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Friday, September 18, 2009

Kinsella on Anarchism

Stephan Kinsella takes an unusual, "pessimistic anarchist" position. Since he has just recently set it out at length, I will take a moment to point out what I think to be some problems with his views.

"Accordingly, anyone who is not an anarchist must maintain either: (a) aggression is justified; or (b) states (in particular, minimal states) do not necessarily employ aggression.

"Proposition (b) is plainly false. States always tax their citizens, which is a form of aggression. They always outlaw competing defense agencies, which also amounts to aggression."

So that handles (b), does it? Of course, someone who believes the state is legitimate doesn't believe taxation to be aggression. Naturally, if you get to define the terms the way you want, you can win any argument, but really it's an empty victory just to define your way to the win.

"Conservative and minarchist-libertarian criticism of anarchy on the grounds that it won’t 'work' or is not 'practical' is just confused... Consider an analogy. Conservatives and libertarians all agree that private crime (murder, robbery, rape) is unjustified, and "should" not occur. Yet no matter how good most men become, there will always be at least some small element who will resort to crime. Crime will always be with us. Yet we still condemn crime and work to reduce it."

Well, it's an analogy, but a bad one. The people who claim that anarchy won't work are not claiming that the State is a negative factor in society, like crime, with which we must learn to live. Instead, they are claiming it is necessary for social order, and that eliminating it, while not impossible, would be disastrous. And, if this argument is correct, then the State is morally defensible, as necessary to human social life, and its taxes and suppression of other defense agencies would certainly not be forms of aggression.

5 comments:

  1. Gene,

    I grant you that plenty of minarchists take your tack here--including Mises himself. I think he explicitly says somewhere (probably HA) something like, "Government is not a necessary evil. If something is necessary to preserve the bonds of social cooperation, it is not evil."

    However, there are plenty of people who believe the term "necessary evil" makes sense. In fact, I debated a minarchist in college once, and he was happy with me making the same rhetorical move that Kinsella is doing here. The minarchist said, "Yes, I agree with you that the State necessarily violates rights, and I'm just predicting that there will be lesser rights-violations with a constitutionally limited government, than under anarchy as you propose."

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  2. I don't think Kinsella is particularly concerned with persuading people who don't agree that taxation is aggression of anything, so I'm not sure he's doing anything wrong here.

    By analogy, I'm not sure you were particularly interested in engaging with people who think Paul Tibbets's actions in bombing Hiroshima were heroic in this post. A class of people which would happen to include the vast majority of folks in the US and Britain, and probably at least a slight majority of philosophers and Serious Thinkers therein.

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  3. JOR,

    Your link doesn't work.

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  4. "I don't think Kinsella is particularly concerned with persuading people who don't agree that taxation is aggression of anything, so I'm not sure he's doing anything wrong here."

    Well argumentation is certainly easier of your restrict your audience to those who already agree with you!

    And if I were to address Hiroshima, I certainly would be looking to persuade those who thought it was fine -- why else would I bother?

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  5. "However, there are plenty of people who believe the term "necessary evil" makes sense. In fact, I debated a minarchist in college once..."

    OK, but:
    1) Kinsella rules out Mises' position as impossible; and
    2) The position of Mises et al. is certainly more representative of serious political thought than is the "necessary evil" position.

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