The following letter appeared in todays Opelika-Auburn News. (Ive restored my original paragraphing, which was altered seemingly at random.)
To the Editor:
Bob Sanders wonders (May 8th) why we would fear Uncle Grady the tax assessor. Surely the answer is: because Uncle Gradys edicts are ultimately backed up by threats of violence from Uncle Sam.
Sanders favours the forcible extraction of money from innocent people (i.e. taxation) because he doesn’t see any other way to pay for, as he puts it, roads and police and help for people who need it.
Well, sure, we all want those things. The question is, is governmental violence the best way to get them? Monopolistic providers, since they dont face competition, tend to provide inferior service at higher prices. Since they have a captive customer base, they also tend to abuse power. So why on earth would we want any important service to be supplied by a monopolistic government?
All the services that Sanders mentions can be, and historically have been, provided more fairly and efficiently by private competition. (Read Edward Stringhams book Anarchy and the Law.)
The idea of government as a source of help for people who need it is particularly ironic. Historically, governments always get captured by concentrated interests (the wealthy) at the expense of dispersed interests (the poor). Thats why big business is so terrified of a genuinely freed market and always supports privileges and subsidies (wrapped of course in either free-market rhetoric or progressive rhetoric, depending on whos in power).
Government policies even, indeed especially, those touted as intended to protect the poor or to rein in big business have had the actual (and largely intended, given who turns out to have lobbied for them) effect of destroying poor peoples livelihood and protecting the corporate elite from competition. Read, for example, Gabriel Kolkos book The Triumph of Conservatism, Butler Shaffers In Restraint of Trade, David Beitos From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State, and Kevin Carsons Studies in Mutualist Political Economy.
As for the tax-subsidized roads that Sanders champions, their chief beneficiaries are big corporations like Wal-Mart, whose heavy trucks for long-distance shipping cause the majority of wear and tear on the highway system, but who dont bear a proportionate share of the tax burden. Like most government policies, highway subsidies redistribute money from the less to the more affluent, not vice versa.
Sanders worries about Sarah Palin’s anti-government rhetoric are unfounded. Palin poses as an enemy of big government, just as Obama poses as an enemy of big business; but if one looks past the rhetoric at the actual policies favoured by each, theyre both firm supporters of the big-government/big-business partnership that so thoughtfully manages our lives.
Roderick T. Long
1) Roderick, your pages are taking literally 25 0r 50 times as long to load as those of any other blog I visit — do you know what’s up?
2) Why, by the same principle, we should fear… property owners!
Re (2): Only if there’s no difference between aggressive and defensive violence.
One way to try and make the analogy fit is to just say that the state is the owner of all the property in its domain.
Well, sure, one can say that; but then one would have to be able to make a case for it.
Well, I agree that if you endorse an explicitly totalitarian theory of government authority, then that theory would usually allow for government immigration restrictions, as a special application of its totalitarianism.
Let me address the page load time issue. The content of the frontpage is relatively small compared to some sites. However, the code I’m using is a bit advanced (CSS3 and so forth) and some browsers might have trouble displaying it after they’ve grabbed the page. Our server is not particularly fast, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue because everything is compressed.
I am using several web fonts because I’m kind of a typophile and most of the fonts I see on the web look horrible. I think our site’s fonts look better than most. But they must be downloaded since they aren’t on your PC already.
When I look at http://ismyblogworking.com/aaeblog.com I see a 270 ms page fetch time. The page comes through here in all browsers in about 5 seconds. I have to turn to your setup and wonder if you’re using a modern browser, fast internet connection, modern operating system etc. to troubleshoot the issue. This site was designed for the open-source Webkit layout engine. Browsers that use it include Safari, Google Chrome and Epiphany. Firefox 3.6 can display almost all features correctly. All other browsers will have some degree of trouble with it.
“Only if there’s no difference between aggressive and defensive violence.”
Of course, there is such a difference. But it begs the question of state legitimacy and private property legitimacy to simply declare collecting taxes aggressive violence and enforcing the boundaries of one’s woodland property defensive violence. If, for instance, as Hobbes contends, acknowledging the sovereign is a requirement of rationality, then the sovereign has every right to collect taxes, and is only engaged in defensive violence in protecting that right.
Begs the question against whom? If I were arguing against someone who explicitly held the view that all economic resources are the property of the state or the collective, then I’d have to say something about the justification of libertarian property rights and which sorts of takings count as aggression and why. (I couldn’t say much about this in a brief letter to the editor, of course. But as you know, I have elsewhere.) But I don’t think that’s my dialectical situation in talking to Bob Sanders or the average reader of the O-A News. Every argument takes place in a context, no?
Well, you were responding to me here. But, in any case, I don’t think the average reader of the O-A News has more than an extremely muddled idea of property rights, taxation rights, etc. anyway. But I bet you most of them don’t believe taxation is a form of aggression.
Right. But they believe other things that entail that taxation is a form of aggression.
As Stephen Schiffer likes to point out, “Ordinary people’s beliefs are a mass of confusions — so what?”
Well, what philosophers generally make of it is to show people that some of the things they believe logically entail the negation of other things they believe. Do you think we should be doing something else? If so, what, and why?
Yes, philosophers can try to sort out the muddle. But you seem to be assuming it is the right to tax that will fall by the wayside in that process. I don’t think that assumption is justified.
Well, I certainly think the right to tax is the one that should fall by the wayside. I don’t see why you think I’m assuming it will; that depends on the person one is arguing with.
“But it begs the question of state legitimacy and private property legitimacy to simply declare collecting taxes aggressive violence and enforcing the boundaries of one’s woodland property defensive violence.”
But Roderick has given arguments for those positions (e.g. this), so he’s not begging the question.
Maybe you don’t think those arguments work, but don’t claim that libertarians haven’t given any reasons for their beliefs.
“If, for instance, as Hobbes contends, acknowledging the sovereign is a requirement of rationality, then the sovereign has every right to collect taxes, and is only engaged in defensive violence in protecting that right.”
Non sequitur. Acknowledging that 1+1=2 is a requirement of rationality, but it doesn’t follow that violence against people who don’t counts as defensive.
Right you are, David. And if I had made that silly argument, you would have a point. But I suppose that one is easier to refute than the one I actually made.
But then the burden of proof is now on you to show how they’re different. Because the structure seems to be the same.
I just had a disaster posting a long reply from my phone, so I will be brief until I have proper Internet access, but let me give you a chance to correct your gaffe here, Roderick: do you really want to say that drawing a conclusion about the possible legitimacy of some form of coercion from a mathematical truth is logically identical to drawing such a conclusion from a truth about sovereignty?
When you’ve included no other premises that differentiate them, then yes, the two arguments have the same structure and are invalid for the same reasons.
If “acknowledging the sovereign” means “obeying the sovereign,” then my criticism is correct.
If “acknowledging the sovereign” means “believing that the sovereign is a legitimate sovereign who has the right to force his subjects to obey him,” then Hobbes’ argument (or Mr. Callahan’s rendering of it) is indeed valid (since believing a falsehood cannot be a requirement of rationality) but question-begging and even worse than I initially thought (compare: “If believing that 1+1=2 is a requirement of rationality, then 1+1=2”).
Hobbes feels that he has shown the existence of the sovereign is a requirement of rationality. Now, the idea of the sovereign *entails* authority and an obligation to obey that authority. So, IF Hobbes argument has worked (I’m not asking anyone to agree that it has, just to see what follows), THEN the subjects have an obligation to obey the sovereign, and he has the right to enforce this obligation on those who would renege on it.
1) A slug exists. Therefore we have an obligation to worship the slug.
2) God exists. Therefore we have an obligation to worship God.
1) and 2) have the same syntactic structure, but you have to completely ignore their semantics to claim they have “the same logical structure.” 1) is clearly absurd. 2) may be true or not, but at the least, it’s not on its face ridiculous. That’s because the ontological status of a slug and God are quite different. The truth of “1+1=2” cannot entail any political conclusions, because it is categorically unable to do so. The truth of “the existence of the sovereign is justified” certainly DOES entail “and his subjects are obligated to obey him.”
And I really can’t believe I am explaining this to you, Roderick.
You’ve just said this:
but I assume you don’t mean it; rationality can’t guarantee the existence of the sovereign, and Hobbes never suggests otherwise. (Ahem, I really can’t believe I am explaining this to you, Gene.) So I’ll proceed on the assumption that you mean what you said before, which was this:
And I’ll further assume that by “acknowledging the sovereign” you mean acknowledging the sovereign’s authority. Even so, for Hobbes the concept of authority involves merely the subject’s duty to obey; sovereignty conveys to the sovereign no additional permission-liberties (since in the state of nature everyone has maximum permission-liberties anyway). My point was that from the claim that everyone has a duty to obey the sovereign, nothing follows about what is morally permissible for the sovereign to do.
Also: I’m not sure what your other phrase “the existence of the sovereign is justified” is supposed to mean in a Hobbesian context. Justification is agent-relative for Hobbes; states of affairs in the abstract can’t be justified, and Hobbes doesn’t assume compossibility.
Brandon, I’m using the latest Google Chrome on a iMac with 2.8 GHz dual core Intel processors and 4 GB RAM. My connection speed pegs the speedometer at:
I will now test comment posting speed with this comment.
OK, Brandon, posting a comment to my site (which I chose just because I happened to have a tab open there) just took 1/2 second. Posting here just took me 82 seconds. I have no idea why this site is this slow for me, but it is dramatically different from any other site on the Internet I go to often — I underestimated when I said a factor of 25 or 50 — it’s a factor of 160!
OK, I want to be clear first. Are you now saying that comment posting is the only thing that’s slow?
FWIW, posting a comment onto my blog takes me about half a second also, via Mozilla — both at home (Mac) and at the office (PC).
No, the entire blog is slow. And slow on the same order of magnitude… Let me go try Firefox for you.
90 seconds to load the home page using Firefox.
Do you know of another site using the same ISP? Perhaps the problem is between your ISP and mine. I could test another site if you send it to me. (By the way, Brandon, I’m happy to help debug this, but perhaps we should do it off this thread — I assume you can see my e-mail address in your logs? E-mail me if you’d like.
I have to say that this site isn’t slow for me. Even when everything else is slow (I’m torrenting and that’s throttling my connection).
I think there’s something up with your machine Gene. I’m on a MacBook Pro 2.8 Ghz using Safari 4.0.5 and it essentially zips.
Well, it would be a little odd if “something up with my machine” caused merely this one site, out of the entire hundred or so I visit periodically, to go slowly.
As Rand would say, the problem is probably neither subjective (solely in your machine) nor intrinsic (solely in the site) but objective (in the relationship between the two).
Have you reset Safari (or whatever the equivalents may be in your browsers of choice)? Might just be one of those issues.
It’s between the ISPs, I tell you! Same machine here, different location, much SLOWER network, and I get normal load times.
Bravo! And thanks for getting a plug in for me.
Your experience with letters page editors is typical. I can’t even get my letters past the local paper’s filter, because of an acrimonious dispute over their gratuitous changes in a letter I sent several years ago. I went out of my way to get it under the 600-word limit, going over it for more than an hour painstakingly pruning a word here and a word there, trying to pare it down while retaining a choice of words that expressed my message exactly the way I intended.
And then the editor helpfully “corrected” deliberate choices of spelling like “publik skools,” edited out phrases with no ellipses to indicate the change, and substituted words with no brackets to indicate the insertion of foreign material. And none of it was obscene or libellous; it was just their paternalistic judgment that that was a better way of saying it.
I was furious, and let the editor know that she’d done violence to the meaning I meant to convey. I told her that it was one thing for an editor to alter material under the byline of someone on a newspaper salary, because they were understood to reflect the editorial voice. But the letters page is the one part of the newspaper that’s meant to be an independent, autonomous voice, and allow the readership to express their views in their own words. To alter material without the writer’s permission, and print it over their byline with no indication it was redacted, is utterly unethical–and I said so.
As for your complaint, screwing around with paragraph divisions, that just go without saying. I think the English for Journalism Majors class must teach that a paragraph is two or three sentences grouped together purely for aesthetic purposes, as opposed to serving some functional purpose like the development of a topic sentence. They teach that class in between Stenography 101 and Hair Care Products Lab.
Oh yeah, paragraph changes are minor compared to what they usually do to me. But the changes in paragraphing were bizarre; for example, they moved the sentence “The idea of government as a source of ‘help for people who need it’ is particularly ironic” from being the first line of its paragraph to being the last line of the preceding paragraph.
After the third death threat, I stopped sending letters to the editor. Contrary to most peoples’ experiences it was the letters which ruffled the feathers of the lefties that inspired the threats, the right wingers were actually pretty rational.
CONSERVATIVES ACT PROPERLY CUZ PEOPLE COME DOWN HARD ON CONSERVATIVE ASSHOLERY. OTHER WAY AROUND WITH BLACK PEOPLE.
Gene, back to your question: you write as though it’s supposed to be news to libertarians that people can
disagree about which kinds of property rights are legitimate and which actions count as aggression. After all the dustup over proviso Lockean versus no-proviso Lockean versus mutualist property regimes, how could this possibly be news that libertarians need to be informed of?
No, Roderick, I write as though this news hasn’t really been digested — once this disagreement is acknowledged, then the ancapistan involves purely voluntary (except in the case of aggression) relations collapses.
How so? Suppose I said “This book contains no works by earls,” and you responded “But it contains Hamlet, and there’s dispute as to whether Hamlet was written by Shakespeare or instead by the Earl of Oxford; therefore your claim collapses.”
If Hamlet was in fact written by the Earl of Oxford, then my claim collapses. But the mere fact that some people believe (mistakenly, in my view) that it was written by the Earl of Oxford doesn’t make my claim collapse. Why doesn’t the same point apply here?
No. Because you have to coerce everyone else who won’t agree to your rules — just like any other political ideology! When the anarcho-syndicalists claim the factory was theirs, because they worked in it, the ancap owner will get some armed men to chase them off. When anarcho-communists want to farm the large ancap property owners land, he will shoot them if they don’t leave. Now, it may comfort them, as they die, to hear that, from the landowners point of view, he was only exercising “defensive” coercion, but the point remains — ancap, like any other political ideology, is not coercive — if you agree to play by its rules. And coercive if you don’t.
And how is that a response to what I said?
The only way I can make sense of your point is if you’re assuming that there is no objective fact of the matter as to which uses of force are aggressive and which are defensive.
If that’s your view, then feel free to defend it; but then you’ve got much bigger game in view than just libertarian theories of property.
But if that’s not your view, then how on earth is it a theoretical problem for those with the correct view of aggression that those with an incorrect view of aggression will view the first group’s defensive actions as aggressive?
You’re writing as though libertarians are against using force altogether. We are only against initiating force. There is no reason that having to obey rules you don’t like counts as aggression unless you define aggression as any force what so ever.
Take for instance someone who is unhappy about having laws against “the initiation of force”, does it follow that when they initiate force it’s actually everyone else that initiates force by enforcing the law?
It’s a horse he’s been beating for a long time: Because Rand and Rothbard (and many of their followers) wrote or endorsed hatchet jobs on various other thinkers, it follows that no libertarians, anywhere, ever, solidly grappled with Hobbes or Rousseau or Machiavelli or whoever and have no real arguments against or reasons for disagreeing with them.
JOR, isn’t it so much easier to make up one’s opponent’s argument for oneself? You can make it as stupid as you’d like, and boy, is it easy to shoot down then!
I would like you to show me one place where I have ever said anything remotely resembling the “it follows” bit above. Well, you won’t be able to, because you just made it up — see “hatchet job.”
I believe would be a good candidate for “remotely resembling.”
So, Jeff, where in that piece do I say anything like, “Because Rothbard did a hatchet job on some political philosophers, IT FOLLOWS that no libertarian has ever addressed them?”
Um, nowhere? I thought not.
Well, you didn’t ask JOR to defend his entire statement, you asked him to “show me one place where I have ever said anything remotely resembling the ‘it follows’ bit above.”
After “it follows” JOR claims you accuse libertarians of never fully confronting state-friendly political philosophers, e.g. Hobbes, and thus, libertarians have no real arguments against them.
In the piece I linked to, after specifically using Hobbes as your example, you conclude that the “common libertarian argument” against taxation basically boils down to merely asserting “The State is illegitimate because the State is illegitimate.” I would say that passes the test for “remotely resembling” JOR’s claim.
Just to be clear, JOR’s statement about Rothbard’s “hatchet jobs” being your justification is certainly hyperbolic. My point is that if someone were to read the linked piece I believe it would be reasonable for him to leave with the idea that ‘Gene Callahan doesn’t think libertarians have any real argument against Hobbes.’
Brandon, same computer, different location: I get fetch times like you do. Now, there is no general network speed issue at my other location — as I mentioned, I peg the dials whenever I do network speed tests. I believe the problem is ISP-to-ISP. If you want to investigate further, let me know.
Yeah, I might get in touch on the weekend when I have some more time to look at it, because we can certainly kick our webhost’s ass if necessary, but I have had some similar problems with certain sites with my ISP, and I don’t think it ends well. You might find with your ISP that other sites that you obviously don’t currently visit would have similar problems.
Doing my laps!
My response to “doing my laps” is essentially what you said to JOR earlier, namely:
Why don’t you criticise some arguments that libertarians have actually given for the claim that force in defense of libertarian property claims isn’t aggressive? (See mine
here and here, for example.)
Took a look at the first paper. I believe this makes the point I have been making in this series of posts: IF one buys into the libertarian system of property rights, THEN libertarianism only practices defensive aggression. Just like, if you buy into welfare-statist property rights, then welfare-statists practice non-aggression, and if you buy into communist property rights, then communists practice non-aggression.
The real argument is NOT about non-aggression — it’s about property rights (and obligations). You seem to recognize this in the paper. That is good.
Gene: Took a look at the first paper.
Maybe you should have read it while you were there.
Gene: IF one buys into the libertarian system of property rights, THEN libertarianism only practices defensive aggression.
1. Was “defensive aggression” a typo on your part?
2. Presuming that you mean something like “non-aggression” or “defensive force,” that’s not the argument of the article, anyway. The first section has nothing in particular to do with property rights; it has to do with showing that a common approach to welfare liberalism makes rights-claims which aren’t compossible. The second section, which does discuss property rights, doesn’t assume the correctness of a libertarian property theory for the sake of argument. If you get past the three paragraphs of that section that you seem to have read, you’ll see that most of that section (pp. 9-11) is devoted to giving a series of arguments in favor of the libertarian theory and against the welfare-liberal theory.
Gene: The real argument is NOT about non-aggression — it’s about property rights (and obligations).
That’s one real argument. It’s not the only argument on offer, though. Maybe it’s the argument that you’d rather be having, but the arguments that Roderick is responding to in the first section of the paper (which are about non-aggression) are real arguments too, and rather more common in the literature.
Now, the reason libertarianism is always sold as “non-aggression” is that this sounds much better than trying to sell people on “absolute property rights that trump every other concern.” When libertarians sell non-aggression — wow, that’s sounds nice. If they tried to sell the real good, which is absolute property rights, people would immediately begin backing away.
You may be able to make a case for other libertarians believing property rights “trump every other concern.” But Roderick has challenged this view in many places. Here is just one example of his concern that enforcement of property rights must be weighed against a principle of proportionality.
“If they tried to sell the real good, which is absolute property rights, people would immediately begin backing away.”
Can you provide an example of a situation where someone might not be interested in absolute property rights? I mean I, for one, do not enjoy the state taking any of my money, any more than I would enjoy being robbed by anyone else.
I’m not sure what “absolute” means in this context.
I hope the NRA keeps the house and senate by the balls. But it won’t work if the dept. of homeland security basically released a report that can essentially label EVERY NRA member, EVERY gun owner, EVERY right leaning person and EVERY soldier coming back from active duty terrorists. Are you a member of the NRA, well according to the DHS and Napalitano your a terrorist. And according to obama the constitution of the Untied States of America is political paraphernalia