Saturday, August 04, 2012

Dear Ancap

1) You think that in a just social order legality is a matter of absolute respect for property rights. No other consideration may enter into questions of legality.
2) You are willing to use coercion against those who do not agree with 1 and act against it, for instance, those who feel they have a right to roam across private land.
3) But you feel this is just coercion, because of 1.

1) I think that in a just social order legality is a matter of more than just property rights, and that the legal system in a just society should protect the weak, safeguard the environment, insure that everyone contributes to our society's defense, etc.
2) I am willing to use coercion against those who do not agree with 1 and act to violate it, for instance, those who try to shirk making their contributions to our mutual defense.
3) But I feel this is just coercion, because of 1.

You see, our positions are exactly parallel: the only questions is who is right (if either of us!) about our point 1. There is no difference at all in our opinion on coercion: we both think that those who violate just laws are rightly subject to coercion, and that those who don't should be left alone. What we disagree about is the scope of just laws.

So, when we meet in a comment thread, will you please, please stop telling me that I am willing to use violence to force my views on others, while you are not. We have different views of what constitutes a just society. Each of us, if our view prevails, is willing to coerce those who threaten that social order.


  1. Gene, that's a good point; I hadn't thought of it that way before. So I guess you're saying that we can't accuse anyone -- even the likes of Stalin and Mao -- of using coercion (unless that person admits doing so), as long as the person believes that he is promoting a just social order. Stalin and Mao may have been wrong, but we cannot say they were willing to use violence.

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    3. Hey Gene, you're right; I need to improve my reading comprehension skills. But, honestly, I was not trying to score a "gotcha" point. (When I leave comments on blogs, I'm not trying to "defeat" someone in an argument. I don't mind influencing people, but mainly I'm trying to stimulate discussion and learn. Like sarcasm, gotcha-ism isn't well conveyed by ASCII.) I sincerely do agree with you; I was trying to strengthen your argument. (As an anarchist, or more precisely a panarchist, I do appreciate your observations; they challenge me and help me see weaknesses in my own arguments.)

      What constitutes unjustified violence or coercion is what is in dispute. Mao and Stalin likely did not consider what they did to be unjustified violence.

      My reaction is similar when I hear conservatives and libertarians proclaim their support for property rights (and that their opponents do not). This is a hollow statement. Even communists support property rights. It's just that they have a different set of property assignment rules. They believe that the state (or everyone in common) rightfully owns all property within its jurisdiction. Socialists, fascists and others have their own conception of property rights. So it is necessary to step back and explain why one set of rules is superior to another, not just say "I am in favor of property rights."

    4. OK, Larry, I misread your tone: I apologize, and I have deleted the comments.

      'Socialists, fascists and others have their own conception of property rights. So it is necessary to step back and explain why one set of rules is superior to another, not just say "I am in favor of property rights."'

      Yes, exactly.

  2. Just out of curiosity, what do you mean when you talk about "contributing to our society's defense?" Is that a very general statement like "you should pay your taxes because they support our defense" or is it referring to drafts, mandatory military service, etc.?

    1. More the former than the latter.

  3. Gene, I am an "AnCap" of sorts, but let me quickly clarify: my personal preference is the capitalist conception of property, however, like you, I am uncomfortable with saying that my preference should be everyone else's preference.

    Unlike hardcore AnCaps,I do not envision all of anarchist society dominated by the AnCap/capitalist definition of private property. Instead, I see a world in which AnCaps and others who want to use that definition of property do so *when interacting with each other*; likewise, LLs, communists, etc, can use their own definition when interacting amongst themselves. (cross group interactions will just have to be worked out).

    From what I've read, I *think* this is compatible with the way you think about things, yes?

    What I have been struggling to do is to come up with a simple, relatively universal concept, equivalent in scope to the NAP, that leads to this situation. The NAP is straightforward and hard to argue with, *except* that it smuggles in a particular definition of "property". It seems like there should be a similar kind of basic "promise" that would both make it clear that the state (I separate "state" from "government"; the latter is ok with me, but not the former) is incompatible with this principle/promise, but that it does *not* lead to AnCapistan... though it enables AnCaps to live as AnCaps *amongst themselves*.

    Have you thought about this problem in this way? One candidate is basically pacifism: "I will commit violence against another person". Another variant is "I will not commit violence against you as long as you do not commit violence against me." These both have the benefit of being, i think, well defined. However, there are obviously problems. I'll admit that I lean very far towards pacifism personally, but even I would protect myself and my family with violence in the face of someone attacking me with violence, and I think the vast majority of people would too.

    The second has some promise: at least people can defend themselves. It has the advantage of not invoking any notion of "property", so it is implicitly saying that the promiser will not force their definition of property onto others. OTOH, it seems to have the flaw that, well, it doesn't respect property: someone could be completely consistent with this promise, say they do not honor any notion of property, and simply walk up and take whatever isn't bolted down. Of course, they are "estopped" from complaining if someone then takes it back, but I think that at least at first, many people would be uncomfortable with this promise. Since, imho, for any of this to "work", it has to be easily accessible and understandable and "common sense" for most people to adopt, it may not get many adopters because many people would be concerned about this scenario.

    OTOH, I think that in practice, such a scenario might be very rare, and there are ways to protect one's "property" from someone who does not agree with your definitions of property that are still consistent with the promise. (Support for these two claims deleted to get under the length requirement for posting here).

    I've tried other "principles" (again, really promises) like "I will not impose the rules of any group that I am a member of on anyone else who is not a member" or "no one is a member of a group unless they explicitly agree", but they all seem to have flaws.

    I haven't really considered it yet, but perhaps the promise really needs to be explicitly in terms of property, e.g. "I will not impose my definition of property on anyone else". I'm not sure if that works, and in either case, it seems more technical than I wanted such a simple statement to be.

    Sorry for the long post, I hope something in there makes sense or resonates.

    1. There's an obvious typo there in my description of pacifism... ;-)