Where Minarchists Fear to Tread

In 1849, the members of the Society of Political Economy – the chief organisation for classical liberalism in France at the time – met to discuss Molinari’s proposal for the competitive provision of security. Gustave de MolinariThe meeting included some of the foremost liberal thinkers of the day, such as Bastiat, Dunoyer, Coquelin, Wolowski, and Horace Say (son of J.-B.). Without exception they agreed that Molinari’s ideas were unworkable, offering much the same objections to market anarchism as those that are prevalent today. (Although, oddly, nobody raised the objection that would later lead Molinari himself to moderate his position, namely the problem of so-called “public goods.”) Even Dunoyer, who in his earlier work had come close to Molinari’s position, now held that it was best to leave coercive force “where civilisation has placed it – in the State.”

As Rothbard notes, this is an odd claim coming from “one of the great founders of the conquest theory of the State.” Dunoyer’s suggestion that democratic elections provide all the competition that’s needed in the market for security also sits oddly with his earlier interest-group analysis of electoral politics.

A summary of this meeting was published in a subsequent issue of the Society’s organ, the Journal des Économistes. I have now translated and posted this summary, which bears the title “Question of the Limits of State Action and Individual Action
 Discussed at the Society of Political Economy.”

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15 Responses to Where Minarchists Fear to Tread

  1. Gene Callahan January 7, 2012 at 2:00 am #

    ‘As Rothbard notes, this is an odd claim coming from “one of the great founders of the conquest theory of the State.”’

    I don’t find it so. Recent research shows the state emerging from a period of extreme violence preceding it, and that its emergence reduced that violence considerably. What is odd about thinking both:

    1) The state emerged when one gang finally conquered the others it was at war with; and
    2) Thank God that finally happened! The gang warfare was brutal.

    • Roderick January 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

      What I took Rothbard to find incongruous in Dunoyer’s remark was not simply his being in favour of the state despite thinking it originated in conquest (after all, that was the dominant position in the 19th century anyway) but rather the wording he used to describe it. Speaking of leaving force “where civilisation has placed it – in the State” makes the process of the state’s acquisition of its power sound rather decorous given what Dunoyer took that process to have been. It’s like saying that we should leave Czechoslovakia where civilisation has placed it — under the rule of the Third Reich.

    • zhinxy January 12, 2012 at 8:22 am #

      My problem with Pinker’s theory as I understand it, without having read the book is, for me, right on the anthropological surface – Just because a State may have evolved out of widespread violence, doesn’t mean – avoiding Noble Savage stuff as best as we can, but by just looking around – That every human arrangement and every instance of tribes bumping into each other turned into vast interpersonal warfare and a Nation State had to emerge in order to cut down that bloodshed –

      This doesn’t mean there WAS no warfare, just that it wasn’t chaos and skirmish and destruction all about. There’s places where it happened, and places where it didn’t. Aztecs, yes. Rome, Yes. Pre-Colonial Australia, No. I think there’s a lot more going on sociologically with groups of humans living in relative peace with their neighbors than simply Nation State or no?

      • zhinxy January 12, 2012 at 9:59 am #

        Quick adding because the objection might come up – No, indigenous Australians were not homogenous – We’re talking hundreds of different languages, different traditions, very complex trade systems (look into the roving traders and their songline navigation sometime! – Also, not complete isolation, trade with Malay peoples happened, as well.) and relative peace and inter-tribal stability for something on the order of 25,000 years, with no developed, or even emerging Nation State to speak of. Were they perfect proto-anarchists, noble savages, any sort of silly thing like that, of course not.

        But they didn’t lay waste to everything in a Hobbesian war of all-against-all. Far from it. – An entire continent doing not-so-bad, certainly at least comparable to the peace between most Nations, and we don’t have to look into the mists of history to see it. Just peer past colonialism for a bit.

        Pinker may answer to this, (I very much hope he does.) but speaking more broadly of ordinary-ish people making the WARFARE AND VIOLENCE REQUIRED A CENTRAL STATE argument, I have yet to see a good answer to such real world, easily observed examples.

        It often turns VERY quickly into WELL, THEY DIDN’T/DON’T HAVE ANTIBIOTICS (Or telephones, or roads, or etc.), Despite the fact that the claim for the needed State was supposed to be stopping bloodshed and war, not the separate argument that we need it for technological progress.

  2. Skye Stewart January 7, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Gene, is the recent scholarship you’ve mentioned Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature and related works or something else? Some of his statistics seem dubious. He does argue for a Hobbesian account of the reduction in violence;

    “The first is that Hobbes got it right. Life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short, not because of a primal thirst for blood but because of the inescapable logic of anarchy. Any beings with a modicum of self-interest may be tempted to invade their neighbors to steal their resources. The resulting fear of attack will tempt the neighbors to strike first in preemptive self-defense, which will in turn tempt the first group to strike against them preemptively, and so on. This danger can be defused by a policy of deterrence—don’t strike first, retaliate if struck—but, to guarantee its credibility, parties must avenge all insults and settle all scores, leading to cycles of bloody vendetta. These tragedies can be averted by a state with a monopoly on violence, because it can inflict disinterested penalties that eliminate the incentives for aggression, thereby defusing anxieties about preemptive attack and obviating the need to maintain a hair-trigger propensity for retaliation.”

    Timothy Snyder of Foreign Affairs replied,

    “But the creation of states necessitates a second level of analysis in the book, one that Pinker does not really sustain. If the subject is violence, and states are in the picture, then the analysis requires a theory of interstate violence — war, in other words — as well as a sociological analysis of the development of pacific individuals within each state. After all, some of the very traits that maintain social order, such as the habit of obedience to authority, also make total wars and policies of mass killing possible. Instead of facing this problem squarely, Pinker conflates homicide and war. But as Pinker knows, states with low homicide rates have initiated horribly aggressive wars.

    “A similar intervention Pinker makes in his own experiment is to dismiss the two world wars and the episodes of mass killing that took place in the first half of the twentieth century. Pinker describes these horrors powerfully and eloquently but claims they are irrelevant to his argument. He is right that historians often impose too much coherence on that time period, wanting all the violence to somehow make sense. But Pinker errs toward the other extreme, portraying the two world wars as “horrifically unlucky samples from a statistical distribution,” and the major episodes of mass murder as resulting from “a few contingent ideas and events.” In other words, it was bad luck to have two big conflicts so close to each other, and more bad luck that they were associated with especially bad ideas. No doubt: but what does the brute fact that the wars happened mean for Pinker’s argument, and for the immediate future?”

    He finishes but writing,

    “Pinker’s natural experiment with history generates instead a selective rereading, in which his own commitments become the guiding moral light for past and future. But of course libertarianism, like all other ideologies, involves a normative account of resource distribution: those who have should keep. There is nothing scientific about this, although again, like all other ideologies, libertarianism presents itself simply as a matter of natural reason, or, in Pinker’s case, “intelligence.” Pinker goes so far as to suggest that libertarianism is equivalent to intelligence, since holding libertarian views correlates with high IQ scores. Since he believes that the need to regularly adjust IQ tests to preserve an average score of 100 means that we are growing more intelligent generation by generation, he deduces that we are becoming more libertarian. Pinker also conflates libertarian ideology with ethics, allowing him to conclude that we are therefore becoming increasingly moral. Each step in this argument is shaky, to say the least. As Pinker might have learned from Kant or Hume or any of the other Enlightenment figures he mentions, one cannot jump from reason to morals in this way. Even if each generation is brighter than the last, as Pinker believes, being smart is not the same thing as being just. To have an account of ethics, one needs to begin from ideas of right and wrong, not simply from mental habits that happen to be widespread in one’s own milieu and moment.

    “Pinker is to be praised for asking a crucial question — perhaps the crucial question — of modern history. But as he moves between the premodern world of violence and a postmodern style of discourse, he loses sight of the modern world in which we actually live.”

  3. Gene Callahan January 7, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

    Skye, Pinker’s analysis of the results may be flawed, but what he is relying on is lots of cumulative research on the prevalence of violence. Some critics have contended that there was an even more peaceful period before the pre-state period of high violence, but that doesn’t contradict the point I’m making. And that statistics Pinker cites *do* take into account 20th-century genocides and world wars.

    • dL January 8, 2012 at 7:55 am #

      Orwell, of course, provides us with an equilibrium model that more or less converges violence to zero. The obvious point: the violence argument in the context of the evolution of the National Security State(and organs of secret police) is not a serious argument.

    • Tommy January 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      Lawrence Keeley provides a more directly empirical view from paleolithic archaeology than does Pinker’s more opinionated view. Here is his book War Before Civilization online.

      Keeley notes that examination of the vast majority of human bones shows the marks of stone tool “ritual de-fleshing.”

      The logical fallacy that this tempts Pinker, is that the path from there to here is the only path available.

      The other confusion comes in understanding that path. While some credit statism, others offer religion as the source of pacification. Submission to an abstract ‘Alpha’ God pacified Alpha aspirants and the Shaman attenuated the Chief.

  4. Roderick January 10, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    Even assuming that increased peacefulness and the growth of the state coincide (and I think Pinker’s methodology for showing this is a bit dodgy — is one violent death in a community of 1000 comparable to 100,000 violent deaths in a community of a hundred million?), it doesn’t show which causes which. Suppose there are factors leading to greater peacefulness; this greater peacefulness would in turn lead to greater prosperity; greater prosperity can support a larger state (just as a healthy organism can support more parasites).

  5. Scott January 11, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    So what you’re saying is that the origin of the state and the fall in violence is kinda like this?

    • Rad Geek January 11, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

      Man, you hear that sound in the distance? That sound was the sound of Edward Tufte dying a little, inside.

    • zhinxy January 12, 2012 at 10:09 am #

      Bravo says everything but my sense of graph aesthetics. XD

    • Tommy January 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

      That is a very clever way of saying that numerical correlation doesn’t necessarily indicate an actual causal correlation. Even if your graph plotted CO2 vs Temp, a known causal mechanism, that is still no guarantee of causation. Kudos for your recognition of logic formally applied.

      My question would be, do you deny any connection, even if it is not a causal correlation, between the State and violence? Or are you denigrating the idea that the State ultimately causes a reduction in violence in hopes that the opposite, more widely accepted idea, that the State is the cause of violence, will win out?

  6. Roderick January 31, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Just came across this piece expressing the same worry as mine about Pinker’s methods.


  1. Where Minarchists Fear to Tread, Part 2 - January 9, 2012

    […] previously mentioned, the Society of Political Economy met in 1849 to critique Molinari’s market anarchist ideas. […]

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