Anarchy in Philadelphia, Part 2

As a follow-up to my last Molinari Society update – you can now also read Jan Narveson’s comments on Crispin Sartwell, Jennifer McKitrick’s comments on me, and my comments on Nicole Hassoun.

Merry Solstice!

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8 Responses to Anarchy in Philadelphia, Part 2

  1. Black Bloke December 27, 2008 at 5:03 pm #

    Jennifer McKitrick misspelled Hasnas as Hasnaas, and you misspelled Nicole as Nixole. I don’t have any non-picayune comments at the moment.

  2. Michael Wiebe December 27, 2008 at 5:43 pm #

    In your response to Nicole’s comments, you wrote:
    “Contracts for personal services, therefore, can be enforced only via restitution and money damages (alienable), not via specific performance (inalienable). Hence a contract cannot give any agency the powers of enforcement necessary to constitute a state.”

    This is a great argument against political obligation, because it undercuts even the possibility of consent-based justifications of the state (given inalienable rights).

    Also, isn’t Geoffrey Plauche working on something like this?

  3. Black Bloke December 27, 2008 at 6:03 pm #

    I haven’t heard anything GAP in a while. I wonder what he’s up to?

  4. Neverfox December 28, 2008 at 1:38 am #


    Have you read Brad Taylor’s paper “Anarchy, Preferences, and Robust Political Economy”? It seems to come to the same conclusion as McKitrick. He argues that illiberal sects have been disproportionately better at going “to the extra trouble it would take under market anarchism to enforce their values” which would make anarchy less robust.

    Brad Taylor:

    he argument above suggests that a relatively small group with illiberal preferences will be able to have those preferences satisfied if their preferences are sufficiently strong and collective action problems can be overcome. The economics of religion suggests that illiberal preferences and the cooperative efficacy of a group will be positively correlated. Anarchists and other libertarians imagine voluntary organizations stepping in to provide public goods currently provided by the state. If this is true – i.e. if state and voluntary organizations are substitutes – and a significant proportion of voluntary organizations are religious in nature, we should see more meddlesome preferences under anarchy than government…

    Anarchy produces more liberty than government under ideal conditions, i.e. when nobody has meddlesome preferences. The liberalism of anarchy is more robust to dispersed (high proportion, low intensity) meddlesome preferences, while that of democracy is more robust to concentrated (low proportion, high intensity) meddlesome preferences…

    The fact that members of sects have been willing to take significant costly action even with government opposition, combined with the substitutability of government and sect, is strong evidence that we would see more private effort at illiberal norm enforcement in anarchy…

    The substitutability of state and sect makes anarchy more likely than democracy to produce small groups with meddlesome preferences and high cooperative efficacy. This is exactly the situation to which libertarian anarchy is least robust…

    I admit that my reaction to this argument is mixed with a bit of anxiety. There is a confidence on my part that it relies on some slight of hand along with a lurking fear that it does not. I’ve often worried about sects and high intensity meddlesome preferences in anarchy. My first response is that democracy is probably more likely to produce high proportion, low intensity preferences, exactly the situation to which it is least robust. Also, does it perhaps underestimate the intensity of liberal “sects” with a “live free or die” mentality?

    I look forward to your response to McKitrick (or Taylor if you get a chance).

    • Dain December 28, 2008 at 3:07 pm #

      I’ve read that paper. It’s worrying, but also not suprising given the research on moral psychology. Illiberal folks care relatively less for the harm/fairness elements and more for those of authority/community/purity.

      But this must be culturally contingent. People who believe that Somali anarchy will look like a community of hell-raisin’ neo-Seattle bootleggin’ libertines (a kind of n.American caricature anyway) are mistaken.

      If this is true – i.e. if state and voluntary organizations are substitutes – and a significant proportion of voluntary organizations are religious in nature, we should see more meddlesome preferences under anarchy than government…

      Note, “religious in nature.” America is on paper very religious, but its religiosity leaves much to be desired for the global median religious person.

      Larry Iannacone has found evidence for the liberalizing effect of competing religious institutions, so I wonder what this portends for an anarchy within a religious society. If “meddleseome preferences” amount to a constant hectoring but no real threat to life and property – because to do so would perhaps drive one into the arms of competitors – then I wonder if anarchy is perhaps sustainable after all.

    • Black Bloke December 28, 2008 at 9:40 pm #

      I wonder if Brad has read any of Roderick’s short work on good and bad collective action?

      I tend to look at the issue of small groups or sects with meddlesome illiberal preferences as one that can probably be easily mitigated with alliances of interest groups dedicated to maintaining their liberties against potential usurpers. The “anti-social” folks (to use a Blairean term) are probably going to pretty easily identified, and are likely to be a numerically and financially smaller group than those that want to be left alone. Also they’ll simply have less sympathy (one would hope).

  5. Richard Garner December 28, 2008 at 11:38 am #

    At a first glance, the most immediate objections to McKitrick’s argument are:

    1) She says that anarchy is unlikely to be libertarian. Maybe. But a minimal state is necessarily not libertarian, insofar that it must initiate the use of legitimate force to prevent unlicensed provision of legitimate force by competitors. So, from that merely philosophical basis, lacking much practical value, anarchism wins.

    2) I’m not sure that the definition of libertarianism is one I like: I would think more in terms of Rothbard’s view of libertarianism as being that people are self-owners, own previously unowned land that they acquire by homesteading, etc. However, lets go with McKitrick’s.

    3) I don’t see why hiring the same PA as the bigot makes one unfree in a libertarian sense: Presumably hiring such a PA, knowing what rules it enforces on its members, is voluntarily consenting to abide by those rules. What is unlibertarian about that?

    4) Most clearly, being free in a libertarian way does not mean being able to do certain things, like rape, or murder. As McKitrick herself says, “a libertarian society would be one in which individuals are free to do what they want, subject to certain constraints,” stating approvingly Narveson’s suggestion of a “constraint that we may not do what injures, harms, or more generally imposes loss on any other person” or John Roger Lee’s proviso that “nobody’s action impedes a like liberty for other individuals or groups of individuals.” In light of this, we certainly shouldn’t care if bigots that want to be free to do the things libertarians say they shouldn’t are render so unfree.

  6. Neverfox December 31, 2008 at 4:45 am #

    I just now had a chance to read the Hassoun exchange and all I can say is that she got…well…served. The reminder of the title-transfer theory of contract was a dagger and the breakdown of the argument was well done.

    This is an excellent example of how so many who are very obviously dedicated to a concern for the welfare of others (a noble virtue that I share) are facing the wrong direction. And the dismissal of voluntary action is frustrating. It’s as if she wants to give welfare the least chance of success.

    I would just remind Hassoun of what John Hasnas said in his contribution:

    Whether government is necessary is not an abstract metaphysical question. It is an entirely practical question concerning the delivery of goods and services. The defenders of government argue that certain goods or services that are essential to human life in society can be supplied only by a government. Anarchists deny this. The question, then, is whether there are any essential goods or services that can be supplied only through the conscious actions of human beings invested with the power to enforce rules on all members of society.

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