Archive | February, 2008

Nothing’s the Matter With Anarchy

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

On Thursday through Saturday I and several of my colleagues will be attending SEASECS, an interdisciplinary conference on 18th-century thought. The paper I plan to present is titled “No Matter, No Master: Godwin’s Humean Anarchism.” Here’s an abstract:

William Godwin is often regarded as essentially a Berkeleyan in his metaphysics and a Rousseauvian in his social philosophy. I argue that in both areas the influence of David Hume is far more fundamental than is ordinarily recognised, and ultimately more decisive than that of Berkeley or Rousseau – though the relation is more one of Godwin’s creative repurposing of Hume’s ideas than of his passive receptivity to them.

William Godwin With regard to metaphysics, although immaterialism is a Berkeleyan rather than a Humean thesis, Godwin’s version of immaterialism is flatly incompatible with Berkeley’s, and in both its epistemological foundations and its role in our reflective life owes far more to Hume than to Berkeley.

With regard to social philosophy, while Hume might seem an unlikely precursor for Godwin’s socialist anarchism, in fact Godwin, in his Enquiry and other writings, takes precisely Humean arguments for the rule of law and prevailing institutions of property and turns them in the opposite direction; and inasmuch as Hume’s account of the role of public opinion in sustaining social order inadvertently provides Godwin with grounds for the present-day feasibility of anarchism (by contrast with Rousseau’s relegation of anarchism to an irretrievable golden age), it is actually Hume, not Rousseau, who proves the most useful source for Godwin’s political program.

Law vs. Legislation

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Guess who wrote this:

Legislation, as it has been usually understood, is not an affair of human competence. Immutable reason is the true legislator, and her decrees it behoves us to investigate. The functions of society extend, not to the making, but the interpreting of law; it cannot decree, it can only declare that which the nature of things has already decreed, and the propriety of which irresistibly flows from the circumstances of the case. … Men cannot do more than declare and interpret law; nor can there be an authority so paramount as to have the prerogative of making that to be law which abstract and immutable justice had not made to be law previously to that interposition.

See the answer.

Smearbund Funnies

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

Smearbund Funnies

Case in point: critics of the Mises Institute often imply that it, or various people associated with it, are “pro-Confederate” in the sense of regarding the Confederacy as a legitimate government or regarding slavery as a defensible institution. As Tom DiLorenzo and Tom Woods point out on LRC today, this charge is completely false, and the critics should stop insinuating otherwise.

On the other hand, though, it’s a bit silly to act as though that’s all the “pro-Confederate” charge comes to. Surely it’s true that the overall tone of much that has come out of the Mises Institute on the Civil War has been not just critical of Lincoln and the Union (both well-deserving of criticism) but sympathetic toward and soft-pedaling of the Confederacy. This seems, well, blindingly obvious. To exaggerate this tendency into unproblematic “support” for the Confederacy, as the critics tend to do, is unfair. To downplay it into nothing at all also seems unfair. (And so on, mutatis mutandis, for most of the other issues dividing the “Beltway libertarians” and the “fever swamp.”)

Anarchist Anthology Advenes Auspiciously

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

A nice birthday present came in the mail today: my anthology with Tibor, Anarchism/Minarchism: Is a Government Part of a Free Country?, hot off the presses. It looks very nice. (Well, at 40¢ a page, it’d better!)

The book features contributions from a variety of philosophical perspectives within libertarianism, including consequentialist, deontological, contractarian, Randian, and Hayekian approaches.

The contents:


1. Why the State Needs a JustificationLester H. Hunt

2. Libertarianism, Limited Government and AnarchyJohn Roger Lee

3. Rationality, History, and Inductive PoliticsAdam ReedAnarchism/Minarchism

4. Objectivism against AnarchyWilliam R Thomas

5. Reconciling Anarchism and MinarchismTibor R. Machan


6. Radical Freedom and Social LivingAeon James Skoble

7. The State: From Minarchy to AnarchyJan Narveson

8. The Obviousness of AnarchyJohn Hasnas

9. Market Anarchism as ConstitutionalismRoderick T. Long

10. Liberty, Equality, Solidarity: Toward a Dialectical AnarchismCharles Johnson

It strikes me that four of the ten contributors have some connection to the Auburn Philosophy Department. Tibor and I are Professor Emeritus and Associate Professor, respectively; Aeon was an Instructor here in 1993-1994; and Charles was an undergrad philosophy major here, graduating in 2003.

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