Skip to comments.The Social Contract: The Ultimate Issue Between Liberalism and Conservatism
Posted on 08/03/2002 10:28:19 AM PDT by aconservaguy
This is Chapter 5 of Willmoore Kendall's book The Conservative Affirmation in America titled The Social Contract: The Ultimate Issue Between Liberalism and Conservatism.
The present chapter has two purposes: First, pursuant to earlier references in this book to a sort of continuity on the part of contemporary American Conservatism with the conservatisms of the past (and an overlap between its ideas and a tradition reaching back through the entire history of the West), to show where that continuity and that overlap are greatest, where contemporary American Conservatism is most at one with the past. Second, to explicate the issue at stake in the area of the overlap, an issue not in my opinion generally understood, and carry the reader, however sketchily, through the history of that issue. The second of these tasks, let me warn him, will necessitate my working him somewhat harder than I have done in earlier chapters; the issue is not an easy one to grasp, and the history of it not precisely exciting-besides which the inquiry will involve my taking him to remote times and places that he is not accustomed to think of as having any bearing on America or on American politics. But I perhaps have no right to do that unless I can explain to him beforehand why he should accompany me on such an inquiry. Let me, to that end (before launching myself on the inquiry proper), get busy on the first of the two purposes.
The problem is this: We have all been brought up to believe that the Framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were -though indeed subject to this or that other "influence"-under the spell of John Locke and of Lockean ideas; that, therefore, they believed the following: that man once lived in a state of nature, where he was under a law of nature; that the way society and government came into existence was by man emerging from the state of nature to make a compact, which could only go into effect if all men consented to it; and that the essence of that compact was that man retained, or held back, certain natural rights which the compact accordingly set down in black and white for all to see (these rights are, it is alleged, clearly visible in our Bill of Rights). IVe have been brought up to believe further, therefore, that our continuity with the past is somehow through the Framers and Locke, who was himself continuous with the past. Was he not a deeply religious man? Did he not take as his teacher the judicious Hooker, a divine by profession? In speaking of a law of nature was he not following the great teachers of the centuries preceding him? Now, all that, I contend (though 1 shall need a second book to explain it fully) has given rise to profound misunderstandings, even on the part of American Conservatives themselves, as to what our Conservatism is committed to-what kind of natural rights, what sort of role for consent in politics, and, perhaps above all, what attitude towards Locke and the social contract.
The logic (and so the conclusion) are unexceptionable: the Framers were Lockeans; Conservatives, naturally enamored of the past, affirm the Framers and therefore must affirm Locke; and in affirming Locke they establish their continuity with the past. But the logic and conclusion are unexceptionable only because the logic involves two whopping big fibs: namely, that the Framers were Lockeans (most of them, for one thing, opposed a bill of rights as part of the Constitution); and that you can establish continuity with the past through Locke. The two fibs, moreover, lead on to all manner of absurdities: the mobilization of American Conservatives behind the very Bill of Rights that the Liberals are using in their attempt to undermine our social order; the overemphasis (as with Russell Kirk, Frank Meyer, and Stanton Evans) on the role of religious belief in Conservatism; the glorification by American Conservatives (especially John Chamberlain) of those late nineteenth century Supreme Court justices who sought to hammer Congress over the head with the Bill of Rights; to inhibitions about supporting Congress as Conservatives must support it if they are going to keep on winning; and near-neurosis (as with Frank Meyer, perhaps with William F. Buckley, Jr.) about governmental power and so to the cult of weak government.
All that, and three absurdities more:
(a) The emphasis of Lockes political theory is, ultimately, egalitarian, since if the consent of all is necessary for the compact, then each mans consent is as good as any other mans; so that if you marry Locke you are ultimately without grounds for resisting current egalitarian trends-which is exactly where most of our Conservative intellectuals have ended up.
(b) The other great emphasis of Lockes political theory is on the absoluteness of the principle of consent in politics; so that if you marry Locke you are ultimately without grounds for resisting the things being done out over the world in the name of consent-the irresponsible liberation of colonies from their so-called oppressors, the attempt to liquidate the ruling classes in Latin America in order to enthrone the consent of the Latin American peones, and, as a final example, the enforcement of the will of the General Assembly of the United Nations because it originates in the consent of all mankind. (I do not say that our Conservative intellectuals dont oppose these things; merely that until they break with Locke they have no grounds for doing so.)
(c) The belief that the Framers were Lockeans, which they were not, obscures in any mind that holds that belief both the nature of the Framers continuity with the past and-what is worse, especially for Conservatives-the nature of the American political system, which it is the business of Conservatives to defend and perfect.
But I hope I have said enough now by way of justifying the remainder of this chapter-which, I repeat, deals with the history of the issue that separates Lockeans from non-Lockeans, attempts to situate Locke correctly in that history, and indicates, indirectly, why it is a libel on the Framers to say that they were Lockeans and believed in a social contract among equals emerging from a state of nature.
The idea of a social contract is the oldest and one of the most persistent kinds of answer that political thinkers have put forward with respect to some of the basic questions of political philosophy. Namely, What is the origin of organized society? of law? of justice? of the principles of right and wrong that justice and law are said to embody? Why should the members of organized society obey its dictates? Are there limits to their duty of obedience and, if so, what are those limits? What is the best political regime? To all these questions, either explicitly or by implication, the exponents of the idea of social contract make replies that run in terms of agreement or consent by the individual members of organized society: Organized society came into being as a result of agreements arrived at among its members, and is, therefore, artificial, man-made. Law, justice, the principles of right and wrong, are also man-made, and are merely that which men have agreed to. Men should obey the dictates of organized society, and subordinate themselves to its principles of right and wrong, because they represent that which men have agreed to as most likely to conduce to their well-being, and because, in one way or another, they have promised or consented to do so. Their obligation to obey is accordingly limited to that which has been agreed or consented to; and the best political regime is merely that to which men have consented, or now consent.
The social contract philosophers do not, by any means, give identical answers to the foregoing questions. Between the idea of tacit or implied consent (which may have grown up over a long period of time) and that of a contract (or compact, or pact, or covenant), with specific terms, and concluded at a certain place and time, there are numerous intermediate positions that one philosopher or another has made use of in offering his answers to the questions. Some have stressed far more than others the notion of an original or primitive contract. Different social contract philosophers have used their particular form of the contract for markedly different political purposes, ranging all the way from the support of absolute monarchy to the defense of democracy. Some appear to have meant, by insisting upon agreements or contracts, not so much that society, law, justice, principles of right and wrong, originated in actual agreements or contracts, but merely that we understand them best if we think of them us if they had originated in contracts and agreements, or as if they were contractual in character. That on which all the social contract philosophers agree, and that which sets them apart from other political philosophers, is the negative proposition that society, law, justice, principles of right and wrong, cannot be understood in terms other than those of contract and agreement, promise and consent.
We shall speak, in the following sections, of (1) the emergence of that proposition in classical antiquity, (2) its virtual disappearance from Western political philosophy from the time of Plato and Aristotle until (3) the great age of the social contract, which is that of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704), and J.-J. Rousseau (1712-1778), and (4) the present status of the idea of the social contract.
A word is in order as to a different possible approach to the topic in hand, and why it has been rejected for the purposes of the present chapter. Actual contracts, of one sort or another-from the Covenant between God and the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus, 19) to, e.g., the Charter of the United Nations signed at San Francisco following World War II-have often played a prominent role in the political history of mankind and in mans thought about politics. And it is possible, starting out from the 17th and 18th century contract philosophers, and their insistence that society is founded on contract, to treat all such contracts, and all the ideas of philosophers about them, as part of the historical background for the ideas of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau; as also to deem the recurrence of such contracts, in the history of politics and political philosophy, as proper expressions of their influence. There is, indeed, a vast literature in which more or less that procedure is followed. That literature is, however, open to at least two objections, here assumed to be ecisive: (1) It conceals the revolutionary significance of the 17th nd 18th century contract philosophers, by linking their names with practices and ideas that they in fact rebelled against. (2) It distracts attention from the character and extent of the actual influence of those philosophers upon subsequent thought and subsequent events. Both objections, it may be noted, turn on the contention that the philosophers in question did not intend their appeal to contract in any such literal fashion as the procedure presupposes, and that we must in any case distinguish between contracts understood as creating society, justice, law, and principles of right and wrong, and contracts understood as merely specifying society, justice, law, and principles of right and wrong in particular situations. The Old Testament Covenant, for instance, though it appears to be understood literally as a contract, merely transforms an already-existing society or people into a new kind of society or people (a people chosen by God, and recognizing itself as chosen); the law and justice (the Ten Commandments) to which it points are not only not created by it, but are not even embodied in it. The distinction between the contract (or the idea of a contract) that creates and the contract that specifies is, for both political practice and political philosophy, fundamental. The Old Testament Covenant, as also the contract to which Socrates appeals in Platos brief dialogue The Crito (see below), belong to an entirely different realm of discourse from the contracts of, e.g., Locke and Rousseau.
A. Classical Antiquity. The first genuine anticipations of the ideas of the 17th and 18th century contract philosophers are, as noted above, the first answers ever given to the major problems of political philosophy, namely, those of the early Greek conventionalists. Many of them are unknown to us by name, Heraclitus (576-480 B.C.) being perhaps the major exception; he wrote that men have made the supposition that some things are just and others are unjust. Most of what we know about the others we know from Plato and Aristotle, who wrote long after (though we do not know how long after) their ideas had become widely current in Greece. But we do know with certainty that the great issues of Greek political philosophy were the issues at stake between the conventionalist answers and the classical answers-those of Plato and Aristotle and their predecessors (especially Socrates); that the classical answers developed in opposition to the conventionalist answers; and that the conventionalist answers, as put forward by Platos and Aristotles great enemies the Sophists (chiefly in Platos Dialogues), were still very much alive in Platos and Aristotles time.
Those first answers, as the term conventionalist clearly implies, did not, unless by implication, run in terms of anything so concrete as contract, but merely in terms of convention, which we may perhaps best understand by analo,y with the process (which we see about us at all times) by which language develops. The rules of grammar, the usage of particular words, change over the years and decades and centuries; even the youngest of us has witnessed, and to some extent participated in, the chain of events by which a new word becomes generally accepted, or an old one becomes archaic. IUe know that, despite the best efforts of the authors of dictionaries and textbooks, what governs in the development of language is that to which, in some mysterious way, people come to agree-that is, convention; and that once people have agreed to mean and understand such-and-such by a given word or expression, that (for the moment at least) is what people are going to mean and understand by that word or expression. The power of convention in such matters seems, at least, to be overwhelming and indisputable; and from this it is a brief step, and an easy one, to the notion that there is no such thing as correct or incorrect in language, but merely what people happen to have agreed to. And from that, paradoxical though it may seem, we are led to the notion that people ought to use words in their agreed-upon meanings, and behave wrongly if they do not; that is, we begin to think of an implicit promise, or contract that somehow obliges us not to violate the relevant conventions although we know them to be merely conventional in origin. The Greek conventionalists sought to answer the aforementioned great questions of political philosophy-once they had themselves been discovered (their discovery, since we know there was a time when the problems were unknown, was the first great achievement of political philosophy)-in comparable terms: The Greek city-state, which was the form of society they knew, had come into existence by convention. The laws which any city-state, and thus all city-states, enforced upon their members, were the product of convention; so also were the principles of right and wrong, just and unjust, prevailing in any particular city-state. And the citizens obligation to obey the laws, or to accept prevailing notions of justice and right and wrong, went no further than could be explained in conventional terms: he either obeyed because his fellow-citizens, through their government, forced him to, or because he or his forefathers had agreed to obey them (see below).
Perhaps the fullest statement of the conventionalist position, and the most interesting for the present purpose because it uses a word (covenant) which is closer than convention to the word contract, is that which Plato places in the mouth of Glaucon in his dialogue The Republic. Time was, says Glaucon (whom, however, we should understand as merely repeating what he has heard from others, the Sophists in particular), when each man thought it good to inflict injustice upon others, and bad to suffer injustice at the hands of others, and when everyone behaved accordingly. In due course, however, men came to think that such a state of affairs produces great evils, and they were then ready to agree to laws and mutual covenants which would avoid those evils. Such is the origin of what men now call justice, which is that which the agreed-upon laws command, and injustice, which is that which they forbid; and men accept the new arrangement because it is in their interest to do so. There are, to be sure, two apparent additions here to the conventionalist position as stated above: First, the notion of a state or condition of mankind, pre-social, pre-legal, and pre-moral, before men had entered into any agreements at all, and when, therefore, they were bound by nothing. Secondly, the notion that self-interest is the motivation which impels men to agree to laws and covenants. Both notions, however, are evidently implicit in the earlier conventionalism: If the history of a society and justice is the history of agreements, then there must have been, off in the past, a first agreement, and a state of affairs prior to that agreement. And if justice and the principles of right and wrong, which are the source of disinterested motivations, are created by agreement, then the first agreement can be explained only in terms of selfish motives. Some (but not all) conventionalists, moreover, advanced a third notion, namely, that of the equality of the interest-motivated participants in the agreements in question, which enables us to say that all the major theses of the modern contract philosophers were well-known in classical antiquity.
Against the conventionalist position (which as it has come down to us must be regarded as for the most part a series of flat assertions, rather than as a corpus of philosophic reasoning), the classical philosophers urged such propositions as the following: The city-state (society) is natural to man; its origin is to be sought in the nature of man, for whose perfection it is necessary. Justice, the principles of right and wrong, and the law are not artificial and man-made, but rather are discovered by man through the exercise of reason. Man, whose nature requires him to strive for his own perfection, has a duty to subordinate himself to justice, to the principles of right and wrong, to the law. The conventions and covenants into which men enter can at most give to society a particular form, or attempt to specify justice, or right and wrong, in particular situations at particular times. The justice, or rightness, of any convention or any covenant is a question to be answered by political philosophy, in the course of reasoned discussion, and one that cannot be answered in terms simply, or even primarily, of that which men have promised or consented to. Conventions and covenants are, then, to be judged by standards that men do not create, but merely discover. That is just and right which contributes to mans perfection, which we come to understand by studying mans nature, not his agreements and contracts. The best regime is that which is best for the nature of man.
The classical philosophers are not to be understood as having denied, or having been unaware of, the role of convention and covenants, or even that of self-interest (as the conventionalists understood it) in social and political life. The Socrates of The Crito is willing to explain his immediate obligation to Athens in contractual terms, and certainly regards himself as bound by that which he says he has promised. Indeed, all the classical philosophers contended that a major function of the city-state (society) is to maintain among its members, through education, fundamental agreement concerning justice and the principles of right and wrong. Their contention against the conventionalist was that conventionalism provides only a partial answer to the problems that arise when men begin to meditate about society and politics, and no answer at all to what the classical philosophers described as the important problems. In their view, conventionalism was an expression of a sickly and inhuman state of the soul of man, and, for that reason, a denial and repudiation of the lofty purposes that society, government, and law ought to serve: those of reason not passion, therefore those of duty not self-interest.
B. The Interval. During the two thousand years following Plato and Aristotle, convention and contract, consent and promise, figured prominently both in political practice and in political philosophy, but not (apart from the Epicureans) in a manner at all relevant to the present chapter. The attention of political innovators and writers on politics shifts to a new range of problems, which we briefly note, though only in order to emphasize their remoteness from those that had concerned the Greek political philosophers (and are, later, to concern Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau). For example, What is the source of the authority of the Roman Emperor (does it, as Roman law held, derive from the consent of the people)? Is there, as St. Augustine (354-430 A-D.) held, a universal duty to obey kings? Must a king, upon pain of losing his claim to his subjects allegiance, recognize certain rights on their part? Is there a tacit compact between king and people, which defines their reciprocal rights and obligations? If (as often occurred) the accession ceremonies for a new king involve a coronation oath, in which he subordinates himself to certain conditions (for example, to rule justly and provide good government for all his subjects), does this create a contract or pact which he is bound to observe? Is the Pope entitled to depose an Emperor or king who misgoverns-for example, to absolve the Emperors subjects from their allegiance to him on the ground that he has broken a contract (Manegold of Lautenbach, in his Ad Gebehardum Liber, answered that question in the affirmative as early as the end of the eleventh century)? All these questions, clearly, have to do with the specification (see above) of rights and duties, not with the origin of the societies within which they are specified, or of the principles of justice and right and wrong. The contracts utilized or appealed to are understood merely as means of getting down in black and white rights and duties that derive ultimately from sources independent of contracts and agreements. Indeed, some commentators have distinguished, by way of emphasizing their peculiar character, between the contracts of government or contracts of submission of this period and the social contracts of the earlier and later periods. Such a distinction is useful, but only provided it not be permitted to obscure the general agreement (through most of the period in question) on a number of issues to which contract and agreement were not regarded as relevant at all. Namely, that monarchy, whether because willed by God or decreed by reason, is the best regime. That not only society, justice, and principles of right and wrong but also peoples, exist prior to the establishments of particular governments. That the monarch is in any case subject to law; and that men do not create law, but rather discover it, either through reason or revelation.
The political thinkers of the period draw upon three main sources, apart from their own ingenuity and creativeness: first, the teachings of the Greek classical philosophers (insofar as they were available); second, the teachings of the Old and New Testaments; and third, increasingly over the centuries, the rapidly-developing corpus of Christian theology. And while these three sources-especially the first and the third (philosophy and theology)-by no means always point in the same direction, they are at one both in excluding, implicitly or explicitly, the social contract of the earlier and later periods and in their insistence, explicit or implicit, that social and political life serves purposes in addition to, and higher than, that of the selfish or private interest of those who participate in it. Some political thinkers seek to state those purposes in terms of a law of nature or law of reason discoverable by all men. Some seek to state them in terms of the law of God or divine law. And some, insisting upon a necessary coincidence between natural and divine law, seek to state them in terms of a simultaneous appeal to both. But none seeks to state them in terms of a supposed original contract or agreement; none thinks, other than fancifully, in terms of a pre-social, pre-legal, or pre-moral condition of man; and all are agreed that exchanges of promises or consents-though useful for certain social and political purposes and, where they have occurred, binding-provide, at most, the occasion for common effort on behalf of those purposes. And there gradually takes shape, over the period, the Great Tradition of Western political philosophy which, however much its creators and custodians might disagree on other issues, speaks with a single and clear voice of the subordinate and merely-specifying role of promise and consent in mans search for, and his attempt to achieve, the true purposes of society, clearly understood to be those of justice and right.
Only toward the end of the period, only after and as a result of widespread acceptance of the idea of contracts of government between kings and peoples, do we begin to find writers who appear to edge over in the direction of the Greek conventionalists. Speculation arises as to the condition of men before the first contract between kings and people, and thus as to how the people that enters into that contract became a people to begin with. Some writers, of whom we may take Juan Mariana (De Rege et Regis Znstitutione, 1599) and George Buchanan (De Jure Regni spud Scotos, 1579) as examples, begin to toy with the notion of contracts by which peoples are formed, by individuals who have previously lived as free and solitary, and who for this or that reason, come together by means of compacts. And some critics have argued that, with such writers, we stand in the presence of the state of nature and the social contract of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. In point of fact, however, the emergence of speculation along these lines is worth noticing, in the present connection, precisely because it fixes attention upon the watershed that divides Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau even from their more or less immediate predecessors. For none of the latter would have countenanced the notion that the individuals entering into the first contract were free of moral obligations, or motivated exclusively by self-interest; none of them suggests that justice and the principles of right and wrong are to be explained by the contract; all of them are carriers of the Tradition. And it cannot be overemphasized that that tradition, against which Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau are to lead a revolution, has no necessary quarrel with the idea that particular governments come into and remain in existence by a process which involves a considerable element of promise and consent.
C. The Great Age of the Social Contract. The names of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau have commonly been linked together because all three teach (1) that prior to society men lived in a state of nature, (P) that in the state of nature men possessed a natural right or natural rights, (3) that men emerged from the state of nature by concluding among themselves a social contract or social compact, by means of which they surrendered to political society all or some of their natural right or natural rights, (4) that men abandoned the state of nature and promised or consented to obey the government and laws of political society, because in the state of nature their natural right or natural rights proved, in the absence of government and laws to guarantee them, insecure, (5) that society, government, and laws therefore have as their proper function the guaranteeing of the natural right or natural rights surrendered by the participants, (6) that the proper authority of society, government, laws, is limited to that proper function, as laid down in the contract or compact, (7) that the contract, so long as it is kept, is binding not only upon the participants but, in one way or another, upon their descendants, and so explains political obligation, that is, the duty to obey political authority, and (8) that by the same token the duty of obedience lapses in one way or another if the contract is violated. A considerable body of modern political literature has seized upon this common ground among the three philosophers and, abstracting from the admittedly great differences in emphasis among them, has treated the foregoing propositions as the contractarian position in political philosophy, capable of being discussed and evaluated without reference to any particular philosopher. (Another considerable body of literature, of scant relevance for the purposes of this chapter, has fixed attention upon the differences among them on matters lying outside their area of agreement: the specific terms of their respective contracts; the political purposes, authoritarian or democratic, to which they were dedicated; and their subsequent influence. Hobbes contract figures in this literature as the source of modern totalitarian ideas, Lockes as that of modern constitutional democracy, Rousseaus as, variously, closer to that of Hobbes, closer to that of Locke, or different from both because of its insistence that democracy must be local and direct.)
D. The Present Status of the Social Contract. The general verdict of the literature about the contractarian position common to all three has, it may safely be said, been unfavorable to it in the two-fold sense that (a) objections have been urged against it to which its defenders have been unable to make any satisfactory nswer, and (b) no recent political philosopher of reputation has openly adopted the position.
The objections referred to are, briefly stated, as follows: (1) There is no historical evidence that the state of nature, which the position presupposes, ever existed. (2) If a truly pre-social state of nature ever had existed, the men living in it would have been incapable of conceiving of a contract of the kind the position presupposes, because the very idea of contract bespeaks an already-advanced stage of social development. (3) The contract, in any case, fails as an explanation of the duty or obligation to obey the laws of society, which is to say that the contract cannot itself create the obligation to fulfill its own terms; that obligation, if it exists, must therefore be explained (as Hobbes and Locke do try to explain it) in terms other than those of contract. (4) The position holds that men enter the contract, and accept its terms, because they themselves decide that it is in their interest to do so for the sake of their natural rights. At most, therefore, the position can explain why men should obey while they find it in their interest to obey; once they regard the arrangements established by the contract as disadvantageous to their natural rights, they are no longer bound by it. (5) Even if we accept the notion that the original parties to the supposed contract do have an obligation to fulfill its terms, the contractarian position cannot explain why their descendants inherit the obligation. (6) The obligation of the descendants cannot be explained (as Locke and Rousseau tried to explain it) on the grounds that they consent, and become parties, to the contract by the mere fact of remaining within the society created by the contract. Most of the persons who grow up in a society have no genuine alternative to remaining within it; their remaining is not, therefore, an expression of consent-in-deed, to insist on the contract is to deprive the descendants of the original contracting parties of the very natural right or rights those original parties exercised in making the contract. (7) Since there are times when men should disobey the laws of their society, the contract proves too much. It merely confuses the problem of when men should obey and when they should not obey.
Because of these objections, numerous scholars have held, the contractarian position may fairly be regarded as exploded, except for two important alleged truths that it embodied, namely, that all men are equal, and that government ought to be based exclusively on the consent of the governed. These truths, they argue, are separable from the other contractarian doctrines, especially that of the state of nature and that of the contract itself. And because it was the seventeenth and eighteenth century contract philosophers who gave them currency, they may be regarded as the true fathers of modern constitutional democracy as practiced in, for example, the United States and the countries of the British Commonwealth. Both the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are frequently pointed to as instances of their influence, especially Lockes influence, upon subsequent events.
Another, more recent, body of scholarly literature takes an entirely different view as regards both the teachings and the subsequent influence of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. Their genuine significance, it holds, lies in an aspect of their teachings to which the contractarian position is in fact incidental, namely, in their break with the idea of a law, whether natural or divine, higher than and prior to any laws originating in agreement and contract. According to the recent scholarship, that is to say, the real issue posed by the contract philosophers, and the issue in terms of which alike the validity and the influence of their teachings is to be judged, turns on the question, After we have peeled off, in our thinking about society, justice, right and wrong, obligation, all that can possibly be explained in terms of agreement and contract, consent and promise, what do we have left? To this question the contract philosophers give the answer: Only the natural right of self-preservation, which is to say, only self-interest; not, as their predecessors within the Great Tradition had believed, duties. Man, in other words, was, in Rousseaus magic phrase, born free, and without law; he can be bound only by his own consent; and since today we find him bound by society and law, his bondage is either wrongful, because not based on his consent, or it is based upon agreement and contract. The contract, in short, is for the contract philosophers a logical necessity, which must be called in to explain the fact that men who were born free can nevertheless be rightfully subject to society and its laws. Any authority which is not rooted in agreement, consent, is therefore wrongful. Agreement, then, is the sole creator of society, of justice, of right and wrong; and, according to the recent scholarship, we misunderstand the contract philosophers when we impute to them belief in the original contract as a historical fact. With them, as with the Greek conventionalists, the key point is not that society, government, and law are and should be founded on consent, but that they must be rooted, and rooted exclusively, in the principle of consent. The contract philosophers, from this point of view, represent therefore a return to the infancy of political philosophy; and what is being decided, in the continuing debate among political philosophers, remains essentially the question whether there is or is not a higher law, independent of agreements and contracts, among men. And the problem as to the validity of the contractarian position is inseparable from that of the validity of the Great Tradition.
So, too, with respect to the influence of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. Insofar as the principle of consent has been accepted, in modern political philosophy and modern political practice, as the sole principle that needs to be taken into account when we seek to arrive at judgments as to what is right and what is wrong in politics, we stand in the presence of the influence of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau and, ultimately, that of the Greek conventionalists. Similarly, insofar as it is a generally-accepted principle of modern political philosophy and modern politics that the purpose of society, government, and law is to minister to the self-interest of the members of society, rather than to the perfection of mans nature or to the attunement of human affairs to the will of God, we again stand in the presence of the influence of the contract philosophers, and can by no means speak of their position as one that subsequent generations have refuted. Alike the question as to the validity of the major contention of the contract philosophers (namely, that there is no higher law), and the question as to the influence they have exerted in their attempt to discredit the Great Tradition, seem certain to remain highly controversial questions in the continuing struggles within political philosophy and political practice over the next decades.
In America, of course, these struggles are struggles between Conservatives and Liberals: Conservative affirmation and Liberal denial, Conservative faith in the growing Great Tradition (as set forth above) and Liberal relativism. The Lockeans in America, in other words, are the Liberals; and the Conservatives, who disagree and must disagree with the Liberals on all the crucial points, must learn to understand themselves as the anti-Lockeans. Then, at least, the record can be put straight.
(Excerpt) Read more at conservativeclassics.com ...
Originally the word liberal meant social conservatives(no govt religion--none) who advocated growth and progress---mostly technological(knowledge being absolute/unchanging)based on law--reality... UNDER GOD---the nature of GOD/man/govt. does not change. These were the Classical liberals...founding fathers-PRINCIPLES---stable/SANE scientific reality/society---industrial progress...moral/social character-values(private/personal) GROWTH
Sorry if that sounds like a copout, but I'm afraid I don't have the days it would take to research and document the Lockean/Kirkian/Burkean refutations of this writer.
Thanks. think that "at the point of a gun" is too simplistic analysis...
You can trace it to Hobbes and Locke or to Renaissance Jesuits, but one way or another, we will have the idea of the social contract and the consent of the government. One way or another we need the idea that rulers are responsible to the people and that people can revolt against tyranny. What makes Locke so special and so good or so bad?
Great link, but for today, I think Kendall's book "Baseball: How To Play It And How To Watch It" would be a better read.
Oh, how right you are.
The sophisters, who we today refer to as "liberals", are materialist collectivists. The sophisters were, and are, the heirs of the Greek Sophists, such as Protogoras and Hippias. The Sophists valued rhetoric over objective truth (opposing the Cosmologists), and believed in a natural aristocracy of intellect and ability. Today's "liberals" are no different. They believe that men are material, and that men must be perfected through "re-education" by "enlightened thinking"; this "enlightened thinking" is established by those men who have already been "perfected", i.e. went to all the right schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton), know all the right people etc. They don't believe in objective truth, and tend to be glib of tongue i.e. Clinton, Begala, etc.
The "calculators", today's libertarians, are materialist individualists and heirs to the Atomist school of Leucippus and utilitarian enlightenment philosophers J.S. Mill and Jeremy Bentham. They are rationalists, pay lip service to equality, and believe that men are perfectible through reason: either Randian-style "pure reason", or scientific reason, i.e. perfecting men physically through biotechnology.
Conservatives believe men are permanently fallen creatures that cannot be perfected and thus reject idealism. Conservatives appeal to Revealed Truth and history, what Russel Kirk called "The Permanent Things". Idealists--both sophisters and calculators--don't believe in the Permanent Things.
Finally, the Social Contract involves men giving up state of nature freedom--the 4 F's: Fighting, Fleeing, Feeding, Fornicating--in favor of order. Liberty was devised as an instrument of order, i.e. to prevent social unrest. Order can exist without liberty--not the other way around. Liberty in the state of nature, as Burke described, is "nasty..brutish and short".
You misspelled interest!
the consequence of this is what? Is the Constitution somehow illegitimate because we've failed to "sign" it?
Oh yeah...collective action through the state is based on men with guns (LEOs) initiating force.
This is related to the social contract in what way?
This is an inaccurate description of libertarianism. You seem too intelligent for this mis-characterization to be unintentional.
My understanding of libertarianism is one of advancement of liberty, something only peripherially associated with materialism. Help me out here. You seem quite lucid and informed.
Would you elaborate, please? I'm still a ways away from athesistism.
by Gene Callahan
One of the ways of justifying the existence of the state, prevalent since the time of Hobbes, has been the idea of the social contract. In brief, as put forward by Hobbes in Leviathan, without a ruling authority, people in a "state of nature" will never be able to trust each other. Contracts signed will not be kept, laws agreed to will not be followed, and each person, fearing for his life, will, in his own self-interest, be prompted to initiate the infamous Hobbesian "war of all against all."
We can imagine that in the state of nature, you promise that if I give you five gold pieces, you'll give me your cow. But if I give you the cow, you now have the cow and the gold. Why shouldn't you just dash off, perhaps after running me through with your knife? Therefore, the contractarians conclude, we will never transact at all. We will either avoid each other or engage in violence. Without an agreed-upon enforcer of contracts, actors face a "Prisoner's Dilemma": each would prefer to be able to trade rather than not, but neither can trust the other to uphold his end of the deal, so no trade takes place.
Therefore, man makes a social contract he agrees to lay down his arms and surrender his sovereignty to a ruler, in other words, a state, provided everyone else will do the same. The ruler, in the meantime, agrees to keep the peace. Later thinkers, such as John Locke, amended and qualified Hobbes's idea by trying to further restrict the powers of the ruler. The US Constitution is an attempt to explicitly lay down the restrictions to which the ruler will be subject.
Sometimes anarchists attempt to reject the contractarian theory on the basis of the fact that no such contract was ever signed by all of the people in a society. While this is true and certainly weakens the theory, contractarians are aware of this fact. Their answer, while not as satisfactory as actually seeing the contract would be, is not unreasonable: True, they admit, no such contract was ever signed. But it can be shown that it is rational for each person to sign it today if presented to him. Therefore, there is no need to go through the brutal war of all against all just to prove this point. The state should exist, and it does exist, so there you have it.
There is, however, a much stronger argument available against contractarianism. One of the brilliant achievements of Anthony de Jasay, in works such as The State and Against Politics, is to point out a gigantic hole in the approach. People cannot trust each other's contracts without an enforcer, so the contractarians say, therefore they all agree to sign a contract with a universal enforcer, a state. But if they could not trust their contracts with each other, what makes them think they can trust their contract with the state? If I couldn't trust you not to steal my gold, how in the world can I trust this other fellow, the new king, especially since we've just equipped him with an army, a police force, and the ability to levy taxes? At least when it was just me against you, I stood a chance, but now I've got a whole army stealing my gold. What kind of a bargain is that?
Minarchists, who may recognize quite clearly the danger that their minimal state will not stick to its contractual limits and instead grow like Topsy, often propose vigilance as the answer. However, there is something contradictory about such a solution. The idea that the people can rise up and depose their subjugator implies that people could solve the problem of trusting each other without the state, for certainly the state will not enforce the contract people signed to overthrow it! In other words, minarchists hold that we need the state to solve the problems presented by not being able to trust each other when undertaking collective action. But then they tell us that, should the state get out of hand, we can collectively agree to overthrow it, and trust each other to adhere to that agreement. So, is there a problem with collective action or isn't there?
De Jasay goes further and suggests that the seemingly insurmountable problem presented by Hobbes is not really insurmountable after all. When looked at as a single-play prisoner's dilemma, things may seem hopeless. But human society does not work like that. There are very few people whom we interact with only once. De Jasay calls these "Transient Tourist" interactions, after someone who gets ripped off on an island he will only visit once in his life. The bulk of our interactions, and by far the bulk of our most important ones, are with people or organizations we will interact with repeatedly. In those cases, cooperation becomes the best strategy, and we can expect to be able to trust others without a sovereign ruling over us. As de Jasay says, "Anyone who has a name, lives in a place, does something for a living that is, anyone tied into the fabric of a society would think twice before treating mutual promises as the single-play prisoner's dilemma says he must."
-- End of quote ---
It's true that it is not logically consistent to claim the social contract is necessitated by the problem of contract enforcement, since the proposed solution provides no transitive closure ("who will enforce the contract with the contract enforcement agency?").
However, the fundamental problem with social contract theory is simply that no one has the right to make membership in society contingent upon acceptance of a contract. Each individual may exercise his right to free association by refusing to socially interact with anyone else. But no one has the right to dictate to others whom they may or may not interact with socially. Since no individual has any such right, neither does society.
What reason(s) justify government if not contract? And, how does the social contract "force" anyone to do anything? It would seem that if someone "accepts" it, then he/she is bound by the "rules" of it...
Also, even if it's supposed that "no one has the right to dictate to others...", couldn't a society make its acceptance/membership contingent on a contract? A person wants to associate with it, why not allow society to lay down some ground rules, an agreement? Why can't a contractarian idea stand? Why does each individual person have the right to associate with whomever and dissaocciate with whomever? How does this right extend to government?
It would seem that the consequences of such an individualism would be an anarchy, which would seem more harmful than good (although i could be wrong, lol) ...
This is my last post to you. I know that you will go on nipping at my heels and posting things like this; however I will ignore you.
See, here's the deal, and I mean this in all sincerity: you really have no idea what I'm talking about on any of the issues at hand. I mean, like no idea. One of my math professors used to say that there were three answers to any problem: right, wrong, and "not even wrong". In other words, the student was so completely ignorant of the mechanics of the problem that the answer could not even be ascribed to an attempt to answer the problem. Kind of like stating that the answer to the question, "what is eight times eight?" is "rhinoceros".
So, it's really a waste of time debating you, because you simply want to argue, and you really don't even care if your answers make sense. You seem to believe that by typing things on the keyboard and posting them to my attention means that you're "debating" me.
I don't want to insult anyone on these boards; I want to engage in reasonable, friendly debate. You apparently want none of that. You just want to post nonsense and declare "victory".
Fine. You win. Everything you posted was right and everything I posted was wrong. Congratulations.
"It's true that it is not logically consistent to claim the social contract is necessitated by the problem of contract enforcement, since the proposed solution provides no transitive closure ("who will enforce the contract with the contract enforcement agency?")."
Who watches the watchmen? God.
Yes, although the argument generalizes beyond the issue of taxes. What you owe others is to respect their rights. They owe the same to you. All other obligations come into existence in only one of two ways: by contract, or as a consequence of your violating someone else's rights.
Communitarian theory is based on the concept of public goods. The basic premise is that not all rights can be individual rights, but must instead necessarily be collective rights, because some things are inherently public goods that cannot or should not be controlled by individual persons. The justification for this theory is based on the fact that some goods have one or more of the following properties:
There are two fundamentally different types of public goods: natural public goods that exist independently of the work or efforts of individuals and social public goods that must be created by individual action. For example, the atmosphere is a natural public good, because it is not a product of the work or efforts of individuals, although it can be damaged or used up by their actions. In contrast, national defense is a social public good, because it can only be provided by the actions of individuals in a community or societyunlike the atmosphere, it is not simply there to be used.
Why should the community (or society) collectively own goods or services that qualify as public goods according to one or more of these criteria? There are two reasons commonly given:
Its a valid point that strict individual ownership is not practical for all goods and services. However, there are two reasons why collective ownership of public goods should only apply to the most limited extent possible:
As for the free rider problem, note that its nature is quite different in the cases of natural and social public goods: a free rider with respect to a social public good, such as national defense, fails to engage in his fair share of positive action, whereas a free rider in the case of a natural public good, such as the atmosphere, fails to engage in his fair share of negative action.
The free rider problem does justify imposing a moral obligation to avoid damaging or using up public goods or services non-equitablythis is simply the moral obligation to avoid actively interfering with the rights of others. However, the free rider problem does not justify imposing a moral obligation to actively produce or provide any public good or serviceany such obligation would violate the principle of individual independence.
A community does have the right to provide public goods and services, because each member of the community has the right to produce and provide goods and services for himself and/or for others. But a community has no right to wrongfully coerce anyone into producing or providing public goods or services, because John has no positive right to coerce Jane into contributing to the realization of Johns goalsregardless of any alleged benefit that Jane might receive from doing so.
So, his implication is most true Christians are tyrannts?
Strike The Root
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
Look Ma: Invisible Hands
Part I: The Invisible Hand of Spontaneous Order
In a recent article, libertarian Brink Lindsey writes:
This assertion lies at the heart of the argument many libertarians make for limited government and against anarcho-capitalism. What is the "invisible hand" Lindsey refers to? This invisible hand was described by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations:
Economic libertarians recognize that markets spontaneously produce order. They recognize that self-interested action in a free market produces general benefits which need not be intended by the individuals doing business in that market. The individual consumer desires a quality product at a low price. The businessman desires profit. In a free market, the invisible hand requires that the businessman must provide quality goods at low prices in order to profit. If the goods he produces are of insufficient quality, another businessman will intercept the profit he seeks by offering goods of better quality at the same price. If he asks too high a price for the goods he produces, another businessman will intercept the profit he seeks by offering goods of the same quality at a lower price. The businessman need only be fundamentally concerned with his own benefit, but in the free market, the invisible hand constrains him to produce value for others at the lowest price he can manage in order to achieve his own benefit. Whether he cares to benefit others or not, in a free market he must benefit others to benefit himself.
April 15, 2002
by Leonard E. Read
I am a lead pencil -- the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.
Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that's all I do.
You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery -- more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, `"We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders."
I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me -- no, that's too much to ask of anyone -- if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because--well, because I am seemingly so simple.
Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the U.S.A. each year.
Pick me up and look me over. What do you see? Not much meets the eye -- there's some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a bit of metal, and an eraser.
Just as you cannot trace your family tree back very far, so is it impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and complexity of my background.
My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the growing of hemp and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the raising of all the foods. Why, untold thousands of persons had a hand in every cup of coffee the loggers drink!
The logs are shipped to a mill in San Leandro, California. Can you imagine the individuals who make flat cars and rails and railroad engines and who construct and install the communication systems incidental thereto? These legions are among my antecedents.
Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. These are kiln dried and then tinted for the same reason women put rouge on their faces. People prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid white. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power, the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill requires? Sweepers in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are the men who poured the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company hydroplant which supplies the mill's power!
Don't overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand in transporting sixty carloads of slats across the nation.
Once in the pencil factory -- $4,000,000 in machinery and building, all capital accumulated by thrifty and saving parents of mine -- each slat is given eight grooves by a complex machine, after which another machine lays leads in every other slat, applies glue, and places another slat atop -- a lead sandwich, so to speak. Seven brothers and I are mechanically carved from this "wood-clinched" sandwich.
My "lead" itself -- it contains no lead at all -- is complex. The graphite is mined in Ceylon. Consider these miners and those who make their many tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the graphite is shipped and those who make the string that ties the sacks and those who put them aboard ships and those who make the ships. Even the lighthouse keepers along the way assisted in my birth -- and the harbor pilots.
The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi in which ammonium hydroxide is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added such as sulfonated tallow -- animal fats chemically reacted with sulfuric acid. After passing through numerous machines, the mixture finally appears as endless extrusions -- as from a sausage grinder -- cut to size, dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. To increase their strength and smoothness the leads are then treated with a hot mixture which includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated natural fats.
My cedar receives six coats of lacquer. Do you know all the ingredients of lacquer? Who would think that the growers of castor beans and the refiners of castor oil are a part of it? They are. Why, even the processes by which the lacquer is made a beautiful yellow involves the skills of more persons than one can enumerate!
Observe the labeling. That's a film formed by applying heat to carbon black mixed with resins. How do you make resins and what, pray, is carbon black?
My bit of metal -- the ferrule -- is brass. Think of all the persons who mine zinc and copper and those who have the skills to make shiny sheet brass from these products of nature. Those black rings on my ferrule are black nickel. What is black nickel and how is it applied? The complete story of why the center of my ferrule has no black nickel on it would take pages to explain.
Then there's my crowning glory, inelegantly referred to in the trade as "the plug," the part man uses to erase the errors he makes with me. An ingredient called "factice" is what does the erasing. It is a rubber-like product made by reacting rape- seed oil from the Dutch East Indies with sulfur chloride. Rubber, contrary to the common notion, is only for binding purposes. Then, too, there are numerous vulcanizing and accelerating agents. The pumice comes from Italy; and the pigment which gives "the plug" its color is cadmium sulfide.
No One Knows
Does anyone wish to challenge my earlier assertion that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me?
Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Now, you may say that I go too far in relating the picker of a coffee berry in far off Brazil and food growers elsewhere to my creation; that this is an extreme position. I shall stand by my claim. There isn't a single person in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. From the standpoint of know-how the only difference between the miner of graphite in Ceylon and the logger in Oregon is in the type of know-how. Neither the miner nor the logger can be dispensed with, any more than can the chemist at the factory or the worker in the oil field -- paraffin being a by-product of petroleum.
Here is an astounding fact: Neither the worker in the oil field nor the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that does the knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company performs his singular task because he wants me. Each one wants me less, perhaps, than does a child in the first grade. Indeed, there are some among this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how to use one. Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something like this: Each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his tiny know-how for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may not be among these items.
No Master Mind
There is a fact still more astounding: The absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred.
It has been said that "only God can make a tree." Why do we agree with this? Isn't it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable!
I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies -- millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.
The above is what I meant when writing, "If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing." For, if one is aware that these know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand -- that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive master-minding -- then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith.
Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely. And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that he himself doesn't know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also recognizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nation's mail delivery any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to make a pencil. Now, in the absence of faith in free people--in the unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity -- the individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental "master-minding."
If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it's all about us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when compared, for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating machine or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands of other things. Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person's home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one's range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard -- halfway around the world -- for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!
The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society's legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.
This essay reprinted courtesy of the Foundation for Economic Education.
Return to the Articles and Essays page, or the Articles and Essays by Date page.
excerpted from: Whole Number 54 - February 1992
by Mark Skousen
about the author
Sometimes a single book or even a short cogent essay can change an individual's entire outlook on life. For Christians, it is the New Testament. For radical socialists, Karl Marx' and Friedrich Engels' The Communist Manifesto is revolutionary. For libertarians, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is pivotal. For economists, Ludwig von Mises' Human Action can be mind-changing.
Recently I came across a little essay in a book called Adventures of Ideas , by Alfred North Whitehead, the British philosopher and Harvard professor. The essay, "From Force to Persuasion," had a profound effect upon me. Actually what caught my attention was a single passage on page 83. This one small excerpt in a 300-page book changed my entire political philosophy.
Here's what it says:
"The creation of the world - said Plato - is the victory of persuasion over force... Civilization is the maintenance of social order, by its own inherent persuasiveness as embodying the nobler alternative. The recourse to force, however unavoidable, is a disclosure of the failure of civilization, either in the general society or in a remnant of individuals...
"Now the intercourse between individuals and between social groups takes one of these two forms: force or persuasion. Commerce is the great example of intercourse by way of persuasion. War, slavery, and governmental compulsion exemplify the reign of force."
Professor Whitehead's vision of civilized society as the triumph of persuasion over force should become paramount in the mind of all civic-minded individuals and government leaders. It should serve as the guideline for the political ideal.
Let me suggest, therefore, a new political creed:
The triumph of persuasion over force is the sign of a civilized society.
Surely this is a fundamental principle to which most citizens, no matter where they fit on the political spectrum, can agree.
Too often lawmakers resort to the force of law rather than the power of persuasion to solve a problem in society. They are too quick to pass another statute or regulation in an effort to suppress the effects of a deeprooted problem in society rather than seeking to recognize and deal with the real cause of the problem, which may require parents, teachers, pastors, and community leaders to convince people to change their ways.
Too often politicians think that new programs requiring new taxes are the only way to pay for citizens' retirement, health care, education or other social needs. "People just aren't willing to pay for these services themselves," they say, so they force others to pay for them instead.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "Taxation is the price we pay for civilization." But isn't the opposite really the case? Taxation is the price we pay for failing to build a civilized society. The higher the tax level, the greater the failure. A centrally planned totalitarian state represents a complete defeat for the civilized world, while a totally voluntary society represents its ultimate success.
Thus, legislators, ostensibly concerned about poverty and low wages, pass a minimum wage law and establish a welfare state as their way to abolish poverty. Yet poverty persists, not for want of money, but for want of skills, capital, education, and the desire to succeed.
The community demands a complete education for all children, so the state mandates that all children attend school for at least ten years. Winter Park High School, which two of our children attend, is completely fenced in. Students need a written excuse to leave school grounds and an official explanation for absences. All the gates except one are closed during school hours, and there is a permanent guard placed at the only open gate to monitor students coming and going. Florida recently passed a law that takes away the driver's license of any student who drops out of high school. Surely, they say, that will eliminate the high dropout rate for students.
But suppressing one problem only creates another. Now students who don't want to be in school are disrupting the students who want to learn. The lawmakers forget one thing. Schooling is not the same as education.
Many high-minded citizens don't like to see racial, religious or sexual discrimination in employment, housing, department stores, restaurants, and clubs. Yet instead of persuading people in the schools, the churches and the media that discrimination is inappropriate behavior and morally repugnant, law-makers simply pass civil rights legislation outlawing discrimination, as though making hatred illegal can instantly make it go away. Instead, forced integration often intensifies the already-existing hostilities. Does anyone wonder why discrimination is still a serious problem in our society?
Is competition from the Japanese, the Germans and the Brazilians too stiff for American industry? We can solve that right away, says Congress. No use trying to convince industry to invest in more productive labor and capital, or voting to reduce the tax burden on business. No, they'll just impose import quotas or heavy duties on foreign products and force them to "play fair." Surely that will make us more competitive, and keep American companies in business.
Is the use of mind-altering drugs a problem in America? Then let's pass legislation prohibiting the use of certain high-powered drugs. People still want to use them? Then let's hire more police to crack down on the drug users and drug dealers. Surely that will solve the problem. Yet such laws never address the fundamental issue, which would require analyzing why people misuse drugs and discovering ways they can satisfy their needs in a nondestructive manner. By out-lawing illicit drugs, we fail to consider the underlying cause of increased drug or alcohol misuse among teenagers and adults, and we fail to accept the beneficial uses of such drugs in medicine and healthcare. I salute voluntary efforts in communities to deal with these serious problems, such as "no alcohol" high school graduation parties and drug-awareness classes. Tobacco is on the decline as a result of education, and drug use could abate as well if it were treated as a medical problem rather than a criminal one.
Abortion is a troublesome issue, we all agree on that. Whose rights take precedence, the baby's or the mother's? When does life begin, at conception or at birth?
Political conservatives are shocked by the millions of legal killings that take place every year in America and around the world. How can we sing "God Bless America" with this epidemic plaguing our nation? So, for many conservatives the answer is simple: Ban abortions! Force women to give birth to their unexpected and unwanted babies. That will solve the problem. This quick fix will undoubtedly give the appearance that we have instantly solved our national penchant for genocide.
Wouldn't it be better if we first tried to answer the all important questions, "Why is abortion so prevalent today, and how can we prevent unwanted pregnancies?" Or, once an unwanted pregnancy occurs, how can we persuade people to examine alternatives, including adoption?
Crime is another issue plaguing this country. There are those in society who want to ban handguns, rifles and other firearms, or at least have them tightly controlled and registered, in an attempt to reduce crime. We can solve the murder and crime problem in this country, they reason, simply by passing a law taking away the weapons of murder. No guns, no killings. Simple, right? Yet they only change the outward symptoms, while showing little interest in finding ways to discourage a person from becoming criminal or violent in the first place.
Legislators should be slow to pass laws to protect people against themselves. While insisting on a woman's "right to choose" in one area, they deny men and women the right to choose in every other area. Unfortunately, they are all too quick to act. Drivers aren't wearing their seatbelts? Let's pass a mandatory seatbelt law. Motorcyclists aren't wearing helmets? Let's mandate helmets. We'll force people to be responsible!
How did we get into this situation, where lawmakers feel compelled to legislate personal behavior "for our own good"? Often we only have ourselves to blame.
The lesson is clear: If we are going to preserve what personal and economic freedom we have left in this country, we had better act responsibly, or our freedom is going to be taken away. Too many detractors think that freedom is nothing more than the right to act irresponsibly. They equate liberty with libertine behavior: that the freedom to choose whether to have an abortion means that they should have an abortion, that the freedom to take drugs means that they should take drugs, that the legalization of gambling means that they should play the roulette wheel.
It is significant that Professor Whitehead chose the word "persuasion," not simply "freedom," as the ideal characteristic of the civilized world. The word "persuasion" embodies both freedom of choice and responsibility for choice. In order to persuade, you must have a moral philosophy, a system of right and wrong, which you govern yourself. You want to persuade people to do the right thing not because they have to, but because they want to.
There is little satisfaction from doing good if individuals are mandated to do the right thing. Character and responsibility are built when people voluntarily choose right over wrong, not when they are forced to do so. A soldier will feel a greater sense of victory if he enlists in the armed forces instead of being drafted. And high school students will not comprehend the joy of service if it is mandated by a community-service requirement for graduation.
Admittedly, there will be individuals in a free society who will make the wrong choices, who will become drug addicts and alcoholics, who will refuse to wear a safety helmet, who will hurt themselves playing with firecrackers, and who will drop out of high school. But that is the price we must pay for having a free society, where individuals learn from their mistakes and try to build a better world.
In this context, let us answer the all-important question, "Liberty and morality: can we have both?" The answer is, absolutely yes! Not only can we have both, but we must have both, or eventually we will have neither. As Sir James Russell Lowell said, "The ultimate result of protecting fools from their folly is to fill the planet full of fools."
Our motto should be, "We teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."
Freedom without responsibility only leads to the destruction of civilization, as evidenced by Rome and other great civilizations of the past. As Alexis de Tocqueville said, "Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot." In a similar vein, Henry Ward Beecher added, "There is no liberty to men who know not how to govern themselves." And Edmund Burke wrote, "What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?"
Today's political leaders demonstrate their low opinion of the public with every social law they pass. They believe that, if given the right to choose, the citizenry will probably make the wrong choice. Legislators do not think any more in terms of persuading people; they feel the need to force their agenda on the public at the point of a bayonet and the barrel of a gun, in the name of the IRS, the SEC, the FDA, the DEA, the EPA, or a multitude of other ABCs of government authority.
My challenge to all lovers of liberty today is to take the moral high ground. Our cause is much more compelling when we can say that we support drug legalization, but do not use mind altering drugs. That we tolerate legal abortion, but choose not to abort our own future generations. That we support the right to bear arms, but do not misuse handguns. That we favor the right of individuals to meet privately as they please, but do not ourselves discriminate.
In the true spirit of liberty, Voltaire once said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." If we are to be effective in convincing others of the benefits of a tolerant world, we must take the moral high ground by saying, "We may disapprove of what you do, but we will defend to the death your right to do it."
In short, my vision of a responsible free society is one in which we discourage evil, but do not prohibit it. We make our children and students aware of the consequences of drug abuse and other forms of irresponsible behavior. But after all our persuading, if they still want to use harmful drugs, that is their privilege. In a free society, individuals must have the right to do right or wrong, as long as they don't threaten or infringe upon the rights or property of others. They must also suffer the consequences of their actions, as it is from consequences that they learn to choose properly.
We may discourage prostitution or pornography by restricting it to certain areas and to certain ages, but we will not jail or fine those who choose to participate in it privately. If an adult bookstore opens in our neighborhood, we don't run to the law and pass an ordinance, we picket the store and discourage customers. If our religion asks us not to shop on Sunday, we don't pass Sunday "blue" laws forcing stores to close, we simply don't patronize them on Sunday. If we don't like excessive violence and gratuitous sex on TV, we don't write the Federal Communications Commission, we join boycotts of the advertiser's products. Several years ago the owners of Seven Eleven stores removed pornographic magazines from their stores, not because the law required it, but because a group of concerned citizens persuaded them. These actions reflect the true spirit of liberty.
Lovers of liberty should also be strong supporters of the institutions of persuasion, such as churches, charities, foundations, private schools and colleges, and private enterprise. They should engage in many causes of their own free will and choice. They should not rely on the institutions of force, such as government agencies, to carry out the cause of education and the works of charity and welfare. It is not enough simply to pay your taxes and cast your vote and think you've done your part.
It is the duty of every advocate of human liberty to convince the world that we must solve our problems through persuasion and not coercion. Whether the issue is domestic policy or foreign policy, we must recognize that passing another regulation or going to war is not necessarily the only solution to our problems. Simply to pass laws prohibiting the outward symptoms of problems is to sweep the real problems under the rug. It may hide the dirt for a while, but it doesn't dispose of the dirt properly or permanently.
This approach does not mean that laws would not exist. People should have the freedom to act according to their desires, but only to the extent that they do not trample on the rights of others. Rules and regulations, such as traffic laws, need to be established and enforced by private and public institutions in order for a free society to exist. There should be stringent laws against fraud, theft, murder, pollution, and the breaking of contracts, and those laws should be effectively enforced according to the classic principle that the punishment should fit the crime. The full weight of the law should be used to fine and imprison the perpetrators, to compensate the victims, and to safe-guard the rights of the innocent. Yet within this legal framework, we should permit the maximum degree of freedom in allowing people to choose what they think, act and do to themselves without harming others.
Convincing the public of our message, that "persuasion instead of force is the sign of a civilized society," will require a lot of hard work, but it can be rewarding. The key is to make a convincing case for freedom, to present the facts to the public so that they can see the logic of our arguments, and to develop a dialogue with those who may be opposed to our position. Our emphasis must be on educating and persuading, not on arguing and name-calling. For we shall never change our political leaders until we change the people who elect them.
Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a famous sermon at the Lincoln Memorial in the mid-1960s. In it, King said that he had a dream about the promised land. Well, I too have a vision of an ideal society.
I have a vision of world peace, not because the military have been called in to maintain order, but because we have peace from within and friendship with every nation.
I have a vision of universal prosperity and an end to poverty, not because of foreign aid or government-subsidized welfare, but because each of us has productive, useful employment where every trade is honest and beneficial to both buyer and seller, and where we eagerly help the less fortunate of our own free will.
I have a vision of an inflation-free nation, not because of wage and price controls, but because our nation has an honest money system.
I have a vision of a crime-free society, not because there's a policeman on every corner, but because we respect the rights and property of others.
I have a vision of a drug-free America, not because harmful drugs are illegal, but because we desire to live long, healthy, self-sustaining lives.
I have a vision of an abortion-free society, not because abortion is illegal, but because we firmly believe in the sanctity of life, sexual responsibility, and family values.
I have a vision of a pollution-free and environmentally sound world, not because of costly controls and arbitrary regulations, but because private enterprise honors its stewardship and commitment to developing rather than exploiting the earth's resources.
I have a vision of a free society, not because of a benevolent dictator commands it, but because we love freedom and the responsibility that goes with it.
The following words, taken from an old Protestant hymn whose author is fittingly anonymous, express the aspiration of every man and every woman in a free society.
Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he'll be;
For this eternal truth is given
That God will force no man to heaven.
He'll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.
Mark Skousen is Adjunct Professor of Economics and Finance at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and editor of Forecasts & Strategies , one of the largest financial newsletters in the United States. He is the author of over a dozen books, including High Finance on a Low Budget (co-authored with his wife, Jo Ann), The Complete Guide to Financial Privacy, Scrooge Investing, The Structure of Production , and Economics on Trial . His latest book is The Investor's Bible: Mark Skousen's Principles of Investment . He has a Ph. D. in economics from George Washington University and is a former economist with the Central Intelligence Agency.
For more information on his books or for a sample copy of his newsletter, contact:
Phillips Publishing Inc.
7811 Montrose Road
Potomac, Maryland 20854
800-777-5005 / 301-340-2100
Informed common sense says that "political gains without philosophical understanding are potentially short-lived." ... [T]here is no reason to capture the seats of political power in order to disband the State. Just as voluntaryism occurs naturally if no one does anything to stop it, so will the State gradually disappear when those who oppose it stop supporting it. ... The only thing that the individual can do "is to present society with 'one improved unit'." As Albert Jay Nock put it, "[A]ges of experience testify that the only way society can be improved is by the individualist method...; that is, the method of each 'one' doing his very best to improve 'one'." This is the "quiet" or "patient" way of changing society because it concentrates upon bettering the character of men and women as individuals. As the individual units change, the improvement of society will take care of itself. In other words, "If one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself."
In concluding, I would like to commend Dr. Skousen for taking "the high moral ground," as he puts it. He understands, as so few of our critics do, that just because we advocate allowing an activity (e.g., unrestricted drug usage), does not necessarily mean that we personally advocate participation in it. Of course, the other side of the coin, which our critics often miss, too, is that "just because we don't support State-involvement in an activity (public schooling, for example), doesn't mean that we don't necessarily support that activity itself."
Text Only Readers
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I was fascinated by Mr. de Guenin's paper about Bastiat at last year's ISIL conference in Canada, and then and there realized that this is a writer about whom I should know more. Reading through Bastiat's Economic Harmonies [hereinafter, EH]  has been something of a revelation, and I heartily recommend it to all.
Bastiat's great contribution to economics, in his own view, was his identification of service as the source of economic value. What is anything worth to anybody? In the cases where we are not dealing with what our fellow men do for us, the answer is to be found in its utility - how much the thing contributes to our satisfaction. In the case where we deal with our fellows, we are interested specifically in what they can do for us, that is, how much service they can render us - how much they can or could, by their actions, contribute to the purchaser's satisfactions. If the providers are free beings, then the recipient will obtain those satisfactions only by agreement with that provider. It is to be assumed that the purchaser will get the best outcome he can: he will pay the lowest price feasible, for the option that is better than any known alternative.
Everyone is aware that price, which is the measure of economic value, is a function of supply and demand. But to say so is virtually to imply Bastiat's insight: for it is people who do the "supplying" that economics is concerned with, and people who "demand" what is supplied. To say that someone has satisfied my demand is to say that he has done me a service, a good turn. That is what I pay him for. And this applies not only to the purchase of apples or automobiles, but also to the purchase of stocks and bonds, symphony performances, or incantations at the church of one's choice. If we add to this that presumably the purchaser looks around and supposes that the deal he is about to make is as good as any he can expect at the time, even taking into account the possibility of waiting til later and concluding that it is not worth waiting, then we have a decent approximation to modern writers' invocation of the idea that the economic agent "maximizes his utility".
Bastiat refutes Marx before Marx even writes. No version of the "labor theory of value" can work, because I, the customer whose demands create this entire field, do not frankly care how hard you have worked, how many calories you have expended. What I do care about is that you can give me something I want, and will do so at a lower cost than I can get it for from anyone else (including myself). This tosses the Labor Theory of Value into the dustbin, along with Marx's refinement on it, the view that value is "socially necessary labor" (a formulation which, by the way, already gives away the game, cleverly tucking into the formulation an element of the very thing the labor theory is supposed to see through and supply a more profound understanding).
Bastiat is a thoroughgoing liberal. He has no truck with proposals to take the deciding power over any given individual's life away from that individual himself. The question is whether the state can possibly do anything else than just that.
Bastiat's basic insight into the nature of economic value has, I think, a lot to do with our subject of whether the State is necessary or desirable.
Like liberal-minded thinkers after him, Bastiat thinks of the proper domain of the state as being limited to the provision of protective services. Indeed, in his short book, The Law , he defines the law as "the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense". If we think of government as promulgating and working under the standard of law, then his definition effectively entails that government is the provider of collectivized protection service for all.
Such services may, alas, be necessary in human affairs from time to time. So long as we confine ourselves to people voluntarily exchanging things, and respecting the voluntary nature of the exchange, it would appear that we actually have no need for government. (Some think otherwise; I'll return to that later.) But if there are people among us ready to use violence to promote their ends, things will be different. Bastiat notes (EH, 117-118) that a group of people working at some productive activity might find themselves among unpleasant neighbors, such as wild animals - or wild people - who have no respect for their activities, and that group will find it useful to defend itself. In so doing, they might well achieve economies through the division of labor, hiring some few people to learn to use guns and to carry them generally, and so on. And this, Bastiat points out, leads to the possibility that instead of confining themselves to the protection of their retainers from the violence of outsiders, they instead get into a Protection Racket - the business of protecting their customers from the agency itself:
... since they receive from the community services that are proportionate to the community's need for security ... they foment a sense of insecurity and ... involve their fellow citizen in continual warfare. [EH, 117-118]
Bastiat does not say so at this point, but here we can discern both the origin and the fundamental nature of the state. People, for some reason, tend to wax mystical about the state, often identifying it with the Law, for example, and goodness knows what other virtuous entities. In Canada where I live, it is all but impossible to find a newspaper or television story that is not, in one way or another, about the doings of this or that official of government, an agency implicitly taken to be the repository of everything that is good in the community. Very few if any Canadians actually think about this - they just do it. But perhaps they should think about it.
A basic hypothesis about the state was advanced much earlier on by Plato's figure Thrasymachus in The Republic, who tells us that Justice is the Interest of the Stronger Party. This "stronger party" is the entity that we thought we were hiring to protect us. But once they have the guns, as Thrasymachus points out, the smart will discover that the threat to use them provides a wonderful way to make a living: namely, at other people's expense. The "service" the state does for us was supposed to be that of protecting us from our real enemies - robbers, murderers, rapists, and conmen. But for the most part what we get instead is its promise to refrain from shooting us with these very guns that we have purchased for them, thinking they would be used to protect us, so long as we do what they tell us to. In Thrasymachus' view, not only is the state a gang of thieves, but rightly so.
The ancient problem of political theory was how to distinguish between the two: the Gang of Thieves, our enemies, and the great Protector, our friend, the state. The challenge of Thrasymachus is that we are deluded in making this distinction, for the state, in truth, is merely the gang to end all gangs, the top-level mafia, able to lord it over all those below it.
Should we accept the Thrasymachean analysis? It can be advanced on different levels (and confusion among them led Thrasymachus rapidly into traps set by the wily Socrates in his ensuing discussions with him in Plato's Republic.) Let's sort some of these out.
1. It could be held as some kind of necessary truth about the concept of justice.
At this level, I need hardly add, it fails miserably. We obviously do not mean by 'just' 'conducive to the interests of the strong', whatever else we might mean by it. If Thrasymachus is to make out his thesis, it will have to be at some other level than the surface semantics of the term 'justice'.
2. It might be held as a conceptual truth about states.
At this level, there is a fair amount to be said for it. We might surmise that people necessarily act in their own interests; and so, when they assume positions of political power, how could they not use it thus?
While there is something to be said for this, we must appreciate that whatever is a priori about this cannot be used to make any very interesting points about the state. This is because we ordinarily make a distinction between self-interested action, narrowly so called, benevolent actions at various levels, and pure disinterested actions, if there are any such. People as we know them tend not only to minister to their own bodily appetites, for example, but also to those of their children, lovers, and various others for whom they feel sympathy for one reason or another. And finally, there are people who appear to act on principle, too.
Now, there's nothing to keep people in the state from acting in any of those ways, all of which are compatible with the hypothesis that people act only on their "own interests". Everything depends on which sorts of interest the people in government actually do have and act on. And we can't know that a priori.
3. Finally, it might be advanced as an empirical hypothesis about the state.
This, I believe, is by far the most interesting, most plausible, and most fruitful - but most difficult. Our question is: will those administering the state generally speaking be expected to do so
(a) in a way that promotes the legitimate objects of the state? - Or will they instead tend to
(b) line their own pockets at our expense? - Or
(c) promote alien ideologies that have no business being promoted by the state?
Our thesis can now be that we can expect either or both of (b) and (c) to predominate.
In all this, to be sure, I am assuming that we have adequate reason to reject several familiar ideologies. For example, some people think that the state should try to promote Equality, through progressive taxes and so forth. Others think it should promote multi-culturalism; or may that it should try to stop multi-culturalism; still others have other ideas. I assume we are united in thinking that the state should not be in the ideology business, but should instead be, simply, the servant of each and every citizen, insofar as possible. The anarchist hypothesis is that it can do that best by ceasing to exist.
Before arguing further for this, however, let's consider the bearing of political democracy on the matter. It is, so far as I can see, almost universally supposed that Democracy solves this problem. After all, with democracy the state is us, right? How can we be supposed to be bent on robbing ourselves?
But this idea is also illusory, and was put down effectively by John Stuart Mill - who fails to appreciate how deeply he has driven a stake through the heart of democratic theory. Notes Mill:
The "people" who exercise the power are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised; and the "self-government" spoken of is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest.
And after a brief discussion, he observes,
The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance under the penalties of law or opinion. [John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Ch. 1.]
The trouble with democracy is easy to trace. Democracy inevitably is majority rule. And what constrains the majority? Either (1) the Constitution, or (2) Nothing. Mr. de Jasay has beautifully explained why the two answers are so very nearly equivalent . And in the absence of constraint, the majority will do its best to make everyone conform to its wishes concerning their behavior, regardless of any considerations of mere morality. On top of that, however, the majority proceeds by electing representatives and those representatives, who control the distribution of weapons among the police, are mostly interested in reelection, the perks of office, and perhaps of getting their own personal view of what the nation should be like translated into law. The possibility that government should be devoted to the common good seems, under the circumstances, rather remote.
Governments proceed by making laws, and then seeing to it, more or less, that people are compelled to obey those laws. So far, there is nothing to distinguish government from a gang of thieves. Any such distinction must depend on a further separation, between law as the decrees of the possessors of political power, and law as something else - law as the expression of a rational understanding of what people may reasonably expect and require of each other.
Many philosophers have had a go at trying to identify this law, and fortunately, some have succeeded. To begin with, the general form of law has been beautifully defined by St. Thomas Aquinas, who concludes, after a careful analysis, that law is
... an ordination of reason for the common good, promulgated by the one who is in charge of the community. [Summa Theologica, I. II, Q. 90.] Law is to be for the common good, not the good of some at the expense of others. But Aquinas himself fails to take into account the diversity of views about the good among humans. The consequence of doing so leads us in the direction of the great English liberals , Hobbes and Locke, and later of Kant and Mill. The idea of this abstract general law is that we are all to refrain from pursuing our lives at the uncompensated expense of others. Instead, we are to confine ourselves to activities that either leave other people as they are, or else improve their situations, as viewed by those people themselves.
M. van Notten has recorded the law among the Somali clans that is, so far as I can see, an excellent spelling-out of this libertarian law . Michael van Notten, From Nation-State to Stateless Nation: The Somali Experience. See the ISIL 2001 website. The Somalis, it seems, recognize five rights: to have, use, and exchange property within the bounds of others' rights; to own hitherto unowned items one has found by one's own efforts; to make agreements which are then binding; to defend oneself, and help defend others if their rights are under attack; and to exact restitution from offenders. I will take this as a good working model for these purposes. The question is: what sort of social or political institutions can effectively administer these rights?
This presents a problem whose practical solubility is open to question. Rationally, I think, we would band together to disallow violence among ourselves and ward it off from any others. That was the classical idea: the state would be "minimal", tending only to the protective needs of its people. And it still is the idea, a few centuries later, among many political thinkers. But...
When a state is formed, this is not what happens. Instead of banding together for defense, they band together to try to see to it that everyone worships Allah, or refrains from taking marijuana or from driving in excess of 100 km/h, or any of thousands of other things of types we are all too familiar with. Bastiat points this out, often, and in a splendid way, classifying the many deviations under the heading of "legal plunder":
Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on. All these plans as a whole - with their common aim of legal plunder - constitute socialism. [The Law, 22]
If I give you a gun, and refrain from retaining one myself, what can I reasonably expect? Evidently, that henceforth I will do only what you allow me to do. If I don't give you a gun, of course, there is the chance that you will avail yourself of one anyway. The reasonable solution, if available, is to negotiate mutual disarmament. That has very often not been the way of mankind, and the question is whether we can approximate to it in a satisfactory way. The answer has been mixed. Most contemporary societies are ones of substantial but imperfect mutual disarmament. As soon as this is so, our problem is that the few armed would seem to have an enormous advantage over the many unarmed.
But while this may seem to be so, everything depends on why the armed men are armed, and this may turn on many things. One is the possibility that they have somehow conquered the power they have, by aiming their guns at various people who were in consequence disposed to do what they wished. Another is that somebody hired them to have those guns for particular purposes. It is this latter that interests us.
The classic justification of the state has it that we all hired the state for our protection (to guarantee our right to life and activity). As we have seen, that has not worked too well (some think it has, of course...). But there is an alternative possibility: that each of us would hire whoever he thought would do the best job, given our budgets, to protect him from whatever he thought he needed protecting from. This is the idea that appeals to the anarchist. Instead of one agency for all, there would be an agency for each person who feels the need of an agency for the purpose, strongly enough to do what it takes to create or support it. Such agencies would be formed either asbusinesses offering their services for a price, or of neighborhood self-help associations, or combinations of those.
Of course there continues to be the same question about the smaller agencies as there is about the state: who is to control the "guardians"? In the case of anarchism, the special form of the question is: What's to keep them from becoming the Mafia? The democrat will claim that the necessity of being re-elected puts a limit on the mafia-aspirations of the state. But it's a very generous limit. Within the extremely wide limits democracy imposes, the state can and does plunder shamelessly and ubiquitously.
However, for anarchism, there is, unlike in the political case, a very good answer, in principle: competition. My agency will protect me not only from you, but also from your agency, should it be inclined to get grabby. And vice versa, of course. And in turn, we can expect that these agencies will be much less interested in shooting at each other than in shooting at the occasional thief.
The "purposes" for which one needs protection are spelled out, in effect, as codes of law. My laws are what I want enforced; yours are what you want enforced; and so on. Terrific... But of course, laws are useless if they are issued by Hiram Smith only and not paid any attention to by Shirley Jones. This being so, the idea would be to get people with similar and compatible sets of laws interacting, while keeping those groups which would not be able to agree separate from each other. If the boundaries (spatial or otherwise) can be clearly set, then the administrative problem is easier, for it is then boundary-crossing that becomes the object of prosecution.
To an extent, we do this now, to be sure. The main useful social device for this purpose is, not surprisingly, private property. If we all respect each others' possession of certain bits of the world, and know what these are and who has them, then the people who agreed on Law System X can interact mostly with others of similar mind. Families, for example, live in their own houses or apartments, and others enter only on invitation from the owners. This confines the family activities and arguments to members of the family, who are in considerable agreement about various things (at least).
Now the question arises whether a society in which there were multiple protection-agencies would "work". By 'work' is meant that overwhelmingly, people would feel and be safe in this society, on an on-going basis, one that lasts: in short, a stable peaceable society in which people interfered minimally with the pursuits of others. I take it that a consequence of this is general prosperity; by and large, if people aren't prospering, then there is almost certainly some aspect of their governments that is to blame.
There is an obvious, general recipe for achieving this: those who are inclined to violence must find it probable that their resorting to violence will not work. The price of initiated violence must be high enough so that would-be initiators do not resort to it.
Again, van Notten illustrates a workable system from the Somalis, where the behavior of all persons, and therefore all criminals, is something that their extended families are responsible for. But it should be possible, though difficult, to have an analogue in private non-family associations. When victims' families or protective associations are owed compensation by the family or association of the miscreant, then they have a huge incentive to identify and deal with that miscreant, and meanwhile the members of the victims' family or association has no further incentive to hound and punish the miscreant.
Alternatively, people would have no such inclinations in the first place. We make a large step toward the ideal of general disinclination to violence by bringing children up nonviolently, and in such a way as to grow up nonviolent, in the first place. But while this is true, it is not yet clear that it is reliably possible in all cases, and more important, in the world we know, many people will emerge from childhood with those impulses intact. So the question is how to deal with those others. And that in turn leads to the question, who is to deal with those others?
Which, to come to cases, leads to our immediate question here: suppose that it is always privately acting agents who deal with them. Could we expect this to work out better than if the job is left to an elected monopoly?
There are two things that could make private enforcement work, and one that would get us back to the miseries of state-supplied justice. The two we need are (1) the principle that the expenses incurred in apprehending aggressors will be paid by the aggressors; and (2) the presence of extensive competition for provision of these services.
The thing that could wreak it, perhaps, is collusion with resulting de facto monopoly.
I conclude with a few words about each.
1) How will a poor man be able to get justice? The answer has to be that the man who commits violence toward the poor must pay not only to compensate for what he has taken, but also for the costs of tracking him down and bringing him to justice, including his lawyer if needed. If we can't be fairly sure of retrieving costs, so that it costs us more to get justice than the benefits of it if we do not get it, then only those able and willing to expend further money (or time, etc.) of their own will be able to afford the protection we all seek.
In the Somali system, this is mostly a nonproblem because payments are handled by the respective families. But it seems that the same could be done by protective associations, or (what comes to the same, really) insurance companies. Perhaps not everyone would want to join such a company. Yet, as with the Somalis, the consequences of not doing so could be very severe. Anyone who got into major trouble would have nobody to fall back on and would be on his own. He could end up in a very bad way indeed.
2) It is hardly necessary to tell this audience about the benefits of competition. If rival agencies compete for the victim-consumer's dollar, we can expect that only pretty effective ones will survive. Such is the idea anyway.
An analogue to the Somali case would be where membership in families was voluntary rather than biological. Of course, it is generally both in the sense that people usually like their families and don't want to leave. Nonfamilial associations would have to proceed by carefully rigging their fee and payout structures in such a way as to maximize customer loyalty.
In contemporary governed states, competition is forbidden, and indeed the first and often only concern of a government or official police force is to establish and defend its turf, rather than concern itself with the protection of persons and property. This can be traced directly to the fatal problem of the state: letting somebody think he actually has authority over everybody.
3) But against this, we have the thesis, pressed by Nozick  and later elaborated by Tyler Cowen , that erstwhile rival agencies will end up colluding, or being bought out by other agencies, leaving the consumer with a monopoly on his hands, no choice, and no control. But that is what we have now! Even in the democratic system it is so. It would seem to be of critical importance who is right about this .
Cowen argues that various enforcement agencies would not be able to resist the temptation to collude with each other. Recalling that these agencies are armed, would they perhaps get into battles? Not too likely: they're in it to make money, not to get themselves killed . But the fact that company A could trounce company B or otherwise give them a hard time might lead to collusion.
I think the Somali example well illustrates the problem with Cowen's thesis. In Somalia there are hundreds of families and clans, and their incentive for colluding with each other appears to be trivial, except in regard to danger from outside, in which case members of different clans act together to drive the invaders out. But their attempts to re-impose government on the whole country have for the past ten years or so been failures.
In an Appendix to this talk, I have sketched a most interesting idea about this, from John Hasnas, who suggests a sort of ultra-minimal-state device for keeping watchdog on the Cowen problem, as we might call it, and acting accordingly .
As I see it, the problem with Cowen's argument is that it understates the power of the consumer, who has a clear interest in maintaining competitiveness among his suppliers. One can envisage any number of scenarios - e.g., a Consumers Research type organization that would keep tabs on protection agencies and blackball ones that weren't doing good service.
Do we need the state? What would decide? There is a natural criterion to propose, one with a very strong claim to being the fundamental and necessary one for the purpose. The state lays down various rules and forces people, if need be, to go along with them. From the point of view of any individual who comes within the scope of those rules, the question is this: is this individual better off, given the rule and its status as enforceable, than he would be in its absence?
This requires a cost-benefit analysis. The rule is imposed, and so there are costs. Those who would have preferred to do what the rule forbids are paying by having to forego that preferred option. Still, if it is generally and effectively enforced, there is the possibility that he would be worse off without it. The rule against killing innocent people just because it pays the killer, for example, is one whose merits are easily appreciated by potential victims. If having the rule preserves one's life as compared with not having it, then most of us want it. And, again for most of us at least, what we lose by being forbidden to kill the people we might want to kill, if any, is far less than what we gain - namely, life. For almost all of us, the benefit of this rule far outweighs its cost. Arguably there really aren't any exceptions, for that matter. Murderers do not think that their own lives would be better if murder were generally allowed, like wearing laced shoes or parting one's hair on the left. It's simply too easy for others to do us in, if they should happen to take a notion to do so.
But now we have to ask: yes, but the very appeal of such a rule brings up the question whether centralized enforcement is the best way to enforce it. With centralized, tax-financed enforcement, after all, there are people whose official duty is to apprehend murderers and such, but their salaries aren't paid by the people whose loved ones or associates are the victims and who are concerned about it. They are instead paid by everyone who has any money, whatever those people's relations to possible or actual murderers may be. And the police draw their salaries whether they find the murderer or not. For that matter, as we know, the state has a way of prosecuting people without sufficient, or sometimes any, evidence, and when they do, what or who is to stop them? Alas, there is no alternative.
An anarchist system for handling this would be different. Here is the family or friend or associate of the victim, and these people are anxious to track down the murderer. If found, that murderer owes them a lot - perhaps even his life. And they have a right to it. Sending the fellow to prison for a long time may not strike these people as much compensation. And the time and trouble that their hired detective had to go to in order to apprehend the culprit? Who pays for that? Ideally, the answer is that the criminal pays for it, too. After all, it's his fault. Of course, not all murderers will be able to make the necessary payment, even if we put him to involuntary labor. Some victims' friends will prefer execution anyway - that is their "payment", such as it is. Others will have taken out insurance against this kind of eventuality. (Should the murderer at least be required to pay his victim's premiums? It's a thought....)
With most of the laws that all governments come up with, there's a more trenchant objection. Laws forbid actions X, Y, and Z, and they do so on the ground that X or Y or Z will bring about certain evils, E1, 2, 3... But some or perhaps many or most or almost all people will be able to do X and yet avoid the evil. For example, they might exceed the speed limit and still be very safe. Yet they will get fined anyway.
In fact, what the state will do is punish people for disobedience, rather than for inflicting damage on other people. Indeed, the state will set itself up as a sort of mini-god, jealously concerned that people do its will and not ask questions. But we are asking questions, and are in fact demanding certain answers. The answer we always demand is this: would the community (as distinct from the government) be better off if this law weren't on the books, but instead one in which this case, and cases like it, would not be prosecuted?
For example, should jaywalking be prohibited? Not unless it would cause inconvenience or danger to drivers. That, of course, is often, but not quite always. The correct version of the law would result in only a very few jaywalkers ever being charged. In point of fact, that is close to what we have. Police, fortunately, do not usually charge jaywalkers even though they are obviously jaywalking within the meaning of the current law. But the same is not true of speeding, running red lights, or having two bathroom sinks which feed into the same drain (illegal in my community - would you believe? --- Well, Yes, you would, I'm sure!).
In a proper anarchy, people would not be allowed to transgress on the properties of others, of course. But that is all they would not be allowed to do. No one would be able to prosecute anyone for things such as we have just described.
--- Or wouldn't they? If the streets were privately owned, presumably the owner could issue rules just as silly as the ones we actually have when they are publicly "owned". However, if he did, he might find himself with very few users of his road or street. This question, at any rate, of the ownership and management of what are usually public facilities such as roads is plainly a very important one. But it should be noted that there are other ways to do it besides having a profit-making firm own the roads. There could be road co-ops, for example. But such questions are very tricky and cannot be explored here.
Now to return to our attempt to produce a general formula. What we want is a situation in which all and only those who are actually guilty of significantly harming, damaging, or in general imposing restrictions on the legitimate liberties of others are found guilty, and required to make amends. The criterion of "amends" has to be that the situation of the victim is made to be, as nearly as practicable, as it was prior to the incursion on his liberty, with the miscreant and no one else being the one who bears the cost.
When if ever would a state-like system be justified? The classic proposals along this line are (as you may be surprised to hear) public-goods justifications. The argument is that there are certain kinds of goods such that private production of these goods is sure to be inadequate, in the nature of the case. These will be, it is argued, those cases in which the good's benefits cannot be confined to those who pay the costs, perhaps because everybody must get the benefits whether they paid or not. In such cases, so the argument goes, we need a compulsory system, where everyone is required to pay.
The classic example of the public good in question is nonviolence. The assassin, the robber, the rapist, collect benefits from others without paying for them; the cost all is borne by the victim. To fix this, we must have a system in which everyone bears the cost of a policing establishment, which will make such people pay, and by threatening to do so, induce them not to commit these crimes in the first place. Nowadays, people argue this way about all sorts of things: pollution, garbage collection, and even the education of the public are held to be goods which must be produced by governments if they are to be had at all. (I mention these last examples because they are so obviously bad ones. Obviously garbage can be collected by private agencies who are prosecuted by any landowners they spill the garbage on without their permission, and this sometimes happens.)
The question, then, is whether the public-goods argument ever works. Nonviolence is a public good in the requisite sense, to be sure; but can it be provided without government?
The first thing to point out is that if our question is whether it can work, the answer is, obviously, that it can. For notice that it is provided without government almost all of the time, every day. Very few of us commit crimes, and we do not refrain from committing them because we think we will be caught and punished, but because we have a sense of decency and mutual interdependence. We do not want to have our goods stolen or be raped or murdered, and realizing this, we simply see the point of refraining from doing these things to others even if, as would rarely be the case, we could see any real advantage to doing so. Does the state's presence do anything to improve this situation? Many have thought so, but I think the jury is still out on that one. The state's presence creates a population that is quite sensitive to the demands of the state, but does it create a more moral population? One can doubt that. One has only to look at the recent history of Africa, with its litany of horrible governments which have murdered millions of their own people and brought nation after nation to ruin. They were able to do that because those dictators faced extremely compliant populations which would, by and large, do anything they were told to do by people in uniforms.
Meanwhile, if it is generally agreed that these things are wrong and that people do have a right to exact compensation from those who perpetrate such violence, so that in fact many people set up mechanisms for dealing with the presumably few who violate people's rights, can we expect as good or better performance, relative to costs, as with the state?
There is ample evidence of the state's inferior performance at prevention. Most people have locks on their doors, possibly closed-circuit TV's, electronic sensors, and in the case of businesses, hired guards to prevent robbers. Why do they do all these things, given the presence of the state's police?
Answer: they do not have the "presence" of the state's police. Instead, there is a police station somewhere down town, and police officers having doughnuts, and so on. But their protective efforts are often grossly inadequate, even while their efforts are being all too adequate on the highways where they harass people for infractions of trivial or pointless rules. It is not difficult to believe that private agencies could do better. Indeed, it seems that they already are.
Pollution is more difficult, perhaps. But it is not clear how much more difficult it is. Once we know the damage being done to individual people by specific kinds of pollution, we are in a position to track down the polluters. And when we do that, we are in a position to sue them for the damage they do. These are not easy things to find out, of course - but neither are they easy when the state tries to do them for us.
What we do know, however, is that the state will do its best to impose an agenda on somebody. The Democratic State is a system for finding out which way the wind is blowing, and then exaggerating it - Zero Tolerance!, for instance. This gives the people who wanted that sort of thing a lot more than they wanted, at the expense of everyone, including the people who don't want it.
Suppose that if the state provides service, it will be able to save a great deal of cost in administration. Example: socialized medicine as in Canada, where you pay for nothing above the counter. Administrative overhead, in billing people and getting the bills paid, is much lower than in private insurance schemes in the U.S. So we are told: I'll bet anything that the high costs of administration of such schemes in the U.S. is owing to intense regulation by the government. But all right, suppose this is so. And suppose that everyone wants this service. Finally, suppose that the cost to the consumer who pays for it in taxes is actually lower than the cost would be under private medicine. Would we then have a good argument for public intervention?
Let us suppose we would. But even if it is, are its premises ever fulfilled? I don't think so.
1. In the first place, the differences among people are so great that it is certain that not everyone would find any particular insurance package worth paying for. Private insurances companies would exploit these differences. So would charities, who will treat people for nothing, without imposing any costs on anyone.
2. The state has ample scope and motivation for spending its money on other things besides administration in the narrow sense - the savings are illusory. In Ontario, for example, the government manages to spend almost $3,000 per person - infants, children, young adults, the lot - when hardly any of them spend more than a day in hospital in a given year. (I don't think I'm extraordinarily healthy; I last was in a hospital in 1974, for 4 days. The operation I had would now be performed in the morning and I'd be home in time for dinner.)
3. We have to remember that if it didn't profit the providers, they wouldn't be in this business. With an assured involuntary income, you don't have to worry overly much about making the next dollar. Why wouldn't you spend the money on luxuries - unneeded employees of all kinds, for example?
There is only one respectable argument for the state: that everyone (literally) would do better, on his own terms, than in its absence. This requirement is so strong that I suspect no argument for the state could ever meet it. As soon as we see that protective services are, as Bastiat recognized, services, then the plausibility of having these services provided by a monopoly, including an elected one, becomes very low indeed.
The state is, then, almost certainly a mistake. Or alternatively, the state is a fraud: it is in fact a gang of thieves, but it masquerades as a benevolent association.
The theft is of two types: (a) just plain, as in depriving us of our money, and (b) more subtle and less tangible, in imposing ways of life that people don't want.
Can anarchy fix this? If we look at functions one by one, the answer is in the affirmative, and this for an obvious reason. Anarchy tends toward the situation in which people get what and only what they pay for. If the state provides you with something you don't want, you won't have to get it in an anarchic situation; if it doesn't provide you with something you do want, all you have to do is buy it, or persuade enough other people to go along with it so as to get the job done. And if you can't get it that way, then you'll have to do without, instead of extracting it by force from your neighbors.
Recently there has been a brilliant suggestion by John Hasnas on this matter. Hasnas agrees, at least for the sake of argument, that is indeed not clear who's right as between anarchists and minimal-staters. But perhaps we can proceed in the right direction without presupposing a solution. Cowen, as he says, argues that "the private provision of rule-making, adjudicative, and enforcement services will inevitably result in an abusive monopoly". This last would be an example of "Market Failure". And if it indeed occurred, the state would be brought in to remedy that failure. But Hasnas detects a flaw in the argument for the state. What the state would need to do is remedy the market failure; it does not follow, he points out, that it would actually provide the services in question itself. What is needed is a "state with the power to prevent protective agency collusion, not one that required all citizens to purchase protective and adjudicative services exclusively from itself". And he proceeds to describe such a state. It would be avery minimal state indeed:
The constitution invests the new government with only two powers; the power to prevent dangerous protective agency collusion and the power to subsidize the production of rule-making, adjudicative, and enforcement services. The exercise of these powers is divided among the three branches of the new government. The congress possesses no legislative authority of any kind. It is invested with only two functions: 1) to appoint the members of the Supreme Antitrust Court and the Supreme Public Goods Court, and 2) to impeach any president who exercises domestic power without express authorization from one of these courts. Further, the members of the two courts must be selected from among highly qualified economists who have been certified as such by the American Economic Bar Association.
This government functions only as a watch-dog; it does not itself provide any of the protective, judiciary, or legislative services normally monopolized by governments. If it turned out to be very busy, it might evolve into a more extensive government; if it turned out to have, really, nothing to do, it might eventually dissolve, and anarchism would win.
Hasnas' idea has the intriguing property of providing a framework for an empirical test of the two contrary arguments about government. It is fairly clear that chances for getting such a framework erected in the near future are very poor, at least in any familiar nation, but the idea is a most interesting one.
 For an accessible discussion, see Anthony de Jasay, Choice, Contract and Consent, London: Institute of Economic Affairs, Hobart, Paperback #30 (1991), 114-118. This book, by the way, should be on the shelf of every thoughtful libertarian.
 Many readers will be surprised to see Hobbes mentioned in this group, or even for them all to be grouped together. But in fact, the fundamental Law of Nature of Hobbes, that "every man, ought to endeavor Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre" [Leviathan, Ch. XIV] is equivalent to Locke's fundamental Law of Nature, "reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions" [Second Treatise of Government, #6]; and Kant, in his great late work, the Doctrine of Right (Rechtslehre), the first part of the Metaphysik der Sitten tells us that the Universal Principle of Right is that "Every action is right which in itself, or in the maxim on which it proceeds, is such that it can coexist along with the freedom of the will of each and all in action, according to a universal law" [I., C].
 We are all indebted to the ceaseless efforts of Bruce Benson to shed light on these matters. See his neoclassic study, The Enterprise of Law (San Francisco: Pacific Research Foundation, 1991), and more recently, To Serve and Protect (New York: New York University Press, 1998).