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Community, Exit, and Liberty

February 25, 2010

This guest post is by Gus diZerega, a contributor to both Beliefnet and Studies in Emergent Order. Gus is a political scientist/theorist with a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. This is his response to the debate proposal.–Editor

Individuals and communities relate as the sides of a coin, each implying and depending on the other. On this I hope we all can agree, and I will proceed assuming this is so. Before I can go farther, though, I want to try and make more clear how I define terms such as community, democracy, and individual.

Individuals do not exist in a single community except perhaps in the earliest times and in the most isolated groups. The modern “Community” (capital ‘C’) is made up of countless nested and overlapping communities oriented around different values and groups of values. Such communities include families, religious groups, economic groups and professions, the arts and the schools of which they are comprised, groups focusing on hobbies, broadly and narrowly defined, language groups, groups identifying with a common history, and so on.

In a crucial sense, individuals are gestalts of the various communities in which they participate. This is not all that they are, but it is a crucial part of who they are.

As communities become more diverse the Community gradually expands to the point that it consists mostly of strangers sharing only a few things in common. Identifying criteria become more abstract.

The democratic political community is that territorial area within which members of these complex communities seek to discover, modify, and enforce rules that ideally make for harmony between the multiple sub-communities that constitute it. It can be relatively unified, like Sweden, or federal, like Canada. In modern times no single political community is entirely autonomous, as the International Court of Justice and other multi-national agencies indicate. (Significantly, only democratic governments have proven willing to give up part of their sovereignty, beginning with the adoption of the US Constitution, but hardly limited to it.)

Traditionally the democratic political community has been treated as a State by both libertarians and communitarians, getting both off on to the wrong foot. The first insightful political theorist to see that this was not the case was James Madison, but his insights were not followed up either in the US or elsewhere. With a broader understanding of what Hayek called “spontaneous orders” we are in a better position to appreciate how they are not, as well as the heavy price we have paid for treating them as if they were.

A State is a hierarchy of command, the rulers at the top, whether king or dictator, party or oligarchy, theocracy or aristocracy, seeking to impose a hierarchy of goals on the society over which they rule. A state is an organization in the sense that it can be defined teleologically. It has interests and goals.

A democracy has universal or nearly universal suffrage (most aspects of democratic politics become relevant when suffrage is universal manhood, but not all), freedom of political speech, freedom of political organization, and freedom of the press such that all voters can be reasonably exposed to alternatives to the current incumbents who can be ousted in regularly scheduled elections.

In the US case (other democracies descended from States and so are harder to differentiate, but it can be done) the equivalent of the State is the Executive Branch. It is subordinate to the legislative branch which, when push comes to shove, is constitutionally dominant while itself being subject to the requirement of regular contested elections determined by the population.

That is, in a democracy the State (Executive Branch/Functions) is subordinated to the electoral choices of individuals who each in their own way reflect a portion of the total community make-up within the political community. A democracy is not a hierarchy. Rather, it is a means by which multiple and overlapping and interpenetrating communities can seek to discover, modify, and implement basic rules they regard as optimal for the functioning of the inclusive community. We call this the “public good” and it is always a matter of discovery and modification.

Obviously there is no guarantee the public good will be discovered in any optimal sense and plenty of evidence it often is not. Organizations within this matrix are always seeking to gain control of it and insulate themselves from its dynamics. They do so by saying they seek the public good, values, or some other term that sounds good to everyone or by subordinating democratic processes to extra-democratic principles, such as control of wealth. Democracies have serious principle agent problems, and this is why some dimensions of the public good can often be best attained outside traditional political means. But just what these are is itself open to political determination. Some public values will be provided politically, and some through philanthropy, but the border between them is determined politically and pragmatically, not ideologically.

The public good is no more discoverable by an ideology or group of experts than market equilibrium is discoverable by a group of planners or scientific validity by a separate group of scientific judges established to determine whose arguments shall prevail. All of these spontaneous orders depend on all participants having formal equality and all depend on participants playing by the rules.

To argue that democracies are spontaneous orders is an unfamiliar position for many because it cuts at cross-purposes to modern ideological straightjackets on both individualistic and communitarian sides. But plenty of literature now backs the claim up, and that it is so explains why democracies, alone among all form of government, have never waged war on one another, give up portions of sovereignty peacefully, and even in important cases allowing for peaceful secession (Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and had it come to that, almost certainly Canada and many direct democracies among New England’s small towns when they had more autonomy than they do today). Others, such as the UK and Spain, have gone from highly centralized to more federal forms of internal structure. Except for times of foreign crisis and natural disaster when a hierarchy of goals is externally imposed, democracies cannot be described in terms of hierarchies of goals. And it is when such hierarchies exist, and there is greatest unanimity, that democracies act most undemocratically. This is a paradox only when we equate democracies with States.

To put this point in terms of systems theory, democracies are spontaneous orders that are in continual flux. That are variously enlarging and shrinking their boundaries by means of widespread consent rather than conquest, and are similarly acquiring and devolving decision making authority from other democratic bodies of which they are constituted. The image of stability and permanency that we associate with states is evidence of a breakdown in democratic processes. The organizations within a spontaneous order always have a tendency to seek to freeze adaptive processes at points where their dominance can be assured.

I have gone on at some length here because what I will argue is dependent on the democracies-are-not-states argument.

EXIT

Democracies have been the only governments to my knowledge that have allowed secession when a significant portion of their territory demands it. Obviously this is relevant to the issue at hand. The US Civil War was not a war between two democracies. The Confederacy was founded, as its leaders emphasized, on slavery. Because it’s fundamental principle was domination and coercion, not only did these perversions leak into the rest of Southern society (which they continue to poison) the Confederacy also lacked the basic legitimacy, even at home, needed to make a successful secession work. The votes for secession were usually by a ruling class that held office only because they were slave owners. Had the desire for secession been truly and deeply held, then after the North had conquered the South, guerilla war would have rendered the occupation unsuccessful. There was not enough popular desire to carry on such a conflict. By contrast, when there was genuine popular demand, often the democracies allowed it. And Southern propaganda to the contrary, absent slavery there would have been no secession, because issues such as tariffs were easily amenable to political compromise.

Exit in truly democratic governments exists at two levels. First, individuals have always been free to leave. Second, entire areas, when large enough, have often been able to depart peacefully as Norway, Slovakia, and potentially Quebec demonstrate.

As a community concerned about harmonizing as best it can the diverse communities of which it is constituted, democracies are also quite justified in setting entrance requirements for immigrants. The language of universal abstract rights does not give everyone the right to move into anyone else’s community. What those rules of entrance will be are the concern of the community itself.

The major principled problem here regards populations that were conquered and incorporated into a democratic society against their will, and who are too small to be politically powerful. Scandanavian Laps, American and Canadian Indians, Hawaiians, and Australian Aborigines are the most obvious such groups. But these crimes were not the result of democratic principles being followed with regard to them, and significantly, what improvement that has occurred in their situations has been by their calling upon democratic principles which obviously constitute more than “majority rule.” (This is a very simple minded definition of democracy, but still complex enough to elude many conservatives nonetheless.)

LIMITS OF EXIT

Some individuals with a distorted sense of their uniqueness think they should not be subject to the decisions of their fellows when they disagree with the decisions.  But the most basic means by which people relate to one another in modern society depend on this process they reject.  In the hard core individualistic view, virtually all or all relations are defined in terms of property rights.  However, determining a property right is a political decision.  Always.

All property right are defined not by the things to which they attach, as we usually think, but by the relationships which right-holders are enabled to pursue when they own a property right.  Property rights define realms of potential relationships that a person is free to pursue.  My property right to my gun does not allow me to fire it in a city in most cases because the community has determined there is too much danger to others.  Even if I fire it in the air, I cannot tell where the bullet will descend.  So ownership of firearms, which is a constitutional right, is NOT open to recreational shooting in cities.  No sane firearm owner wishes it to be.  Certain things are not allowed but this does not take away a right that would exist were it not denied politically.  Property rights are always embedded in community relations.  Robinson Crusoe did not need property rights until Friday came along.

The same holds true when I play my music.  After certain hours neighbors have a right not to have to hear it.  Why?  Because of a community decision that could have been otherwise and still been as justified.  Because what is or is not justified is the decision of the political community, as is the fact that earlier in the day they could not prevent me playing my music so long as it did not exceed a certain (higher) level.

The only limits to what a democratic community can decide are property rights are the most basic human rights, which this paper is assuming. If someone is in serious disagreement about a law that the community in which they are in is making, and the community is reasonably democratic, they have several options:

  1. They can emigrate if another community more to their liking will take them.
  2. They can convince a large enough portion of their neighbors they are right, and seek secession.
  3. They can seek to convince enough residents that they are right to get the law overturned.
  4. They can violate the law through civil disobedience and use that to dramatize the issue and get people to think more wisely about it – the Thoreauvian solution.

What they cannot legitimately do in a genuine democracy (meaning where a reasonable opportunity exists by which they can seek peacefully to persuade others) is to act violently in resistance.  Just where this line is crossed is often difficult to determine, and people will disagree about it.  But it is a fateful one that should only be crossed when the issue is serious enough, as our own Declaration of Independence emphasized when justifying separation even from an undemocratic power.  Lunatics and sociopaths to the contrary, that line has not been crossed in the US.

A democracy is a rare achievement that cannot simply be taken for granted.  It’s value lies in having an entire political community cross that fateful boundary between being an organization of domination that seeks and flourishes on oppression and war, to an emergent process where organizations are limited in their power and always open to challenge.  Those who seek to turn a democracy into an organization are the worst enemies of civilization it is possible to reasonably imagine.

The nature of this project guarantee subtleties will be ignored or given what some feel insufficient weight.  Almost every paragraph makes claims others have written books denying, except for the central claim that democracies are spontaneous orders.  That is usually ignored.  Maybe the debate will deepen our understanding (mine included) of some of the issues involved. A bibliography of more detailed analyses of many of these arguments can be found at www.studiesinemergentorder.com.

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26 Comments
  1. February 26, 2010 12:38 am

    Well said. Thank you, in particular, for raising Madison. Federalist 10 is an important antecedent to any systems theory of democracy — and a firm rebuttal to Montesquieu, whose arguments were raised in comments to earlier posts on this blog.

    What they cannot legitimately do in a genuine democracy, meaning where a reasonable opportunity exists by which they can seek peacefully to persuade others, is to act violently in resistance.

    The trial and death of Socrates is an exception that proves the rule.

  2. Max permalink
    February 26, 2010 2:21 am

    This is a very thoughtful piece. Still, I wish that we could get beyond territorial chauvinism. Even peaceful secessionist thinking involves some concept of ‘taking the territory with us,’ as it were. I want to push people to imagine to what extent life is possible without territorial state monopolies. I want to push people to imagine the extent to which I can live next door to a progressive and we can each belong to two different systems without conflict. Is it necessary for him to impose his system upon me or me to impose mine upon him?

    While I confess there are difficulties with the commensurability of systems when it comes to, say, criminal law, roads or other ‘territorial’ goods, I think it is possible to offer a right of exit for 75 percent of what government does today. The remaining 25 percent can be radically federalized.

    Communities and nested subcommunities that Prof. diZerega describes can be more robust, if we thought of partisan agendas as being club goods available to those joining communities that are not necessarily earthbound.

  3. February 27, 2010 7:29 am

    “not only did these perversions leak into the rest of Southern society (which they continue to poison)”

    What?? This is really bizarre– I’m actually feeling kind of offended.

    “Had the desire for secession been truly and deeply held, then after the North had conquered the South, guerilla war would have rendered the occupation unsuccessful.”

    If this is true, does this imply that the North Korean government has popular support?

    “The major principled problem here regards populations that were conquered and incorporated into a democratic society against their will, and who are too small to be politically powerful. Scandanavian Laps, American and Canadian Indians, Hawaiians, and Australian Aborigines are the most obvious such groups.”

    Should this not also apply to individuals? Why are individuals wrong when they “think they should not be subject to the decisions of their fellows when they disagree with the decisions”, but American Indians right?

  4. gus diZerega permalink
    February 28, 2010 5:11 am

    No reason to feel offended unless you favor slavery. The intellectual leaders of the South ultimatelt rejected the principles of the Declaration of Independence and embraced slavery as a positive good. See J. C. Calhoun and Alexander Stephens, VP of the Confederacy, for two powerful examples. As to cultural poison, consider how Baptists changed when they went South in search of souls. The Southern Baptists began as a pro-slave group, and the kind of arguments they used on its behalf were Biblically based, as they abandoned the Enlightenment. None of this is original with me and the words of men like Calhoun and Stephens say it all.

    The North Korean example is utterly beside the point. I do not even know what you are getting at. How about Afghanistan? Vietnam? Southern rulers were not democratically elected because, in a way like Iran, only those who were likely to be “safe” could run in many states and anti-slavery arguments were outlawed. Even with the death penalty. This suggests that many Southerners did not feel as strongly on these issues as they did.

    Your philosophy of individualism rejects the starting assumption of my article. I suggest reading Berger and Lachmann om the Social Construction of Reality – it convinced me that pure methodological individualism was wrong. Berger is hardly a liberal, if that worries you.

    • March 1, 2010 6:15 am

      I’m not really interested in debating southern culture (I probably shouldn’t have brought it up earlier), so suffice it to say that I’m not convinced that the south is somehow still being “poisoned” by its history of slavery.

      RE: North Korea-
      The way I read your argument, you implied that the lack of guerrilla warfare against the union is evidence that southerners didn’t feel very strongly about secession, that they were OK with the U.S. government. But I’m not convinced that opposition to the government promotes guerrilla warfare, outside of unusual extremes. I’m guessing that many North Koreans would love to secede from their government, and yet they don’t fight it. This is because there’s much more to warfare than popular opposition– there are free rider problems to take into account, for example. So that argument is very weak, if it holds any weight at all.
      If I were you I would have replaced that bit with what you just wrote about anti-slavery arguments being outlawed.

      I’m not sure what you mean by my “philosophy of individualism”, nor why you think I’d be worried about liberalism.
      I actually have read part of “The Social Construction of Reality”, and I can’t say I was impressed. I do definitely agree that reality is socially constructed in a variety of ways, but I prefer the practical, scientific approach to this issue, whereas The Social Construction of Reality struck me as a bunch of mumbo-jumbo metaphysics. (For example, I really like “How We Know What Isn’t So”, by Thomas Gilovich.)

      In any case, none of this addresses my question– why is it groups of people involuntarily subjected to democracy present a “problem”, while individuals do not? Isn’t the smallest minority the individual? What leads you to treat groups and individuals differently?

  5. March 1, 2010 6:38 am

    “In modern times no single political community is entirely autonomous, as the International Court of Justice and other multi-national agencies indicate”
    Aren’t there “rogue states” autonomous of those multinational agencies?

    We call “the democratic political community” a “state” because it meets the Weberian definition, which is the most common one used. You should argue that it does not fit his definition or explain why that definition is not to be preferred.

    “A State is a hierarchy of command, the rulers at the top, whether king or dictator, party or oligarchy, theocracy or aristocracy, seeking to impose a hierarchy of goals on the society over which they rule”
    Our “democratic political community” is a hierarchy of command, it gives commands I must obey under penalty of law. You list some forms of states that you appear to dislike, but don’t explain what those types have to do with the definition.

    How is an “oligarchy” any more teleological than a democracy?

    “A democracy has universal or nearly universal suffrage”
    Athens did not have that. America at its founding did not have that.

    “freedom of political speech, freedom of political organization, and freedom of the press”
    You are thinking here of liberalism rather than democracy (liberty of the ancients vs moderns). Constitutional restrictions on abridging such freedoms are in their nature anti-democratic.

    “the equivalent of the State is the Executive Branch”
    In the UK, a parliamentary system, the dominant coalition which forms a cabinet is called “the government”. What they call “the state” is what Americans call “the government”. So they don’t seem to share your definition of “state”.

    “Obviously there is no guarantee the public good will be discovered in any optimal sense and plenty of evidence it often is not”
    Arrow proved that such a thing may not even be definable.

    I actually agree with you that democracy has some of the valuable information aggregating and discovery properties of the market.

    “democracies, alone among all form of government, have never waged war on one another”
    That is false. “Democratic peace theory” is quite weak, and democracies (such as the U.S) are actually somewhat prone to attacking non-democracies.

    “The Confederacy was founded, as its leaders emphasized, on slavery”
    Irrelevant, Athens and founding era America did as well. Even the Union during the war had slave-states, the emancipation proclamation specifically applied only to slaves in confederate territory. The Confederacy was just as much a democracy in its founding as the union was (and contrary to many but not all Rockwellites just as tyrannical as the Union).

    “the Confederacy also lacked the basic legitimacy, even at home, needed to make a successful secession work”
    You have never presented any evidence that legitimacy and the success of secession are causally linked. The southern government was considered by its citizens as legitimate as just about any in history.

    “The votes for secession were usually by a ruling class that held office only because they were slave owners”
    Most southerners were not slaveowners, but by the Jacksonian period even the non-elite participated in democracy and are thus as much implicated in the “non-hierarchy” of their “democratic community” as we.

    “Had the desire for secession been truly and deeply held, then after the North had conquered the South, guerilla war would have rendered the occupation unsuccessfu”
    There were guerilla groups that sprung up after the war, and after the “corrupt bargain” the Union gave up on reconstruction and let those people regain control of the region. Both the Nazis and Soviets successfully maintained rule over areas that had pathetic resistance forces, because they were willing to go to extremes to maintain said rule. Empires throughout history have known what it takes. Even restricting it to “empires” is to narrow, for as Franz Oppenheimer noted the origin of all states is in conquest.

    “and who are too small to be politically powerful”
    Mancur Olson would argue that small cohesive groups have an advantage when it comes to working the levers of political power. The evidence when it comes to American indians supports him.

    “But it is a fateful one that should only be crossed when the issue is serious enough, as our own Declaration of Independence emphasized when justifying separation even from an undemocratic power. Lunatics and sociopaths to the contrary, that line has not been crossed in the US.”
    I think you give too much credit to the drafters of the Declaration and not enough to the government they separated from. Bryan Caplan rains on the independence day parade here.

    “The Southern Baptists began as a pro-slave group, and the kind of arguments they used on its behalf were Biblically based, as they abandoned the Enlightenment”
    You underestimate how important the Bible was relative to “enlightenment” thinkers when it comes to the founding era. I would also suggest you read “Albion’s Seeds” to better understand the divergent conceptions of liberty in historical America.

    “This suggests that many Southerners did not feel as strongly on these issues as they did”
    Those laws were not intended for southerners but for abolitionists who came south and were regarded as outside meddlers (such as John Brown & Lysander Spooner). Philip Hamburger’s recent paper on the “privileges and immunities” Comity Clause discusses this issue more thoroughly.

    “Lachmann”
    We might be thinking of different Lachmann’s, but Ludwig L. defended methodological individualism against Nozick’s critique.

    • gus diZerega permalink
      March 1, 2010 4:58 pm

      This responds to Will May

      Will May asks:
      “…why is it groups of people involuntarily subjected to democracy present a ‘problem’, while individuals do not? Isn’t the smallest minority the individual? What leads you to treat groups and individuals differently?”

      My apparent contradiction is an artifact of your way of phrasing the question. I am 100% against any individual being forcibly incorporated into a political community, whether it be a single person or ten thousand.

      It is clear when a community is involuntarily inducted into anther. Guns or the threat of guns are involved, and their territory, once separate from another political body, is taken over. I suppose a community could also be kidnapped and taken to its oppressors as prisoners. The same thing could happen to individuals because communities are also individuals. But it does not happen, and so the situation you describe is a fanciful one.

      The communities I mentioned preceded the political groups that conquered them, and still exist. European and Asian Americans came here voluntarily, or their ancestors did. Black Americans are a different story, obviously, but the totalitarian conditions of slavery pretty much pulverized the communities of which they had been members. So African Americans relate to the current state of affairs in the same way European and Asian Americans do: as members of a community they are free to leave, change if they can, or seek to persuade enough others to secede.

      Individuals are born and raised as part of a linguistic community, a cultural community, a network of economic relationships made possible and shaped by the communities around and linking them, and so on. They do not choose to join it – without some sort of community in which to begin life there would be no individual to ask such questions. As my favorite African proverb says: “I am because we are.” People today inherit their language, cultural attitudes, awareness of religious possibilities, and so on. Having done so, they then develop, reject, or alter those inheritances.

      There is not and never has been an “individual” suddenly appearing sans all previous community identification and then choosing, Hobbesian style, to create a community with others, or having that community aggress against him or her by forcibly including them. The whole idea of such an individual even existing is a product of a certain kind of Protestant-derived view of what a person is.

      For an individual to want out of his or her community when they were born into it, raised in it, learned their ideas within it, and both benefits and loses by living in it, has a simple solution not so easily available to large cultural groups. Just move away. But you were not “aggressed” against by being born in the US.

      I know of no one who, as an individual, stands in relation to an imperial larger community in the way that Navajo, Lakota, or Laps stand in relation to the US or Sweden. So to my you are creating a problem that I think does not exist.

      I’ll let the rest pass. My views on those issues, however, remain unchanged.

      • March 1, 2010 6:24 pm

        I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

      • gus diZerega permalink
        March 1, 2010 10:41 pm

        Looks like we will, Will. But please note I have given you reasons for my views, reasons that are open to rebuttal logically or by counter examples. I will give one last example to try and make my point that losing a political vote need not be oppressive in any reasonable sense of the term.

        Missoula Montana long had wood heat in its homes. As it grew in population, winter weather increasingly created a serious problem by trapping every larger amounts of wood smoke in a temperature inversion. It ultimately became a health hazard. As I remember, the city then banned wood heat or fireplaces in all new buildings. Older wood heat was grandfathered in, but no new heat by that means was allowed.

        I am sure some people were disappointed because they like fireplaces aesthetically. Some may have even felt their “property rights” were violated because they were changed without their explicit consent.

        Was there oppressive coercion by the community against members who did not agree with the new rules? I would argue “no” so long as they had a decent opportunity to make their views known and have a chance of convincing enough other citizens to ultimately prevail. Given that, they simply could not convince enough other people. The community had the right to do nothing or to pass a variety of laws dealing with the issue. Any action, including inaction, would bother someone. But the property right to burn wood and poison, or contribute to the poisoning of, your neighbor is not an innate one.

        Gus

  6. gus diZerega permalink
    March 1, 2010 6:18 pm

    This is a response to teageegeepea

    I will respond to the many issues you raise in the order you raise them:

    1. I was writing about democracies. But even places such as Somalia are now integrated into the world system. There might be a few Amazonian and New Guinean nooks and crannies that are not, but that’s probably it.

    2. Weber’s definition focuses on final authority, not the nature of that authority and how it makes its decisions. The state has been defined teleologically long before Weber – Machiavelli used the term and Louis XIV famously described his will as the State. Weber did not distinguish between spontaneous orders and organizations, the idea had not been much developed then. Mises and Hayek pioneered the issue, especially the latter. And I did explain why I made this distinction.

    Take another look.

    3. An oligarchy is teleological in a way a democracy is not because it is the rule of everybody by the rich. It is an intrinsically hierarchical model. Historical Oligarchies had strong property qualifications either to hold office or to vote, and is reconstituting itself in the US today through other means. The rich have identifiable interests over the poor.

    A democracy in Madison’s sense seeks the ideal of practical consensus. We require a decision to be made by majority vote of three different forms of representation elected by different means for different terms. If they don not agree we require supermajorities by the two most representative bodies. In politics no decision is a decision, so when something becomes an issue the ideal is consensus, the practical solution is to approach it as closely as possible without giving a corrupt minority veto status. Madison discusses all this quite explicitly in the Federalist. I explore this issue a lot more explicitly myself in my published papers and my book Persuasion, Power, and Polity: A Theory of Democratic Self-Organization.

    4. I was pretty explicitly and I thought obviously, writing about representative democracy, hence my reference to Madison. The US Constitution simply said whoever could vote for the most popular state body could also vote for the national. Some states were in fact democracies. Others were far less advanced in that way. The constitutional description of who could vote was a practical solution to the problem because it did not coerce any state to follow the rules of any other state. But read Madison’s definition of a republic some time: it is what we call a representative democracy, a word which first appeared, so far as I know, in a book by Destutt Tracy translated from the French and edited by Thomas Jefferson.

    5. I am uninterested in the modern/ancients distinction in this context and it is irrelevant to my argument.

    6. Did you really read my piece rather than just glancing at it? I am beginning to doubt it. I do not have the time to do a detailed discussion of parliamentary systems. I explicitly said as much, and pointed to the US as a simpler example because the government did not evolve from a previously undemocractic state. But it can be done –

    6. I am uninterested in Kenneth Arrow in this context. Far better to think about the equilibrium/disequilibrium discovery process in the market, where Schumpeterian entrepreneurship continually disrupts equilibrium and Kirznerian entrepreneurship moves to re-establish it. Or in science the relationships between Kuhnian revolutionary and normal science. Those are better models for what I am describing. Arrow is irrelevant.

    7. Your critique of my democratic peace argument seems to me to be a wonderful example of theoretically induced blindness. You give no reason why the theory is weak and then bring in an irrelevant supposed counter factual. There are no wars between democracies. Period. I and R. J. Rummel have published repeatedly on WHY this is so, and have done so in refereed journals. You appear to be unaware of this literature while calling it “weak.” And in my work I have also discussed the proclivity of the US to attack small undemocratic nations. When you study the issue it actually strengthens the reasoning we offer for the democratic peace. Take a look at “Democracy and Peace: The Self-Organizing Foundation of the Democratic Peace,” The Review of Politics, 57:2, Spring, 1995, 279-308.

    8. Regarding slavery, please re-read my post. I was describing a Madisonian “republic” DEFINED as representative democracy. The Confederacy was not a democracy although it had many democratic features because its political institutions put preserving and expanding slavery and the concrete interests of the slave-owning class ahead of abstract procedural political rules applying to all equally and neutral as to substantive issues. Think of the difference between freedom of speech and property requirements for holding office that are so high only a slave owner could manage to meet them. The first is a democratic rule, neutral as to its political impact, the second institutionalized a particular, and particularly loathsome, institution. And of course the Confederacy made all this more explicit. Its Constituton said “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed [by Congress].”

    9. A great many people in the South fought for the Union (about 100,000) and even more opposed secession. A great many non-slave owners fought for their community not so much to defend slavery as because people are reflexively loyal to the concrete relationships that surround them as opposed to more distant groups or more abstract principles.

    10. You are the first I have encountered to equate Reconstruction with the Nazis and Stalin. I really have nothing to say beyond that if you really believe this you should read some history.

    11. Ah yes, Indian hegemony in the US. The issue of interest group politics is complex, but to say that the tribes dominate much beyond their frequent desire to own casinos seems surreal.

    12. The Caplan link does not work.

    13. Maybe you should tell me why Albion’s Seeds is worth my while. I can suggest quite a list of books for you to read as well.

    14. I downloaded and glanced at the paper you recommended. So far I vastly refer Reed Akhil Amar’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment (this issue was far from my mind when I wrote my paper, but you bring it up). I do not have the time to do a lot of additional work on this issue, but the tone of your argument inclines me to be still more wedded to Amar’s interpretation.

    15. I mistyped – Thomas Luckmann, not Ludwig Lachmann. My mistake.

  7. March 1, 2010 8:54 pm

    I don’t remember your explanation as to why a state should be defined based on the nature of its authority/decision-making rather than the finality of said decision-making.

    I thought Louis XIV stated that he himself, rather than his will specifically, was the state. It is generally considered hyperbole.

    Plutocracy is rule by the rich. Oligarchy is rule by a small, self-selecting group. Aristotle called it the “corrupt” form of aristocracy, just as democracy is the “corrupt” form of timocracy.

    “Historical Oligarchies had strong property qualifications either to hold office or to vote”
    You are describing a timocracy, which was distinguished from oligarchy going back to Aristotle.

    “and is reconstituting itself in the US today through other means”
    Could you elaborate on that?

    “The rich have identifiable interests over the poor.”
    People over 18 have identifiable interests over people under it, people informed and civically engaged enough to vote have identifiable interests over those not, convicted felons have interests, as do non-citizen residents.

    “A democracy in Madison’s sense seeks the ideal of practical consensus”
    Something like deliberation day?

    “without giving a corrupt minority veto status”
    It seems the president himself has veto status, even if it isn’t an absolute veto. Then there’s also judicial review, but that could be straying a bit off topic.

    “Some states were in fact democracies”
    I believe they were all required to be republics.

    By “piece” are you referring to this blog post? My point about parliamentary systems was how terms like “the state” are used.

    As Wilkinson mentions in the link above, deliberativists are less interested in Arrow’s results. If you are one, what do you think of his take? I’m not one and so see it as relevant, just as the fundamental theorem of welfare economics is relevant to discussions of markets.

    “Your critique of my democratic peace argument seems to me to be a wonderful example of theoretically induced blindness”
    My objection is not theoretical, I linked to a list of counterfactuals to which the “no wars betweem democracies” theorist must twist in incredible contortions to avoid. I responded to your “democratic peace” comment with two sentences, neither of which contains any counterfactual, so I don’t know what you’re referring to.

    “because its political institutions put preserving and expanding slavery and the concrete interests of the slave-owning class ahead of abstract procedural political rules applying to all equally and neutral as to substantive issues”
    The U.S Constitution also places certain substantive issues (establishment of religion at the national level) outside the scope of abstract procedural rules.

    “Think of the difference between freedom of speech and property requirements for holding office that are so high only a slave owner could manage to meet them”
    At its founding, the U.S was in fact characterized by high property requirements for voting (which seems even more extreme than restrictions on office-holding). The era of Jacksonian democracy came later.

    “Its Constituton said “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed [by Congress].””
    Laws restricting slavery in U.S territories were declared unconstitional in Dred Scott vs Sanford. This was the result of neutral rules that did not explicitly cover slavery being applied to that specific instance of property ownership. Because the decision was controversial it is not surprising that they sought to make its result explicit, but they are still not that far removed from the nation they fought. The 13th amendment was required to abolish slavery, just as the 18th was to prohibit alcohol.

    “A great many non-slave owners fought for their community not so much to defend slavery as because people are reflexively loyal to the concrete relationships that surround them as opposed to more distant groups or more abstract principles.”
    I COMPLETELY agree. In my view, that is the norm for all wars (including the war of independence, as I suggested in my previous comment).

    I DID NOT equate Reconstruction with Nazis and Soviets. I used them as examples because we can agree their rule was OBVIOUSLY not “legitimate” in any normal sense, as was the case for many empires before them. My point is that “legitimacy” cannot prevent a succesful conquest.

    I said “politically powerful”, a much weaker statement than “hegemony”. I’ll give you a freebie counter-example to my claim: Jack Abramoff screwing over his Indian clients. Many academics also believe that campaign financing has little effect on which candidates win elections and how officeholders vote.

    Sorry, I forgot the http:// for the Caplan link. Independence Day: Any Reason to Celebrate?

    I read Albion’s Seed because numerous authors have cited it and raved about its effect on their understanding. The arbiters of high culture agree, as it won a number of awards. Rather than give my own overview, I’ll let Wikipedia do the work. I’ll warn that because of the amount of detail, it runs to just under 1000 pages. Still, even if you curse wasting your time with me, I think if it results in you checking it out some point down the road you’ll regard the whole experience as a net positive.

    I’ve always got a backlog of books I’ve decided I should read but never checked out, and I’m always open to having new books jump in line. I welcome your suggestions.

  8. gus diZerega permalink
    March 2, 2010 2:06 am

    teageegeepea-
    1 I said states were organizations defined teleologically and democracies were not. That focuses on the process, not the end result. A planned economy and a market both produce consumer goods, but the differences are more important than the similarities. Same issue.

    2. I think you mis-remember Aristotle. Historical oligarchies have been just what I said, as Aristotle agreed. (He also allowed a fourth type could exist unrelated to wealth – but it was a minor issue.) See his Politics IV:v. I am using the term in a very Aristotelian way.

    3. We now have businesses “too big to fail” that are bailed put by smaller folks who are permitted to fail. At the time of our founding many defined ‘aristocracy’ as holders of legal privilege. John Taylor of Caroline for example. This is aristocracy by that definition – an aristocracy of the incompetent wealthy. In Aristotle’s terms, it’s an oligarchy if it can cement itself into the law.

    4. Madison and Aristotle both argued the chief issue of serious contention in politics tended to be over issues of property and the control of wealth. I agree, except for religious fanatics.

    5. I am not thinking of deliberation day or of deliberative democracy. As with markets, the knowledge problems are over whelming.

    6. All three US representative bodies have veto status. Only the President’s veto can be overridden. The other two have absolute veto power.

    7. The term “republic” as used by Madison was a new meaning for a vague term. Soon after it was called “representative democracy” I would argue that in the case of the South the guarantee of a republic was not honored in some cases. The attempt to compromise freedom and slavery failed. But that’s another discussion – one I am uninterested in.

    8. I am not a deliberativist. The knowledge issues are over whelming and most people myself included have other things to do than attend meetings. But neither am I particularly interested in rational choice models. Essentially I apply Hayekian/Austrian insights to politics without seeking to reduce it to economic values.

    9. I have tried to make it clear I was using “state” in a specific but not at all unusual way.

    10. I apologize for missing your link. I missed the different color of the word. Sorry.

    Having looked at those examples, it is possible that some of the more recent examples would count as counter examples – I have not studied them enough to be certain. But the ones I have studied certainly do not impress me as such and are hardly in need of many twisted contortions.

    Most of those “democracies” were recently controlled by military dictatorships, still controlled by military dictators masquerading as democracies (Pakistan) or occupied by undemocratic powers and powerful essentially independent guerilla movements (Lebanon). When Lebanon was most clearly and stably democratic it had far better relations with Israel than anyone else. I discussed examples such as Guatemala in my paper. The Finland example has also been discussed at length.
    I suggest taking the time to read the case we make rather than simply throwing out examples that are ultra stretches (the Revolutionary War? War of 1812?)

    Democracy is not a magic word. It sets into motion systemic changes in the character of the polity that, when they exist on both sides, have acted to defuse hostilities. THAT is what is interesting and valuable, not the words used.

    It is the democratic process that keeps the peace. When an executive can circumvent that process, as is increasingly the case in the US, he is largely freed from democratic pressures. War is often the result. Wilhelmine Germany is an excellent example. Wilhelm was in no way at all an elected leader, rejected democratic values, and that he can be called part of a democracy suggests to me that people are not being serious in their critiques. Germany had powerful democratic institutions domestically.

    The most worrisome development in the US from this perspective is the increasing tendency to regard the executive as above the law in foreign affairs. When a nation develops a largely unanimous view – either from attack, natural disaster, or a manufactured crisis, it acts like a state – it organizes society along a hierarchy of priorities. Interestingly, when unanimity is greatest, that is when democracies act most undemocratically – and that is a clue that they are not simply majority rule systems.

    A genuine critique of the democratic peace argument as published by Rummel, me and others would look at the reasons for the peace where it is unassailable that it exists, and then when we see a potential counter example, see whether that rebuts the reasons rather than playing a game of “gotcha.”

    11. Keeping religion free from state preference created and generated a realm of freedom, the other did the opposite. That you equate them is bizarre to me. The placing of religious establishment outside the national government ensured states with different establishments, or none, could all come together – the consensual model in action.

    12. The Dred Scott decision was legal and moral bullshit, to use a technical term, forced on the nation by proslavery judges. It had no legitimacy among free states, nor should it have. Blacks were ruled unable to become citizens even when the Constitution said any person born in the US was a citizen and Blacks had had the vote for a while in a number of northern states.
    I think the effort to combine free and slave states was doomed to failure. The Founders thoiught it would wither away, and they were wrong. Looking back, the slavocracy should have been allowed to leave if they had won a state referendum. They generally did not wait for such referenda, however. And they started the shooting.

    13. I am not sire what your point was regarding reconstruction then. The North did not use terror or mass executions to subdue the South. Illegitimate rule can last if it is applied ruthlessly enough. So?

    14. Again, so what’s your point about Indians? Are you suggesting that the existence of interest groups somehow rebuts the argument democracies are spontaneous orders?

    15. Caplan is right about the Indians. I know of no major historical event that is all good. I wish I did.

    16. Albion’s Seed has dissuaded me because of its enormous length and because I am not focused on those subjects any more. That said, you have increased my interest. I have been intrigued by Kevin Phillips’ discussions of what appear to be somewhat similar if not so carefully differentiated phenomena.

  9. March 2, 2010 4:40 am

    Responding to Gus:

    As far as I understand the term, the situation you describe would be coercive, by definition. (From wiktionary: “Actual or threatened force for the purpose of compelling action by another person; the act of coercing.”) Democracy or its lack is not relevant to the definition in any way I can see.

    As to whether it would count as oppressive, I guess that’s debatable.

    I feel like I should be more clear about where I’m coming from– I’m a very heterodox libertarian, and arguably not even a libertarian at all. So I’m not going to argue that government coercion is necessarily a bad thing– in fact, I’d agree that in your example of a public good it makes a lot of sense. But it’s still coercion.

    I still don’t feel like you’ve justified the individual/group distinction you’re making. Groups can be forced to submit to provide a public good just as much as individuals. And I’m not convinced that any of your arguments in the earlier comment are really relevant to the issue. Why would it matter that you haven’t lived through an invasion? What does your cultural heritage have to do with you being forced to go along with some government policy that you disagree with? Why do culturally-generated group disagreements matter while personality/ideology-driven individual disagreements not matter?

    I was offering to agree to disagree earlier because I’m more of a build models + run experiments kind of guy, and in your comment you seemed to be trying to write individuals out of existence– more of a metaphysical argument. I’d be surprised if we reconciled these two approaches. *shrug*

  10. Gus diZerega permalink
    March 4, 2010 12:25 am

    Will-
    I read with considerable surprise your view that I am somehow dismissive of individuality. I think I was misread or unsufficiently clear.

    I am a liberal in the generic sense that I believe individuals are the fundamental moral and ethical unit of society. Further, no collective social entity, such as country, class or gender, has ethical value except to the degree it enhances individual well-being. That said, I think the generic libertarian concepts of an individual and of coercion are not equal to the subject. They are very partial insights, spread into areas where they do not work.

    NO individual is self-contained. This is obvious regarding children, but is true for us all. This is why solitary confinement is normally such a terrible punishment. It is why we seek out communities of friends and like-minded people who can help validate for us our view of ourselves and our reality.

    In my view, what is unique about individuals is that each of us is a center of caring experience that integrates a unique set of relationships in to a world within which we live and find meaning. Collectivities do not do this. Individuals have intrinsic value, collectivities do not, but collectivities contribute to how we become and remain individuals.

    This brings me to ‘coercion.’ I think the libertarian model is both too weak and too strong. Take contracts as an example. Superficially and often practically a contract is simply an agreement between two people. A will do Z for B in return for X. So long as there is no disagreement both parties gain. But when people disagree contracts and the law get very complex and one or both sides may discover they are obligated in ways they never imagined, or that the other’s obligations are less than they thought. Are they coerced? They are bound by rules they did not make and did not know of. The answer is unclear.

    Another example: I am raised in a country, acquiring a language, culture, and store of historical knowledge that makes me in part who I am. I had no choice in the matter. In retrospect I might have preferred being raised elsewhere (and assume I would be the same ‘I.’) Was I coerced? If not, and I choose to stay in that culture even though I often disagree with it, do I give it tacit consent to abide by its laws? NO ONE ever gives explicit consent to abide by all rules to which they are legally subject. Common law recognizes this- we can be bound by law in ways we can not find in writing.

    Because we are not hermetically sealed off from one another we always cross one another’s boundaries without consent. My choice of clothes, paint for my house, loudness of my music, and brightness of my lights at night all cross over on to your property, even your body. There is no purely objective basis for determining where and when loudness becomes unacceptable. Indeed, loudness is a subjective concept. Nevertheless some determination must be made if people are to sleep at night. A community in some form makes and enforces this determination.

    It is impossible to give people the power to issue injunctions whenever their boundaries are crossed, or to take the issue to court. Transactions costs would become prohibitive in a world so tightly linked, and nothing could be done.

    THEREFORE some boundaries must be undefended against some trespasses. For decisions on what to defend and what not to be legitimate, people need a reasonable opportunity to try and get their point of view heard regarding decisions that will impinge on them. Such decisions HAVE to be made regardless – but absent a chance to be heard, they are or can be oppressive.

    To call this ‘coercion’ stretches the word so far as to become meaningless. There is no way NOT to be ‘coerced’ other than being a complete hermit.
    Now to your questions: A community can be conquered and pass on to its members the memory of that crime against its members. If the members remain without influence the rime is continued. But if an individual is not a member of a conquered and oppressed community, there is no crime. He or she simply inherits membership in a group, as every person does. In a democratic community the person then has the options to convince others and change the rules, convince others to secede if they are numerous enough, or simply to leave, if they are not. So long as the opportunity to persuade others exists, that others are not persuaded is not evidence of coercion in any coherent sense.

    Ideologies are social theories. If you cannot persuade others that does not mean you are coerced, unless, like the Christian right, they remove themselves from good faith rational discussion.

    But the obligations go both ways.

    As to personal attitudes, if you cannot offer people rational grounds why they should make room for your quirks, then if they do it is their gift to you. What this boils down to is that a good life can be best lived if lived with a good heart, and a good society is characterized by a prepoderance of people with good hearts.

  11. March 4, 2010 3:49 am

    “Another example: I am raised in a country, acquiring a language, culture, and store of historical knowledge that makes me in part who I am. I had no choice in the matter. In retrospect I might have preferred being raised elsewhere (and assume I would be the same ‘I.’) Was I coerced? If not, and I choose to stay in that culture even though I often disagree with it, do I give it tacit consent to abide by its laws?”

    No, because there is no threat of force. Here’s that wiktionary definition again: “Actual or threatened force for the purpose of compelling action by another person”.

    “If not, and I choose to stay in that culture even though I often disagree with it, do I give it tacit consent to abide by its laws?”

    Not necessarily, and I have an empirical disproof of this– I live in New Hampshire, and I do not consent to its laws. If I had the option to explicitly grant my consent, I would refuse. If you’re at all interested in reality, then you must admit that the fact that a person lives in an area does not prove that he consents to its laws.

    In any case, these are all semantic arguments. It doesn’t matter how we decide to define the words, my views are the same with respect to reality, so I don’t find semantic arguments very interesting. If you want to argue that culture is coercion, or if you want to argue that people with guns threatening to throw you in a cage is not coercion, I guess that’s your prerogative. I don’t really see the point.

  12. Gus diZerega permalink
    March 4, 2010 4:31 pm

    Will-
    Wikipedia’s definition, like all definitions, is blurry around the edges. Most of us abide by laws because we regard them as legitimately enacted, even when we disagree with them. This is particularly the case when we know we have the opportunity to argue they should be changed. A certain, usually low, percentage of people do not respect their fellow citizens enough to feel so bound, and for them the threat of punishment is necessary. When enough people believe the law is illegitimate it is changed or, when that is impossible (as with the fugitive slave law), it breaks down because juries will not convict.

    You and many other libertarians exaggerate the importance of force in societies where people usually regard the processes leading to laws as legitimate. This is as true for laws regarding what counts as my property as for laws that require me to pay taxes. That is what I tried to demonstrate regarding when and under what conditions you can make noise that your neighbors do not want to hear. It was not a semantic argument – such as the one where you try to settle complex issues by pointing to a dictionary definition of coercion.

    The way you use the term carries an unmistakable moral tone. Coercion is bad and is the opposite of freedom, which is good. If you drop all reference to moral issues when you describe coercion – fine, I accept your definition, but coercion by its very nature is therefore ubiquitous, and few situations exist where there is none, nor can there be. Not very interesting, but if that is where you want to go, OK.

    If you want to keep the tone of disapproval, then it becomes a lot more interesting.

    I am arguing the consent/coercion dichotomy is too crude a tool to deal with all social and personal reality. Like picking up a pin while wearing welding gloves. The gloves are good for some things, but not others. It works when a robber points his gun at me. But a robber pointing his gun is different in kind from a police officer pulling me over for speeding, even though in both cases I COULD get shot if I react against the gun holder’s wishes. The context in which the gun plays a role is entirely different.

    Suppose I move to New Hampshire when I needn’t have done so. If I do not consent am I an invader? Let is assume, as is likely the case, that most New Hampshirites are in general accordance with most laws and with the procedures they used to establish them even if they disagree with some laws. They accept the total package. From their perspective perhaps you are acting like an invader, maybe even a thief, since you make use of what you like that they enabled to happen, such as roads, but do not feel bound by the rules they established to govern the roads.

    You respond you bought a house, fair and square. It is YOUR house. But that is not quite true. You bought a house under the laws of the state of New Hampshire. In doing so you bought a bundle of rights established by that law, rights that do not give you control of airspace thousands of feet overhead not the land a mile below the surface. The house’s value is in part because of the conditions surrounding it – conditions influenced by the law. If you did not pay cash, the person selling to you did so secure in knowing the law would back him or her up if you defaulted. etc. etc. There is no such thing as private property existing somewhere that is 100% yours without reference to law. Locke’s state of nature has not existed for at least 10,000 years, and the people who lived back then, so far as we know, did not think in those terms.

    My point is NOT to say the law cannot be abused, nor that it cannot be oppressive. It is to argue that the libertarian social maps of reality that I have encountered arse too crude to do the subject justice.

  13. Scott D permalink
    March 4, 2010 4:35 pm

    “The same holds true when I play my music. After certain hours neighbors have a right not to have to hear it. Why? Because of a community decision that could have been otherwise and still been as justified. Because what is or is not justified is the decision of the political community, as is the fact that earlier in the day they could not prevent me playing my music so long as it did not exceed a certain (higher) level.”

    I think that you grossly underestimate the efficacy and reach of individual property rights. The scenario that you present above does not require any sort of “community rights” to solve. Rather, it requires reasoned and consistent application of property rights.

    Think about it, if you play your music too loud, is it the whole “community” that suffers? Not really. People over in the next block will likely have no complaint, only those who are in close proximity to you. Really, it is only the rights of those close by that we need worry about. Knowing this, the next step is to determine if, when and how, the property rights of those people has been violated. Sound is a disturbance that travels out in all directions from its source. By playing your music loudly, you are sending unwanted amounts of this disturbance into the property of others and, ultimately, into the people themselves. As you have no rights to use their property in this manner, your neighbors are justified in using force or threat of force to make you stop.

    “Democracies have been the only governments to my knowledge that have allowed secession when a significant portion of their territory demands it. Obviously this is relevant to the issue at hand. The US Civil War was not a war between two democracies. The Confederacy was founded, as its leaders emphasized, on slavery.”

    This is irrelevant and is one of the many arguments rolled out to justify the Civil War. Lincoln himself wrote, “My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

    Was slavery unjust and immoral? Of course. Was it the source of much of the conflict between North and South? Yes. Does the fact that the southern states allowed slavery make their right to secede null and void? This is where you lose me. Up until this point, the North made multiple concessions to the slave states to maintain the peace (Missouri compromise, Dred Scott, Fugitive Slave Act, etc.). I think we can both agree that these concessions were immoral acts. Wouldn’t that mean that the US government was just as illegitimate as the Confederate government, using the argument you have made here (that the South’s support of slavery made it illegitimate)?

    I also take issue with your claim that democracies are a type of spontaneous order. I see that you have a paper from 1989, “Democracy As a Spontaneous Order”. I’ll get back to you after I’ve read your argument in full.

  14. Gus diZerega permalink
    March 4, 2010 5:08 pm

    The problem is that at what level is the sound so loud as to constitute an invasion? The same logic – exactly the same logic – applied to photons from your late night lights keeping me up at night or preventing me from enjoying the night sky. You say- buy curtains. Why should I have to buy curtains to prevent your photons from crossing my boundaries?. Why should your lights get in my eyes at night? At what level of brightness do I have recourse, and why should I accept a ruling that goes against me?

    Libertarians generally assume their stateless/governmentless world AFTER the hard questions have been solved.

    Good luck with my paper. I hope you enjoy it.

  15. March 4, 2010 9:38 pm

    Gus-
    You’re definitely talking past me a bit. I’m not joking when I say I’m not a normal libertarian (or possibly not a libertarian at all). I really don’t intend the moral overtones when I say “coercion”. Like I said earlier, I think it makes a lot of sense in some cases– in fact, I would argue that this is the entire reason for having a government in the first place. If you could get everyone to cooperate for the public good with no threat of force, what do you need government for?
    All I mean by “coercion” is what it says in that wiktionary definition, which is why I keep posting it. Nothing more and nothing less.

    I don’t like how you imply that if I disagree with democratic laws, then I disagree with (and disrespect) popular opinion. It’s probably true that I disagree with it in some cases, but, more often than not, I feel like my disagreements stem from flaws in the system– interested groups lobbying for licensing laws or protectionist trade restrictions, etc.

    I understand that the legal definition of property gets very complicated/ambiguous, and that’s one of many reasons I’m not a run-of-the-mill libertarian.

  16. gus diZerega permalink
    March 5, 2010 4:57 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, Will. Your arguments make a lot more sense to me. Even so, I want to lobby against over use of the word “coercion” in these contexts because it clouds our understanding rather than clarifies it. (At least it did mine when I was a libertarian and used the wiki definition you gave.)

    I’ve tried to make the point here that coercion is ubiquitous if it includes the potential use of force if behavior is not in accordance with some directive from somewhere – the wiki definition. For example, any social rule that defines a property right is coercive in the sense that the use of force is threatened if the right is not respected.

    What REALLY matters is not whether the use of force is implied if a right is violated, but how the decision establishing that right was made. Was it fair, or was it unfair?

    I think we are wisest to restrict use of the term “coercion” first to cases where the threat of violence is imminent and up to the discretion of the person making the threat. Like a robber, an army invading somewhere, and in some cases anyway, a cop. I think we cannot avoid an ethical dimension to the term if we use it that way – and it is in keeping with how we normally use the term.

    I think it is also reasonable to employ it in cases where severe penalties can be arbitrarily imposed on another if he or she does not accede to the will of the imposer. (i.e.: I will fire you if you do not sleep with me – and right now jobs are scarce and you have kids to feed and rent to pay. . .)

    What coercion has in both cases is the subjection of another to someone’s arbitrary will, on pain of significant suffering. The wiki/libertarian definition misses this second dimension while unreasonably expanding the first to include so much as to lose sight of what it is about coercion that we really dislike. So many libertarians defend the rights of nasty bosses to abuse their power because it is contractual, while arguing that a public speed limit or public unemployment insurance is the moral equivalent of armed robbery.

    This is not an arbitrary change on my part. Since Aristotle has come up in my discussions with teageegeepea, I will return to him. Aristotle’s definition of tyranny focused on using arbitrary power. He admitted that a tyrant could almost rule in a good way – but so long as the power was arbitrary, it was tyranny, and so, corrupt.

    But most everything a genuine democracy does is NOT coercive to most of its citizens, if we use the term this more focused way. In those cases I think a better term might be “binding.” A democracy is a means by which the binding decisions necessary for complex social life can be made in a way that most reasonable people, winners and losers alike, regard as legitimate. We all agree to be bound by decisions we might have preferred to be otherwise, if we think of the process as fair. Some form of democratic procedures appear to be best at convincing most people the outcome was fair.

    These decisions can still be experienced as coercive by three groups. 1) anti-social people, 2) peaceful people who are selected as targets by other citizens in order to win advantages for themselves and their beliefs, and 3) (much less likely) by people who favored another decision. Most of these latter will not regard it as coercive, simply as wrong. Maybe catastrophically wrong.

    I have no sympathy for the first group. By refusing to allow themselves to recognize the advantages of making unavoidably binding decisions by means open to all, the first group puts themselves in a antagonistic relationship to their neighbors and potentially supports explicitly coercive measures to impose their values on others. The second group is who I worry most about. They need to be able to exit as well as have a reasonable opportunity to convince their fellow citizens that the current decision is wrong. The same hold for the third group.

    I think of interest groups manipulating the law and the law making process to benefit themselves while injuring others as the price we pay for being able to find a means by which binding decisions can be made in a way we usually regard as fair. They are the political equivalent of thieves and fraudsters in the market. The problem is that we meed to debate and discuss just what constitutes a good decision – and in doing so we open the process to subversion by interest groups and the dishonest. But we cannot tell in advance who is right and wrong, so we open it to all.

    This isn’t the forum to explore possible solutions, other than the need for exit being a viable option for enough people as to minimize the damage the bad guys can do. That’s one reason I like small democracies over big ones.

  17. March 5, 2010 7:05 pm

    I would prefer that you use a different word (perhaps “extortion”?) rather than changing the definition of old words. It just seems like a more practical route, much less confusing.

    I feel like you’re being unnecessarily dogmatic in favor of democracy. Yes, modern republics have been doing OK. But they’re far from perfect, and I think we can do better (much better). Making support for democracy a kind of moral issue will only impede innovation, IMO. There are so many easy ways to make things better that will probably contradict this– like this simple proposal from Jamie Whyte.

    If we could get a market anarchist system to work well (mainly, solve that national defense problem), I would guess that most people would end up thinking of that as fair, too. The impression I get is that, back in the day, people thought monarchs and theocracy were fair. So I don’t think fairness is the issue you’re making it out to be.

  18. gus diZerega permalink
    March 5, 2010 8:34 pm

    Will-
    Extortion is fine with me. The important point is getting the essential shade of meaning identified.

    Reread what I initially wrote about democracy and you’ll see why I favor it dramatically over states. On the other hand, if anyone reads my book Persuasion, Power, and Polity, they will see that I do not think most of what we depend on democracy to do can be done best by democracy. Other more completely voluntary institutions could do a lot of it. But not all, I think. I think democracy is best for making laws and providing kinds of insurance where the ability to cherry pick destroys the market’s ability to handle it in a way most people find satisfactory. Also making laws is a better kept a democratic prerogative.

    Monarchies and such depend on treating relevantly equal people unequally under the law because of imposed status differences. I think today that any decent person will see that as unfair. I am surprised that you are fiddling with the word ‘fair’ when you are so strict with the word ‘coercion.’
    😉

  19. March 6, 2010 7:20 am

    Hahaha, every time we reach agreement on something, you write more things that I disagree with.

    I think I’m just going to send you a facebook friend request, maybe we can work this out in a more leisurely, piecemeal fashion. (If you want.)

  20. December 8, 2010 4:17 am

    I tried to create a comment before, however it has not shown up. Can there be a problem with your spam filter?

  21. December 8, 2010 5:21 am

    Beats me, Tameka. I was asked to participate. I do not know if it’s still up. But your question here came through just fine.

  22. December 27, 2010 2:44 am

    Seriously! Thanks! I often wanted to create in my site a blog post like this. Am i allowed to have a portion of your blog post for my site?

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