'Government' vs. 'State'
Concepts such as that of "government," like those of "democracy," "law," "justice," "freedom" and "love," to cite just a few, is what W. B. Gallie called "essentially contestable" (see his "Essentially Contested Concepts," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Vol. 56 [1955-56]). I heard the characterization from Alasdair McIntyre back in the mid-70s at the Creighton Club, the New York State philosophical society, although not applied to "government" but to a slew of other concepts that are constantly being debated.
Of course, from within specific philosophical positions these concepts are pretty firmly defined, so that, say, in classical liberalism "freedom" is usually defined to mean "absence of coercive force" or "not being subject to initiated force" while from within Marxism it's taken to mean "absence of necessity."
Within libertarianism, though, the concept "government" is still unstable. Anarcho-libertarians, who argue for something they dub "competing legal systems" or "competing defense organizations," claim that the concept "government" means, essentially, "a monopoly of legal services over a given territory." This isn't as clear-cut as one might wish. Are they talking about legally protected monopolies or monopolies plain and simple, which could mean very competitive organizations, indeed – for example, a department store sitting on a large piece of private property that has no competitor right then and there but is amply competed with by stores in the nearby vicinity? Yet where it stands, it's a monopoly, in a sense. Or an apartment house – it too stands alone and to rent a competitor's dwellings, one needs to move.
There are libertarians called minarchists, with whom I am usually linked − along with Ayn Rand, John Hospers, the late Robert Nozick and, during the last few years of his life, Roy A. Childs, Jr. (although he also penned a famous piece, "The Contradiction in Objectivism," back in 1968, for Rampart Journal, in which he announced his dissent from Rand's minarchist position). I disagree that governments may not compete and may coerce anyone. To be fair, neither did Ayn Rand agree that governments may coerce anyone − she, for example, denied that taxation is permissible while also claiming government is, thus disowning the characterization of government by perhaps the most famous anarcho-libertarian, Murray N. Rothbard.
But as Gallie's point makes clear, this debate as to what is the most sensible, reasonable definition of "government" is likely to continue for a long time, if not indefinitely. In my own view, for example, the institutions anarcho-libertarians support are governments in every important respect − they are administrators, maintainers and protectors of bona fide law within human communities. What critics claim is that such administration, maintenance and protection do not require contiguous spheres of jurisdiction but could work as a sort of crisscross system.
From a few historical cases, in which such a system had been in place − in ancient Iceland, for example − these disputants conclude that as a general rule governments could operate quite happily, smoothly, with no judicial failures − as inability to arrest and prosecute criminals or to render effective service when citizens (or clients) seek police protection − serving crisscross localities. Okay, so this is an interesting debate and worthy of pursuit. Either way we could get to government, however.
My one beef with many who reject this idea is that they refuse to admit that "government" need not involve coercion at all. They could just as easily dispute that the crisscross system involves law, properly understood perhaps only as various rules or edicts or policies. And even more problematic is their all too frequent use of the concept "state" as a substitute for government.
For example, in a recent letter to Liberty magazine, Professor Roderick Long of Auburn University sets out to take issue with Bruce Ramsey's claim that Hernando "de Soto's work . . . shows that a healthy economy crucially depends on property titles, identity records, and other institutions of formal law" and is thus "a standing refutation of libertarian anarchism."
As Long proceeds in his letter, however, an interesting switch takes place. He contends that "as the research of scholars like Bruce Benson, Tom Bell, and others has shown, history is filled with examples of legal systems that were perfectly formal − complete with official procedures, court records, and the rest − and yet private, competitive, and non-governmental." He states that "in late medieval Europe . . . the commercial law known as the Law Merchant outcompeted the government legal system . . .." And then, from this, he jumps to the following conclusion: "Hence the state is not necessary for formal law."
I don't know about Bruce Ramsay but I certainly would not conclude from de Soto's work that the state is necessary for anything, although I would agree that governments may well be. Because what Long and all those other scholars show, as far as I am able to discern, is that in medieval Europe there were different kinds of governments, some of them coercive and others not.
Okay, so what's wrong with this conclusion? I assume critics would now claim that I am twisting the concept "government" to suit my goals, namely, to defend governments as quite possibly a just institution administering, maintaining and protecting bona fide law. I dispute this. I claim that they are wrongly claiming that governments must be unjust and so the concept ought to be abandoned by all right-thinking folks. But one way they support this is by equivocating between "government" and "state."
It is well known that the concept "state," especially as it figured in the writings of Hegel and Marx, is not the same as "government." It is, instead, the entire organized community, akin to what Aristotle meant by "polis." The state does, then, quite sensibly call to mind a fully coercive leviathan, a pyramid-shaped, top-down system of coercive regimentation of nearly all facets of human community life (apart from those deemed not essential, although even those would be subject to regimentation if the agents of the state so chose).
Now, I am not going to resolve any of the main disputes here but I wish to make just one little final point. To equivocate between "government" and "state" is wrong and even dirty pool. It would be similar dirty pool if those critical of anarcho-libertarians referred to what the latter advocate as "chaos," recalling not the arguably esoteric conception of anarchy individualist and libertarian anarchists have been developing but the position of those old-fashioned, classical anarchists who meant by the term "lawless society."
Of course, when emotions run high − as they tend to do in discussions among people who are nearly in full agreement and know that they are more likely to be able to land a blow at those in close range than at those who don't even pay attention to their views − it's tempting to engage in hyperbole.
Labeling an allegedly "near pure" libertarian opponent a "supporter of the state" or "a statist" does carry a painful sting. One would hope, however, that just this temptation is resisted by serious scholars.
Posted by plenarchist on 11/02/12 06:44 PM
Then I'm not being clear. Social morality is objective and scientifically provable. Accepting that conclusion is a different matter but we reject it at our peril. It's difficult to present these ideas here but I'll try - the nutshell version.
We need to begin with Herbert Spencer (as I usually do). If you haven't read at least Social Statics, you should to get a better understanding of what I'm going to post here. His works are free online here
Click to view link
Spencer begins by saying the purpose of human life is to attain greater happiness. This is biological. What he means by greater happiness is the state of less suffering, less need and less want. Or more appropriately, Spencer might have said that you as an individual become happier as you become more fit for your conditions. Agree so far?
It's not important what makes you happy, but only that you agree that each individual is motivated naturally to make himself more fit for his conditions... ie "happier." This is an objective truism.
But we humans can choose *how* to accomplish this... We can attempt to improve our conditions through voluntary exchange or with aggression. Spencerism is voluntary (exercising the Moral Sense) and Darwinism aggression (primal instinct). So can we answer objectively which approach is better for attaining the greater happiness on a societal level? Spencerism of course and it should be pretty obvious.
Ok, so we've established *what* the greater happiness is. Spencer goes on to propose *how* with his theory of social evolution. This is a scientifically objective theory and while not easily tested it is logical and I think irrefutable. He describes the basic mechanism of how human civilization advances.
Spencer proposed that humans improve their conditions socially (i.e. cooperatively) in a fashion first described by Lamarck for biological adaptation but Spencer saw that it applies to humans. That we humans seek to take instruction from each other and apply that knowledge for mutual benefit. And that by multiplying this process horizontally across society and vertically across generations, societies improve... that is they attain greater happiness or become more fit. This is social Spencerism.
There can be no argument that individuals improve themselves in this way. That we become each other's tutors for improving our lives. Could you have invented the light bulb? Built the first plane? Cured polio? This is what Spencer was telling us. The counter to this is to say that you alone can do all the things you want for yourself (gather food, treat your sickness, protect yourself) all by yourself. Of course, you can't.
From this objective reality, Spencer then deduced that the surest path to improving society is to promote what I'll call "enabling individuation" or giving the individual the maximum degree of freedom without reducing another's. This is what Spencer called his first principle of social evolution - equal freedom. Anything less would inhibit the mechanism of social progress described above.
You say, "Or, I can create an argument that for the greater happiness the society needs to abandon Lamark and his ideas, and the body of law will follow."
Creating an argument and being right are two different things. Spencer's theory of social evolution is irrefutable. But law is an abstraction and at the end of the day law is what we choose to make it. So do we choose to live in a society that promotes unequal freedom, unequal power sharing and unequal justice? I'd rather not.
Spencerism though becomes an objective morality when we consider the result is less suffering and need overall. It means that by promoting equal freedom, we are saying that we want to maximize human evolutionary potential or, in other words, seek to minimize human suffering in general by establishing the least resistance to enable individuals to self improve.
You say, "On the other hand, "society exists for the sake of creating the greatest happiness" is a subjective statement. I may not feel the same about this."
Try to broaden your definition of "happiness." It's not subjective in the context I'm using the word. If you are starving, would you agree you are less happy? If you are diseased, are you less happy? If you are injured, are you less happy? Happiness in a social context is measured by the absence of pain and suffering.
What Spencer was saying is that my suffering causes you to suffer in some fashion indirectly by reducing societal fitness. That even though you might receive a personal benefit from my suffering (say stealing something from me), that society as a whole will suffer by your act of "negative beneficence." This must be true since I'm then forced to spend resources on protecting myself or to take action against you i.e. your negative beneficence results in social costs and thus causes a degree of social devolution or regression.
In a social context, we can then say that the absence of suffering which is an indicator of fitness is the greater happiness. And that people who choose to be in a society have a moral obligation to maximize the absence of suffering (in its various forms) which is to be accomplished by the principle of equal freedom.
Hope that's clearer.
Posted by mava on 11/02/12 04:16 PM
Already in disagreement.
You say that the objective social morality is social freedom? I don't think so. I don't find any reason or purpose behind social freedom, if fact, behind anything social. Yes, I then can be labeled as a-social, but doesn't this prove that what you claim to be an objective principle, is actually subjective? Remeber, if something is objective, then it could always readily be determined by anyone. "Water at 40 degrees and sea level pressure is a liquid", - this is an objective statement. No matter what are my views on anything, I can not disagree. On the other hand, "society exists for the sake of creating the greatest happiness" is a subjective statement. I may not feel the same about this.
There is also a great danger in making a moral principle like this into a base of law. Because, I can then easily construe an argument that your very existence stays in the way of creating greatest happiness, and from there your days will be counted. Or, I can create an argument that for the greater happiness the society needs to abandon Lamark and his ideas, and the body of law will follow.
I think the only principle we could all agree on is that each individual has no obligation to provide anything for the society, but that the reverse side of this is that nor can an individual demand anything from society. The reason this principle is part of objective fact is that it can easily be tested: if you think you can use my property and freedom to your advantage then I can do the same towards you, as we are equal. This immediately brings us to war and chaos. Thus there is no doubt that we all agree that we want independence and freedom. Anyone who doesn't, therefore through the fact of equality, opens himself up to being a target.
Posted by plenarchist on 11/02/12 12:12 PM
]] This is because morals are subjective principles, existing strictly within one's mind.
Morals have two contexts - social and personal. The two shouldn't be confused. Social morality refers to laws and how people interact. I think you'll find that there is an objective social morality - equal freedom - from which all law must be derived. Herbert Spencer lays this out in Social Statics.
If we agree that society exists for the sake of creating the greatest happiness (less poverty, less want, less suffering), then social morality must be based on promoting it.
Spencer's theory of social evolution is based on Lamarckian use-inheritance (not Darwin) which basically means that all social progress is a result of individuals ideating, acting, then through outcomes informing everyone else (good and bad).
The political implication is that for society to progress, this mechanism of evolution must be manifested by a body of law based on equal freedom. In this way are individuals provided the greatest opportunity to improve not only their own conditions but to instruct others to improve their conditions as well. This then becomes the basis for *social* morality.
A moral society then is one that promotes social evolution which Spencer tells us is dependent on the principle of equal freedom. How individuals live then becomes the basis for the rest of society to be educated on what life strategies work best over time.
The law shouldn't make distinctions over individual morality (like prostitution or drug use) else the state then will interfere with social progress. People need to learn from the actions of others whether those acts result in self-improvement or self-destruction. Either way, society is going to be better off by learning. All government interventions then are harmful to social progress.
Posted by mava on 11/02/12 01:58 AM
"And so the weakest among us depend on government."
I don't think so. The government isn't some Joe Blow who is working hard and donating his money to the weak. The government is an armed robber, who lives to steal everything it can and distribute some of it to the weak so that it is protected from retaliation.
"The weakest amongst us depend on violence toward others" would be a better way to state the fact.
Posted by mava on 11/02/12 01:53 AM
Way too many problems here. What is a social contract? When did you signed it? Did you have any other options?
And, the thing is, to be lasting, the principle has to be black and white. Anytime you allow shades, the system will creep towards self-destruction.
If you want to base anything on morals, this is not going to last. This is because morals are subjective principles, existing strictly within one's mind. We don't have any common morals, or we would be acting alike. People would readily say that yes, they support this or that moral principle, but this is only because they haven't asked themselves hard enough about their own principles.
Also, subjective values tend to change over time, just like the objective ones. So, to last, a system must be based on something clearly determinable, any time. What you do once you have determined which side of this determination you're on, is your own business. Like in capitalism, for instance, you don't owe anything to anyone, such as help, but that doesn't mean you can't help a homeless bum if you so desire. But what it clearly means is that you can not demand to be helped, - because, once you have determined that the others don't owe you anything, it is up to them whether they want to still go ahead and help you.
Posted by dave jr on 11/01/12 06:04 PM
"the opinions of the majority (morals)." dave jr.
What else would you call it?
Posted by dave jr on 11/01/12 06:03 PM
It is not an all vs none or black vs white hypothesis. Honesty and integrity in people exists in different shades and varies with different situations.
Nonetheless, any social contract, whether it be a code of ethics, custom, ritual or law; rides on or is made possible by the honesty and integrity capability in every human. Enforcement can be as trivial as choosing whom to associate with or as severe as killing an aggressor in self defense. Enforcement is coercion against an individual who does not comply with the norm. Within any group, one can not just do anything he pleases without reaping the repercussions. Therefore he is coerced to behave, good or bad is a matter of personal opinion.
Now, I did not make a case for government as the enforcer, and if it can not enforce law, then what good is it? In fact, what ails us is the fallacy of goodness in government. We assume, and officials rest their authority on the assumption that those elected or appointed are honest and have integrity. The opposite is predominately true. Drawn to selflessly serve the general welfare or common good of everyone. Ya, right... I'll need to think about that.
And so the weakest among us depend on government. So be it, so long as it is limited. But I am learning that maybe limited government is another fallacy.
Posted by plenarchist on 11/01/12 05:25 PM
@mava - Yes, my website is Click to view link. Plenarchy is intended to be a political model derived from Herbert Spencer's first law of social progress - equal freedom. I have dubbed the "Spencer Equilibrium" as equal freedom, equal power and equal justice which plenarchy promotes via immutable principle-based laws and sortition for selecting citizen-councils who serve as high office holders and form the courts.
Posted by mava on 11/01/12 04:41 PM
Thank you. I am currently in a state of mind where I am way past the current system and am thinking in terms of anarchy / minarchy. I too think that an anarchy will inevitable slide toward having a government. While my current stance, minarchy, I agree, will keep advancing it's powers until it too turns into a dictature as we see today. Namely, because there is no mechanism in minarchy to deal with new generations, therefore they will necessarily feel "forced".
Very interesting idea, plenarchy. I should read more about it. Is that your website "plenarchist" ? There might be something to it.
Posted by c on 11/01/12 02:17 PM
"the opinions of the majority (morals)." dave jr.
Posted by plenarchist on 11/01/12 10:09 AM
Government "governs," right? Meaning it is a group of people who exercise political power (use or threaten violence) to preemptively intervene in society to take away individual freedom. Government and justice are two different concepts, as are government and defense, as are government and state. It is possible to have justice, defense and state *without* government.
Having no state (as anarcho-capitalists generally promote) would mean having no laws which would result in gross injustices and eventually some form of government would inevitably emerge. Having a state with laws designed to promote the principle of equal freedom would result in a state without government (google plenarchy). A doable proposition.
And btw, democracy requires **sortition** and there has been no such form of government since the time of Aristotle... There are *no* democracies in the world today. Almost all modern states are "representative" which Aristotle described as being undemocratic and oligarchic.
Posted by mava on 11/01/12 10:00 AM
But, Dave Jr,
If you have honesty and integrity, then what do you need the enforcement for?
What does it add?
And if it does add something where there is no honesty and integrity, then why is it that the things are as they are, even though we do have the violent enforcement?
Posted by dave jr on 11/01/12 08:43 AM
There is no law without enforcement or the ability or willingness to enforce the opinions of the majority (morals). Enforcement is coercion, good or bad. Government requires consent from the inside, the same entity viewed from the outside, the state, does not.
The real issue boils down to honesty and integrity. Those who pretend to consent but do not, those who pretend to enforce justly but do not, those who take liberty with the social contract.
Posted by mava on 11/01/12 01:12 AM
I think most often the modern anarchist would define the government as "a monopoly on an initiation of force".
Also, you are incorrect on your definition of monopoly, which is where your confusion starts. A monopoly, is something that can only come about as a result of a government or violent action. A monopoly can not exist without violence. This is because any distribution of a resource (supply), however uneven, will also produce an equal but opposite distribution of demand. The rarer the resource, the bigger the offer. This means that any "natural" monopoly will be dissolved through satisfaction of that demand in the free market. The violent force is the only player that is not interested in what ever the market might offer, - all because it takes by force everything it wants, and since it is recognized as "the only provider of violence", no one is allowed to put a stop to the violence it creates.
Every example of a monopoly known, was either a result of government action, or a result of government inaction [but not of it's absence], where the government banned other players from re-acting to the actions of some non-governmental player acting violently.
Yet, thank you for making a very good point on congruence of equating government and state vs. equating anarchy and chaos.