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Monday, August 15, 2011

Arendt on Competition

"the liberal belief that competition will automatically set up its own stabilizing predetermined limits before one competitor has liquidated all the others. This happy balance, however, had hardly been the inevitable outcome of mysterious economic laws, but had relied heavily on political, and even more on police institutions that prevented competitors from using revolvers." -- The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 126

I have brought this point up before, but I like the witty way Arendt puts it. If the State is eliminated, why in the world should we expect private companies not to behave the way the British East India Company did in India, once it was out from under the thumb of the British state, or the way the Mafia or drug gangs do every day? Of course, old habits die hard: at first, most corporations would be slow to turn into armed gangs. But once of few did, the rest would have to do so to survive, or else live under the control of a corporation that is armed.

Wishing away problems is rarely a workable solution, and violence is a human, not a state, problem.

16 comments:

  1. A society without a state would lack a lot more than a monopoly on force. I find it counterproductive to consider any kind of red button scenarios where the state suddenly vanishes away, because such catastrophic events often do result in power vacuums where powerful entities (corporations, criminal gangs etc.) compete for power, not unlike Mogadishu (which is not to say Somalia's quasi-anarchy hasn't had some positive effects, but it's not an ideal model for anarchy).

    If an anarchist society were to emerge properly, it would have to be a bottom-up process where the community shared similar values not only about the state, but about ethics, property rights, voluntary institutions etc. - in other words, a society that wouldn't leave any breathing room for another British East India Company. I'm not saying there wouldn't and shouldn't be dissent, but (for example) a near-unanimous agreement that concentrations of power should be avoided. Not unlike most Americans agreeing that free speech is a sacred right, moreso than in other Western countries.

    I agree with you that the state didn't invent violence, people did. As Roderick Long put it in a recent blog post, the state is not an external constraint on society but just a flawed human institution and a way of organizing activities. And as such, it does make the use and threat of violence a lot easier for some privileged people and organizations.

    Anyway, I'm not sure if I agree or disagree with your post. Of course it's possible that in some societies, private companies would act violently without a state, but it's also possible that in different societies without a state, they wouldn't exist. Maybe you've directed this mostly at reality-free ancap theorists who contemplate things like the effects of zero capital gains taxes on General Electric in a stateless society - I don't know. In any case, a priori determinism is a pretty lousy way of predicting social configurations.

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  2. To a communist having to wait in line for bread is a human not a state problem.

    ( i.e. they'd blame it on how people are naturally corrupt )

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  3. Gene, I agree. If somebody has the power to abuse others, he might. Whether he does or not depends on his judgement of the situation and his moral values.

    This is true of anyone. It is true of any group of people, and it is true of the State, which is, after all, a group of people.

    The point many libertarians make is this: there are some actions one shouldn't generally justify, regardless of who does them. That a group of people is known as "the State" shouldn't justify actions that would otherwise be unjustifiable.

    I don't think many libertarians claim that if the State disappeared, abuses would disappear too. If they did, they wouldn't write so much about the private production of security, etc.

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  4. If the State is eliminated, why in the world should we expect private companies not to behave the way the British East India Company did in India, once it was out from under the thumb of the British state, or the way the Mafia or drug gangs do every day?

    Exactly. Are there any answers to this question that have been proffered by An-Cap theorists?

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  5. Rothbard has an answer in "For a New Liberty". He says that if that happens, then we would merely return to our current situation, that is, we would under the power of a state again. Of course, that's true only from a very abstract point of view. Some states are worse than other states. There is no way of knowing whether the new state would be better or worse than the current one.

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  6. "Rothbard has an answer in "For a New Liberty". He says that if that happens, then we would merely return to our current situation, that is, we would under the power of a state again. Of course, that's true only from a very abstract point of view."

    You got it, baby. Rothbard's "answer" is a bit like saying there is nothing to choose between living on the surface of the Earth and being crushed to death on the surface of Jupiter: one is only "under the power of gravity" in either case!

    "Some states are worse than other states. There is no way of knowing whether the new state would be better or worse than the current one."

    Suuure. There is "no way of knowing" whether, if the current Swiss government is replaced by the Mafia, whether that would be better or worse.

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  7. Argosy: "Exactly. Are there any answers to this question that have been proffered by An-Cap theorists?"

    Argosy, I was afraid of posting the answers I've seen, as someone would accuse me of setting up a strawman, but Watoosh and Pedro have done it for me: Answer one is sheer fantasizing, as exhibited by Watoosh, while answer two contends that we really have no basis to choose whether to be governed by Coolidge or Stalin, as exhibited by Pedro. (Of course, Pedro acknowledges differences between governments, but still contends, in the midst of being governed by Coolidge in 1926, we might as well overthrow the government, since there is "no way of knowing" whether his replacement would be better or worse!

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  8. 'The point many libertarians make is this: there are some actions one shouldn't generally justify, regardless of who does them. That a group of people is known as "the State" shouldn't justify actions that would otherwise be unjustifiable.'

    Why in the world is that so? If I am the owner of a piece of land, I can justify charging rent for it, which would otherwise be unjustifiable! The justifiability of one's actions clearly and obviously depend (to an extent) on one's position in society!

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  9. "To a communist having to wait in line for bread is a human not a state problem."

    Avram, are you trying to contend that, if not for the state, violence would not exist?

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  10. Watoosh: "If an anarchist society were to emerge properly, it would have to be a bottom-up process where the community shared similar values not only about the state, but about ethics, property rights, voluntary institutions etc. - in other words, a society that wouldn't leave any breathing room for another British East India Company."

    Yes, if everyone got along and agreed on almost everything, there'd be no need for politics!

    "As Roderick Long put it in a recent blog post, the state is not an external constraint on society but just a flawed human institution..."

    As is the market, the family, the Church, the bowling league... so let's eliminate them all!

    "Not unlike most Americans agreeing that free speech is a sacred right, moreso than in other Western countries."

    Look at how little your example makes your case! Free speech is a highly, highly contentious issue in the US: the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson' similar actions once his party got in office, Lincoln's suppression of the press during the Civil War, Wilson's during WWI, pornography laws, strip clubs, libel laws, slander laws, blackmail laws: "freedom of speech" is a hotly contested area, and its limits are repeatedly decided by political means, not some "sacred agreement."

    "In any case, a priori determinism is a pretty lousy way of predicting social configurations."

    What an extraordinarily silly thing to say! If I recommend locking everyone but me up tomorrow because you're all going to commit murders, and you protest that, given human nature and all of recorded history that is highly unlikely, would I be justified in accusing you of "a priori determinism"? After all, do you really know FOR SURE that everyone but me isn't going to commit a murder tomorrow? Is predicting that this won't happen "determinism"?!

    I predict that the Jubilee ain't coming tomorrow and your fanciful society in which everyone agree on most everything ain't either. I predict that based on paying attention to *reality*, not on "a priori determinism."

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  11. Doesn't Hannah Arendt say the same as classical liberals in this quote? Classical liberals consider the state to be necessary for the market to function.

    "Suuure. There is "no way of knowing" whether, if the current Swiss government is replaced by the Mafia, whether that would be better or worse."

    You're right.

    "Why in the world is that so? If I am the owner of a piece of land, I can justify charging rent for it, which would otherwise be unjustifiable! The justifiability of one's actions clearly and obviously depend (to an extent) on one's position in society!"

    Yes. I'll have to think about this. For now I'll just say that it also depends on whether the way in which one arrived at one's current position in society was justifiable.

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  12. @Gene Callahan

    I think there would be much less violence, just like there's much more bread. I still can't wish bread into existence in my hand so I don't think getting rid of the state would make it so I can wish muggers away, but it would get rid of all the crazy nation vs nation organized miitary violence.

    You think that would then be replaced by more gang violence or say my local grocer doing armed raids against the grocer down the road. But this is not realistic.

    I find it hard to believe that if Australia say dismantled its millitary completely, sold off some police stations, and made a market for legal claims on criminal and civil cases, that there would be any more violence.

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  13. "I still can't wish bread into existence in my hand so I don't think getting rid of the state would make it so I can wish muggers away, but it would get rid of all the crazy nation vs nation organized military violence."

    Yes, it would. And replace it with clan vs. clan and tribe vs. tribe violence, like in the days before the state.

    "You think that would then be replaced by more gang violence or say my local grocer doing armed raids against the grocer down the road."

    No, I think both grocers would be paying money to the local protection racket.

    "But this is not realistic."

    Based on what? Wishful thinking? How about looking at history and noting that this is what really has happened in the absence of the state. Or perhaps history is not "realistic" enough for you?

    (Sorry if I sound vexed. I'm really yelling at me of six years ago, not you.)

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  14. When I said "that's not realistic" I was referring to clan vs clan raids, not extortion and protection rackets. But I will begin with the latter.

    You know there are a lot of countries where the police *are* just extortionists?

    Most of south east asia is like that.

    Why do you think these places exist? Do you think the governments of such places are making a mistake by not funding their police forces more? Or that if the governments there had more authority that the problem would disappear?

    I think if you're going to talk about extortion and protection rackets, historically the biggest ones have been thugs in uniform in places where the uniform meant a lot.

    Recently in Australia the police were given the power to order women wearing Burkas to remove them and to arrest them / punish them somehow if they refuse. Do you see how this will allow policemen to take advantage of many women? Do you think this promotes love or hate?

    So why do you think there would be less extortion in a place where the law says some people can get away with things others can't (i.e. members of the state can do things non members can't).

    To me its obvious that the more equal everyone is treated in the eyes of the law ( i.e. not places where policemen have a lot of different excuses to arrest people, and not places where *it is profitable* for judges to take bribes ) the less of those sorts of problems you'd have.

    In regards to the clan vs clan violence thing I will repeat that I don't expect westpac bank to start doing armed raids against commonwealth bank the second the local police station disappears. Even ten years after it disappears I don't expect that to happen. If federal parliament disbanded the next day, I don't expect my local township to call a meeting where we form a militia and raid the neighboring townships either. I don't expect that to happen ten years after the disbanding of federal parliament either. I can see a local gang maybe forming like they always do and trying to wreck havoc, then them getting arrested, then them going to court, then getting convicted and going to jail. Why would this mechanism stop working if suddenly parliament disappeared? or if parliament were stripped of its law making powers?

    idk I'm not exactly the brightest star in the sky but it doesn't seem realistic to me to say "good god if you got rid of the millitary everyone will just start killing eachother!" because its not true.

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  15. "Why do you think these places exist?"

    Fallen human nature.

    "Do you think the governments of such places are making a mistake by not funding their police forces more? Or that if the governments there had more authority that the problem would disappear?"

    So, if I think there is a role for government, I must also believe that *every* government needs to get larger?!

    "Do you see how this will allow policemen to take advantage of many women? Do you think this promotes love or hate?"

    So, if I think there is a role for government, I must also believe that *every* government policy is good?!

    "So why do you think there would be less extortion in a place where the law says some people can get away with things others can't (i.e. members of the state can do things non members can't)."

    This is the way laws work. The owner of a business can fire people, a customer can't. ("Members of the state" is loaded, by the way -- in some places that might fit the bill, in others it would be more accurate to say, "Someone acting as a government official.")

    "idk I'm not exactly the brightest star in the sky but it doesn't seem realistic to me to say "good god if you got rid of the military everyone will just start killing each other!"

    Avram, you might ask yourself why you are setting up such flimsy strawmen to knock down?

    What I have said is that there would be a power vacuum, and people would rush to fill it. Yes, your township might arrest the gang -- but I guess there is still a government then, isn't there? -- but what happens once the gang is a lot stronger than the government? (This happens all the time, you know.)

    There are no easy answers, Avram.

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