Two Differences from the Declaration

In the comments to the post on arms below, Tom asks after two differences between the logic I offer and the one from the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration asserts two things that I’m not arguing here:

1) That there is a right to life (it is named, alongside ‘liberty and the pursuit of happiness’);

2) That establishing a government is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for defending these rights.

I’m not arguing (1) because I am not sure about it. I’m not arguing for (2) because I hope it isn’t true.


I would be very interested in your thinking on these two things you aren't arguing.
The latter is easily explained. I hope it will prove to be true that an adequate defense can be made through voluntary organizations of free individuals, which would not rise to the level of 'a government.' An adequately distributed capacity for resistance might make a populace sufficiently prickly, as it were, that even a tyrannical state would find it to hard on their throat to swallow. 

One might argue that something like that proved to be true in Afghanistan. The analogy benefits from setting aside the question of what constitutes tyranny, and focusing purely on the dynamic of whether a free association can prove indigestible to the most highly-organized government. The Taliban's loose organization of families and those freely choosing to resist conquest proved impossible for the United States and its coalition to digest, though it kept Afghanistan in its gullet (as it were) for two decades. Previously the Soviet Union had a very similar experience, substituting for American technical proficiency significantly brutal tactics. That did not work either. 

In other words, Joe Biden's favorite claim that resistance to the American government requires F-15s instead of AR-15s is likely exactly backwards. A government that depended on F-15s would have logistical chains that could be easily broken by the American military, quickly collapsing its ability to resist conquest and domination. A nation adequately provided with AR-15s could have a distributed capacity for resistance to those things that would be insuperable even by the US Army and Marine Corps even if they were provided with air superiority, fire support, and decades of time. We might do better to ship rifles to Taiwan than air defense systems. 

That is what I hope is true. It does not admit of a logical proof such as I was offering in the post below, only pragmatic arguments. If it is true, though, then we can organize ourselves in the human future along the lines of anarchy: no leaders, no masters, no domination. Just free individuals defending each other's liberty, as we come together to do other worthy things -- whether churches or volunteer fire departments, accepting that the latter would require another funding model in the absence of grants from tax-funded state agencies. That would be a better way forward, one that lacked even the mechanisms for the grasping to exert power over others. It is the 'Black Flag America' that I hope someday might become the freely-chosen human future.

I will put the other question after the jump.
Whether there is a 'right to life' is a matter I have long had questions about. The right to life is generally said to be a natural right. I accept that nature is a good place to go to look for what rights exist, although that position is itself controversial. Any attempt to prove a natural right of any sort has at some point to establish that natural rights can themselves be proven, which is an undertaking far beyond the scope of this post.

The Declaration itself does not use the term 'natural rights,' and also does not attempt to prove that they exist. It instead famously attributes the position by bald assertion to the Creator, and declares the existence of those rights (as well as the equality of men) to be a self-evident truth that is accepted by the authors. That dodges the need for philosophical combat on the point, which they were able to do because they were able to wage and win the actual combat. Nevertheless, it is clear that they intend to refer to the tradition of natural rights, and to invoke also the Christian theological tradition by which God ultimately is the author of nature and of natural law, which is a lower and imperfect expression of the Divine Law that is written beyond the walls of the world. 

I think it suffices to argue for human dignity, as I did below, without establishing a natural right to life as a further ground for that dignity. Whether or not one has a right to life, if one is able to be a party to the discussion in a meaningful way one already is a human being with the associated facilities of life and reason; this is sufficient ground for dignity, which is itself sufficient ground for the right to arms (as argued in the prior post). It is not necessary to establish that you have a right to life any more than it is necessary to argue that you have a right to reason: whether or not you have a right to those things, you obviously do have them or you wouldn't be able to participate in the discussion. 

[An aside: this is analogous to the discussion of how likely it is that a randomly-created universe would have the right conditions to support intelligent life. In a way, the question is beside the point: in order to even entertain the question, intelligent life must in fact have already arisen in the universe, and thus the conditions must have obtained in order for the discussion to happen at all. The probability may well be unknowable, but the probability given that we are having the discussion is 1. So too here: it may be impossible to create a philosophically unassailable defense of a natural right to life and/or reason, but in order to have the discussion both life and reason necessarily obtain in fact. The dignity associated with that necessary possession is therefore a firmer ground for a right to arms, philosophically, precisely because it is necessary rather than debatable.]

Even if one does wish to argue for a natural right to life, one has to establish some agreed-upon grounds for how a right can be derived from nature. This is an uncertain business also. The Christian approach referenced in the Declaration is only one of many, one that requires acceptance of an additional metaphysical entity ('the Creator') and some inferred ideas about his will (either from natural theology or from scripture). This worked well in a pre-Reformation Medieval Europe, but it is not clear that it is possible to return to that ground of consensus from here -- especially not as our societies have integrated with ones that are neither Christian, rooted in Christianity, nor even necessarily positively-disposed towards Christianity. It may be an unobtainable position, which means pragmatically it is impossible even if it could be shown to be philosophically desirable. 

That religiously-grounded approach was in any case rejected by Kant, among others, who tried instead to derive such things from practical reason; and that approach, likewise, has proven unsatisfactory to many. It has a similar pragmatic problem. 

One alternative argument for rights from nature is that one has a right to anything that one naturally needs, i.e., that there are therefore rights to food, water, shelter, and so forth. This one has advocates, but because these 'rights' result in positive demands on others, there are also numerous opponents to the whole model. Wouldn't you have a right to medicine and medical care, and thus a right to demand it at need from those who produce it? Wouldn't this then create a potentially limitless demand on doctors or producers of medicine? Could they ask payment as a condition for providing you with something to which you had a 'natural right,' or would they be required to provide it regardless of your ability to pay (and also landlords, farmers or others with food, etc.)? How would such a 'natural right' system be different from slavery for those who produced such things, and how would you get anyone to agree to expend the resources or effort necessary to become capable of producing such things if that very expenditure reduced them to slavery? That approach seems untenable pragmatically as well.

Another approach to natural rights seems to provide a counterpoint to a right to life. Let us say arguendo that nature can be said to ground a right if and only if nature will defend one in doing something. One might then argue loosely that one has a right to strive for virtues, i.e. for excellence, because nature pragmatically supports the Aristotelian virtues in just the ways he says they do: becoming courageous will make it much more likely that you will find success in seeking your goals in the world. Nature can therefore be said to support courage, as self-control, the development of practical wisdom, and so forth. Then one might even say (again following Aristotle's definition) that one has a natural right to pursue happiness: because happiness, eudaimonia, is the flourishing one experiences while pursuing excellence, and the capacities for excellence are nothing other than the self-same virtues.

Note, however, that life is not among the things that nature will support you in achieving or maintaining. In fact the opposite is true: at least for human beings, nature is determined to support your attainment of death. One could more readily argue on this ground that one has a right to die than a right to live, and indeed at some point the maintenance of life seems to be unnatural (and even undesirable, as for example in the case of someone kept on life support machines well beyond any hope of recovery, normalcy, or even the exercise of reason or action). 

In my novel -- an announcement about which is forthcoming -- the characters discuss this matter in some depth. There is a sense in which death cannot harm you, but life can. Even on less literary terms, though, if one wants to derive logically out of facts about nature, nothing is more obvious or certain than that nature's telos for us being death. It is universal, necessary, and inescapable. 

Perhaps it is even valuable, and choice-worthy under some circumstances. We tend to oppose euthanasia, but not because we want people with no hope of survival to suffer longer. We often speak of their death as a release and a blessing, an end to suffering and a coming-home. We oppose euthanasia because it very rapidly brings us to evil places in which we are disposing of people not because it is desirable for them, but because they are a burden to us. Many of the saints are said to have desired death, not to end their painful martyrdom but because it was the final road to God. Galahad is said to have prayed for the right to choose his moment to die as a boon, once he had seen the Grail and thereby lost all joy in and desire for merely mortal things. 

For these reasons, I avoid grounding anything on a right to life natural or otherwise. I am not sure of it: neither that it is a secure and reliable ground, nor that such a right really exists, nor that we ought to want one at all. Others have thought otherwise; I am sure you are familiar with their arguments. 

UPDATE: The comments to this post turned out to be at least as important as the post. Please read them as well. 


Tom said...

It would seem, though, that your description of dignity would entail the right to life.

You say that:

Unlike a rock or a fallen twig, a human being cannot just be broken or otherwise used for your amusement or instrumental purpose. A child might enjoy throwing rocks in a stream, or floating twigs down it; it might be useful to repurpose a rock as part of the foundation of your house, or a set of twigs to start a fire to warm that house. Another human being cannot be seized by force and used without their permission: this is to say that they have a dignity that rocks and twigs and the other merely material stuff of the world does not.

Doesn't that establish a right to live? Indeed, more than that, a right not to be abused?

Also, maybe I have the wrong idea, but I thought natural rights were based not in nature, but in human nature. The right to life, for example, doesn't apply to cows or deer which we kill for food. So, the idea of rights that nature would defend is a completely new one for me.

Tom said...

You may need to set me straight on any number of things. This discussion has made me think about the idea of rights.

My view of rights is that they mark things other people are wrong to interfere with.

The right to life simply means that other people are wrong to interfere with you being alive. If someone tries to interfere with you being alive, you are therefore justified in defending yourself.

Now, the right to life entails the things necessary for you to remain alive. You have no right to coerce others to give them to you, but others are wrong to interfere with you getting them through your own, just, efforts. If you are raising a crop for food and right before the harvest someone comes and lights the field on fire, they are in the wrong and you are justified in trying to stop them.

(On a side note, for me this is part of self-defense, even though you are defending property. You need that property to eat, to stay alive, so you are justified in defending it with all necessary force.)

So, although in your discussion it makes good sense, from my standpoint, a 'right to death' makes no sense at all. If someone is in an accident and knocked unconscious, a 'right to death' would prevent a rescuer from helping this person remain alive (he would be interfering with the right to die).

That's how I view all this, anyway.

sykes.1 said...

If you want to know what is possible for actual, real human beings, you have to look at paleolithic hunter-gathers. The groups are usually said to be egalitarian, but is only with respect to the ownership of goods: migrating hunter-gatherers have very little goods, only what they can carry.

However, these groups are hierarchial. In fact, there may be more than one hierachy, the elders, the active hunters and warriors, the female gatherers...

These groups also tend to capture and keep slaves, especially young women. Some form of slavery exists in every preindustrial society, because those economies depend on muscle power for much of the work load.

So, I think it is clear that some sort of government is needed to protect liberties, and the libertarian ideal is a fantasy.

Tom said...

Good points about early hunter-gatherers, but these hierarchies seem to me to be a lot less formal. You got to be a leader by earning everyone's respect. Since they respect you, they follow your suggestions for how to do things. Since there are usually several leaders, councils are held to make big decisions.

That said, on libertarianism, don't make the mistake of thinking libertarians are anarchists. Libertarians also believe some form of government is necessary to protect liberties, they just want to keep the size of government small. Although, apparently, in the Francophone world they are synonymous, that is not true in the Anglophone world.

Grim said...

I don't think that paleolithic comparisons are useful in this case. Paleolithic peoples did not have rifles. That is going to cut down on the attractiveness of slave raids against women, who can use rifles perfectly well. Likewise, they didn't have a number of things that we have to reduce the importance of muscle labor.

If the argument is that elimination of government would necessarily cause the collapse of technologies above the paleolithic, that would need to be demonstrated. I don't see any reason to believe that to be the case.

Grim said...

Tom, I'll need a few minutes to craft a longer response to your questions. I have a few things to do today that require my attention, but I'll come back to it.

Tom said...

Sure, thanks.

On sykes paleolithic point, I think it's more about human organization than technology. I don't know why sykes points to that era, but for me that seems like the place to look for the least-governed societies we know about, although I would be happy to learn of more advanced ones.

Your point about rifles and other technology is a good one. Still, there has always been some form of government, even if it was a more informal, tribal, respect-based system. Aristotle also says that man by nature is a political animal, pointing toward government of some kind as natural to mankind.

I would be curious to know how you see this government-less society working in practice, when you have time, of course.

Dad29 said...

It seems that your arguments against a 'right to life' (in natural law) are exactly right--if nature were the arbiter.

But it's not. God is. Thus, the narrative of Genesis governs 'rights' and is complemented by the narrative of the Gospels, which settles the question of whether there is an obligation for doctors to provide medicine (etc.)

There is, under charity; but at the same time, the patient is obligated to do what he can for the doctor, under justice. If we can call the New Testament a handbook on "positive law," then not only is there a right to life (shown in the Old Testament and reified in the New) but also rights and obligations, shown in the New but harking back to the Old.

Can there be 'natural rights' without God? Strauss and his disciple Michael Anton don't think so. (You can see his thought on the matter as it relates to governance here:

Grim said...


Aristotle's argument is well known to me; he makes it in Politics 1. I've taken issue with him there in the past; you can see a discussion by following the sidebar links called "Justice & the Law, I" and "II." I'll try to get to this as well as the other matters I already promised.


Yes, within the Church the issue is non-controversial. Tom's own Christian grounding is apparent in his objections, too, especially the assumption that human nature is the relevant nature because only humans have rights. That would have been non-controversial for the Founders as well as the Church; it is now of course controversial, and advocates for animal rights are numerous.

In trying to construct a philosophical defense that can apply to Americans broadly, there is a general problem with the abandonment of Christianity as a foundation. Having a religious foundation simplifies philosophy very substantially; Socrates said as much, that it had to be a god and not men who decide some of the fundamental questions. We have shifted onto very dangerous ground in moving from a tolerant to a secular society.

I haven't read Anton's piece yet -- I saw your post about it a few days ago -- because you said it was long and I'd need time. Time has been in short supply of late, both for professional reasons and volunteer obligations; for example, I am currently enrolled in an EMT course that is occupying many hours a week.

Grim said...


Now that I have a few minutes on a quiet Saturday morning, let's work through some of these questions.

"...your description of dignity would entail the right to life."

In the limited way in which you later describe rights, that might be true. However, note the important difference between "dignity entails" versus your original claim from the earlier post, "I'm assuming the core right here is the right to life, which entails the right to self-defense, which entails the right to the means to do so - keeping and bearing arms." You have inverted the grounding relationship in this version from your original version.

The right to life has to be proven, and absent a religious ground I'm not sure it can be. If you can prove the dignity, though, you may end up getting something like a limited right to life in the entailment of that dignity. If you try to start with the right to life, in a secular philosophical context wherein people are not required to accept any religious grounds, you could end up losing the right to life, the right to self-defense, and even the genuine dignity of the individual in the face of opponents like the state.

Dignity, on the other hand, is an observable fact. The rocks and the trees have no apparent capacity to reason or to object to being absorbed for another's purpose. Even slaves do: in fact, the need to suppress slave revolts ends up quickly becoming a central organizing principle for any civilization that attempts wide-scale slavery. Violating their dignity provokes an equal and opposite reaction, making it as demonstrable a law of nature as the analogous physical law identified by Isaac Newton.

Getting the grounding relationship right gives you a firm foundation; out of that, you may indeed end up getting a right to be left alone (which would be essentially equivalent to what you are calling 'a right to life' in your sense), a right to defense, and therefore also a right to arms. The ground is very firm.

Grim said...

II. "...Also, maybe I have the wrong idea, but I thought natural rights were based not in nature, but in human nature...."

I mentioned this in a response to D29, but that would have been uncontroversial as recently as the time of the Founding (which is approximately also the period of Kant as a philosopher, what philosophers call the Modern era but that most people have been taught to call 'the Enlightenment'). It is now controversial; there are numerous advocates for animal rights.

The idea of anything having a nature has also become controversial, because natures in Aristotle's sense are very closely related to essence. There is a strong revulsion in contemporary thought against 'essentialism,' which I think is as intense as it is especially because of feminism's rejection of the idea that there is a female human nature with essential qualities that differs from male human nature's essence. In the present generation, we are seeing 'trans-' ideology proposing that human beings can really have non-human natures; this is happening both with 'trans-species' movements ("I identify as a porpoise," which is not really in principle any weirder than "Though biologically male, I identify as a woman" because in both cases the material body is being set aside as illegitimate or inauthentic, and another -- spiritual? mental? -- self is being identifies as the real truthmaker of one's identity), and also in the "transhuman" movement that aspires to 'ascend' (or at least transform) humanity into cyborgs or artificial intelligences of some non-human, post-human sort.

It is a lot simpler to do philosophy with a religious foundation, as I was saying to D29. In fact, it almost reduces moral philosophy to an exercise in derivation. Any simple student can be taught to derive; if they can't do that, they aren't really fit for philosophy. Theology gives you your assumptions, and the rest is just following the rules and seeing what other conclusions can shake out of those assumptions.

It is a much harder and more complex problem to try to identify foundations. If your society will not endorse a religious foundation, as ours rejected without really realizing it when it adopted the 1st Amendment, you have that hard problem. Kant attempted to shift from religion to practical reason, and he still has some defenders trying to make that work. I'm trying something a little different here, but the idea of 'things which have a dignity vs. things which have a price' is adapted from his model (see the Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals), just as the idea of things having a nature is adapted from Aristotle's.

Grim said...

"That said, on libertarianism, don't make the mistake of thinking libertarians are anarchists."

Quite right. Libertarians are not anarchists; that is their error. They want to set up all the systems of power that would enable oppression, and then trust to a book of rules to avoid that oppression being realized by those in power.

I am, at this point, in fact an anarchist. When I was young, I was a conservative patriot of the American system; at this point, I think the American ideals of liberty and freedom from government deserve loyalty, but the actual government and system are hopelessly corrupt. I see no reason to think -- and, in the writings of Aristotle, Plato, and Weber, good reasons to disbelieve -- that any alternative administrative-state government would be better. That system is necessarily corrupt and corrupting, and the more power it obtains the worse; and it seems to be so regardless of whether it is formally a 'democracy,' an oligarchy, or a tyranny.

I am trying to describe a world in which such systems cannot be effective at establishing control over ordinary people, and hopefully persuade people to pursue that world. I would like a world of free men, empowered sufficiently to defend themselves against bad men, and in voluntary free association sufficiently to defend themselves even against bad states. As I was saying in the original post, I think you get there with rifles in a way that you can't and don't with F-15s. (In terms of borrowing/adapting, Edward Abbey -- also an American anarchist -- had a similar idea. In his book of aphorisms, Vox Clamantis in Deserto, he talks about how rifles are the weapons of equality.)

Grim said...

"Your point about rifles and other technology is a good one. Still, there has always been some form of government, even if it was a more informal, tribal, respect-based system. Aristotle also says that man by nature is a political animal, pointing toward government of some kind as natural to mankind. I would be curious to know how you see this government-less society working in practice, when you have time, of course."

I see an important difference between 'government' and 'more informal... systems.' So did Aristotle, actually; he argues that human nature requires a non-familial/tribal government because it is only under such systems that he thought it was possible to obtain sufficient prosperity and leisure to do highest-level human activities like studying philosophy. Since our highest nature could only be attained under these conditions, obviously (to him) these conditions were most appropriate for our nature.

It is of course obvious on reflection that the system that enabled Aristotle to study philosophy, and to invent most of our sciences, and to teach Alexander the Great (and to enable Alexander's wars of conquest against the entire world) did not afford these possibilities to everyone. One might argue that a system that could afford people in general the chance to attain their higher nature is superior, even on Aristotle's terms, to a governmental system that makes (as Heraclitus said, although he assigned the role played by governments that wage war to 'War' itself) 'some gods, others men; he makes some slaves, others free.' If so, even on Aristotle's terms, such an informal system could be more in line with human nature than a government.

One might imagine a system in which a free society that is too prickly for conquest still manages to help people attain their highest natures. You could begin by considering the Pirate Republic that sprang up in the Caribbean in the late 1600s and early 1700s, where men who already knew how to sail captured the ships of their masters and made themselves free. They could maintain and build their own technology, and hold their own islands at least for a time against reconquest, hunt their own meat, brew their own beer, fish their own fish.

Now consider a future in which humanity is likewise freed by a technology that is increasingly accessible: 3D printers that work on plastics we grow; space ships men know how to use and maintain as well as the old sailors did their own ships; firearms that make conquest impossible and freedom easily maintained. The development of this technology is already mostly the product of free men working without or even in spite of governments: Elon Musk's Starship program is a product of his wealth, but it is not a product of NASA. More and more we are able to build and do the things we need without needing government to fund or structure it; it is done through market cooperation, and voluntary association. Vast accumulations of wealth like his are still very useful, but increasingly startups in garages have defined the technology.

I see no reason in principle that government will always be necessary, and that free associations cannot adequately substitute. Factories can be run without a nation-state; and the machine produced by a factory can allow one to do the work of many. All things we need to do can in principle be done without masters pulling strings. Medical care can be provided, as volunteers here in my community provide protection from fire and other emergency services. Funding may not be as easy as having a man with a gun collecting taxes from everyone, but it it is not an insuperable problem because people want these things. Markets manage to make people pay for many things they want without force.

Even the study of philosophy is possible here, free of charge, for those who want it. It turns out not everybody does; perhaps it is not everyone's highest nature.

Grim said...

I suppose I should put this up on the sidebar as an addendum to the other post; it's turned out to be a significant statement of my philosophy.

J Melcher said...

The rocks and the trees have no apparent capacity to reason or to object to being absorbed for another's purpose. Even slaves do: in fact, the need to suppress slave revolts ends up quickly becoming a central organizing principle for any civilization that attempts wide-scale slavery.

Wolves and other social animals also have -- instinctive or learned, I won't dare guess -- rules of behavior; and meta-rules about punishing misbehavior. The theory of "praxis" suggests that behavior shapes and identifies and modifies the creatures that practice and share the behaviors; while creatures observe and develop and modify and adapt behaviors -- anyhow, round and round.

I often think that the concept -- and protective / assertive behaviors -- associated with a claim of possession is the most fundamental idea we build on. "MINE!" A mother, human or animal, knows and claims her own infant. A pack of predators marks and defends its territory. An ant or bee or termite reacts to its genetic cousins and joins in whatever ant-trail or mound-building business is going on. And there seems to be -- if not in all species always, enough to say humans are not alone or above exhibiting -- a deeply instinctive pre-rational need to prioritize defense of mine-ours even over self-defense. The soldier lays himself down on the enemy grenade; the mother starves herself to feed the baby; the bee tears apart its own abdomen to sting and drive away whatever threatens the hive. So I unthinkingly react aggressively to defend what's mine: my family, my home, my stuff; my dog; yeah my LIFE, honor, sacred honor yadda yadda is also a valuable thing I would defend as well.

But a lot of us don't really internalize our own mortality. It takes some training and reminders to get parents to put the air mask on themselves first, then help the child; to reserve their own bandage pack for themselves and treat a comrade's wound with his pack; to break away from the drowning swimmer if necessary to preserve your own life. It seems like self-preservation, self-defense, is not as instinctive as defense of "my own" -- or perhaps if the two fundamental behaviors are taught rather than instinctive, then one is taught earlier and more firmly than the other.

Tom said...

J, that reminds me that when I was thinking about the right to live issue, I considered that all living things want to live and will strive to do the things that keep them alive and flourishing, although as you point out there are things they may want more.

Grim, thanks for the explanations.

One question I have, for which I do not have an answer right now, is how much of our technology has been enabled by having government-provided security and transportation. The flip side is, of course, having to pay taxes, the vast array of unnecessary regulation, etc., that hinders tech advancement.

To focus on one side of it, people can invent world-changing things in their garages because they don't have to spend their time ensuring their own security or developing their own distribution systems. They have safe neighborhoods with police, etc., in safe countries guarded by armies, with extensive roads, rails, and shipping to move goods around for them, with a monetary system for exchange, etc.

Another question is the power of corporations. The powerful corporations necessary to provide high-tech goods would be more powerful than an anarchic community, which would pose a potential danger.

In fact, it seems like any more organized community could pose a danger to an anarchic one.

I guess I'm trying to envision how this works on a large scale. But maybe it doesn't. Maybe a geographically isolated / protected anarchic community could be armed and stubborn enough to make it too painful to conquer them. As you point out, Afghanistan provides some suggestions for how that would work.

I have been reconsidering my own political views over the last couple of years and am not comfortable with any of the labels right now. I guess I am hovering around libertarian, but I haven't been terribly compatible with American Libertarians. Rather than depending on a book, though, libertarians (at least, the ones I get along with) believe in being well armed, so it's more like a constitution, a tiny government with limited police and no standing military, balanced by a much larger body of well-armed citizens who can act as militia. I'm not sure that works against well-organized external threats; similar militia were notoriously unreliable in the Revolution. But I don't pretend to have all the details worked out, or even that I'll stay in this stage in my political journey.

Another question is how to transmit these cultures (anarchist or libertarian) to posterity. One would have to have enough people who believed this way living in a community, or communities. They would have to then develop a culture to pass down, and they would have to be successful in passing it down. There seems to be a great deal of heterogenous beliefs in the US and it seems like this would be difficult to accomplish.

Grim said...

I think it’s worth reading through Weber again, as he criticized the administrative state as inherently corrupt from an early period. Those links are on the sidebar.

“ To focus on one side of it, people can invent world-changing things in their garages because they don't have to spend their time ensuring their own security or developing their own distribution systems. They have safe neighborhoods with police, etc., in safe countries guarded by armies, with extensive roads, rails, and shipping to move goods around for them, with a monetary system for exchange, etc.”

You might question that also. It’s the received argument we were all taught in civics, in a school paid for and regulated by the government whose worth we are trying to investigate.

Does the army protect you? One might look to WWII as an example of when it did; but that was an army that was composed of the people broadly, supported by the rest of society. The military didn’t by itself protect American freedom: Americans did. Henry Ford, too, who for all of his Nazi sympathies developed a version of his assembly line for battleships, tanks, warplanes.

Has the army protected you since? I remember when we went to war against Saddam the first time, in the argument that it was necessary to prevent nations from invading each other or there’d be a new Hitler. Then we invade Iraq and Afghanistan; now Putin’s in Ukraine and Xi’s looking at Taiwan. We invaded Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo… what was all that for? To protect you? Did you benefit?

A similar question is possible about police. People like to point out that defunding the police has led to increased crime in cities. But that’s not the whole truth; crime is up everywhere in America, even places with fully funded police. The problem is that the police will arrest you if you defend your store from shoplifting or looters, your home from protests that threaten it, your person from assault by the favored. The police themselves are terrified to confront criminals, and what’s terrifying them is the government. It’s not the criminals, it’s the fear being sent to prison or even the gas chamber by government prosecutors.

Corporations are not so great a threat to ordinary people that they could stand off unions freely joined; they called in the US Army, who did more strikebreaking than anything else between the Civil War and WWI.

There’s a lot that can be legitimately questioned.

Grim said...

As for whether it can work at scale or develop a culture to convey it, the same questions dogged the Founders. Every government in the world since Ancient Greece had been a monarchy or an empire, led by a single man backed by his nobility and an established religion. How could it even work without these mutually reinforcing powers to force obedience?

It did though.

J Melcher said...

The ghosts of the Emperors and Kings of Switzerland are silent on that claim.

The ghosts of, and living, Bourgeoise of the federated cantons have some politely contrary words to offer.

Tom said...

Good points all, Grim. However, it's not that the army has actively protected us through things like defensive lines on the borders, etc., but rather that America having a strong military dissuades state aggressors. Other nations see what we could do and mostly don't take direct action against us.

Likewise, corporations would quickly become heavily armed if there were no army or police if only to maintain their own security. In that scenario, corporations could well become the new form of nation.

Anyway, I don't intend to just nitpick. I like the idea of it. I just don't know how it would work in practice. Has anyone written a book on the practicalities of it?

RonF said...

Considering the proposition

"2) That establishing a government is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for defending these rights."

it is proposed that an example that this can be shown false through "The Taliban's loose organization of families and those freely choosing to resist conquest proved impossible for the United States and its coalition to digest, ...."

The DoI proposed that the rights that a government was obliged to defend included those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, with the concept that these are individual as well as group rights. While the loose organization did successfully hold off both Russia and the U.S. from interfering with their desire to conduct their lives as they pleased as groups, the individual members of those groups do not enjoy those rights. Girls are killed if they take various courses of actions their fathers do not approve of. Gays are thrown off the tops of buildings to the cheers of the crowds below. No one enjoys the liberty to speak or to worship as they please.

"If it is true, though, then we can organize ourselves in the human future along the lines of anarchy: no leaders, no masters, no domination. Just free individuals defending each other's liberty, ...."

People are not perfect. The human condition includes free individuals willing to sacrifice themselves to defend another's liberty, to be sure. It also encompasses people with either weak or indifferent will for such action. It also encompasses psychopaths who will actively seek to sacrifice other's liberty in order to achieve their own desires, through violence if necessary. Men are men, not angels, and to quote Madison:

“If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

I hold with Madison, and give the example of Afghanistan's polity as illustrative.

Grim said...

Hi Ron,

I anticipated that line of inquiry here:

“ The analogy benefits from setting aside the question of what constitutes tyranny, and focusing purely on the dynamic of whether a free association can prove indigestible to the most highly-organized government.”

I recognize that we have moral standards that are deeply in conflict with the Taliban’s. In principle, though, if a free association can prove indigestible even to such force and wealth as we poured into Afghanistan, and for two decades, such an association might do so elsewhere. Unless their interpretation of Islam or something like it were a necessary condition of the success.

It might be. They benefit from exactly the kind of religious foundation to philosophy that we were discussing above; such a thing is very powerful in simplifying philosophical debates in society. Maybe you need that.

Even there, though, I think it might be that a different religion could serve as effectively. One, perhaps, that would resolve the moral conflicts you raise as an objection to their approach.

Tom said...

Thanks for suggesting Weber. I had been busy when you went through it, so I haven't looked at any of that material. That the text you discuss is only 30 pages makes it doable.

Have you read The Law by Bastiat? It is also quite short. It is heavy on natural rights in Locke's formulation of life, liberty and property. I would say that, in directly addressing natural rights, Locke and Bastiat have most heavily influenced me.

Unknown said...

Hi Tom,

It is short but dense, that Weber lecture. As I note in my commentary, I think it is generally misunderstood by those who have learned it from teachers or osmosis in academia; they often speak of it as if it justified, inter alia, the modern administrative state's claim to a monopoly on legitimate violence. I don't think that's at all what Weber was doing; he was bourgeois, but had a strong affinity for the old imperial Germany in which a private right to war and the duel was long recognized by the state. Dueling scars were points of pride in imperial Germany.

In fact I can't see any reading of the Weber essay that suggests that he is in any way enamored of the administrative state. I think he is almost wholly hostile to it; and given that his own example was Weimar, where the issues he recognized gave rise to a successful fascism, one can hardly object to his hostility. The question then becomes whether it is possible to do it better, or if -- as he seems to be arguing -- these features are inherent in and inseparable from the administrative state.

We can work through Bastiat sometime. It will have to wait until the summer, though; I am close to my limits given the intense EMT course on top of my usual duties.

Tom said...

If we do work through Bastiat, which I would find very interesting, summer would be best. I'm swamped with reading again until then.

Enjoy the EMT course! Beware, though, basic EMT is like a gateway course, and there are all these other EMS courses you can do after that ...