Gary Chartier – Bleeding Heart Libertarians Free Markets and Social Justice Wed, 21 Feb 2018 18:00:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Gary Chartier – Bleeding Heart Libertarians 32 32 22756168 Libertarianism and the Varieties of Virtue Fri, 10 Jun 2016 13:09:35 +0000 In Reason, William Ruger and Jason Sorens seek to offer an alternative to the sort of thick libertarianism to which many of those associated with the Center for a Stateless...

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In Reason, William Ruger and Jason Sorens seek to offer an alternative to the sort of thick libertarianism to which many of those associated with the Center for a Stateless Society are committed. They seek to defend what they call “virtue libertarianism.” Sometimes, they seem to be concerned with virtues in the narrow sense of desirable habits of character; at other points, they seem to have in mind moral excellence, and a kind of moral concern that includes personal flourishing as well as interpersonal obligation, more generally.

Ruger and Sorens offer virtue libertarianism as an alternative both to an ultra-thin (brutalist?) libertarianism that treats all non-aggressive conduct as morally indifferent or “a thick variant that takes its cues from more socially (and politically correct) left-wing moral dogma.” In effect, as Sheldon Richman observes, they defend a thick libertarianism on the right.

Ruger, Sorens, and other proponents of “virtue libertarianism” aren’t attacking a straw target. There really are people who think, or talk as if they think, that, as long as the non-aggression principle isn’t violated by someone’s conduct, there’s no basis for any sort of moral objection that conduct. That view is silly on its face. Any plausible account of rights and duties with respect to aggression will be rooted in a rich moral soil. And from that soil will grow a variety of moral responsibilities, both with respect to one’s own flourishing and with respect to that of others. So far so good.

And, more than that, I think we have every reason to agree with Sorens and Ruger that beneficence and generosity matter. These character traits are certainly ones I believe that we ought to embrace and encourage and ones that we ought to exercise in and through the voluntary associations and institutions in which we participate. The same is true of a concern with effective emotional self-management.

Ruger and Sorens are right, too, that freedom is a prerequisite to virtue: only genuinely autonomous moral agents can truly be morally responsible in the way that virtue requires, and I believe they’re correct that monomaniacal focus on particular goods can compromise our autonomy and lead us to treat ourselves and others badly. Finally, they seem to me to be right that cultural institutions might reasonably promote habits that will help people to realize well being using various forms of non-violent social influence.

But Ruger and Sorens don’t simply want to reject an anemic account of morality. They want to do more—to reject, in the name of virtue, a variety of specific moral convictions. They are evidently skeptical, for instance, about moral criticisms of workplace hierarchy, and they appear to want to distance themselves from moral defenses of libertarian porn star and Duke University student “Belle Knox” and from those who object on moral grounds to slut-shaming.

Of course Ruger, Sorens, and others can legitimately challenge the substantive arguments people might make with regard to these and other matters. The devil, here as elsewhere, is in the details. But they will need to do more than simply rejecting opposing views—as I do on these two issues—as embracing “libertinism.” My view, at any rate, isn’t that anything goes. It is that workplace hierarchies are objectionable because they treat workers unfairly, disregard their dignity, and, as it happens, foster inefficiency. It is that Knox is developing and experiencing and sharing particular sorts of flourishing and offering audiences particular sorts of imaginative pleasure (not something necessarily different in kind from what other performers do) without, in principle, injuring anyone. It is that slut-shaming attempts to apply social pressure unreasonably—to discourage behavior in which people might engage for a variety of good reasons and which might either be a means to or a constitutive element of their flourishing.

I certainly believe (and have argued at length) that “[l]ife-long committed marriage” is an ideal serious romantic partners have reason to realize whether or not they are parents. But it doesn’t follow that everyone has reason to want to be seriously romantic involved with someone else, much less that someone who does prevents her- or himself from achieving this goal by engaging in the sexual practices to which Ruger and Sorens object.

No doubt we should object when people “idle away their time and talents in frivolous pursuits” if in so doing they are purposefully or instrumentally attacking their own well being or that of others, neglecting their responsibilities to others, or disregarding their commitments to themselves. But where this is not the case, where people are simply acting out priorities that we happen not to share, we have, I think, no basis for judgment. This is not because all options are equally good, but because the range of good options seems to me more likely to include the possibility of a concern with the frivolous than it does to Ruger and Sorens.

I should note that I am doubtful that, as a general matter, “our economic and intellectual elites still largely practice the sober virtues of a high-capitalist civilization but have lost the confidence or courage to expect those virtues of the whole society.” I am confident that not only political elites (who respond, of course, to different incentives) but also cultural elites (who do require the support of the marketplace) do not. Narratives of hard living in and around corporate C-suites and the highly publicized antics of the wealthy prompt me to question the commitment of “economic elites” to Ruger and Sorens’s “sober virtues.” And anyone who knows much about the biographies of writers and academics, including highly influential ones, will raise similar questions about “intellectual elites.”

Obviously, I may be mistaken about any of these factual or normative points. But, if so, it’s not because I think virtue is unimportant or shouldn’t be a significant concern, but because my conception of virtue isn’t identical with that of Ruger and Sorens. The kind of thick libertarianism to which I am sympathetic is certainly concerned with moral excellence well beyond non-aggression. I have attempted to root my approach to libertarianism in a complex and, as Jason Brennan repeatedly reminds me, controversial moral theory—the New Classical Natural Law Theory, a variant of Thomist ethics, and thus in the Aristotelian tradition, with Kantian undertones. Roderick Long has offered a different sort of Aristotelian approach, one to which the category of virtue is central. Perhaps we are captives of left-wing dogma, or perhaps we really can defend the particular, substantive moral visions we embrace successfully against the sorts of challenges Sorens and Ruger seek to articulate. I certainly believe that ours is a full-orbed moral vision, not some sort of implausible moral minimalism.

I have sometimes argued for shunning and public shaming as means of maintaining social order non-violently. But I am concerned on several fronts by the invocation of these sorts of non-violent social pressure by Ruger and Sorens. (i) I favor defensive shunning—boycotting dishonest vendors to avoid being cheated, for instance. Boycotting as a short-term strategy to encourage an end to the mistreatment of others can make sense, too. But what I wouldn’t favor under any circumstances is boycotting as an expression of moralism, of the idea that somehow associating with bad people is itself bad, a source of impurity. (ii) I am skeptical about the kind of paternalistic shunning Sorens and Ruger seem to favor both because it seems likely in many cases to involve an unreasonable pretense of knowledge on the part of the shunner—who may simply not be sufficiently aware of the circumstances of the person to whose behavior she or he objects—and because, more broadly, it may sometimes stifle expressions of human diversity that seems likely to foster social flourishing. Ruger and Sorens reject a “sour and imperious judgmentalism,” but it will be hard for those who embrace their program to avoid engaging precisely in that. Indeed, I think a case can be made for the view that it is precisely an expression of virtue—of respect for others and of celebration of the richness of the human community—to avoid a number of the sorts of judgments Ruger and Sorens might be inclined to commend. (iii) Even where we can be confident that people are making bad choices, I am deeply skeptical of the idea that shunning or otherwise rejecting them on an individual basis is likely to be redemptive—it seems likely instead to be deeply wounding and alienating—or that it will prove, in many cases, consistent with virtue, with the demands of loyalty and compassion.

Thaddeus Russell’s superb Renegade History of the United States tells a story of cultural and institutional change to which ongoing tension between the censorious and the free-spirited—including the frivolous, the drunkards, the sexually experimental—is essential. Russell does not suggest that everyone should be a renegade. But he does maintain—plausibly, on my view—that human freedom and well being are persistently expanded when those who reject established norms and sober virtues (and not only the cultural avant garde) press their claims against what they experience as the stultifying demands of the majority. Russell points, effectively, to an ecology of positive social change in which the task of pushing the envelope plays an inescapably important role. There’s certainly a role in Russell’s ecology for the kind of virtue-promotion Ruger and Sorens envision. But unqualified general embrace of the kind of stance they favor might, it seems to me, undermine the ability of that ecology effectively to yield ongoing social innovation.

We ought to be concerned with other people’s well being, richly conceived, and our own, rather than simply avoiding aggression or even with adhering to interpersonal duty. But it doesn’t follow that we should exhibit and promote just the virtues Sorens and Ruger favor, or that we should do so in the way they believe we should.

[Cross-posted at C4SS]

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Gabb on Thatcher Mon, 08 Apr 2013 16:51:48 +0000 Sean Gabb, of the UK Libertarian Alliance, offers a fairly acidic take on the late Baroness Thatcher. Gabb’s bottom line: Thatcher was an authoritarian and a corporatist. He offers multiple...

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Sean Gabb, of the UK Libertarian Alliance, offers a fairly acidic take on the late Baroness Thatcher.

Gabb’s bottom line: Thatcher was an authoritarian and a corporatist. He offers multiple examples of her hostility to civil liberties and notes that she didn’t seem to have received the memo about the distinction between being pro-business and being pro-market:

Her encouragement of enterprise never amounted to more than a liking for big business corporatism. Genuine enterprise was progressively heaped with taxes and regulations that made it hard to do business. Big business, on the other hand, was showered with praise and legal indulgences. Indeed, her privatisation policies were less about introducing competition and choice into public services than in turning public monopolies into corporate monsters pampered by the State with subsidies and favourable regulations – corporate monsters that were expected in return to lavish financial rewards on the political class.

While I am a free speech absolutist, I doubt that Thatcher’s tightening of “the laws constraining free speech about race and immigration” was anything like the worst of her sins. I don’t suppose  that unions are all hotbeds of violent thuggery. And of course I would add criticisms to Gabb’s list. Thatcher’s militarism—consider the Falklands war and her support for Bush 41’s Gulf War—is further reason to see her as a foe rather than a friend of liberty, for instance. And her privatization program hardly involved the kind of radical handover of state enterprises and other state assets acquired with stolen funds to workers and community members that I’d be inclined to favor.

Some libertarians are touched by the fact that Thatcher praised Hayek and identified The Constitution of Liberty as a source of useful guidance. I am inclined to view her praise for Hayek as on roughly the same level as Ronald Reagan’s famous willingness to photographed reading The Freeman. I have no burden to argue that everything Thatcher did was an instance of unmitigated evil—the world is always messier than Manichæans would have us believe. But it is difficult to see her as any sort of libertarian hero. She was first and foremost and foremost a defender of order—of state power and of the continuing authority of various traditional social institutions she happened to favor—rather than of liberty.

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Jason Brennan Did Not Like Gary Chartier’s Book Tue, 12 Mar 2013 16:57:25 +0000 The argument of Anarchy and Legal Order is relatively simple and straightforward. There are some things we may never reasonably do to each other, and other things we have very...

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The argument of Anarchy and Legal Order is relatively simple and straightforward. There are some things we may never reasonably do to each other, and other things we have very good reason not do. Territorial monopolists—states—do these things persistently. Their putative value as maintainers of social order might be thought to render their actions justifiable (when the prohibitions they’re violating aren’t exceptionless, so that no violation would be defensible); but, in fact, there are multiple reasons to think they’re not needed to maintain social order, and further reasons to believe they actively undermine it and cause serious harm to people’s interests. Consensual legal institutions can justly enforce law; we don’t need territorial monopolists for that. The law they enforce should leave people as free as possible and should focus on remedying injuries rather than on punishing or deterring. This kind of law will create space for the emergence of a free culture and will facilitate effective responses to such problems as poverty and workplace hierarchy. Links with English and American radicalism justify seeing this kind of anarchist approach as rooted in the socialist tradition.

Jason Brennan did not like Anarchy and Legal Order.

As his NDPR review makes abundantly clear, Brennan finds the book unappealing as a defense of anarchism. He believes key points are insufficiently defended, with assertion taking the place of argument; that the natural-law position in moral theory I adopt is both obscure and mistaken; that the book’s arguments are insufficiently independent of this position to be persuasive to anyone who does not already share it; and that the book is therefore likely to be unhelpful as a contribution to the task of making anarchism persuasive to non-anarchists. He also clearly finds the book tedious and over-long.

I am sure that Brennan is right that I am guilty at points of expressing my reactions rather than justifying them. It is important to emphasize, though, that I incorporate by reference the more elaborate defenses of others at various points. I think, for instance, that I have offered significant reasons to believe that social order does not depend on Leviathan, or that poverty relief is quite possible without the state; but I have also referred readers to much more extensive discussions of these topics.

I am inclined to agree with Brennan that a book like Michael Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority, which features fewer theoretical assumptions than mine, might well be more accessible and persuasive to non-anarchists. And of course I understand why someone sympathetic, like Brennan, to public reason liberalism might find this advantage particularly important. But the broadly strategic concerns that seem to underlie some of Brennan’s criticism were not my primary foci. Instead, I wrote the book I did because, for over a quarter-century, I have found the new classical natural law (NCNL) theory appealing and fruitful—this is my second book on the topic—and because I wanted to spell out what a version of anarchism articulated in terms of my preferred moral theory might look like.[1]

I am less confident that the other criticisms Brennan levels are worth accepting. I touch on some key instances in the remainder of this response.

He is doubtless correct that NCNL theory is both controversial and not the majority view among Thomists.[2] Whether this is, on its own, a reason to criticize it is presumably another matter. Compare: libertarianism is a minority position in political theory; and bleeding-heart libertarianism of the sort Brennan endorses is a minority position among libertarians. That hardly means it’s not interesting or important. In addition, of course, various features of NCNL theory could be embraced by people who weren’t Thomists.[3]

Obscurity isn’t Brennan’s principal charge, of course; he simply finds NCNL theory mistaken. After noting its minority status in the academy, he focuses, in particular, on its commitment to a robust form of incommensurability.

The NCNL theorists, whose position on this issue I share, deny that there is some one thing that welfare or value or well-being is. Talk about value (or well being, etc.) is a way of talking about the various particular reasons for action we actually have. To maintain that friendship, say, is an aspect of welfare is not to say that friendship realizes some independently specifiable quantity called “welfare” (or something else—happiness, pleasure, preference-satisfaction, etc.) but simply that one’s participation in friendship is one of the ways in which one’s life can go well, and that initiating or enriching a friendship or connecting with a friend is thus something it makes sense to do for its own sake.

This sort of analysis helps to explain why the NCNL theorists maintain that the various sorts of welfare or play or well being or fulfillment or flourishing are incommensurable.

Suppose friendship, or æsthetic experience, or knowledge, or bodily well being, mattered just, and to the extent that, it produced or embodied some common element—say, some sort of happiness or pleasure. In this case, the common element would provide a yardstick that would make comparative measurement possible. By contrast, absent a common element, there’s no basis for comparative measurement. We can say that friendship is valuable, or that play is valuable. But in doing so we’re just saying that play and friendship give us reasons for action, not that they do so because they produce or realize something else, something that’s really valuable. Sensory pleasure seems valuable in its own right; but knowledge isn’t valuable because of its contribution to producing or realizing sensory pleasure.

If the various aspects of welfare aren’t valuable instrumentally, then the kind of aggregation required for consequentialist calculation isn’t going to be possible. The consequentialist invites us to consider the states of affairs that might be produced by our actions (or rules, policies, character-traits, practices, institutions, etc.) and to ask, of the available options, which yields the most value (adjust the formulation as needed if you prefer a satisficing variant of consequentialism). (If you don’t think this describes consequentialism as you understand it, substitute your preferred term for this sort of approach.) This injunction obviously makes sense only if there’s a quantity to maximize. And it does not in fact seem that there is any such quantity underlying our choices: there are only multiple reasons to do various things, not some maximizable master value that underlies those reasons.

If the various ways in which lives can go well are irreducibly different from each other, approaches to practical reasoning that involve choosing among options in light of the quantum of value each produces won’t be viable. Given that operationalizing this sort of approach requires aggregation, that aggregation requires commensurability, that commensurability makes sense only if there’s a common substrate of value, and that there is no such common substrate, maximizing and similar strategies seem non-viable.

Obviously, no consequentialist supposes that, as a matter of course, we can in fact quantify the relevant values in many situations. But the consequentialist does need to assume that the notion of maximization makes sense, even if we’re not typically capable of maximizing precisely; otherwise, the consequentialist injunction seems to collapse into triviality. Thus, I want to argue, attempted justifications of intellectual property or of coercive public-goods provision that are framed in consequentialist terms are unsuccessful.

Brennan offers no arguments in favor of consequentialism, per se, but he finds the notion that comparing overall states of affairs in terms of the value they embody is impossible simply odd. He reports his intuition that one can declare some states of affairs better than others.

If there is no way of ranking states of affairs quantitatively, it still might be possible to rank them qualitatively. And of course NCNL theorists will be perfectly willing to do this in at least two ways. (i) A state of affairs involving no value at all, if such a state of affairs is conceivable, would be inferior to one involving some value, any value. (iiAs an object of choice for me, a state of affairs that includes my acting reasonably is superior to a state of affairs in which I act unreasonably.

NCNL theorists will typically be uncomfortable with focusing on states of affairs external to one’s actions as the foci of the deliberation in which one engages en route to making a decision. The only context in which questions about value actually arise are in the context of our choices. The goal ought not to be to find the most efficient means to bringing about desirable states of affairs but rather to choose reasonably. And there will certainly be reasons to choose some paths, paths directly or indirectly effecting some states of affairs, rather than others. But on the NCNL view one will reasonably exclude some paths because of what would be involved in choosing them (unreasonableness with respect to others, to oneself, or both), and one will opt for other paths because of particular goods to which they lead. In neither case will one need to rank or otherwise compare the aggregated goods embodied in the relevant states of affairs. But one will be able to rank states of affairs as objects of one’s own choice in light of the reasonableness or unreasonableness of one’s choices as embodied in those states of affairs.

In addition, of course, nothing about NCNL theory prevents someone from preferring one state of affairs to another and identifying it as clearly better in terms of her own attitudes and commitments. I need not regard a given option as superior to all of the alternatives in order to select it, but I certainly can do so.

For all I have argued, other sorts of qualitative comparisons among states of affairs might be possible. For instance: something like Jonathan Dancy’s particularism might be correct. On Dancy’s view, different sorts of factors in a given situation can be seen to be salient to action in ways quite particular to that situation. But Dancy’s particularism provides little comfort for the consequentialist: it is anti-consequentialist by intention and doesn’t lend itself to the kind of generalization required for the justification of large-scale social practices. In any case, Brennan has not invoked Dancy’s view in support of his position.

In any event, though the incommensurability thesis, and the Principle of Respect derived from it, can be seen to be at work at various points throughout the book, much of the book’s position could be worked out without any reference to it. And the other key element of NCNL theory on which I draw, the Principle of Fairness, is a version of a requirement familiar from many other moral positions, so that its frequent use hardly renders the book dependent on an obscure and especially controversial view. In fact, the Principle of Respect plays little or no role, as far as I can see, in the rationale for possessory rights articulated in Chapter 2, the elaboration in Chapter 3 of obligations to the state, of factors making for social order without the state, and of the state’s contributions to social dis-order, the discussion of legal obligation in Chapter 4, the discussion in Chapter 5 of remedies for injury (apart from the treatment of deterrence), and all of Chapters 6 (on the development of a culture of freedom) and 7 (on leftism, anti-capitalism, and socialism). I think Brennan has overstressed the book’s reliance on what he regards as an indefensible premise.

It may be that Brennan thinks that, by referring to my position as “anarcho-capitalist,” he’s simply helping to situate it for readers unfamiliar with the conversation to which it seeks to contribute. But, as his footnote reference to Markets Not Capitalism makes clear, he is perfectly aware of the work colleagues and I have done to resurrect the radically market-oriented socialism of the nineteenth-century individualist anarchists. And, of course, both Anarchy and Legal Order and Markets Not Capitalism identify multiple considerations that dispose me to disavow the “capitalist” label and, indeed, to identify my position as anti-capitalist. I am unsure why Brennan declined to give these considerations more weight or to respond directly to my arguments on these points.

Brennan doubts that I have successfully explained how a stateless society could meet the requirements of the broadly Rawlsian variety of social justice he embraces, and that I can show that the worst-off people in a stateless society would be at least as well off as those in, say, contemporary Denmark. I don’t accept the Rawlsian account of social justice, and Brennan offers no extended justification for doing so. But I do seek to explain in some detail why I believe a stateless society could deal satisfactorily with the problem of poverty.

I discuss wealth redistribution and poverty relief at considerable length. I emphasize the role of the state in both creating structural poverty and in making the vulnerabilities associated with structural poverty more significant. I treat the role of background injustice in misshaping the contemporary distribution of wealth. And I discuss a variety of mechanisms for wealth redistribution that would be appropriate in a market-oriented stateless society. I devote approximately 14,000 words to these topics.

Brennan has elsewhere rightly emphasized that offering a legal guarantee isn’t the same thing as ensuring that a desirable outcome will actually occur. He is not committed to the view that an elaborate welfare state is needed to secure the well being of the least well-off. And of course Huemer’s Problem of Political Authority, which he cites approvingly, devotes very little time to addressing the problem of poverty in a stateless society. So it’s not clear just what he would regard as a satisfactory treatment of the issue of economic vulnerability. I have offered several considerations in favor of avoiding coercive social welfare measures, along with multiple reasons to believe that institutions in a stateless society could respond effectively to the problem of poverty and that, absent various structural factors evident in contemporary society, poverty would be a significantly less severe problem without the state. Brennan is obviously to free to argue that I should regard myself as accountable to a Rawlsian standard, but he hasn’t offered any reasons why I should. And I think I’ve done the same sorts of things that Brennan himself, John Tomasi, and David Schmidtz have done in pointing out the effectiveness with which markets and civil society institutions can respond to the problem of economic vulnerability and with which markets can maximize well being and opportunities for self-authorship.

I’ve sought to defend anarchism in light of contemporary natural-law theory because I find the NCNL approach appealing and insightful, whether or not it is currently fashionable. The incommensurability thesis captures an important feature of human choice, and I believe it is well worth defending. I also believe I have offered good reasons to treat a stateless society as an attractive alternative to the state where the problem of economic vulnerability and insecurity are concerned. Brennan is obviously more than free to conclude that I’m mistaken on these points. But the arguments on offer in his review don’t suffice to convince me.

[1]The primary exponents of the general approach I adopt have been Germain Grisez and John Finnis. Among the other prominent members of their school are Robert P. George, Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., and Chris Tollefsen. Other philosophers who have embraced similar positions (and whom, for present purposes, I treat as NCNL theorists) include Mark C. Murphy and Timothy Chappell.

[2]For one spirited defense of the approach, see Natural Law and Practical Rationality (Cambridge: CUP 2001), by Brennan’s Georgetown colleague Mark C. Murphy.

[3]This is obviously true of what I’m calling the Principle of Fairness, which is similar to the sort of consistency test R. M. Hare considers in Freedom and Reason, as also to various other sorts of universalizability or generalization requirements defended in diverse approaches to ethics. The NCNL theorists’ incommensurability thesis may be unique to them; but, for instance, While not a supporter of the incommensurability thesis, Bernard Williams recognizes that “goods may not be homogeneous,” acknowledges “that goods are not necessarily inter-substitutable” and maintains: “That there must be something which compensates for a finite loss is just a dogma, one which is more familiar in the traditional version to the effect that every man has his price.” Bernard Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” Utilitarianism: For and Against, by J. J. C. Smart and Williams (Cambridge: CUP 1973) 144-5. He earlier maintains that “[i]t would be idle to pretend that in many more restricted connexions we had no idea what course would lead to greater happiness” (80); but of course I should want to question the notion that happiness, per se, is what matters (as I take it Williams would in some important sense as well).

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Some Principles Mon, 26 Nov 2012 16:20:20 +0000 Recent events in the Middle East have prompted vigorous exchanges on this site. Definitive judgments regarding these matters depend on detailed historical analysis; and engaging in historical inquiry is not...

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Recent events in the Middle East have prompted vigorous exchanges on this site. Definitive judgments regarding these matters depend on detailed historical analysis; and engaging in historical inquiry is not my comparative advantage—nor is it that, I suspect, of most participants in conversations here. I want to resist the temptation to engage in amateur historiography. Instead, bulding on the more general remarks I offered here about war some time ago, I’d like to suggest a move to a higher level of generality by articulating what I hope are some principles on which, as libertarians, participants in BHL discussions of recent events in the Middle East, and future of events of a similar nature, might be able to agree.

1. Racism is indefensible. Making blanket assumptions about people in light of their ethnic or cultural heritage is an unwarranted refusal to take seriously their particularity and to allow them to transcend stereotypes. Claims about what “the Jews” or “the Palestinians” want or do or believe or intend should be treated with persistent suspicion.

2. Ascribing collective guilt is never acceptable. Unjust acts are committed by particular people who are themselves responsible for their own actions. Groups don’t make choices or shoulder blame, so it’s unacceptable to denounce some people because of the misdeeds of others. There’s no general reason to imagine that a particular Israeli Jew is in any way responsible for the behavior of Israeli politicians or military personnel, or that a particular Palestinian is in any way responsible for the behavior of Palestinian politicians or military personnel.

3. Most people aren’t fundamentally motivated by bigotry and prejudice. Instead, when they engage in conflict, they’re pursuing comprehensible goals—for security, for prosperity, for redress—even when they’re employing clearly unjust means. Bigotry and prejudice are real, and despicable, but they’re not at the heart of most people’s choices.

4. Aggressive force is unacceptable. Initiating the use of force against others violates the minimum requisite of civilized interaction. Force may reasonably be used against people’s bodies or possessions only to prevent, defend against, or secure compensation for an unjust attack (and this means that only the minimum amount of force reasonably required for these purposes may be employed). By contrast, it may not reasonably be employed to exact revenge or to intimidate. Thus, deliberately targeting noncombatants is unequivocally wrong.

5. Discrimination in the use of force is essential. Even someone who is justified in using force—and I make no claims here about the justification for any instance of the use of force in the current conflict—acts unreasonably when failing to discriminate between legitimate targets—in general, those who are engaging or actively threatening to engage in the unjust use of force and who may thus reasonably be stopped—and everyone else. Failing to target noncombatants isn’t enough, however. It’s also essential to avoid imposing risks of harm on them unreasonably. For some libertarians, this will mean avoiding all collateral damage. But I hope that even those who do not take this position will agree that I act unreasonably in imposing the risk of collateral harm on others, even in the course of using force defensively, when I would be unwilling to see my loved ones or myself subjected to similar risk in comparable circumstances.

These principles hardly resolve disputes over the current conflict. I hope, though, that they can provide some common ground for participants in the conversation.

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Beyond Bossism Tue, 13 Nov 2012 19:32:39 +0000 Professors Horwitz and Shapiro both raise helpful, thoughtful questions about the persistence of hierarchy in a stateless society. I can’t, obviously, demonstrate praxeologically that there will be significantly fewer hierarchies...

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Professors Horwitz and Shapiro both raise helpful, thoughtful questions about the persistence of hierarchy in a stateless society.

I can’t, obviously, demonstrate praxeologically that there will be significantly fewer hierarchies in the workplaces of a freed market—that we should definitely expect more self-employment and a greater proportion of partnerships and cooperatives in a free economy. But let me note some reasons to think this might be the case.

Large, hierarchical firms seem likely to be beset by the incentive and knowledge problems that complicate the lives of state central planners.

The larger an organization, the more likely it is that managers will lack crucial information. This is both because there will be multiple layers separating various actors with relevant information (with institutional pressures impeding accuracy) and because there will be no system of prices encoding the information and usable for calculation.

In addition, the principal-agent problem besets large firms at multiple levels, fostering inefficiencies as workers—whether senior managers or front-line employees—seek their own goals rather than firm profitability.

Thus, it seems fairly clear that, all other things being equal, the smaller and flatter a firm is, the better the information available to participants will be. The more production decisions are based on actual market prices rather than on simulated intra-firm transfer prices, the more efficient and responsive to reality they’re likely to be. And the more a worker has skin in the economic game, the more likely she will be to make prudent, efficient, customer-responsive decisions.

It might seem, then, that smaller, flatter firms could be expected to out-compete larger, more hierarchical ones. But we don’t see lots of smaller, flatter firms in the marketplace. Does this mean that, contrary to expectations, larger firms really are more efficient?

Whether this is so will depend in significant part on empirical questions that can’t be sorted out a priori. But it does seem as if several factors in our economy might tend to help large firms ignore the diseconomies of scale that would otherwise render them unsustainably inefficient. Tax rules and regulations tend to encourage capital concentration and thus increased firm size. Subsidies reduce the costs inefficiently large firms might otherwise confront—and large firms can more readily mobilize the resources needed to enable them to extract wealth from the political process than small firms. And workers often lack access to the resources needed to start firms precisely because of state-sanctioned theft and state-secured privilege. Eliminating these factors seems likely to make alternatives to the large corporate firm significantly more viable.

And if they’re more viable, they can be expected to be more common. Freedom from arbitrary authority is a consumer good. Given the disgust and frustration with which many people view the petty tyrannies of the contemporary workplace, I suspect it’s a consumer good many people would like to purchase. At present, the price is high; there are very few opportunities to work in partnerships or cooperatives or to choose self-employment. So the question is: what might reduce the price?

The price is partly affected by the relative frequency of hierarchical versus non-hierarchical workplaces. So eliminating props for hierarchy ought to put more alternatives on the table. At the same time, people often don’t choose such alternatives because of the risks associated with doing so. Saying good-bye to corporate employment means taking responsibility for one’s own medical care and retirement (if, of course, you’re a worker who even has these options in the first place, as many purportedly part-time workers don’t), requires one to front the capital required to make start-up operations possible, and forces one to confront the spectre of unemployment if one’s start-up business fails. But medical care and retirement are associated with corporate employment primarily because of the current tax system; and medical care, in particular, would be more affordable by far in the absence of state regulation and state-driven cartelization, so that the challenge of caring for one’s health in connection with a mutual-aid network, say, would be much less daunting than at present. Start-up capital would be more available if state-confiscated resources were marketized and state-engrossed land available for homesteading, and less necessary, in any case, if state regulations didn’t drive up capitalization requirements. And unemployment would be more affordable if state regulations didn’t raise the minimum cost of living, and could be manageable by means of the support offered by mutual aid.

Furthermore, it’s not clear to me that it would be impossible to raise money in equity markets and from investment banks for partnerships, cooperatives, and solo ventures. There are ways to secure investments that don’t involve participation in governance—and of course significant quantities of stock for sale today don’t necessarily come with voting rights.

Thus, people who wanted to opt for boss-free workplaces would find it easy to do so in the absence of state-driven props for hierarchy and state-driven barriers to self-employment and employment in partnerships and cooperatives. And the fact that they did so, so that boss-free options were increasingly visible and numerous, would have consequences for boss-dominated workplaces, too. The availability of alternatives that offered people more dignity, more predictability, more security, and more opportunities for participation in decision-making would exert market pressure on conventional corporate firms, encouraging them to make theoretically boss-dominated workplaces more like those at other kinds of firms. The differences wouldn’t disappear, but they might be meaningfully reduced.

In addition, boss-dominated firms might experience greater pressure to democratize in virtue of unionization. To the extent that the state’s bargain with unions has been, all things considered, bad for collective action in the workplace, eliminating state labor regulation could open up opportunities for Wobbly-style direct action that could increase unionization and offer workers resultingly more extensive workplace protection. Again, even in non-unionized firms, there would be market pressure to mimic at least some features of unionized firms, both to avoid losing workers to those firms and to forestall union organizing efforts.

Moral suasion typically shouldn’t be seen as the primary driver of social change. But active advocacy on behalf of workplace dignity and fairness could obviously lead to changes in social norms and expectations that would further reduce the perceived legitimacy of bossism and encourage the flourishing of alternatives.

A free society wouldn’t and couldn’t eliminate investor-owned or boss-dominated firms—nor should it, not only because direct, violent interference with these patterns of ownership and control would be unjust but also because workers might often benefit from the ability to shift risk onto employers and investors. But eliminating state-secured privilege and remedying state-sanctioned aggression could create significantly greater opportunities for self-employment and work in partnerships and cooperatives.

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The Distinctiveness of Left-Libertarianism Mon, 05 Nov 2012 14:00:23 +0000 [Editors Note: This essay is part of BHL’s Symposium on Left-Libertarianism. Click on the link to see the other essays.] Left-libertarianism in the relevant sense is a position that is simultaneously...

The post The Distinctiveness of Left-Libertarianism appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

[Editors Note: This essay is part of BHL’s Symposium on Left-Libertarianism. Click on the link to see the other essays.]

Left-libertarianism in the relevant sense is a position that is simultaneously leftist and libertarian. It features leftist commitments to:

  • engaging in class analysis and class struggle;
  • opposing corporate privilege;
  • undermining structural poverty
  • embracing shared responsibility for challenging economic vulnerability;
  • affirming wealth redistribution;
  • supporting grass-roots empowerment;
  • humanizing worklife;
  • protecting civil liberties;
  • opposing the drug war;
  • supporting the rights of sex workers;
  • challenging police violence;
  • promoting environmental well-being and animal welfare;
  • fostering children’s liberation;
  • rejecting racism, sexism, heterosexism, nativism, and national chauvinism; and
  • resisting war, imperialism and colonialism.

Simultaneously, it features libertarian commitments to:

A Leftist Position

 A leftist position is marked, I suggest, by concern with subordination, exclusion, deprivation, and war. Left-libertarians whole-heartedly embrace these leftist concerns. But left-libertarians may differ from other leftists insofar as they:

  • affirm the independent value of robust protections for just possessory claims—as, among other things, an expression of and a means of implementing the leftist opposition to subordination and leftist support for widely shared prosperity, but also as constraints on the means used to pursue some leftist goals;
  • make different predictions about establishing a genuinely freed market (rejecting the view that such a market would be a corporate playground);
  • offer different explanations of the origins and persistence of objectionable social phenomena (so that, for instance, state-secured privileges for elites, rather than market dynamics, account for persistent poverty and workplace subordination); and
  • urge different remedies for these phenomena (characteristically, a combination of remedying state-perpetrated and state-tolerated injustice, and fostering voluntary, solidaristic action).

Left-libertarians share with other leftists the awareness that there are predictable winners and losers in society and that being sorted into the two camps isn’t primarily a matter of luck or skill. But left-libertarians emphasize that it’s not a consequence of market exchange, either: it’s a reflection of state-committed, state-threatened, and state-tolerated aggression. As long as there’s a state apparatus in place, the wealthy can capture it, using it to gain power and more wealth, while the politically powerful can use it to acquire wealth and more power. The ruling class—made up of wealthy people empowered by the state, together with high-level state functionaries—is defined by its relationship with the state, its essential enabler. Opposing this class thus means opposing the state.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists the recognition that big businesses enjoy substantial privileges that benefit them while harming the public. But they stress that the proper response to corporate privilege is to eliminate subsidies, bailouts, cartelizing regulations, and other state-driven features of the legal, political, and economic environments that prop up corporate power rather than retaining the privileges while increasing state regulatory involvement in the economy—which can be expected to create new opportunities for elite manipulation, leave corporate power intact, stifle upstart alternatives to corporate behemoths, and impoverish the public.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists both outrage at structural poverty and the recognition that the wealthy and well connected help to shape the rules of the economic and political game in ways that preserve their wealth and influence while making and keeping others poor. But left-libertarians emphasize that poverty isn’t created or perpetuated by the freed market, but rather by large-scale theft and by the privileges and constraints—from licensing requirements to intellectual property rules to land-use controls to building codes—that prevent people from using their skills and assets effectively or dramatically raise the cost of doing so. Eliminating structural poverty means eliminating state-secured privilege and reversing state-sanctioned theft.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists both compassionate concern with economic vulnerability and the recognition that vulnerable people can’t be left to fend for themselves, that shared responsibility for meeting their needs is morally and practically essential. But they stress that mutual aid arrangements have dealt successfully with economic vulnerability. They also emphasize that such arrangements could be expected to be more successful absent taxation (people can and will spend their own money on poverty relief, but they’re likely to do so much more efficiently and intelligently than state officials deploying tax revenues), poverty-producing state regulations, and limitations on choice in areas like medical care.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists the conviction that the redistribution of wealth can be appropriate or even required. But they deny that redistribution may reasonably be undertaken to bring about a particular pattern of wealth distribution, that it may be effected through aggressive interference with people’s justly acquired possessions, or that it is properly the work of the state. Rather, they suggest, redistribution ought to be effected by the legal system (as it restores to people resources unjustly taken from them or their predecessors in interest, as it makes assets stolen by the state or acquired unjustly by its cronies available for homesteading, and as it denies validity to state-secured privileges that preserve the economic positions of the well-connected while keeping others poor), through solidaristic mutual aid, and through the tendency of a market liberated from privilege to “eat the rich.”

Left-libertarians share with many other leftists—New Leftists and Greens, say—the conviction that decision-making should be decentralized, that people should be able to participate to the maximum feasible degree in shaping decisions that affect their lives. But they maintain that this means that, against a backdrop of secure pre-political rights, all association should be consensual. Top-down, forcible decision-making is likely to be marred by the fallibility of decision-makers and their tendency to pursue self-interested goals at the public’s expense. Small-scale political units are more humanizing than large-scale ones; but decentralization must finally be decentralization to the level of the particular person.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists the realization that hierarchical workplaces are disempowering and stultifying, and that supporting workplace hierarchies is thus often morally objectionable. But they stress that hierarchical workplaces are more likely given state action. Hierarchies limit the ability of workers to use their knowledge and skills to respond flexibly and efficiently to production and distribution challenges and to meet customer needs. The inefficiencies of hierarchies would make them less common aspects of worklife, and increase the odds that people would be able to choose alternatives offering more freedom and dignity (self-employment or work in partnerships or cooperatives), in the absence of privileges that lowered the costs of maintaining hierarchies and raised the costs of opting out of them (as by making self-employment more costly, and so more risky). State action also redirects wealth to those interested in seeing that they and people like them rule the workplace; and the state’s union regulations limit the ways unions can challenge workplace hierarchies.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists a commitment to civil liberties. But they stress that the state is a predictable foe of these liberties and that the most effective way to safeguard them is to protect people’s control over their bodies and justly acquired possessions.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists a conviction that the drug war is destructive, racist, and absurdly expensive. But they emphasize that the best protection against prohibitionist campaigns of all sorts is to respect people’s control over their bodies and justly acquired possessions, and that aggression-based limits on all disfavored but voluntary exchanges should be disallowed.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists a concern for the well-being of sex workers. But they note that state actors engage in violence against sex workers and that state policies, including criminalization and regulation, create or intensify the risks associated with sex work.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists a passionate opposition to police violence and corruption. But they emphasize that this is not simply a reflection of poor oversight or the presence in police agencies of “a few bad apples” but instead a reflection of the structural positions of such agencies as guarantors of state power and of the lack of accountability created both by the existence of substantial de facto differences in standards for the use of force by police officers and others and by the monopolistic status of police agencies.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists persistent concerns with environmental quality and animal welfare. But they stress that environmental harms can be prevented and remedied without state involvement, as long as robust legal protections for bodies and justly acquired possessions are in place; that state action is not required to protect non-human animals from abuse; and that state actions and policies are often directly responsible for protecting polluters, promoting environmental harms, and injuring non-human animals.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists a commitment to the well-being of children. But left-libertarians underscore the importance of respecting children’s rights to control their own bodies and possessions—rejecting both attempts to treat children as their parents’ property and paternalistic state action that interferes unreasonably with children’s freedom—and emphasize the degree to which the state is not the protector of children but is responsible in multiple ways for significant threats to their freedom and well-being, notably through compulsory schooling.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists the awareness that racism, sexism, heterosexism, nativism, and national chauvinism are morally repugnant. But they emphasize the crucial role of the state in creating, perpetuating, and capitalizing on these forms of unfairness while stressing that eliminating the props the state provides for prejudice-driven conduct can play a vital role in combating discrimination. Suspicious of the state and respectful of just possessory claims, they stress non-aggressive solidaristic action as the appropriate means of dealing with persistent discrimination. They promote marriage equality while seeking the departure of the state from the marriage business. And, while joining other leftists in opposing xenophobia, they stress that all borders should be razed to enable untrammeled migration.

Left-libertarians share with other leftists a passionate opposition to war and empire and a concern for the victims of both, including native peoples across the globe. But they emphasize the links between warfare, imperialism, and colonialism and the state’s continuing infringements on civil and economic liberties—not to mention ruling-class mischief. Interference with people’s peaceful conduct within the state’s borders is objectionable for many of the same reasons as war beyond the state’s borders. As a form of enslavement, conscription is unjust. The freedom to trade tends to reduce the probability of war. And warfare is a likely consequence of the operation of the state, which seeks predictably to expand its influence by force. Leftist opposition to war should be seen as entailing opposition to the state per se.

A Libertarian Position

A libertarian position is marked, I suggest, by support for equality of authority; for robust protections for just possessory claims; and for peaceful, voluntary cooperation, including cooperation in and through exchange. Left-libertarians share these commitments. But left-libertarians may differ from other libertarians insofar as they:

  • make different predictions about the likely effects of liberating people and eliminating the institutionalized aggression that prevents them from cooperating peacefully and voluntarily (stressing the contingency of hierarchical workplaces, for instance);
  • call attention to particular generally accepted consequences of building a free society (say, by emphasizing not only freedom but also solidarity, diversity, and poverty relief as among the outcomes of eliminating state-secured privilege);
  • tell different historical or social-scientific stories about the causes and dynamics of social phenomena (so that the extant distribution of wealth is seen as a product of state action rather than individual virtue); and
  • treat certain kinds of social phenomena (arbitrary discrimination, for instance) as morally objectionable and argue for non-aggressive but concerted responses to these phenomena.

Left-libertarians share with other libertarians a commitment to equality of authority—to the view that there is no natural right to rule and that non-consensual authority is presumptively illegitimate. This egalitarianism naturally issues in a commitment to anarchism, since state authority is non-consensual. But left-libertarians emphasize that the commitment to moral equality that underlies belief in equality of authority should entail the rejection of subordination and exclusion on the basis of nationality, gender, race, sexual orientation, workplace status, or other irrelevant characteristics. While left-libertarians agree with other libertarians that people’s decisions to avoid associating with others because of such characteristics shouldn’t be interfered with aggressively, left-libertarians emphasize that such decisions can often still be subjected to moral critique and should be opposed using non-aggressive means.

Left-libertarians share with other libertarians a commitment to robust protections for just possessory claims to physical objects. But they reject “intellectual property” and emphasize that possessory protections shouldn’t cover objects acquired with the decisive aid of the state, or otherwise through the use of violence, or to those clearly abandoned. They make clear that there are just limits to the things people can do to protect their possessions (becoming a trespasser doesn’t automatically make one liable to violence). They note that whether claims to land should be held by individuals or groups can only be determined in light of the economics of particular situations and the ways particular claims are established. And they stress that, while just possessory claims should be respected, it’s quite possible to oppose aggressive interference with someone’s use of her possessions in a given way while challenging that use non-aggressively.

Left-libertarians share with other libertarians a commitment to a model of social life rooted in peaceful, voluntary cooperation. But they differ with other libertarians in emphasizing that, while force may justly be used only in response to aggression, peaceful, voluntary cooperation is a moral ideal with implications that go beyond simple non-aggression. Left-libertarians urge that associations of all kinds be structured in ways that affirm the freedom, dignity, and individuality of all participants, and thus allow participants the option not only of exit but also of voice—of influencing the associations’ trajectories and exercising as much individual discretion within them as possible.

While rejecting capitalism, left-libertarians share with other libertarians an enthusiastic recognition of the value of markets. They stress that both parties to a voluntary exchange participate because they prefer it and believe it will benefit them; that prices provide excellent guides for producers and distributors (far better than anything a central planner could offer); and that people should internalize the costs as well as the benefits of their choices. But they emphasize that background injustice can distort markets and constrain traders’ options. They also note that commercial exchange does not exhaust the sphere of peaceful, voluntary cooperation and that people can and should cooperate in multiple ways—playful, solidaristic, compassionate—that need not be organized along commercial lines.

A Transformed Vision

Left-libertarianism embraces and transforms leftist and libertarian ideals.

Many leftists and libertarians already share some commitments: opposition to war, empire, and corporate privilege; support for civil liberties and grass-roots empowerment. However, many leftists and libertarians also embrace, and often share, various mistaken assumptions.

Left-libertarians challenge these assumptions while embracing the commitments leftists and libertarians share. They seek to demonstrate that it’s reasonable both to oppose structural poverty and to favor freed markets, to seek both workplace dignity and robust protections for just possessory claims, to embrace freedom of association while opposing arbitrary discrimination, to foster both peace and economic liberty, to link rejection of war and imperialism with support for peaceful, voluntary cooperation at all levels.

By endorsing leftist and libertarian concerns and challenging assumptions that make it difficult for leftists to embrace libertarianism and for libertarians to become leftists, left-libertarianism offers a provocative vision of an appealing politics and a world marked by greater freedom and fairness.

Thanks to my colleagues in the Alliance of the Libertarian Left/Center for a Stateless Society/Molinari Society, to Anthony Gregory, and to David Gordon, among others, for reviewing earlier versions of this essay. It is markedly better in virtue of the feedback I have received, though I, of course, remain responsible for its flaws.

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Book Announcement: Anarchy and Legal Order Wed, 26 Sep 2012 17:10:22 +0000 Later this fall, Cambridge University Press will be releasing Anarchy and Legal Order: Law and Politics for a Stateless Society (pre-order on Amazon). Here’s the table of contents: Preface xiii Introduction: Embodying...

The post Book Announcement: Anarchy and Legal Order appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Later this fall, Cambridge University Press will be releasing Anarchy and Legal Order: Law and Politics for a Stateless Society (pre-order on Amazon). Here’s the table of contents:

Preface xiii

Introduction: Embodying Freedom 1

1. Laying Foundations 7

I. A Reasonable Conception of the Good Life Will Involve an Understanding of Both Welfare and Right Action 7

II. Welfare Is Multidimensional 8

III. Reasonably Seeking to Flourish or to Help Another to Flourish Requires Recognition, Fairness, and Respect 25

IV. A Flourishing Life is a Reasonable Life 40

2. Rejecting Aggression 44

I. Acting Reasonably Means Avoiding Aggression against Others and Their Justly Acquired Possessions 44

II. Aggression Involves Unreasonably Injuring Others’ Bodies or Interfering with Their Just Possessory Interests 44

III. The Requirements of Practical Reasonableness Preclude Many Choices Causing Injuries to Basic Aspects of Welfare 45

IV. The Principle of Fairness Provides Good Reason to Avoid Interfering with Others’ Justly Acquired Possessions 49

V. Just Possessory Claims Do Not Extend to Other Sentients or to Abstract Patterns 89

VI. Arguments for Exceptionless Possessory Claims Seem Unpersuasive 132

VII. Key Requirements of Practical Reasonableness Can Be Encapsulated in the Nonaggression Maxim 153

3. Safeguarding Cooperation 157

I. The State Is Inimical to Peaceful, Voluntary Cooperation 157

II. Peaceful, Voluntary Cooperation Is an Aspect of and a Crucial Precondition for a Flourishing Life 157

III. State Actors’ Refusal to Cooperate with Others on a Peaceful, Voluntary Basis Is Highly Problematic 159

IV. The State Is Not Needed to Ensure Peaceful, Voluntary Cooperation 165

V. The State Is Not Needed to Ensure Peaceful, Voluntary Cooperation in the Production of Crucial Public Goods 184

VI. The State is Dangerous 208

VII. Embracing Peaceful, Voluntary Cooperation Means Rejecting the State 232

Appendix: The Fact That General Preemptive Defense Is a Public Good Does Not Serve as a Plausible Justifi cation for the State 234

4. Enforcing Law 242

I. Forcibly Imposing Legal Requirements in a Stateless Society Is Not Objectionable on the Same Grounds as Aggression by the State 242

II. There Might Seem to be a Tension between Opposing the State and Supporting the Idea of Law 243

III. Legal Codes in a Stateless Society Would Have Varied Sources and Contents, but Might Exhibit Common Features 244

IV. Resolving Disputes between Participants in Structured Legal Regimes Need Not Involve State-Like Injustice 249

V. The Reality of Moral Constraints on Legal Rules Would Render the Notion of Consent Noncircular and Would Be Compatible with Legal Polycentricity 250

VI. A Regime Could Forcibly Resolve Confl icts with Outlaws without Becoming Morally Indistinguishable from a State 257

VII. A Legal Regime in a Stateless Society Would Be Morally Distinguishable from a State in Important Ways 261

5. Rectifying Injury 263

I. Just Legal Regimes in a Stateless Society Can Effectively Prevent, End, and Remedy Injuries 263

II. Just Legal Regimes Would Use Civil Rather than Criminal Justice Mechanisms to Rectify Injuries 263

III. A Just Legal Regime in a Stateless Society Could Rectify Environmentally Mediated Injuries as well as Injuries to Nonhuman Animals and Vulnerable Human Persons 302

IV. Just Legal Regimes Can Rectify Injuries without the Involvement of the State 318

6. Liberating Society 320

I. Just Legal Rules and Institutions in a Stateless Society Can Facilitate Liberating Social Change Using Nonaggressive Means 320

II. Techniques for Fostering Social Change Need Not Be Aggressive 321

III. Just Legal Rules and Institutions in a Stateless Society Would Further Wealth Redistribution 328

IV. Rectifying Injustice Can Help to Create Alternatives to Workplace Hierarchies 351

V. A Stateless Society’s Legal Order Would Foster the Emergence of a Free Culture 362

VI. Just Legal Rules in a Stateless Society Will Conduce to Positive but Nonaggressive Social Change 376

7. Situating Liberation 378

I. Just Legal Rules and Institutions in a Stateless Society Will

Embody Leftist, Anticapitalist, and Socialist Values 378

II. The Project of Creating a Stateless Society with Just Legal Rules and Institutions Is a Leftist Project 378

III. The Project of Building a Stateless Society with Just Legal Rules and Institutions Is an Anticapitalist Project 386

IV. The Project of Fostering a Stateless Society with Just Legal Rules Can Reasonably Be Described as Socialist 397

V. The Model of Stateless Law Outlined Here Embodies a Distinctively Leftist, Anticapitalist, and Socialist Antistatism 405

Conclusion: Ordering Anarchy 407

Index 411

About the Author 415

As will be apparent, the book is an attempt to explore, with specific reference to law, the left-libertarian project in which I’ve been engaged along with Roderick, Kevin, Charles, Sheldon, and others at C4SS.

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What about Ron Paul? Wed, 21 Dec 2011 21:23:27 +0000 If you say you’re against the state these days, someone’s sure to ask you how your views parallel Ron Paul’s. The frequency of these sorts of conversations seem likely to...

The post What about Ron Paul? appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

If you say you’re against the state these days, someone’s sure to ask you how your views parallel Ron Paul’s. The frequency of these sorts of conversations seem likely to increase if poll wizard Nate Silver is right that the Texas Representative will win in the Iowa Republican caucus.

I’m sitting out this year’s electoral battles: I’m not a principled non-voter (though I’m skeptical about electoral politics), but my friend Brad Spangler has agreed to promote my book, The Conscience of an Anarchist, in connection with his Vote for Nobody campaign. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions about the election season.

To begin with, anyone who’s derailing proponents of the corporate/warfare/administrative/national-security state like Willard “Mitt” Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry deserves three cheers for performing a public service. Until now, the Republican field has been dominated by warmongers and corporatists outdoing themselves in their support for state thuggery.

And, in case you haven’t noticed, the same thing is true on the Democratic side, except that there are no alternatives there. Barack Obama clearly wants to serve George W. Bush’s third term. His record of support for war, for the various abuses of the national security state—including surveillance, assassination, secrecy, and indefinite detention, and for bailouts and other forms of corporatism make him largely indistinguishable from his predecessor. And his willingness to legitimate evils that could previously have been framed as GOP aberrations as the products of a bipartisan consensus is especially troubling.

A Gingrich, Romney, or Perry term in the White House would be a disaster. So would another Obama term.

On many of the issues that I care about most, Ron Paul stands tall. New Left icon Tom Hayden writes: “Paul opposes the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He opposes the empire of military bases. He opposes Wall Street thievery, tax subsidies for oil companies, the suppression of WikiLeaks, the drug war and the criminalization of marijuana. Those positions might just save America.” And Hayden is surely on to something.

Politicians are most unlikely to save America. But by far the worst thing governments do is to make war, and Paul’s campaign is committed to dramatically reducing the chances that the US government’s awesome power will be used in war-making.

And of course he’s right about his other signature issue, too: as long as there’s a central bank, the state will use it to fund otherwise unsupportable wars. Ending the Fed is a crucial step toward peace.

He’s opposed to bailouts and other forms of corporate privilege. And he’s acknowledged the legitimacy of many of the Occupy movement’s concerns.

But while positions like these are worth affirming, that doesn’t mean that Paul’s candidacy is an unmixed blessing for those of us on the anti-state left. For Paul is, after all, a self-proclaimed conservative.

His stances regarding immigration, abortion, and same-sex marriage are wrong, and he needs to be much more clearly radical where other issues, like racism, poverty, and health care, as well as IP and worker freedom, are concerned.

It is unclear to me precisely what Paul actually thinks about immigration, but it seems apparent that he is open to at least some immigration restrictions. Anyone who believes in the freedom to work, who regards borders as arbitrary lines drawn by politicians, and who sees immigration freedom as a key weapon in the real war on poverty should have no time for nativist or nationalist stances on this (or any other) issue.

Paul’s conservative positions on abortion and same-sex marriage aren’t conservative enough for many on the religious right. But they’re still mistaken.

He’d like to see the legality of abortion decided at the state level—an option I fear would lead to lots of victimless crime prosecutions. And he has supported the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which has had devastating consequences for same-sex couples. (Of course all levels of government should get out of the marriage business, but turning marriage into a private contractual relationships will pose serious problems for people in same-sex relationships until relationship status stops mattering entirely to government agencies.)

As a leftist, I believe in abortion rights and marriage equality. And I believe it’s important to challenge not only bad laws and policies regarding these matters but also the moral convictions and cultural values that underly them.

I am confident that Ron Paul is not himself a racist. But the controversy about the racially inflammatory language in some of the newsletters his office mailed out in decades past, and the racist and anti-immigrant flavor of some immigration materials Paul campaigners have distributed more recently, is sure to raise its head again now that his campaign is attracting more attention. Paul has sometimes reached out to unsavory, even racist allies in the past, employing a strategy I find deeply troubling and utterly unwarranted. I believe he needs to repudiate this strategy while reemphasizing his own principled opposition to racism.

As an anarchist, I believe the state is unjust, unnecessary, and dangerous. So I’d certainly like to see it reduced in size rather than expanded. And Ron Paul is actually interested in making the bloated behemoth that is the United States government smaller (though he still seems mistakenly to treat it as legitimate in principle). But I think it’s vital to proceed dialectically, in full awareness of the interconnections among various forms of oppression. The state is excellent at breaking people’s legs and then offering them crutches (thanks to Harry Browne for the analogy). In a sane world, it would do neither; but taking away the crutches while leaving the state’s leg-breaking activities in place or unremedied isn’t sane, or fair, either.

And if Paul were a candidate on the left, he would be very clear about this point when discussing issues like racial discrimination, poverty relief, and health care.

The full elimination of state-secured privilege, the provision of remedies for past injustice, and a continued program of non-violent protest could have undermined entrenched white dominance in the South in the absence of the state action a gentle Paul critic like Hayden would like to promote; you don’t need state action to promote racial justice and inclusion. Eliminating state-secured privilege and rectifying the effects of violent dispossession, subsidy, and land engrossment could deal with the problem of structural poverty, while mutual aid networks could provide ongoing economic security in the state’s absence. The same sort of approach could ensure the widespread availability of health care services and make them dramatically more affordable than those on offer today.

There are clearly alternatives to state action in response to these problems. A leftist anti-statism would emphasize them in a way that Paul has not.

And as far as I know, Paul hasn’t noted the ways in which monopolistic intellectual property privileges boost corporate power at the public’s expense, or the ways in which the state empowers employers at the expense of workers or makes centralized, hierarchical corporations more economically viable than they would be without politically secured support. A leftist campaign would address these kinds of concerns head-on. And it would take a firm stand for markets, but against capitalism.

Ron Paul is, as far as I can tell, a kind and decent person who has said important things—things leftists should endorse. Anti-state leftists would do well to affirm Paul’s positions on war, civil liberties, the drug war, corporatism, and the national security state, while challenging his stances on abortion, immigration, and same-sex marriage and his cultural conservatism and urging him to radicalize his views of remedies for racial injustice, of poverty, of IP, of worker freedom, and of capitalism.

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Violence, Wars, and States Sun, 04 Sep 2011 02:33:00 +0000 [UPDATE: Due to an error, comments were disabled on the original version of this post.  It is being reposted with comments enabled.] Violence is bad news. Individuals should think twice...

The post Violence, Wars, and States appeared first on Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

[UPDATE: Due to an error, comments were disabled on the original version of this post.  It is being reposted with comments enabled.]

Violence is bad news. Individuals should think twice about the use of force, even for defensive purposes, and states should avoid war-making even more thoroughly.



Ultimately, moral analysis needs to focus on the actions of particular people. People are moral actors; groups and institutions aren’t. It can be useful to talk about the behavior of groups and institutions, but ultimately this behavior can be analyzed as the (sometimes) coordinated behavior of individuals. It’s individuals who make choices, and it’s finally choices (I would argue—but not here) that are the loci of moral assessment.

As a general matter, it is (I believe) reasonable for individuals to use force to stop unjust attacks against themselves and others. And there is no reason to suppose that individuals can’t or shouldn’t cooperate with each other in the course of doing this.

It doesn’t follow, of course, that it is always reasonable for them to do so in a particular situation. Most importantly, this may be because noncombatants may be injured in the course of an action involving the defensive use of force. It’s not enough to avoid targeting noncombatants. If harming them is a by-produce or side-effect of an otherwise reasonable defensive action, this has to be taken into account.

Roughly, it seems to me, there is something unreasonable about subjecting someone to a risk of harm—even in the course of an otherwise reasonable defensive action—when one wouldn’t be willing to see oneself or a loved one subjected to a comparable risk of harm in relevantly similar circumstances. What makes your life more valuable than that of the potential victim in this case? There seems to be a morally troubling arbitrariness about a willingness to tolerate collateral harm to strangers when one wouldn’t judge it acceptable to suffer the same kind of harm itself. (Let me dispose of a red herring here: of course I might take special care to avoid harming my loved ones if I were the one subjecting them to harm; the question is whether the collateral harm I’m considering causing to strangers

would be permissible under a rule about collateral harm in such cases I’d want to see everyone follow with respect to strangers.)

This doesn’t mean that causing collateral damage is never acceptable, but it seems clear to me that it would very frequently not be reasonable to cause foreseen but unintended harms to noncombatants.

Avoiding the risk of collateral damage is obviously not the only reason an individual might choose not to engage in an otherwise justifiable defensive use of force. There might be long-term consequences of choosing force—say, the persistence of vendettas, or misunderstanding on the part of others—that might be worth avoiding, just as there might be long-term consequences of avoiding the use of force when one needn’t have avoided it—increased possibilities for reconciliation, for instance—that might be worth embracing. But these don’t change the fact that, for individuals, acting alone or cooperating voluntarily, the defensive use of force can sometimes be appropriate.


State violence is a different matter, for multiple reasons.

Lack of discrimination. Because state actors are rarely responsible for tortious conduct committed in war-time, they are all too likely to cause indiscriminate harm to noncombatants. Sometimes, of course, as in the cases of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, noncombatants are actually targeted. But even when they’re not, they are harmed with alarming frequency—far more often than would be the case if state actors actually asked themselves whether they would be willing that they or their loved ones be subjected to the risks of collateral harm they are imposing on others. This is especially true when state actors opt for long distance bombardment (whether from cannons, airplanes, or drones) as an alternative to on-the-ground engagement. Bombardment obviously has the potential to decrease casualties on the side of those responsible for it, and so to reduce drains on the state’s coffers and political problems for leaders overseeing war efforts; but it is morally dubious in many cases because of its relatively indiscriminate character.

Blowback. War breeds resentment—among those whose loved ones are killed, whose possessions are destroyed or stolen, whose societies come as a result of war to be dominated by autocrats. And this resentment, obviously, can lead to further violence.

The growth of tyranny. State actors’ perceived need to mobilize and consolidate domestic support for war leads to the implementation of repressive measures, including censorship, propaganda, torture, surveillance, and due process violations of various kinds. Not only are these troubling on their own—they also are all too likely to persist after war’s official end.

Basis in conscription. State-made wars are very frequently fought by conscripts. Conscription is a species of temporary enslavement, and employing it seems to be an unjust means to achieve any objective, even a potentially noble one.

Deeply problematic motivations. State actors tend, for predictable reasons, to undertake wars for dubious reasons—for national or personal glory, for imperial dominance, or to feather the nests of elite cronies (not that good motives somehow justify the destructiveness of war).

Undesirable achievements. The motives are bad enough. But too often, of course, at least some state actors succeed in using war to extend their governments’ capacities for control and exploitation over others. High-flown rhetoric often masks imperial ambition, and would-be empire-builders are happy to take advantage of opportunities provided by idealists in order to pursue their own dubious goals.

Unintended consequences. Even when war-makers’ motives are noble (as I doubt they almost ever are), lack of knowledge about the situation on the ground and the inherent unpredictability of the future trip up efforts to do good, a fact that circumstances in Libyaserve to highlight.

The growth of the military industrial complex. War-making by states helps to birth all-too-intimate relationships between politicians, military leaders, and economic elites happily dependent on the money provided to pay for military equipment and other resources. The wealth siphoned off by these elites is often misspent even from the perspectives of those who favor war in principle, given the wastefulness and inefficiency of war production undertaken in tandem with the state. But it also gives them more access to and more influence over politicians, enabling them both to press for non-war-related privileges and also, and even more troublingly, to push for continued preparedness for war during peace-time and even, all too frequently, for new hostilities.

Funding through taxation. State-made wars are funded using taxes extracted from the unwilling—which ought to be troubling because nothing entitles the state to claim anyone’s resources at gunpoint.

Funding through inflation. Since raising taxes overtly is politically unpopular, wars have increasingly come to be funded using inflationary money-creation by state central banks. This ultimately functions much like a tax, destroying the value of people’s savings and exerting distorting effects throughout the economy.

Failure to ensure that decision-makers internalize costs. Funding through taxation or money-creation is also troubling because, since state actors aren’t covering the costs of warfare themselves, it will be tempting for them to initiate wars unwisely, without any regard for their likely costs. Once they have begun wars, they can be expected to overspend: they won’t face pressures to economize. And of course this will lead those who desire wars and are responsible for them to continue these wars long after they would do so if the costs were internalized.

Cronyism. War leaders responsible for conflicts for which they and their cronies can force others to  to pay will confront incentives to use the vast sums of money that states at war typically claim to enrich those very cronies cronies. Thus, not only will ordinary people be despoiled to fund politicians’ war efforts, but resources will be misdirected from the uses to which ordinary people would prefer to put them.

Unmanageable scale. Tax- or central-bank-driven funding for warfare also means that it will be more likely to be carried on on a large scale—with more troops, more weapons, more ambitious goals, and more willingness to remain engaged for longer periods. One practical effect is that destruction will be increased. Another is that mistakes will be more likely—with potentially awful consequences. I don’t mean targeting mistakes or other tactical errors, per se. Rather, my concern is with long-term objectives. A group of volunteers a lathe Abraham Lincoln Brigade might well seek to turn back a tyrant; state actors can delude themselves into thinking that they can remake a region of the world. Bigger military undertakings leave more room for errors of this kind, and the concomitant commitment of resources in utterly irrational ways in support of such mistakes.

Misallocation of resources. The vast cost of state-driven wars leads to a massive misdirection of resources from productive to unproductive uses, minimizing opportunities for investment in productive activities that provide people with things they actually want and need.

There are thus multiple reasons for states to stay out of the war-making business. Further, these factors justify people in opposing plans for war on the part of states even when they do not immediately see evidence of likely injustice: state-made wars are extremely risky on multiple fronts.


When they are fought by states or state-like entities, wars of independence and secession fall foul of the same strictures as other state-made wars. Individuals and groups are, of course, morally entitled to secede from the control of states. The use of force to secede is in principle just, though there are obviously risks of short- and long-term harm that must be taken into account when secession is being contemplated and that may in particular cases rule out the use of force in an otherwise just cause. But the use of force not only to secede but to establish a new monopolistic state is, of course, as unjust as the continued imposition of state rule on would-be secessionists. And even those not yet convinced that establishing or maintaining states as such is a bad thing have reason, given the many dangers and inequities associated with states’ war efforts, to oppose wars of independence and secession undertaken by newly created would-be states as much as ones undertaken by established ones. The only just war of secession or independence is thus one that aims at the establishment of a stateless society and that does so with full respect for the moral limits on violence.

That does not mean, of course, that the use of force to resist a secession movement, even one likely to issue in the establishment of a new state, is appropriate (though perhaps a state might reasonably aid people who do not want to secede and be subjected to a new state, except that a state’s use of tax funding for this purpose would be as unjust as its use of tax funding for anything else). A state has no authority to impose its control on those who wish to be independent. And even if it did, the general reasons to oppose state-made wars give people good reason to oppose states’ use of force to stop secession movements.


As long as there are states, there is obviously the risk that they will go to war. And state actors are painfully unlikely to acknowledge the injustice of tax-based funding, conscription, or empire-building, or the general risks associated with war-making. State actors are unlikely to renounce war. Ordinary people who oppose state-made wars will be unlikely to be able to persuade state actors even to embrace anything like the full panoply of just-war constraints, though they should certainly seek to limit states’ war-making to any degree and in any way peacefully possible. But given the likely behavior of state actors—hungry for power and glory, appreciative of the public support war leaders often receive—those opposed to states’ wars will often have little choice but to proceed pragmatically. By arguing that states should only go to war for defensive reasons, they need not conceive that there is anything legitimate about states. They can, however, appeal to people who haven’t—unfortunately—given up on the state but who recognize the general injustice and waste associated with warfare.

The argument that states should only fight wars to defend their territories against invasion need not be seen, therefore, as any sort of concession to the legitimacy of states or any sort of denial of the artificiality of their borders and the national identities they seek to sustain. It is rather the (incomplete) expression of a principled opposition to state-made wars in general, framed in a way that acknowledges the reality of state power and recognizes the limits on attempts to undermine it via frontal ideological assault.

An argument against state-made wars is not in any sense an argument that individualsshould never use force far from their homes to assist those who are victims of violence. But individuals acting in this way don’t run most of the risks states do; and when they do confront parallel risks, these risks are considerably reduced as compared to those created by war-making states, particularly because such individuals and their voluntary supporters would unavoidably be expected to internalize the costs of their actions.


As will be apparent, I am not a pacifist, though I think there are powerful reasons to urge pacifist policies on states (see, e.g., here and here). But for anyone who believes that a society organized on the principle of peaceful, voluntary cooperation is the best kind of society, and the only just kind of society, violence is always something to be avoided and resisted where possible. People can justly use force to defend themselves or others, though there will sometimes be moral reasons even for them not to do this. But states should be discouraged from doing so whenever possible. Whenever states engage in wars, even putatively “holy” ones, bad, and frequently unjust, things happen. There is thus good reason for people to discourage state-made wars—including wars designed to establish new states and to prevent their establishment—whenever possible. A straightforward pragmatic strategy for doing so, and so for minimizing the damage done by such wars, is to argue strenuously against any war undertaken by a state that doesn’t involve defense of the state’s own territory.

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Engaging—Just Not Radical Mon, 29 Aug 2011 17:19:16 +0000 Gillespie, Nick, and Welch, Matt. The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America. New York: PublicAffairs 2011. Pp. xvi, 266. Index. 978-1-58648-938-0. The Declaration of...

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Gillespie, Nick, and Welch, Matt. The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America. New York: PublicAffairs 2011. Pp. xvi, 266. Index. 978-1-58648-938-0.

The Declaration of Independents is a breezy, entertaining manifesto. Defending “libertarian politics,” Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch make clear that they’re for decision-making that’s bottom-up rather than top-down, distributed rather than centralized. They favor the innovation and creativity fostered by the market over the products of sclerotic, ossified monopolies. Entertaining stories about the things that set people free and the positive effects of freedom help to make their point—stories about rock-’n’-roll behind the Iron Curtain and Southwest Airlines’ fight against the government-sponsored air travel cartel, for instance. They celebrate the abandonment of 1950s-style conformism. They emphasize the liberatory potential of new media, and they explore positive reforms in multiple areas—health care, education, and retirement—designed to respond to the impossible financial positions of governments at all levels and the absence of competition-inducing alternatives in key areas of our lives. They call repeatedly not only for independence from the duopoly of Team Red and Team Blue but also for independence from politics itself—for the opportunity to shape life individually rather than in accordance with top-down mandates from the state. I’d much rather live in their world than in the one we inhabit now.

But that leaves open the question whether their vision of libertarianism really covers the most important bases.

For instance: while Gillespie and Welch rightly note the fiscal crisis the US government is doing its best to ignore, they pay relatively little attention to the military budget—which, if Robert Higgs is right, totals over $1 trillion. (They refer to “monstrously bloated military appropriations, many of which have no effect on actually defending the nation’s citizens and borders” [204] and they realize that the Iraq war has proven to be an “expensive mistake[]” [208], but they don’t develop this idea in detail.)

As an anarchist, I’d like nothing at all to be operated by the state—especially the military. But it should be clear even to non-anarchists that a global empire of bases, a multi-front war in the Middle East, the continued development of offensive weapons designed to devastate noncombatant populations, and countless other features of the military budget are pointless or worse (again, Gillespie and Welch aren’t oblivious [229], but the point doesn’t seem centrally important to them). Maintaining even a government-run military (something which, again, I oppose) genuinely designed to defend the territory of the United States against attack might require spending a tenth of the existing budget for the Pentagon and related functional areas on an annual basis—or even less (especially if the vision, popular with many of the Founders, of military defense on land provided by the militia rather than a standing army were revivified). And ending the US government’s global military presence would doubtless dramatically reduce the risk of attacks on Americans at home and abroad, which would reduce the need for expenses in a variety of areas.

The problems with the global American empire aren’t just economic, of course—they’re moral. US government wars involve tremendous quantities of unjust violence, harming noncombatants, as well as combatants whose only crime is that they don’t like to be invaded and occupied. It’s unfortunate that the sheer immorality of most modern warfare doesn’t figure in the analysis Gillespie and Welch offer.

It’s also unfortunate that they fail to note the impact of intellectual property laws both on wealth concentration and on the positions of the old media companies whose deleterious influence they rightly decry. Similarly, IP doesn’t figure in their discussion of the costs of health care, despite its effects on the pricing of drugs and medical devices. And they note the impact of occupational licensure on health care options and costs only very obliquely (198-99). They express the hope, as an aside, that one of their children might be able to “build[] a house without having to apply for a zoning variance” (231), but they decline to underscore the injustice and the effect on poverty of the petty tyranny expressed in zoning ordinances and building codes. They rightly decry corporate bailouts, but they seem disinclined to treat the Federal Reserve as a serious problem. Civil liberties, especially in connection with the drug war, get some attention (Gillespie and Welch effectively acknowledge the objectionable character of “holding suspected terrorists indefinitely or even killing them outright without anything resembling due process” [211])—but not very much.

The Declaration of Independents seems primarily focused on evoking a libertarian style of thinking about culture and politics. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the American libertarian movement, and Americans generally, would benefit from an accessible libertarian manifesto that emphasized the sheer awfulness of aggressive war, the injustice of empire, the inequitable rapacity of IP profiteers, and not only the venality and inefficiency but also the general destructiveness and villainy of monopolistic government. Gillespie and Welch have shown that they’re perfectly capable of writing that manifesto. I’ll wait for their next book.

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