David Friedman writes:
Looking through your essay Left-Libertarianism, Class Conflict, and Historical Theories of Distributive Justice, I was struck by what seems to me to be a problem with what you describe as libertarian class theory. You write:
Recipients of tax-funded welfare wont be assigned to the parasitic class either, so long as the extent to which they benefit from governmental handouts is exceeded as left-libertarians think it generally is by the extent to which they are immiserated by governmental regulations.
The problem with this is that transfers are not a zero sum game the fact that you are made worse off does not imply that someone else is better off. If people on welfare produce nothing and consume something provided by taxpayers then they are a net burden on others, even if they are on net worse off than in a laissez-faire society.
To put the point a little differently, under your definition it is possible that nobody in our society, or very nearly nobody, belongs to the parasitic class. After all, a laissez-faire society would be, in your opinion (and mine) much richer, and much more advanced technologically. The government bureaucrat who dies at seventy of cancer in our society might, in a laissez-faire society, die at 95, having occupied a lower position relatively than in our society but a higher position absolutely. If so, the consistent application of your principle puts him too in the industrial rather than the parasitic class.
Is that the result you want?
My more general problems with the approach are the subject of a chapter in The Machinery of Freedom.
(Thanks to David Friedman for allowing me to post his letter.)
I find class analysis far too useful and illuminating to be tempted by Friedmans proposed solution, but I think he has put his finger in a genuine problem: how exactly are we to identify the ruling and ruled classes? We cannot merely identify them as those who on balance benefit or lose out from the existing system, because it might well be that everyone loses out.
Heres a first stab: the test of whether one is in the ruling class or the ruled class is not whether one is better or worse off (either subjectively or objectively) than one would be without the system, but rather something like this: where there are two groups A and B, and A occupies a superior socioeconomic position relative to B, and A owes its superior socioeconomic position non-accidentally to the systematic exploitation and/or oppression of B, then A is the ruling and B the ruled class, even if A and B would both be better off than they are now without the exploitation/oppression.
I wanted to capture, first, the idea that what matters is relative rather than absolute position, and second, that the ruling group wins out at the expense of the ruled group.
On the other hand, Im a bit uncomfortable with the idea that everyone in the ruling group has to be wealthier than everyone in the ruled group; that seems wrong. Obviously non-accidentally would need to be filled in too. It surely needs fixing in other ways as well; consider it a first draft, and I want to turn it over to more minds. Suggestions?
I think he makes a very good point. Looking at absolute levels of wealth probably isn’t going to be very fruitful. I think your response is a good point too, we need to look at relative positions and how they were attained.
Off the top of my head I can think of another couple of ideas that might be worth exploring.
When we talk about someone on net benefitting from the state maybe instead of comparing their income to what it would be in a hypothetical free society we should at it’s composition now. If, on net, 10% of a person’s income is from the state whereas another person gets all their wealth legitimately then the former could be said to be exploiting the latter regardless of how wealthy either would be in a libertarian society. It seems incorrect to move from the fact a bureaucrat might have more legitimate wealth in a free society to saying they aren’t gaining some of their wealth parasitically now.
Also, is it worth bringing up Walter Block’s (I think it was him anyway) suggestion that as well as looking at how much someone on net was gaining from the state we should also look at what, specifically, they are doing? A teacher at a public school probably shouldn’t be considered part of the ruling class since they are doing an entirely ethical job, just for the wrong employers. However, corporate lobbying, even if it earns you less money than being a public school teacher, probably should be considered part of the ruling class. I think this distinction is necessary for a libertarian class theory to make sense.
A left-libertarian angle could be developed too, instead of just looking at how the state enables a ruling class we should probably look at how positions of, say, cultural power can define class. Along similar lines, relative wealth/power of A compared to B through purposeful cultural oppression, net amount of current income traceable to cultural oppression etc.
That could then be expanded to include an analysis of how these different forms of power interact…
Looks like a potentially interesting project in the making
Well, I want to avoid saying that lower-income welfare recipients are in the ruling class; even if they get most of their income from government, it seems odd to place them at the powerful end of the stick.
True. However the poor generally have very little in the way of influence, they’re really just passively accepting welfare because it would make no difference whatsoever whether they decide to accept it or not. So a) arguably this is similar to being a public school teacher, accepting charity is fine the only problem is the people they are accepting it from and b) my argument could be resuscitated to say instead that the ruling class are the people with the ability to politically influence the direction in which wealth flows, regardless of whether they would have more or less legitimate wealth in a free society.
Actually, screw my old argument. b) is a much better definition
Maybe make the empirical distinction that the behavioral economists make between the experiencing self and the reflecting self; the former takes happiness to be a measure of pleasure/satisfaction while the latter takes happiness to be a measure of money/self-narratives. Then say that both are false criteria for happiness which is actually a measure of flourishing by the third self — agency beyond the behavioral economist’s selves. The class system restricts the third self regardless of wealth, as folks on both ends of the socioeconomic divide are divided within themselves and so necessarily ruled by an inability to access agency.
Here’s a cool talk by the dude that “invented” behavioral economics. But he seems to advocate a Hegelian reconciliation between experiencing self and storytelling self: call it 2.5 self, which is really just a muddle. Gotta put the next self past the first two. Also, by third self I also mean “true self” in Aristotle/Whitman/Roderick’s sense. There’s a religion that uses this too, but I can’t remember which one.
And if the money that the rich are taxed on average to fund the average welfare recipient is a tiny fraction of what was transferred upward from the welfare recipient via unequal exchange — as a result of state-enforced monopolies — then it’s the moral equivalent of a mugger giving you back cab fare so you can continue to make money to be robbed. I would argue that welfare is a very small amount compared to the amount of upward wealth transfer, and it amounts to the privileged spending a portion of what they steal as insurance against destabilizing starvation and homelessness.
Paging Piven and Cloward…
Has anyone in the individualist anarchist movement ever expressed the idea that anarchy is essentially a subjective state? That it represents the moment and subsequent moments after a person recognizes, not only that the experiencing self and the storytelling/money-possessing self are qualitatively different, but that they cannot be reconciled. That no relation between them is sufficient. Has anyone ever explicitly said that anarchy is this state of internal chaos, sometimes followed by a rejection of both selves and the adaptation of a third self (call it or him or her whatever you like)? And for these psychological, though eventually purely conceptual, reasons, anarchy is the only route to order?
Another thought while speaking with a friend on facebook:
I’ve essentially been making that argument. Of course, the subjective states result in real environmental effects. I think zenarchists say the same thing. And many anarchists consider the aura of legitimacy to be the root problem.
If it has real environmental effects, then what good are those effects? If the purpose is to recognize that the chaos between these two selves ought to be moved past, then the manifestation of such chaos is going to be war. Don’t we only want to manifest the decision to move beyond the experiencing self and the status-having self? If anarchy is the battle between these two selves, then ought we not hold that in so to speak? And only let out — manifest — movement past the battle? If that is what a zenarchist means — I wish I had heard the word before now — then shouldn’t we be highly selective about what manifests and what doesn’t manifest?
I’m not trying to delegitimize anarchy. Just the opposite, I’m trying to put it in its proper context. If you want to advocate a context-independent “anarchy”, then I’ll tell you to shove it along with everything else that pretends to reach context-independence. Shalom.
FWIW, I’ve been thinking in terms like that… distinguishing between an “anarch” (a person who does not recognize authority in their own life) and an “anarchist” (a person who tries to achieve the social goal of increased anarchy).
ricketson, it’s worth very much. Thanks for the comment.
Is this person still a government bureaucrat in a freed market? And if so, then wouldn’t he be such through people that voluntarily hand him power? I mean, even a thought experiment has keep consistent reference, no? I would say that anyone in a voluntary system that refrains from force and fraud, almost by definition, is not parasitic. For me, the only empirical variable is — insofar as one derives the NAP from deontological and/or consequentialist principles — whether one measures passive aggression as parasitism. For instance, say in a 100% voluntary society, X runs a hedge fund where clients A and B both invest in futures on product Z. A short-sells product Z but A’s client C is the producer of Z. B wants to bet long on product Z. X takes the bet. Is X guilty of fraud?—I don’t see why that would necessarily be the case; X may be 99.9% sure that A is placing this bet precisely because of their undisclosed relation to C. But say that X doesn’t explicitly ask if that’s the case. It seems like it takes X off the hook, at least by the legal standards of fraud. Is X ethical?—Certainly not. X is all but 100% sure that A’s already beaten B before product Z tanks. X could even call up D and tell them to short Z while X and D will split the winnings. And for F’s sake that happened! It’s empirical! And please don’t say Fannie Freddie, etc. Sure that added to the volume of capital-rigging. But the government was 100% independent of the cause. See Abacus and MERS. These are facts. And plenty of it was clear-cut fraud, not just unethical omissions. But the point is that X is parasitic — yet X doesn’t use force or fraud (by legal standards, certainly by ethical standards) and this all takes place in a freed market. Why should anyone look for government bureaucrats as parasitic in a voluntary society? This smells like The Machinery of Epistemic Closure. In voluntary exchange, we have empirical evidence that hedge funds and banks are just as likely — if not more likely! — to be parasitic. What the hell kind of “freedom” omits this fact? What kind of machinery are we really talking about here?
Background music for above post. 🙂
Intended link here. And no, David Friedman. This is not against “the
satanic ruling class, raking in the shekels with its right hand and stuffing the ballot box with its left.” It’s against a small group of bankers and hedge fund managers that hold literally 50X the power of the federal government. Take off the blinders dude. And if it makes the lyrics more palatable, replace “enemy” with “opponent”. The link is a little ditty just for you.
This problem seems to be a sticky one. I’m surely not giving this enough time for quality thought but I’ll throw it out there:
It seems to me a generally dubious task to try to qualify an individual or organization (on net) as being “ruling” or “ruled.” You really do have to break it down to a relative question between two of those individuals and/or groups and even then the plethora of variables and unknowns seem to hang like a fog over any absolute answer.
Let me take a simple example – I’ll take a look at the relative status of my mother (a grade-school teacher) and myself (a software developer in the medical-billing industry). We live and work in the same state. Taxes are extruded from me (systematically) to support her. Well, this in itself raises an interesting point; does the fact that I’m systematically stolen from to support her position make me the “ruled”, or does the fact that the government holds a virtual monopoly on education make her the “ruled” (in that she’s somewhat coerced to enter public education if she wants to teach)?
I’m inclined to say that we’re both “ruled” with respect to those very different aspects of what we do and also in respect to the people who are responsible for putting us in the positions we’re in. On the other hand, her husband (my step-father) is a nurse at a local hospital. The bracing for forthcoming changes in the medical industry due to the ACA is causing hospital employees to be let go left and right. That being said, my industry has seen very solid gains as hospitals are scrambling to lower costs. I’m technically benefiting financially from the ACA while I do not support it. She and my step-father stand to lose although they supported it.
Is it a crucial part of “ruling” that you must intend to do so and/or realize you are doing so at the expense of others? What if you realize it but you don’t support it? If these are important factors, I think it weakens the case for categorization.
And my anecdotal examples only barely scratch the surface of reality. I have a hard time untangling how my own company is protected/subsidized vs. how they are penalized and choked on net. And that extends past the direct. There are layers of causation as we deal with medical practices and hospitals which have their own protections and penalties given the regulated nature of the industry. And in turn their customers enjoy their own protections and penalties as well. It’s very difficult for me to, even when narrowing it down to two individuals, figure out who is “ruling” or being “ruled” in many cases.
To make things worse, it seems that there are factors that look fairly ambiguous from case to case. We often hear that corporations, on net, benefit from roads and basic infrastructure that they would otherwise have to pay for. This is true as far as it goes. On the other hand, it’s arguable that their customers benefit as well (both through their own personal use as well as by proxy via the distribution of the goods they buy from said companies). And, I suppose, in some ways it could be argued that, like the teachers, they are somewhat obliged to use the system that government has favored/monopolized/subsidized. We (by that I mean the more Rothbardian of us) don’t generally believe that we’re taking advantage of others simply because we are somewhat obliged (economically and otherwise) to use these roads absent a system of private roads. In the same way are some businesses also excusable in their use of these roads? Is their being cognizant of such benefits necessary to classify them as “ruling” in that situation? Am I also a “ruler” since my clients greatly benefit from the accessibility provided by such roads to their patients?
I know there must be a simpler underlying principle here that we’re not quite hitting. But it’s this peculiarly unrealized ambiguity (and outright hypocrisy in the case of some) that make me very hesitant to wrangle my sense of libertarianism from the sphere of justice into other spheres – not so much because I believe it has no place, but rather that I am unsure how to apply it to (for instance) ideas of “social justice” without coming to very questionable conclusions in many cases.
That being said, I’d just like to say that I admire a great deal of your work and you’ve been very influential in my own philosophical maturation. It’s great questions like the above that have and will keep me coming back and looking forward to your thoughts. Keep it up.
I am committing the ultimate intellectual sin by commenting on your thesis (I have not read the article posted here or your earlier work on a libertarian theory of class). Erik Olin Wright developed some interesting Neo-Marxist ideas regarding class and class analysis. I’m not sure if you are familiar with his work or if it will be helpful at all (see above re: have not read your articles). I will also commit a second academic (although not necessarily intellectual) sin by quoting Wright at length to give you some idea of his theory. Note that this excerpt is taken from the context of discussing the concept of the “under class” in Marxist theory. It is taken from Wright, “Marxism After Communism” (in Turner ed. Social Theory and Sociology: The Classics and Beyond (Blackwell Companion to Social Theory) (1997)) at 138-139.
One strategy for doing this is to introduce a distinction between what might be termed non-exploitative economic oppression and exploitative economic oppression (or simply “exploitation” for short). To get at this distinction, we first need to define the general concept of economic oppression. As a first approximation, economic oppression can be defined as a situation in which: (1) the material welfare of one group of people is causally related to the material deprivations of another, and (2) the causal relation involves morally indictable exclusion from access to productive resources. This is a fairly complex definition. Without (2), the losers in a poker game would be described as “oppressed.” Without (1), we have economically gratuitous exclusion – exclusion from resources from which no one derives material benefit. “Economic oppression” is thus a situation in which the material benefits of one group are acquired at the expense of another and in which unjust exclusion is an essential part of the process by which this occurs. The introduction of (2), of course, renders judgments of the oppressive nature of a particular inequality highly conrentious1 since there will generally be disputes about the moral standing of the exclusions that back up the inequalities in question.
Economic oppression defined in this way can take many forms. Of particular salience to class analysis is the distinction between exploitative and nonexploitative economic oppression. Economic exploitation is a specific form of economic oppression defined by a particular kind of mechanism through which the welfare of exploiters is causally related to the deprivations of the exploitated. In exploitation, the material well-being of the exploiter causally depends upon their ability to appropriate the fruits of labor of the exploited. The welfare of the exploiter therefore depends upon the effort of the exploited, not merely the deprivations of the exploited. In non-exploitative economic oppression there is no transfer of the fruits of labor from the oppressed to the oppressor; the welfare of the oppressor depends on the exclusion of the oppressed from access to certain resources, but not on their effort. In both instances, the inequalities in question are rooted in ownership and control over productive resources.
The crucial difference between exploitation and non-exploitative oppression is that in an exploitative relation, the exploiter needs the exploited since the exploiter depends upon the effort of the exploited. In the case of nonexploitative oppression, the oppressors would be happy if the oppressed simply disappeared. Life would have been much easier for the European settlers to North America if the continent had been uninhabited by people. Genocide is thus always a potential strategy for non-exploitative oppressors. It is not an option in a situation of economic exploitation because exploiters require the labor of the exploited for their material well being. The contrast between South Arica and North America in their treatment of indigenous peoples reflects this difference poignantly: in North America, where the indigenous people were oppressed (by virtue of being coercively displaced from the land) but not exploited, genocide was the basic policy of social control in the face of resistance; in South Africa, where the European settler population heavily depended upon African labor for its own prosperity, this was not an option.
This dependency of the exploiter on the exploited gives the exploited a certain form of power, since human beings always retain at least some minimal control over their own expenditure of effort. Purely repressive control is costly and often fails to generate the required levels of diligence and effort on the part of the exploited except under very special circumstances. As a result, there is generally systematic pressure on exploiters to elicit in one way or another some degree of consent from the exploited in order to gain at least a minimal level of cooperation from them.
Well, I want to avoid saying that lower-income welfare recipients are in the ruling class; even if they get most of their income from government, it seems odd to place them at the powerful end of the stick.
I’m not sure you can avoid it. Look at Wisconsin where powerful public employee unions have been clamoring to get government to act the way they wish. And even “welfare queens” vote in elections. Think of it this way: If King Ferdinand lives in a castle and pays all his staff from the spoils of pillage, then the cooks, the maids, etc are all being paid with stolen goods. The fact that some of them may be ignorant of this doesn’t change the fact they are “part of” Genghis Khan’s empire. That doesn’t make them the same as the leader or a soldier obviously, but neither does it make them completely innocent bystanders.
I think if you use Block’s criteria of 1) being high up in the state-apparatus and 2) doing something that would not be done in a free market, then the problem is a little clearer. For example you yourself get paid from taxpayer funds, but by 2) you aren’t part of the “ruling class” since education would still be done in a free market (and the state has a monopoly on education). Similarly 1) takes care of the “ruling” in “ruling class”, so we don’t classify the maid of King Ferdinand as an oppressor but we do classify the King’s chief treasurer or general as oppressors. Welfare recipients fail 1) and so would not count as the oppressor, but the bureaucrat in charge of Medicare would.
Because we all know how efficacious voting is as a means of getting your intended political outcomes.
I imagine that in ancient Rome, some of the urban plebs frequently prayed Jupiter that Caesar would never reduce their state corn ration. But if you don’t believe that Jupiter actually answers prayers, whatever this may say about their personal character (*), you certainly shouldn’t take this as a reason to regard them as part of the effective ruling class.
(*) I don’t think it actually says much about that, either.
All elements of civilized society require rule, i.e., governance or management, including the individuals, the households, the farms, the factories, the distributors, the retailers, the courts of law, the police agencies, etc…
To the extent that there is liberty, legitimate government or legitimate rule proliferates unhindered and, to that extent, everyone is a part of the ruling class.
To the extent that legitimate rule is suppressed by the state, there is no rule, only the anarchy of power grabs, where rules and laws degenerate into arbitrary edicts, threats, atrocities and wars.
If you want to do away with the ruling class, then you’ll need the absolute state where no one really rules, not even the head of state, for as Ayn Rand said, “A leash is a rope with a noose at both ends.”
As for the parasitic class, they are (from the dictionary) “persons who receive support, advantage, or the like, from another or others without giving any useful or proper return, as one who lives on the hospitality of others.”
There are benign parasites, e.g., beggars and lazy relatives, and malevolent parasites, e.g., muggers, land “owners”, fiat money bankers, tax agents and DEA agents.
The defining attribute of their parasitism is that for what they receive they give little or nothing of value, so working for the state, while it may mean that you’re involved, possibly through no fault of your own, with a criminal enterprise, doesn’t necessarily make you a parasite.
Living off state welfare, social security and being kept alive by medicare, even if circumstances created by the state give you no other choice, means you’re a parasite. It seems that this category of “parasite class” is too broad and unwieldy from a moral standpoint, to be of any rhetorical advantage to libertarians.
From the political standpoint: analyzing the effect of special interest groups on politics, the concept of “the parasite class” might have more usefulness, but even then, the broader category of “people who receive money or advantages directly or indirectly from the state” is more useful.
Would you consider yourself a neo-Nazi?
Why do progressives, who have so much in common with Nazis, call everyone else Nazis? Projection?
That wasn’t a smear attempt. I’m genuinely curious.
1. As is probably obvious, I think you are all engaged in a wild goose chase. Not only is there no coherent basis for distinguishing a “ruling” or “parasitic” class from a ruled class, the concept of class isn’t very useful in making sense of how government functions.
2. For a more detailed account of my views on the subject, see the chapter “Economics of Theft, or the Nonexistence of the Ruling Class” in _The Machinery of Freedom_, published about forty years ago and available online at:
Yes reading that chapter of TMoF was what has made me skeptical of some attempts to define a “ruling class”, although I like Block’s version of “ruling class” the best. Nice to see you are making good use of the scan I put up years ago, never imagined you yourself would download and distribute it.
That’s a pretty strong argument against any ruling class having unified interests but perhaps instead we could work from the shared individual property of being in a good position to affect the law. That would explain both the conflicting interests (it would be a fallacy of composition to say “they all affect the laws made” implies they are all writing the laws together) and the patterns of power that form, it tends to concentrate in the hands of “law searchers” and away from “law takers” (analogous, of course, to price searchers and price takers, people whose marginal contribution may affect the law vs those who have to accept it as a given).
So it’s the government that rules? Enjoy your wild goose chase.
But the people who write the government laws, issue the orders, enforce the government’s orders, levy and collect the taxes–we can at least confidently finger them as the ruling class without any handwringing or gnashing of teeth, yes?
A thief is not a ruler.
A slave master is not a ruler.
Only free men can be rulers.
Only voluntary government is real government.
The state is anarchy.
Actually, many straight-edged objects such as this, are designed to be rulers.
Funny, but to the point.
If your reference to ‘ruler’ is that which measures a given criteria, and both the wealthy and the poor (insofar as their criteria is happiness in terms of either an experiencing self, a storytelling self, and/or a reconciliation of these two selves (self 2.5: a poor wealthy man)) measure things to be produced for happiness by a false criteria of happiness, then even that object isn’t a ruler insofar as it’s used within the broader context of false notions of happiness.
You may object that I use two levels of context, a sense-level and a conceptual-level. But to evaluate the sense-level as the object called ‘ruler’ does, implies a valve to the conceptual-level that is either switched on or off. If the valve to the conceptual level is off, then a ruler on the sense-level, like the object ‘ruler’ or the king or the subject, is not measuring anything that can evaluated by a coherent notion of happiness. Even if we’re talking about industrial grade objects like buildings, doors, and windows — let alone physical rulers. From this perspective, even a ruler cannot measure for a rich man, a poor man, or self 2.5. As long as the conceptual-level valve is closed, then even rulers aren’t rulers. Governments and corporations are run by rich men, poor men, and their representatives: self 2.5. But none of those three selves (notice: the absence of the third self) can open the valve to the conceptual level. The “sense” of all things is — because the valve is closed — nonsense. The Nozickian view of property law cannot open the valve. It forces people to point fingers at others and say who has legitimate property and who doesn’t. The logical conclusion is the French Revolution and a new ruling class. Disaster. The alternative is to open the valve and turn on the conceptual-level, that the sense-level may be determined by criteria from the conceptual-level. Otherwise, even rulers can’t measure things. Beware subjective value and objective value. Beware attempts to reconcile those values into a third value; the only third value to trust is beyond the subjective and the objective. Ask: how does one evaluate the criteria for a measuring stick, without appeal to what it measures (Jolley, 2010)? How can the sense-level open the valve to the conceptual level? Does it take knowledge of something or a way of being in the sense-level? Could any system with any imaginable design be preferred if it cannot open the conceptual valve? Even if government is eliminated, what good is it if we cannot turn on the conceptual valve?
To say that governments are the exclusive bad guy, is to miss the whole point. The bad guy is the closed conceptual valve, the darkness that is brought about by a state of being within individuals — not a class of people (unless we can count those who knowingly and intentionally keep the conceptual valve closed). So who is that?—Well, it’s whoever sees happiness as knowable/experimental with the conceptual valve off. It’s someone who says they know 100% what happiness is and how to have it, without reference to the conceptual valve one way or another. And if ‘ruling’ class can have any sense, then it’s an organization that “thinks” they know the valve needs to be turned off. As if such a “judgment” can be made in the first place. How are public-servants more responsible for that “judgment” than the military-industrial complex or the information-industrial complex? How can you blame public servants when they fight to open the valve? Sounds to me that you’ve misidentified the villain. Doesn’t that make you a servant to the “judgment” that the closure of the conceptual valve isn’t the ground of the ruling “class.” How is this not nihilism? Do you think hedge fund managers that act in a way they know closes the valve are somehow innocent as long as they don’t use the government to help them?
What is your definition of “voluntary government”? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any evidence of such a thing before, but I’m open to suggestions to both A) an objective definition and/or B) real life examples of your objective definition.
The state is anarchy.
Anarchy comes from the Greek word, “anarchia”, meaning “without ruler”. I agree that the state is chaos, and the wider its boundaries the more chaos there’s likely to be, but I do believe that a state is a monopoly on legislative and judicial services backed up by force, that is, a group of rulers, who therefore get to charge a monopoly price (taxes) for their “services”.
I’ll take a stab at that. If government is “a set of rules that govern human behaviour”, you could make a case that the family, the workplace and the church are all kinds of governments. You agree to follow the rules set down by your parents, or your employer, for instance. If you don’t agree, you leave.
OK, but if all social arrangements were strictly those “voluntary governments,” then it can hardly be said that there are any rulers, can there? If you’re free to break off from any of those voluntary governments whenever you want?
I’m pretty sure it’s widely understood that a ruler is someone who gets to set the rules for a certain group of people all of the time of their rule, regardless of the wishes of the ruled. If it’s a society of all voluntary governments, there are no rulers in that sense, and thus we’re in anarchy–a social context absence of rulers–are we not?
I’m not defending his use of the term “rulers”, in fact I kinda ridiculed it.
I regret having to append “voluntary” to “government” as the term is redundant; after all, any legitimate organization conducts business on a voluntary basis.
The state is not a form of government at all; at least, not any legitimate or legal form of government. How can an aggressive monopoly of the use of force be considered a government? Of course, real governments – entities that govern or control – are ubiquitous to civilization: from the self-government of the individual to organizations of ever-increasing complexity, that if at least partly legitimate, to the extent that they are so, derive their right to govern from the governed’s consent, through their voluntary delegation of their right to non-aggressive self-government.
Again; this time I regret having to append “non-aggressive” to “self-government”; after all, ”government” means ”control”; while you may assume that a criminal is in control of his actions, criminal behavior is not what we mean when we insist that he exercise self-control, nor should it mean the exercise of self-government nor government on any scale.
A few comments back I wrote:
“To the extent that legitimate rule is suppressed by the state, there is no rule, only the anarchy of power grabs, where rules and laws degenerate into arbitrary edicts, threats, atrocities and wars.”
There can be no ruler without rule, lawmakers without law or the government of a state; only tyrants, criminals and slavery.
Because tyrants and criminals of the state have no authority, cannot, as slaves themselves, be said to rule and constitute no real government, they, as a deception to help perpetuate their power, maintain the pretense of possessing authority, being rulers and running a government.
A tyrant wants you to believe he is a ruler and has authority, but a true ruler is no tyrant and his authority comes only from consent of the governed.
Do you have the right to rule your own life? Yes? You are a ruler.
Just replace “widely understood” with “widely misunderstood” and then you’ve got it.
As “anarchy” means the the absence or failure of government and the resultant disorder, a society of voluntary government is the opposite of anarchy and it does have rulers.
Unlike anarchic fantasies (the absolute state) voluntary government is not some stupid Utopian fantasy; it exists everywhere you find any degree of civilized order and as it approaches its pure form, it won’t implode.
To the extent that voluntary cooperation rules, you have civilized order. To the extent that the state suppresses the people’s government of their lives, you have poverty, waste, environmental destruction, crime and violence, anarchy, chaos, and war.
“Do you have the right to rule your own life? Yes? You are a ruler.”
I agree that I have the right to rule my own life and that in that sense I should be a ruler, a ruler of myself and my property. But the fact of the matter is that the illegitimate rulers are invading my right of self-rule, so until those illegitimate rulers are gone, the fact of the matter is that I’m not a self-ruler, not really. Debating the proper usage of “ruler” or “government” in the context of political debate doesn’t seem very conducive to that goal.
It seems to me that you’re attempting to redefine terms like “government” and “ruler” as meaning something other than how they are commonly used. Those kind of semantic disagreements just create a lot of confusion and waste a lot of time, in my opinion.
Especially when there are other common terms for the entirely voluntary associations and arrangements of society, e.g., “church”, “family”, etc., etc. It is implied that there are certain rules inherent in those arrangements, yes, which are derived from property ownership. These are systems of governANCE, yes, but we need not confuse voluntary property rules with what we commonly know as governMENT, which in the context of political discussion is the institution of rule of an entire geographical territory rooted in initiatory force.
“Unlike anarchic fantasies (the absolute state) voluntary government is not some stupid Utopian fantasy; it exists everywhere you find any degree of civilized order and as it approaches its pure form, it won’t implode.”
I agree with the substance of what you’re saying here knowing your definition of “government” as you claim it should be properly understood. I think the nature of my disagreement with you is semantic, not substantive.
“To the extent that voluntary cooperation rules, you have civilized order. To the extent that the state suppresses the people’s government of their lives, you have poverty, waste, environmental destruction, crime and violence, anarchy, chaos, and war.”
Again, I completely agree knowing how you say government should be properly defined, but again, our disagreement is over usage of terms. I don’t know that it’s a given that it should just be that “government” properly refers to the way you define it as long as there is in fact a government of the United States, a government of Illinois, etc., all of which are institutions based in initiatory force.
For example, most people would probably take your phrase “people’s government of their lives” to refer to the democratic electoral form of the institution rooted in force. I understand that you would object that this is massive misapprehension of the concept of government. Nonetheless, “People’s control, or people’s governance of their own lives” is a lot clearer and more concise as long as these illegitimate governments are still around.
Those kind of semantic disagreements just create a lot of confusion and waste a lot of time, in my opinion.
Indeed. It would be one thing to say “I believe that self-rule and self-government are ‘rule’ and ‘government’ in a more real sense than their conventional usage in reference to government,” or “I’m using the terms in an idiosyncratic way that differs from ordinary usage (which I recognize) in order to highlight some implications of the idea of rule and government.”
I’ve made similarly idiosyncratic uses of “capitalism” and “socialism,” with a view to recovering older usages of the early 19th century, and I’ve argued that those older usages convey some essential ideas that more recent usages obscure. But I wouldn’t dream of dogmatically asserting that the words “really” mean this or that, and that the vast majority of people who use them in the conventional sense are “wrong.”
That would scream of crankery in the same manner as the extended rants on a package of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap.
The meaning of language is a descriptive, not a prescriptive phenomenon, and there is no “real” meaning of words to be found in the original prototype of the English language which is engraved on stone tablets on Mount Sinai.
My reply to Bob answers most of your arguments.
While it’s true that words mean whatever people mean when they say them, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out that some meanings defy logic and that other standard meanings have coherence.
The way words are used has a powerful effect on the way we think. Since we live in a statist world, it’s only natural that language has a statist bias.
If we surrender the language to the statists, then we are playing by their rules (“the deck is stacked against us”); we will always be perceived as fools and they will continue to win by default.
Society hasn’t descended into anarchy; to whatever extent that civilized order exists, then to that degree there is self government and all of its complex, multi layered and interconnected extensions of its authority.
Liberty is a principle that governs human social order, not some state of Utopian purity. Even an inmate or a slave has some small degree of liberty.
You mean, “how they are commonly misused.” You may have heard the saying: “He who controls the language controls the debate.”
The statists control the language; when we agree to the illogical, self serving, statist notion that the state is the only legitimate meaning for “government”, then the notion that the state is an unfortunate but necessary evil logically follows; and so does the insane notion that a stateless society represents “anarchy”.
In the bizarre statist view of the world, liberty is anarchy, so the state must regulate everything to keep us from hurting ourselves and each other; but you think that statist-speak is not confusing; and you think that telling people that we can live without government is not confusing.
Worse yet is that this corruption of language has a corrupting effect on our thinking process.
By conflating liberty with anarchy, libertarians are prone to confusing liberty with anti-libertarian anarchist beliefs, such as the notion that hierarchical social structure is authoritarian. “A non-hierarchical social structure is antithetical to human nature. Hierarchical organizations are not inherently aggressive any more than people or non-aggressive any more than people. If I choose to voluntarily delegate authority to a person or an organization, what right do you have to prevent me from doing so if this organization commits no aggression? A stateless society can and probably would have many very large governmental structures, both civil and common. And so finally we come to another of my objections to the use of “anarchy” as a classical liberal ideal.”
“My use of the word “government”, as in “stateless government” is not only semantically logical, but is helpful in explaining how a stateless society can have legitimate authorities, laws and order. It also leads easily to understanding the evolutionary path, utilizing education and democratic institutions, from a system of state agencies to the gradual privatization of all necessary government agencies into voluntary governmental agencies competing for clients and members within a free market.”
If you can see this, then don’t you agree that to all but a few die-hard “libertarian anarchists” the idea of voluntary government sounds more reasonable and less frightening and ridiculous than anarchy? How else can you explain the reluctance of most, otherwise radical, libertarians to abandon the belief in a need for the state?
I admit that the statists are in control of the language. That’s why I’m forced to use a redundant term like “voluntary government” to avoid any confusion and why, in the vernacular, I understand that “the government” is referring to the state.
Until society is enlightened to libertarianism, the parts of my observations concerning the fact that the state is really no government at all and is, in fact, what is anarchic in society might not be easy for the general public to digest, but then is there anything about libertarianism that’s easy for the public to digest? I think that the argument, once it sinks in, is intuitive, powerful and easier to accept than anarchy.
That’s fine as an introductory step; I do that myself. It’s actually not more concise, but because of a common misconception, it’s easier for people to accept and it leads the way to the next step that governance and government are synonymous.
Mark, you’ve given me something to chew on for quite awhile. Very good points.
There’s an interesting discussion on all this over at Libérale et Libertaire.
Does David Friedman admit his mistake?