal relations and states of affairs that result from other states of affairs. You can’t deduce those without empirical assumptions, for which you’ll need empirical support.

  • Wheylous

    I think that it’s obvious to anyone who has thought more than a minute that the NAP *only by itself* cannot be a complete argument for libertarianism. The NAP is the logical conclusion of *any* system of rights that we presuppose before coming up with the NAP.

    That’s obvious. The point is that we’re saying that *given* the common sense property rights theory that most people tend to have (right libertarian homesteading), if you iron out the inconsistencies, the right-libertarian NAP follows easily, and arguments such as the ones presented as “not even straw men” are perfectly valid.

    That is, after a brief deconstruction of the inconsistencies in most people’s innate ideas of justice, the NAP becomes obvious.

    • Phil

      How so? How would you respond to someone who claims we have a positive obligation to help people?

      • Wheylous

        Thought experiments, in part:

        http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/01/the_stranger.html

        Reductio ad absurdums.

        Appeal to more foundational principles.

        • Phil

          I don’t share the “common sense morality” referenced at the beginning, so these thought experiments may not work on me. But I think there’s a bigger problem. Many people’s common sense morality says government taxation IS legitimate. So if taxation is inconsistent with NAP, that is a for them reason to reject NAP.

          Your argument is this:
          (1) NAP is right.
          (2) Government violates NAP.
          (3) So, Government is wrong.

          The argument can be just as easily flipped around:
          (1) Government is right.
          (2) Government violates NAP.
          (3) So, NAP is wrong.

          It all depends on whether common sense morality more strongly supports the NAP or the legitimacy of government. Many people, possibly most people, support the legitimacy of government. That might be bad news for the NAP.

          • Wheylous

            Of course they do, but you missed the essential part of my post – ironing out inconsistencies.

            Most people hold moral ideas about both the individual and the state. Once these ideas are deconstructed properly, what is left is libertarian theory.

          • Phil

            Possibly. But there’s nothing inconsistent about having a premise like the following:

            X has a right to do Y but Z does not.

            It’s not inconsistent, but it may be arbitrary.

          • Wheylous

            It is if X is made up of Zs, and if we accept that the powers of X are derived directly from the powers of Zs.

          • murali284

            The second premise is just begging the question. Powers of Xs need not be derived directly from powers of Zs.

          • Wheylous

            I said “if” we accept the premise. And given that most of the legitimacy of the government in the western tradition stems from there, it’s a fairly reasonable things to say. I’d argue that a government that does not do this is not a very legitimate government.

          • murali284

            Isn’t that mostly part of the natural rights/ Aristotelian tradition? The western tradition includes utilitarians, Kantians, Hobbesians at least some of who do not accept that premise. I doubt the western tradition is that monolithic.
            Even if it is, you seem to be accepting a rather strange cultural relativism. What if someone in China offered the following kind of argument.

            It has been a fundamental premise underlying all Chinese government for more than 2000 years that the relation between the state and individual is just like the relation between family and individual writ large. Just as children owe respect, gratitude and filial piety to their parents, they owe submission and loyalty to the state.

            It seems that you would want to say that while it is a part of the traditions underlying their mode of government, such claims are not something that they are entitled to. That is the same with whether powers of X can be derived from powers of Z.

          • Wheylous

            Sure, but most people in the US would agree that it is a sensible thing to say. The implications of denying this claim are rather large and scary.

          • murali284

            Not at all. In fact, since relying on the premise gets you either AnCap or no rights at all, the premise is the more dangerous one. Any account of limited government is going to government at least some powers that ordinary people do not have. Even a night watchman state requires the power to tax. The mere fact that powers of X need not be derived from powers of Z doesn’t mean that there isn’t some systematic account of why powers of X ought to be limited.

    • genecallahan

      “The point is that we’re saying that *given* the common sense property
      rights theory that most people tend to have (right libertarian
      homesteading)…”
      Wow, that is really, really not how most people think property comes about! And it certainly not “common sense”: Nozick showed that it is shot through with holes.

  • Phil

    The people who think the Aggression-is-Bad Knockdown Argument is a good argument are the same cartoons who think Argumentation Ethics is a good argument (Stephan Kinsella, Walter Block, Stephan Molyneux, Hans Hermann Hoppe, etc.)

    They’ve presupposed their conclusion, so they want anything that seems to support it as quick as possible, without having to address opposing arguments. After all, that’s the whole point of Argumentation Ethics: “You argue against me, therefore Anarcho-capitalism.”

  • Evan Hempel

    Jason your argument is terrible.

    First you are not arguing the NAP. You phrase it as: “It is morally wrong to initiate an act of wrongful aggression against another innocent person.” See that “wrongful aggression” in there? That’s not part of the NAP. Your addition makes the reasoning circular: “its wrong to do wrong” (ok, duh!), and it also makes the NAP meaningless, now its perfectly fine to aggress so long as you find some way to justify your aggression as “non-wrong”.

    If you correct the definition, then the “Aggression-Is-Bad Knock-Down Argument for Libertarianism” works just fine if you can get your opponent to agree with point 1: “It is morally wrong to initiate an act of aggression against another innocent person.”

    If they agree then there is no need to individually disprove other justifications for the state one by one.

    If your opponent doesn’t agree with point 1, then they’ve explicitly agreed that it is ok to aggress against an innocent person in some particular circumstances and you need to argue from some point in common or decide its not worth having an argument with someone who thinks its ok to violently aggress against you …

    • Wheylous

      Well, it also depends on the underlying system of rights. The NAP by itself actually means nothing. It’s simply a tautology based on a rights system that underlies it. *Given* right libertarian property rights theory, violation of these rights is bad.

      • http://nysaferesolutions.com/ Evan Hempel

        Agreed that the NAP assumes private property rights. Jason’s rewording takes away even that assumption and makes it “bad things are bad mkay?”.

      • genecallahan

        “*Given* right libertarian property rights theory, violation of these rights is bad.”

        Exactly.

    • genecallahan

      “It is morally wrong to initiate an act of aggression against another innocent person.”

      I agree with that 100%. And I think the state is justified.

      So your argument is obviously wrong!

      • http://nysaferesolutions.com/ Evan Hempel

        So when government taxes its not aggressing (hard to argue if you use the same definition of aggression as NAP proponents do) or the person isn’t innocent (we’d need to agree on a definition)?

        Anyways, I don’t view the NAP as a be all and end all (really its just a trivial corollary derived from Hoppean private property rights). But it can be a useful tool if your opponent agrees on definitions and is open to a more deontological argument.

        • genecallahan

          “So when government taxes its not aggressing”

          Correct. At least at a reasonable level of taxation.

          “or the person
          isn’t innocent”

          Also correct: they are a tax evader.

          • http://nysaferesolutions.com/ Evan Hempel

            We’re using different definitions so its not surprising that we end up disagreeing. If you agreed with my definitions then you would agree with me on point 1, and the “Aggression-Is-Bad Knock-Down Argument for Libertarianism” would be a convincing argument to you.

            Conversely if I agreed with your definitions then I wouldn’t find the argument convincing either. But this is of course true with any argument. If you’re going to use that as a reason the NAP is invalid then every other argument for anything else will also crumble.

          • genecallahan

            Hmm. Why don’t you just tell me your definition of “aggression”?

          • genecallahan

            By the way, I would be shocked if this argument really turned out to be about definitions. “We’re just arguing over definitions” means there really is no argument.

          • murali284

            This is right. Because if Evan had an account of aggression and innocence which would make Gene agree that taxation is aggression and the tax evader is innocent, it would be such that he would not agree that “it is morally wrong to initiate an act of aggression against an innocent person”

    • genecallahan

      “Jason your argument is terrible.”
      By the way, Jason is an actual philosopher, trained to analyze arguments and recognize bad ones. On the other hand, you apparently believe that by snipping out the word “wrongful” you can fix the whole NAP!
      Someone’s argument is terrible, but it wasn’t Jason.

      • http://nysaferesolutions.com/ Evan Hempel

        Come on! Where did I say I was fixing the NAP? I merely pointed out that his particular argument against it was flawed because he wasn’t actually arguing against the NAP but something he made up which sounded similar.

  • Humanistic Appeal

    The premise that the government owns our money is wrong because people are made to believe otherwise. It’s like a contract signed under false pretenses, and the pretense there is that people have the ability to make decisions for themselves. If humans indeed do not have the ability to know what’s right, then how can they elect a leader for themselves and the rest of the state?

    If your opponent agrees with one’s right to make decisions for themselves, start there. Otherwise, the arguments must be started from a more foundational place.

    Some socialists, including a former roommate of mine, believe that arbitrary people running an arbitrary state simply owns them and their money, but these are the fringe minority. Even this argument is easy to defeat because their arguments will necessarily be reduced to nihilistic statements like “there is no such thing as rights per se” and “nothing is wrong with theft” and so on. These arguments can always be defeated when you point out their hypocrisy and lack of intellectual consistency.

  • Humanistic Appeal

    You’re right that NAP is a principle, not an argument. But you can’t truly disprove a principle because that’s what a principle is–a fundamental belief.

    But when trying to argue against it, be aware of fallacies and try to use reductio ad absurdum honestly.

    • legi_intellexi_condemnavi

      I recommend reading Hans Herman Hoppes Property Ethics. Basically, to do or say anything we need to satisfy some preconditions. Such as exclusive controll of oneself. Exclusive controll, means we own ourselves, which means NAP is founded on a self referential constructive axiom, thussly NAP is correct.

      • http://philosopherstoner.blogspot.com/ Nick Flamel

        “Exclusive controll, means we own ourselves, which means NAP is founded on a self referential constructive axiom, thussly NAP is correct.”

        No, the fact that we happen to have exclusive control does not entail the fact that we ought to have exclusive control. The inference from “P” to “it ought to be the case that P” is invalid absent further premise. This is the “appeal to nature” fallacy that has been critiqued for ages but some people can’t seem to let it go.

        (1) I control myself.
        (2) So, I have a right to do control myself.

        The inference from (1) to (2) is invalid.

        Also, we are affected by others almost all the time, so we rarely if ever in fact have “exclusive” control.

        • legi_intellexi_condemnavi

          I tried to keep it short, if this interests you read Hoppes book. The alternative to controlling ourselves is death. So the first norm seems more sensible? A gunman may coerce me, but if he needs to coerce me, there must be something to coerce. Something that is in controll. As you say “we are affected” then there must be an I that is affected.

          • http://philosopherstoner.blogspot.com/ Nick Flamel

            “The alternative to controlling ourselves is death.”

            Who says?

            Also, you originally said ‘exclusive control’, and the alternative to exclusively controlling ourselves is obvious not death. We don’t die every time we pay our taxes or obey the law. You invoke a false dichotomy between exclusive control and no control at all. I happen to believe both of the following:

            (1) We control ourselves for the most part.
            (2) We ought to control ourselves for the most part.

            But I would never claim that (2) follows from (1) without any further premises.

            “As you say “we are affected” then there must be an I that is affected.”

            Again, what does this have to do with rights or oughts? Yes, if I coerce someone, then there exists a “someone” who is coerced. But how does it follow that I ought not coerce someone?

            Yes, eventually I will get around to reading Hoppe’s book to see if he is really as bad a philosopher as I hear. I’ve heard him give speeches and from those speeches he seems like an excellent candidate to lead the cartoon libertarian movement (very confident in his views, a victim of Dunning-kruger, violating is/ought dichotomy, committing logical fallacies left and right, cute little german accent).

            Maybe in his books he’s a brilliant philosopher, but somehow I doubt it.

          • legi_intellexi_condemnavi

            Someone else can innfluence your behavoir, coerce you, but the fact remains there is something to be coerced, something in controll.

          • http://philosopherstoner.blogspot.com/ Nick Flamel

            Agreed. But you haven’t established coercion is wrong.

          • legi_intellexi_condemnavi

            If you had to choose between the norm everyone has the exclusive control of themselves or the norm everyone is owned or even partially owned. The second norm if true could not even be agreed upon, because agreeing upon it would involve the precondition of exclusive ownership of oneself. Thus everyone would die from the inability to say or do anything. This leaves us by necessity with the first norm.

          • good_in_theory

            The alternative to controlling ourselves tout court is sometimes controlling ourselves and sometimes not controlling ourselves, or only partially controlling ourselves, or not controlling ourselves at all. Or probably a few other configurations. None of those are death.

          • legi_intellexi_condemnavi

            Indulge me, how do you partially controll yourself?

          • good_in_theory

            My heart beats and my stomach digests food, but I control neither of those processes.

          • legi_intellexi_condemnavi

            Those things do not directly involve your volition. The fact that human beings act, inferes we use means to attain ends. A knee jerk for instance is not a concious driven action. When I write of exclusive control I am writing about your consciousness, not your ability to attain ends. A man may swim upstream and end up downstream, this means he does not control where he ends up, but he controls his actions.

          • good_in_theory

            So you’re saying for those processes in which we exercise volition, we exercise volition. Perhaps you ought to check the thread on question begging.

            And of course what volition actually is and how it works is a rather messy matter.

          • legi_intellexi_condemnavi

            Explain how this is begging the question. I am simply expounding on my original statement, an analytical statement. Not trying to prove anything. But human action is also a self-referential constructive axiom. You cannot deny human action without preforming a human action. It seems to me you have never read about Austrian economics, if you do you will learn of praxeology: the science of human action.

  • MingoV

    “I’m not inventing this argument as a strawman.”

    It sure looks that way to me. I have never seen such a crude argument in any libertarian literature. The argument I’ve seen is:

    1. People have property rights.
    2. Taking property violates those rights.
    3. Governments use force to take property.
    4. Therefore, governments should be limited (libertarians) or eliminated (anarchists).

    After this, libertarians argue about how limited the ideal government would be. Anarchists congratulate themselves about supporting an unworkable social system.

    • murali284

      P1 can mean either that as a matter of convention people have this property rights thing going on which is true, but has little normative significance. Or It could mean that people have a normative right to acquire and use property in certain ways. This latter needs to be proved not asserted. Jason’s point is that the second interpretation of the first premise assumes libertarianism already.
      If you take the positivist interpretation of the first premise, then the argument is invalid. 4 doesn’t follow from 1-3.

  • Max LaFave

    The paragraph that begins “Now, for the sake of understanding…” has a typo: “as far as he can tells…”. Other than that, very well put argument. I’m going to try and read more of your stuff.

  • alaska3636

    I don’t doubt your good intentions, but states are rotten to the core.

    Geek mode, initiate: “With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly….Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.”

    Gandalf you ain’t.

  • Richard Simpson

    How does a group give itself ‘rights’ which belong to none of its individual constituents? Can they delegate to it a right they don’t have, or can it create rights for itself, somehow?

    If the theft that is taxation is wrong for an individual, and a state is just several individuals acting in concert, by what right does a state exercise such a ‘right’?

    • good_in_theory

      Doesn’t seem very hard. An individual might not have the authority to punish, but a jury of one’s peers might. Why a group might create this sort of right for itself doesn’t seem particularly confusing.

    • Phil

      All you need is a premise like the following:

      (P) An entity has a right to R if and only if it satisfies the description D.

      If individuals acting alone do not satisfy D, but individuals acting together as part of some institution do satisfy D, then the latter have the right to R while the former do not.

  • dL

    i bring bad news, too…

    “The State is its own agency”

    http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/12/06/nothing-is-beyond-our-reach-nro-new-logo-claims/

    liberty is presumed, not defended nor concluded. The correct way to argue against prescriptive social justice claims is that the State simply is not what it is claimed to be.

    • Phil

      “liberty is presumed, not defended nor concluded”

      No. Why is liberty, as opposed to anything else, presumed? You can’t answer this question without in some way defending or arguing for liberty, so your statement is false.

      • dL

        because a presumption of authority cannot be falsified. A helpful analogy is the presumption of innocence in the western legal tradition. The burden should be placed on the agency that contravenes the liberty of another.

        You can reject this, of course. But by definition it makes you an authoritarian.

        • Phil

          “A helpful analogy is the presumption of innocence in the western legal tradition. The burden should be placed on the agency that contravenes the liberty of another.”

          Right, but there is clearly a good argument for “innocent until proven guilty”. The argument probably includes the fact that an innocent person getting punished is far worse than a guilty person going free.

          All I’m saying is that that if the burden of proof is on someone arguing against liberty, it is because there is something about liberty that, all things being equal, is better than the authority of some institution. Thus it’s not presumed with no argument, but rather argued for.

          You say a presumption of authority cannot be falsified. Can a presumption of liberty be falsified?

          To deny that liberty is presumed does not make me an authoritarian, just like to deny that authority is presumed does not make me a libertarian. I presume neither, but rather go whichever is better supported. Obviously, other things being equal, liberty is better because a person knows what he wants more than some other agency knows what he wants.

          I do not presume liberty without an argument though. I don’t think anything should be presumed without an argument or support, other than perhaps laws of logic, mathematics, etc. Certainly no ethical propositions.

          • dL

            there is an argument that a presumption of liberty is necessary for the epistemology of the scientific method.

            What “falsifiable” means in this context: u cannot demonstrate or prove something does no harm; i.e., prove X does not harm A,B,C,D…. the burden here is on “liberty.” You cannot falsify what essentially amounts to an unlimited number of objections.

            You can, however, demonstrate “harm.” You can demonstrate “X harms A” as well as falsify that claim of harm.

            Presumption of liberty places the burden on demonstrating harm rather than demonstrating “no harm.”

            Back to the subject of the original topic: The argument against social justice is not a demonstration of NAP because, frankly, doesn’t liberal social contract theory claim it is rational to cede some liberty for the purpose of securing some collective action end(such as property, or in modern terms, “primary goods”). You are only responding to a rational argument with a moral objection(and we should recall social contract theory was, in part, a rational case against divine right of kings, which is just another type of moral objection at the time).

            Instead, the argument rests in the discrepancy between the descriptive patterns of state agency and the prescriptive claims or statements of social justice. In other words, you cannot rationally explain or model the state in terms of an agency of social justice.

            So, would have to more or less revert to a purely moral preference, but that is outside the purview of liberalism. In liberalism, political obligation is root ed in a rational argument, not a moral one.

        • good_in_theory

          A presumption if liberty *is* a presumption of authority.

          • dL

            no its not…

          • good_in_theory

            Yes, it is.

            Liberty is the freedom to do things. It presumes the right to do things without interference. This presumes the authority to command others not to interfere with you, for whatever reasons you adjudge.

          • dL

            read my last comment above for the difference…

            “It presumes the authority to do things without interference.”

            well, i wouldn’t label failing to get permission a characteristic of an authoritarian.

          • good_in_theory

            I would label doing things that affect others without their permission the mark of an authoritarian.

            Actually, no I wouldn’t. But so long as we’re speaking in insipid generalities…

          • dL

            hmm, i don’t recall granting permission to describe my speech as “tasteless,” which i could construe as a hurtful insult. Do you think you need my permission?

          • good_in_theory

            No, I don’t. But that’s irrelevant, It doesn’t demonstrate anything about “presuming” liberty or authority,.

  • SimpleMachine88

    Essentially, the competent argument for the state that it prevents more wrongful aggression than it causes. That I find debatable, although I disagree. But the argument you summarized, that taxes aren’t aggression at all, is all too common.

  • Tim Moen

    Libertarian anarchism isn’t a positive position its essentially non-belief in extraordinary claims at its core isn’t it? I mean I could make a theory justifying a leprechaun or a particular god using Rawl’s syllogism. 1) Blah blah blah 2) Ergo it follows 3) Therefore Zeus needs to tax you for social justice. There my little henchmen, sophistry achieved, now go collect Zeus’s taxes for me.

    Like gods and leprechauns I see no evidence that the state exists in material reality, just a bunch of people pretending these entities are real and using it to exempt themselves from behaviors they hold others to. I don’t have to disprove gods existence anymore than I have to disprove the states existence. The burden of proof lies on the person making the extraordinary claims doesn’t it?

    • http://philosopherstoner.blogspot.com/ Nick Flamel

      I think you might be using a non-standard definition of the ‘state’ if you think it doesn’t exist. How do you define the ‘state’?

      “Libertarian anarchism isn’t a positive position its essentially non-belief in extraordinary claims at its core isn’t it?”

      I thought it was the following position: There ought not be a state.

      It’s a normative position, as far as I can tell. But it’s positive in the sense you mean it, meaning it’s making a claim rather than simply denying one.

      “The burden of proof lies on the person making the extraordinary claims doesn’t it?”

      If you believe in any rights or system of morality, then the burden of proof lies on you. If you don’t believe in rights or any system of morality, then you can’t claim that the state violates rights or is immoral.

      I think you’re trying to make an analogy between anarchism and atheism, but I think it’s a failed analogy.

      The theist claims: God exists.
      The atheist rejects this claim.

      The statist claims: There ought to be a state.
      The anarchism also makes a claim: There ought not be a state.

      I think the position you’re looking for could be called the Astatist.
      The statist claims: There ought to be a state.
      The astatist rejects this claim.
      But the anarchist makes a further claim, that there ought not be one.

      • Tim Moen

        I’m not sure I see a difference between the statements: “There ought to be a God” and “There ought to be a state.”

        People talk about the state as if it is a material entity acting in the world and this doesn’t seem accurate to me. The best you could say is that the state is a description of a relationship groups of people have with each other and that this type of relationship is preferable. But to say something like “The state should be able to tax” seems like saying “A relationship description should be able to tax.” Taxation is a physical act that occurs between human beings it requires individuals that exist in material reality, a mental model cannot do anything and that is what I understand the state to be…a mental model or description.

        Maybe I just have a problem with the imprecise language of “The state did this or that.” What does that even mean? It is specific individuals doing this or that.

        I mean how do you wrap your head around a syllogism that goes I know what is best for you because of X, Y and Z therefore I will arrange your marriage. Is it up to you to refute my syllogism (assuming it seems rational on the surface) or is up to me to prove it? Why or why not?

        • http://philosopherstoner.blogspot.com/ Nick Flamel

          “I’m not sure I see a difference between the statements: “There ought to be a God” and “There ought to be a state.” ”

          First of all, the theist claims that there IS a God. Not necessarily that there OUGHT to be a God. But yes, there is not much difference between the two statements you just mentioned (other than the object they assert ought to exist).

          “People talk about the state as if it is a material entity acting in the world and this doesn’t seem accurate to me. The best you could say is that the state is a description of a relationship groups of people have with each other and that this type of relationship is preferable.”

          You could also talk about the state like a system of objects, which IS a physical thing. Just like you and I are systems made up of parts, a family, a group, a state, and an ecosystem are all concrete wholes made up of concrete parts.

          “Maybe I just have a problem with the imprecise language of “The state did this or that.” What does that even mean? It is specific individuals doing this or that.”

          If it helps, just interpret it as, “The individuals that are part of the state, occupying the relevant roles, should be able to tax.” That way, it at least makes sense to you, even if you disagree with it.

          But as I said earlier, complex wholes made up of parts are capable of instantiating properties and even “doing” certain things.

          “I mean how do you wrap your head around a syllogism that goes I know what is best for you because of X, Y and Z therefore I will arrange your marriage. Is it up to you to refute my syllogism (assuming it seems rational on the surface) or is up to me to prove it? Why or why not?”

          I agree with your point, that the person making the claim has a burden of proof. But the anarchist IS making a claim. He is claiming that the state is immoral or unjust and ought to be abolished. Or, if you don’t like ‘state’ talk, he is claiming that the individuals acting as the state are doing immoral and unjust things and ought to stop. These are all claims that require argumentation.

          I would agree with you that there is a presumption of liberty (other things being equal, we ought to be left alone), but we need an argument for this. It is not the default position, such that other positions require a burden of proof and we don’t. Whenever you make a claim (assert something as true), you need an argument.

          Anarchists do more than simply deny the Statist assertion (there ought to be a state). They make their own assertion (there ought to be no state).

          • Tim Moen

            “I agree with your point, that the person making the claim has a burden of proof. But the anarchist IS making a claim. He is claiming that the state is immoral or unjust and ought to be abolished.”

            Hmm, I admit I’m having some cognitive dissonance here that I’m working through. I don’t think I’m making a claim that the state ought to be abolished but rather that people ought not use force against each other, even if they call it “the state.” But I guess you’re saying that there is no good reason why the default position shouldn’t be something like “use force whenever you want to get what you desire?”

            “If it helps, just interpret it as, “The individuals that are part of the state, occupying the relevant roles, should be able to tax.” That way, it at least makes sense to you, even if you disagree with it.”

            Yes this is how I interpret it for the most part. I do admit I have a problem with the “part of the state” bit. How would we know if a state exists or not to be part of? What evidence could be presented that there is indeed a state. Like what if I got together with some pals and we proclaimed ourselves a nation state and wrote stuff on a piece of paper and called it a constitution and had a flag and packed heat and had all the visible accouterments of the state? Would that be a state?

            So when a person says “the state ought to exist” or “god ought to exist” to me they both sound like wish thinking. About trying to make something real that is not. But again, I admit to some cognitive dissonance here.

            Assume for a second that the state does not exist. What then would it mean to say, “Individuals that are part of the state?” To me it might be worded thusly, “Individuals that imagine themselves to represent a non-corporeal entity that the majority of other people around them also believe exists and thus are able to use force without sanction.”

          • http://philosopherstoner.blogspot.com/ Nick Flamel

            “I don’t think I’m making a claim that the state ought to be abolished but rather that people ought not use force against each other, even if they call it “the state.” But I guess you’re saying that there is no good reason why the default position shouldn’t be something like “use force whenever you want to get what you desire?” ”

            No, all I’m saying is that if you make a claim like, “It ought to be the case that…” or “People ought not…”, these are claims that require support. So the claim “people should use force whenever they want something” also requires support.

            So your claim is, “people ought not use force against each other, even if they call it ‘the state’ “. Since you are making a claim about what people ought to do or not do, you need to support it (if you want to convince people of the truth of your claims).

            “How would we know if a state exists or not to be part of? What evidence could be presented that there is indeed a state.”

            Well, like I said at the beginning, it depends on your definition of state. I’ve heard most libertarians define ‘state’ as an institution with a monopoly on using force over a given territory, or something like that.

            “Like what if I got together with some pals and we proclaimed ourselves a nation state and wrote stuff on a piece of paper and called it a constitution and had a flag and packed heat and had all the visible accouterments of the state? Would that be a state?”

            Yes, if you got a monopoly on the use of force over some given territory, then yes, according to our above definition you would be a state. But if you guys treated the other people living on your territory in too bad a manner, you would have to be careful of revolution.

            My guess is that you are alluding to something about how writing something on paper and calling it a “constitution” or having a flag doesn’t give you the right to coerce people and violate their rights, or something like that. You may be correct, but you would have to support the existence of these rights. And, since you seem to not take to kindly to mystical entities like states or gods, you might not think rights exist (or natural rights, independent of social arrangements).

            “So when a person says “the state ought to exist” or “god ought to exist” to me they both sound like wish thinking. About trying to make something real that is not. But again, I admit to some cognitive dissonance here.”

            Well, it’s possible you’re right, that it is wishful thinking. But I think you are confused between normative (ought) claims and positive (Is) claims. See the difference:

            (1) X exists because I want X to exist.

            (2) X ought to exist because I want X to exist.

            (1) is just bad reasoning. (2) may not be good reasoning, since most of us think that “oughts” depend on more than just what we want, but still, it’s not as bad as (1). It’s like a hypothetical imperative.

            “Assume for a second that the state does not exist. What then would it mean to say, “Individuals that are part of the state?” ”

            The sentence would either be false, because there are no such individuals, or the sentence would lack a truth-value and be meaningless.

            “and thus are able to use force without sanction.”

            What is this sanction you’re talking about? I think you have a moral view that you haven’t stated yet. I think it would be better for you to use the standard definition of ‘state’, agree that such an institution exists, and then argue that it ought not exist. For you to engage in talk about the state not existing is just confusing. It’s much better to agree on language so we can move on to more important matters, like agreeing on content or matters of fact.

  • John

    I don’t think it’s intended to prove anything true, it’s designed to set neo-socialists on edge and make them defend why they need your money so badly they will take it with force. They assume that taxes are valid from the beginning, so why not toss up an equally valid, at the minimum, argument that they have to address.

    Taxes are theft to the degree that they are legal, unavoidable, not a choice, and don’t return an equal value of services to the people paying them.

    The gas tax is a near perfect tax. It is avoidable, in that no one truly has to drive. And even then, an electric car or bicycle avoids the tax as a choice, or youc an ride a 100mph motorcycle and pay very little. The gas tax returns almost exactly the amount paid in to the public in road construction, repair and usage.

    FICA, however, is not legally avoidable unless you were born wealthy with all the money you will need, or unless you break the law. There is essentially no way of opting out without starving or dying. You may get your due, but in the mean time, you’ve experience massive opportunity cost which may have cost you a home or business or better investment, so the net loss to you can be pretty signficant and if you die, you can’t pass it on unless the state says you can.

    And then you have taxation that takes from one person to give to another. There is no ROI to the taxpayer, and there is no choice. You WILL give your money to others or go to jail.

    But there is also the legal aspect. One can argue that the preexisting legal framework allows for taxation. However, taxation must ALSO be legal. There are three very important limitations on taxation in the Constitution that are not followed. The biggest being that taxation MUST be to generate and set aside funds for the general welfare of the country. This does not including charity, but also, it doesn’t include taxes and reverse (transferred) taxation that are designed to force people to change their habits. To grow corn or not grow sugar. To buy a house they can’t afford rather than rent. These are patently unconstitutional as they are not to create revenue, but affect behavior.

  • John

    Of course, the modern taxation argument is that everything and eveyrone must be taxed, rather than the government run through users fees or the sale of desirable good and services in a free market. Ironically, we do pay a lot of user fees for services to the government, but they haven’t figured out how to make that a profitable venture, because they can always slide badk to direct theft of money without providing an equivalent amount of services.

    For instance, they insist on building a train that would cost $20/ticket at half capacity to break even (ignoring the original $500B investment which will never be returned), when the market price for such a ticket is $5. So they take $15/ticket from taxpayers who may never use the train or even have a desire to use it. How is it not theft and redistribution? Why not charge $20? Well, of course it’s because even at $5, they can only manage 10-25% capacity, so it is impossible for the train to break even. Even if it were free, it may not meet 50% capacity because it’s only desirable to a few people because it is logistically difficult.

    In the same way, “free” socialized medicine is so difficult to obtain in many parts of the world that cash clinics that provide immediate services manage quite well.

    One also needs to look at the value of the bureaucracy. In theory, a bureaucrat would make the market more efficient by aiding the free market to operate even faster and to prevent losses with simple, easy to follow rules and standards. But he doesn’t actually do that for more than the first few years at best. Quickly, you get into the situation where we are forced to spend more money to prevent, say, a fire, than the fire would cost itself. In the free market, the cost society would pay to prevent a fire would be less than the fire itself. Otherwise, you let the building burn and build a newer, better building in its place with the money not spent on fire prevention. Especially since the building has since depreciated and would need to be replaced within another decade or so anyway.

    And if government were so beneficent, why wouldn’t people fund it voluntarily? Why is there not a charity set up for it? Why no bake sales? Why isn’t there a law that every agency must pay for itself, while still following the Constitution? Probably because it’s impossible as they simply provide very little anyone wants.

  • darrenlobo

    Nice article Jason, but you’re not digging deep enough & therefore framing the question the wrong way. Most statists, consciously or not, are consequentialists. (“Consequentialism is the view that morality is all about producing the right kinds of overall consequences.” http://www.iep.utm.edu/conseque/ ). Anarcho-libertarians views are deontological (“Deontological Ethics is an approach to Ethics that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of actions themselves, as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of those actions” http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_deontology.html ). This difference in approach explains why the NAP isn’t a knock-down to statists. Their consequentialism leads to collectivism & a willingness to sacrifice the individual to the group. That’s why, for example, taxation meets one of the definitions of theft but isn’t theft in their view only because it serves the greater good. If it serves the greater good it is by definition moral (to the consequentialist not me).

    • good_in_theory

      I’m sure Jason has never heard of this rarefied distinction between consequentialist and deontological moral theories in his life. It’s not like he teaches it or anything. This must be a revelation to him.

      http://www.jasonfbrennan.com/teaching.html

      • darrenlobo

        Judging by the content of the article I would think it is a revelation to Jason.

  • JdL

    The NAP is an axiom, not an “Argument”. As far as I can tell, based upon what the author considers a legitimate range of argumentation, the Marquis de Sade’s philosophy of life and government should be considered potentially legitimate along side anyone else’s.

    This column extends a long tradition of postings on bleedingheartlibertarians.com which, to my mind, are completely off in left field, far away from the clear meaning of the word “libertarian”. Given the author’s beliefs, why doesn’t he post at some more appropriate spot, such as bleedingheartsocialists.com?

  • trent steel

    So, here is where you’re so easily proved wrong it saddens me to have to type it.

    The NAP is the only consistent theory. You can have it, and there are no contradictions. YES, you won’t be living in Nirvana, but there are no contradictions.
    All of your Statist theories presuppose that someone (WHO?!) gets to be the State (HOW?!) and has the right to take, nay, OWNS things it did not create. Who, how, why? And then, when someone else violently wrests power, then your theory says that THEY are the State. So your theory is might makes right. Which is fine for the animal kingdom, but not human theory.

    You might as well, based on the depth of the thinking in this article, defend the following (let’s call it ToG, “theory of guest”):

    Stuff should be cool.
    I am pretty cool.

    So I should decide stuff.

    See! By your logic… If you accept that things should be cool (and who doesn’t!) then I get to decide stuff.

    Wow, your political theory is easy and fun!

    • good_in_theory

      Wow, you’re a walking, talking, typing joke.

  • Bob_Robert

    Well, how about the reverse?

    When it is just to initiate coercion against someone who has done no harm?

  • rocinante2112

    Perhaps someone has already commented on this, but how would you obtain empirical evidence on the feasibility of anarchism when it has never been tried in a modern setting? You can make inferences from empirical observations (e.g., things like the law of supply and demand), but you don’t have the track record that states have.

  • Pingback: Thick And Thin Libertarianism And Tom Woods

  • Jeff Ricketson

    You say we need scientific evidence to know that an anarchist society is desirable, but clearly we don’t always need that sort of information to make social change. No fundamentally new social change could ever be made. Surely we can show from ethical principles that such an arrangement would be morally preferable and from economic principles that it would be practically desirable.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.