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Anarcho-Capitalism: A Branden ‘Blast from the Past’


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#1 Dennis Hardin

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 05:26 AM

Here are some comments made by Nathaniel Branden about anarcho-capitalism in a Seminar recording from January, 1970. This is a literal, unedited transcript. I thought his remarks might be interesting from a historical perspective.

Question: What is your opinion of the trend among certain alleged defenders of free enterprise to repudiate the concept of government entirely and to advocate instead what amounts to some form of anarchy?

Branden: Well let me say at the outset that I of course am an advocate of limited constitutional government. I'm in complete agreement with Ayn Rand's essay on “The Nature of Government” which appears both in her collection of essays The Virtue of Selfishness and was then reprinted again in her later book Capitalism The Unknown Ideal. Therefore I'm not going to here review the arguments for the necessity of a constitutional form of government since I assume you're all familiar with it and in fact agree with me on that subject. I think it's a very unfortunate trend which is seducing an awful lot of somewhat careless thinkers-- this trend among alleged libertarians to advocate what you correctly call anarchism. I think the motives differ from person to person. I think the motives of those who cooked up this idea are not necessarily the same as some of those who are seduced by their arguments. I think they do a very serious disservice to the cause of free enterprise because they put forth a position which is so palpably ridiculous that they just make their own contribution to putting the advocacy of capitalism in the category of a lunatic fringe.

And that's very unfortunate because some of the people associated with the anarcho-capitalist movement are not stupid. They can be very intelligent. They can be very articulate--some of them, not many. And they do a real disservice to the cause of rational capitalism. I think this is a movement that will have a brief vogue and will die in a few years. As people have a chance to mature and think the matter over I think they are going to realize that the arguments they have accepted are very spurious and they may look back with some feeling of embarrassment about this period of their intellectual development. I don't think the whole issue is of great social or sociological significance. I think it's an unfortunate phase. I think it will pass and I really have to say I think it's all pretty stupid.

Question: Well then, Dr. Branden, how would you answer the argument of these anarchists that, since government necessarily entails a monopoly on the use of force, such a monopoly can be maintained only by force and, hence, government always involves some violation of individual rights?

Branden: This, of course, is their favorite argument and their stock argument. In briefest essentials, I would answer as follows. Let's imagine, to make it very simple, that we--this group in this room tonight-- form a society and agree on the principles to be operative in the society in a political sense. We agree upon a constitution and a government is created for the purpose of carrying out the principles laid down in this constitution. Now, let us say that somebody new is born into the society or enters it from some other country, and he says: ‘Look. I wasn't consulted, I wasn't asked my opinion about this system of government. I want to set up a competing system of government. How can you justify forbidding me from doing so and threatening me with jail if I don't go along with the present political order of things?’

And my answer is the following. And remember we are talking here about a free system, about a government which is limited in its function to the protection of individual rights. Suppose that I am the spokesman for this hypothetical government. Then I would say to this person as follows: In this society, nobody is forbidding you anything so long as you do not violate the rights of anybody else in this society. That means, more specifically, if you want to form private arbitration agencies to settle disputes among people who will become your clients, you may do so. That happens even in our present society. You can form a private club or a private organization and lay down any kind of rules you want for your members. You will not be stopped until and unless you attempt to use physical force or fraud or some derivative against some fellow member of this society. That you have no right to do.

If you ever attempt to use force, let us say, in retaliation against a criminal, which you may have to do if the police are not available, you will be obliged to justify later your use of force and to demonstrate that it was, in fact, necessary. If you can justify it, you're in no trouble, any more than any other citizen of a free country is in trouble. So that so long as you don't infringe somebody else's rights, you can form any kind of organization you want. You can have your own arbitration committee, you can have your own system of penalties and fines and so long as the people who go along with your organization voluntarily agree to pay them, you have no problem. Your problem begins when you attempt to use force to get your way.

Therefore, in conclusion, I argue that in the system we are advocating, the individual is not having his rights violated because he is not allowed to set up a competing government.

Question: Dr. Branden, a few members of this anarcho--capitalist group are advocating an alliance with the New Left. Can you offer any explanation of this rather bewildering position?

Branden: Well, when you talk about the members of the so-called anarcho groups who advocate an alliance with the New Left, there I would say they are examples of what I called “counterfeit individualism” in an article I wrote a number of years ago for The Objectivist Newsletter. I described this type in my book The Psychology of Self-Esteem when I spoke about the so-called ‘independent’ social metaphysician, the people who are against for the sake of being against, the people who are rebels for the sake of being rebels, but who are not for anything. They are primarily against and their chief intention is to destroy. The so-called anarchists – capitalists who advocate alliance with the New Left justify it on the grounds that they have in common with the New Left an animosity toward the state. Let's tear down the state, they say, that common goal is a bond between us more important than any intellectual difference.

What sort of intellectual or ideological differences are they willing to ignore? The fact that the New Left sees nothing wrong with the use of force to gain its ends. It sees violence as a perfectly valid instrument of political motion or political development. The fact that they are willing to cooperate, that is to say the anarchists, are willing to cooperate with the New Left, only tells us how little regard or respect they have for property rights or individual liberty or philosophical consistency. I think here you deal with the very lowest depths of the anarchists–capitalists---meaning those who are willing to talk about an alliance with the New Left. Maybe some of their followers are confused and have not thought the issue out very carefully. But here you deal--and I put it bluntly--with the real intellectual scum who are no more friends of capitalism or individualism or individual rights than a Hitler or a Stalin is. They are against this society or any society because they feel themselves to be outcasts and with bloody good reason because I doubt very much if they would find a place in any civilized society.

Nathaniel Branden
Academic Associates’ Seminar, January, 1970


Branden’s description of libertarians who seek an alliance with the New Left (now the Middle-Aged Left?) as “counterfeit individualists” seems to foretell the charges of nihilism made much later by Peter Schwartz—i.e., people who are primarily against for the sake of being against, and not really for anything.

Given the amount of time that has passed, there's a strong possibility that Branden's views have changed substantially. If anyone has specific knowledge to show that Branden ever revised or retracted these views, please so indicate.

#2 Brant Gaede

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 08:36 AM

I'm not remarking on his remarks as such, but that guy could think and speak and reminds us that his years with Ayn Rand were highly intellectual years, not just personal drama. It makes me very glad I was able to send him all 48 Seminar records, which he no longer had, to eventually be made available for sale as electronic computer files. Four years of this level of articulateness. I think these records and other such he has done orally, including BO and its transcription, are going to tell future scholars much more about early Objectivism than what they'll be able to root out of the ARI archives.

--Brant

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#3 Reidy

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 04:10 PM

The proposed left/libertarian alliance was a bigger deal when Branden said this than it is today. The prediction of anarchism's demise was, like similar remarks people made about rock and roll or about Objectivism itself, not a winner.

The distinction between the spokesmen for the theory and their followers would seem to be a swipe at Rothbard.

#4 Dennis Hardin

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 06:34 PM

Branden’s comments are perceptive, but I’m not sure he has fully covered the question of the legitimacy of private defense agencies. The fundamental issue, as I see it, involves the question of bringing the use of force under objective control.

I want to use this thread to offer some thoughts about the anarchy-minarchy debate. (I'm sure everyone will agree with me that this is a terribly neglected issue on Objectivist/libertarian webforums. :laugh:)

Specifically, I want to address a question raised by another OL member on the gun control thread. The question posed in response to my defense of minarchy was, in essence, as follows:

“So you’re saying it’s okay to violate my right to exercise my right of self-defense in the way I see fit?”

A better, more complete formulation of that question is:

Are you saying you can deny my right to form my own government and use retaliatory force according to rules I consider legitimate or proper?

This presumes that what constitutes retaliatory force is always simple and self-evident, as when someone pulls a gun on you. If that were the case, the anarchist might have a point. But it isn’t. In the vast majority of situations, what constitutes legitimate retaliatory force is very complex. The definition of what constitutes “retaliatory force” is anything but self-evident. Here are some concrete examples.

In a robbery in which the victim kills or seriously injures the robber, it is often difficult to assess whether the victim used appropriate retaliatory force. Whose rules do we use to assess whether the victim’s life was truly in danger? And how can one “defense agency” impose its interpretation on another?

In regard to the question of gun control, when does the mere possession of a weapon constitute a violation of other’s rights—e.g., for an extreme example, placing an anti-aircraft weapon on one’s front lawn next door to an airport? Or pointing a missile launcher at your neighbor’s house? Or merely possessing a nuclear suitcase? Or an AK 47 rifle?

Date rape is another example. When does a man’s use of benevolent aggression in the sexual act constitute rape and when is it masculine self-assertiveness? Some uses of a fundamentally benevolent kind of “force” can be highly erotic and desirable to a woman. If you can’t verify this from your own personal experience, just look at the popularity of so-called “bodice-ripper” romance novels. Or the ‘rape’ scene in The Fountainhead. So where do we draw the line between mutually stimulating “force” and date rape?

In car accidents, there is often strong disagreement about who caused the accident—i.e., who forcibly damaged the other’s property and who should be legally forced to provide restitution. What rules of evidence apply in adjudicating the dispute? How do we assess the validity of witness testimony? As with many similar issues, arbitration would only solve the problem if both parties agree to arbitration.

Or consider the whole abortion issue. When (if ever) does abortion constitute murder? After the first trimester? What about partial birth abortion? Where do we draw the line-- before or after the umbilical cord is cut?

In contract law, there can be numerous disputes about what constitutes a violation of a contract. In real estate, for one example, there is usually a clause pertaining to “full disclosure.” Following completion of a sale of property, the buyer might maintain that the plumbing in the purchased home was not up to expectations. Some contracts might contain definitions that adequately cover that issue, but others may not. Again, it is not a simple matter to determine whether force should be used to extract restitution.

In divorce situations, it can be very difficult to determine what constitutes equitable distribution of shared assets. At some point, as in all unresolved civil disputes, the threat of force must be used to finalize the settlement.

Resolving such questions cannot be done simply on the basis of the definition of overt physical force. These issues involve more fundamental questions of philosophy, especially morality. If the prevailing moral code is altruism-collectivism, for instance, contract disputes may routinely be resolved in favor of the party with fewer assets. In divorce law, disputes might routinely be resolved in favor of the man or the woman depending on prevailing cultural factors. In regard to abortion, prevailing religious views may determine what does or does not constitute “murder.”

Some comments by Harry Binswanger are relevant here:

But the answers to these questions are far from self-evident. To establish even the general principles on which the detailed, concrete administration of justice depends requires political and legal philosophy (and the metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics these fields presuppose). The "libertarians" take a short-cut: they plagiarize Ayn Rand's principle that no man may initiate the use of physical force, and treat it as a mystically revealed, out-of-context absolute. This one principle, deprived of its philosophical base, is expected to replace jurisprudence, constitutions, legislatures, and courts. Then they imagine that the rest of us are obligated to accept, on faith, any gang's promise that their use of force will be "retaliatory."


[I disagree with Binswanger’s accusation of plagiarism—Rand did not originate the principle of the non-initiation of force. But this misstatement does not undercut the overall validity of his argument. The principle of the non-initiation of force cannot be used as a fundamental starting point.]

In any irreconcilable dispute, at least one party will find that its view of justice is stymied. Even under anarchy, only one side will be able to enforce its ideas of where the right lies. But it does not occur to the anarchists that when one of their private "defense agencies" uses force, it is acting as a "monopolist" over whomever it coerces. It does not occur to them that private, anarchistic force is still force—i.e., the "monopolistic" subjection of another's will to one's own. They are aware of and object to the forcible negation of "competing" viewpoints only when it is done by a government.


That last point by Binswanger is absolutely critical. When competing interpretations of legitimate retaliatory force are involved, the “private defense agency” which prevails will be in exactly the same position as a government monopoly on the use of force—imposing its will on someone who objects to their interpretation.

When a person says he wants to exercise his right to use private retaliatory force, he is saying he wants to have the right to impose his own views of what constitutes retaliatory force on others—with all the underlying philosophical, ethical, and judicial premises he prefers. If every anarchist insists that his views of what constitutes proper, appropriate, “rational” force should rule, how will disputes between the competing agencies be resolved without warfare? This would destroy the one precondition required for a civilization to exist—placing the use of force under objective control. In other words, this would result in the destruction of everyone else’s rights.

Binswanger:

Private force is force not authorized by the government, not validated by its procedural safeguards, and not subject to its supervision.

The government has to regard such private force as a threat—i.e., as a potential violation of individual rights. In barring such private force, the government is retaliating against that threat.


It is sheer rationalism to say that your rights are being violated when you are prevented from exercising retaliatory force as you see fit. “No one is permitted to initiate force, so no one can initiate force against me to interfere with my right to use retaliatory force.” You cannot take that one principle out of context and ignore all the ramifications of applying it to concrete situations. In reality, the issues involved are vastly more complex than the phrase, “one must never initiate force.”

Except in emergency situations where the immediate right of self-defense is all that’s involved, the anarchist is the one engaged in the de facto violation of rights, by destroying the social principle required for the protection of individual rights—i.e., the restriction of the use of retaliatory force to the prescription of objective law.

#5 Brant Gaede

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 06:56 PM

As a practical matter you objectify moral law by cutting back and out that which is not, as opposed to tearing the whole thing down--how?--and starting over with good and fresh ideas. My evaluation of anarchy as a non-anarchist is you can't get there from here, but if you could you would seriously hesitate from worrying about unintended and unforeseen consequences.

--Brant

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#6 George H. Smith

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 05:29 PM

Dennis,

I would love to discuss the minarchism/anarchism controversy with you, but as a wise man once said, it is a "waste of time."

Schwartz is a moron. And many libertarian anarchists, myself included, thought that any attempt to forge an alliance with the New Left would lead nowhere. Even Rothbard said pretty much the same thing in his later years.

Ghs

#7 PDS

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 05:36 PM

Where is Shane the Whistler when you need him?

#8 George H. Smith

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 05:51 PM

I decided to waste some time while waiting for a meat loaf to cook.....

Here are some comments made by Nathaniel Branden about anarcho-capitalism in a Seminar recording from January, 1970. This is a literal, unedited transcript. I thought his remarks might be interesting from a historical perspective.


(snip)

Question: Well then, Dr. Branden, how would you answer the argument of these anarchists that, since government necessarily entails a monopoly on the use of force, such a monopoly can be maintained only by force and, hence, government always involves some violation of individual rights?

Branden: This, of course, is their favorite argument and their stock argument. In briefest essentials, I would answer as follows. Let's imagine, to make it very simple, that we--this group in this room tonight-- form a society and agree on the principles to be operative in the society in a political sense. We agree upon a constitution and a government is created for the purpose of carrying out the principles laid down in this constitution. Now, let us say that somebody new is born into the society or enters it from some other country, and he says: ‘Look. I wasn't consulted, I wasn't asked my opinion about this system of government. I want to set up a competing system of government. How can you justify forbidding me from doing so and threatening me with jail if I don't go along with the present political order of things?’

(snip)


This is a good start. All we need to do now is to get everyone in the U.S. to agree to the Constitution and the government, and then we can deal with those (mostly) stupid anarchists.

Will it be said that consent was obtained during the ratification process in 1788? If so, we need to consider two points:

First, how can the agreements of past generations bind the current generation? Any such notion was anathema to the Founders. Thomas Paine, in his rebuttal of Edmund Burke (in Rights of Man), explicitly repudiated this notion, as did Thomas Jefferson and many others.

Second, historians agree that at least 50 percent of Americans in 1788 opposed ratification of the Constitution. (The percentage may be considerably higher.) Certainly those Pennsylvanians who participated in the Whiskey Rebellion (1791) and in Fries's Rebellion (1798) -- both of which were tax revolts -- had not consented to be taxed by the Federal Government. (John Fries, who was sentenced to be hanged but later had his sentence commuted, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War.) So what, from NB's perspective, would be the moral status of these rebels against the American government? Were they somehow bound by the decision of a supposed majority?

To begin with the premise of unanimous consent is to beg most of the important problems.

Ghs

#9 George H. Smith

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 06:32 PM

My meatloaf isn't done yet, so I have more time to waste.

NB, as quoted by Dennis from a Seminar recording, continued:



We agree upon a constitution and a government is created for the purpose of carrying out the principles laid down in this constitution. Now, let us say that somebody new is born into the society or enters it from some other country, and he says: ‘Look. I wasn't consulted, I wasn't asked my opinion about this system of government. I want to set up a competing system of government. How can you justify forbidding me from doing so and threatening me with jail if I don't go along with the present political order of things?’ And my answer is the following. And remember we are talking here about a free system, about a government which is limited in its function to the protection of individual rights. Suppose that I am the spokesman for this hypothetical government. Then I would say to this person as follows: In this society, nobody is forbidding you anything so long as you do not violate the rights of anybody else in this society. That means, more specifically, if you want to form private arbitration agencies to settle disputes among people who will become your clients, you may do so. That happens even in our present society. You can form a private club or a private organization and lay down any kind of rules you want for your members. You will not be stopped until and unless you attempt to use physical force or fraud or some derivative against some fellow member of this society. That you have no right to do. If you ever attempt to use force, let us say, in retaliation against a criminal, which you may have to do if the police are not available, you will be obliged to justify later your use of force and to demonstrate that it was, in fact, necessary. If you can justify it, you're in no trouble, any more than any other citizen of a free country is in trouble. So that so long as you don't infringe somebody else's rights, you can form any kind of organization you want. You can have your own arbitration committee, you can have your own system of penalties and fines and so long as the people who go along with your organization voluntarily agree to pay them, you have no problem. Your problem begins when you attempt to use force to get your way. Therefore, in conclusion, I argue that in the system we are advocating, the individual is not having his rights violated because he is not allowed to set up a competing government.


Okay, suppose we begin with a perfect limited government that has obtained unanimous consent. But suppose that, over time, this government becomes fat and lazy and inefficient, and that as a result some of the original consenters decide that they would like to pay for a more efficient, but equally just, agency -- a "competing government" that follows exactly the same laws and procedures as the original government.

If the original government can enforce its laws and procedures without violating the rights of anyone, then so can the "competing government." So how can the original government stop the competing government without initiating force against it? How can the original government say, in effect, We enforce objective laws, but those laws are objective only so long as we enforce them. If another agency attempts to do the very same thing that we are doing, then those laws become nonobjective, so we will use force to stop any competition.

This sounds like rank subjectivism to me. It's like saying that two-plus-two equals four only when I add the numbers.

Ghs

#10 George H. Smith

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 06:50 PM

One additional point:

NB neglects to mention that Rand's ideal government would lack the power to tax, so it could not compel anyone to support it. So what if enough people become so annoyed with its inefficiency that they refuse to contribute any longer to its support, and thereby make it impossible for that government to function?

Will these dissenters then become outlaws? That is to say, will they no longer have any recourse to courts of justice or access to police protection ?

I have debated various O'ists over the years, and quite a few have argued precisely this. In fact, during the late 1990s one prominent O'ist (then an associate of David Kelley) went even further and claimed that anyone who doesn't agree to the ideal Randian government and/or refuses to contribute to its support would literally have no rights at all. He could be murdered by anyone at any time, and the government would make no effort to stop the murder or punish the murderer. He justified this position by maintaining that, according to Rand, we have no natural rights, in effect -- that rights go into effect only after a government has been established.

Such are the lengths to which some O'ists will go to escape the bogeyman of anarchism.

Ghs

#11 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 07:46 PM

I hold that the idea of getting every new generaltion to consent to a form of government is just as flawed in the human nature premise as in telling people they don't choose the families they are born into, so toddlers have the right to seek another family to raise them.

Either government is of human beings, which means we look at human nature in the entirety of the human experience (birth, growth, dwindiling and death, all within the context of having a rational and emotional mind) and derive values from that, or since rational human adults in their productive years are the rulers, we derive human values from that stage of human life only and exclude the rest.

I am going from the premise that rights are moral values taken to a social level. So we have to look at values to look at government, and that means we have to look at human nature to see what values are valid.

I am not arguing for a government with social programs like welfare or anything like that, but I do believe the seed of government is found within human nature, derives from human nature, and is not merely imposed on human nature from the outside by force, which is where the 100% consent argument leads.

Man is rational, but he is also a tribal animal who learns his cultural fundamentals mostly by imitation. (I.e., a rational animal.) I believe it is a mistake to ignore either part in formulating arguments for rights and government.

(Sigh... I know I'm opening a can of worms... :) )

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#12 Peter Taylor

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 10:15 PM

Michael wrote:
Man is rational, but he is also a tribal animal who learns his cultural fundamentals mostly by imitation. (I.e., a rational animal.) I believe it is a mistake to ignore either part in formulating arguments for rights and government . . . (Sigh... I know I'm opening a can of worms... <img height="20" v:shapes="_x0000_i1025" width="20" />)
end quote


I am perplexed too. George H. Smith’s arguments are interesting but never convince. The United States, its Constitution and American History are not a lowly “competing government.” WE are not a flicker in the night, or a moth to a flame. WE are a paradigm, exceeding the lifespan of one man, one generation, or a century. Our uniqueness is obvious to anyone rationally observing our history, and our promise.
Peter Taylor
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#13 Peter Taylor

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 10:22 PM

Another tweak for the lovely and spiritual though I am not a believer. Look for this on youtube. Iris Dement: Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. Beautiful. If you have a Christian family member play this at their funeral. Iris sounds a bit like a young Dolly Parton.
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#14 Michael E. Marotta

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 11:46 PM

I agree with Nathaniel Branden. He nailed it on the head.

I used to call myself an "anarcho-capitalist" and propose that model as the way things should be. After a decade working in private security and completing degrees in criminal justice (2007), criminology (2008), and social science (2010), I came to see that so-called anarcho-capitalism is the way the world actually does work here and now.

Moreover, I have come to suggest that if government is voluntarily funded, then its best functions are not police and courts, but social welfare, a "floor" under every individual.

I have pointed out before and I do so again here and now that Ayn Rand got her definition of government from Max Weber. It was not in John Stuart Mill, or John Locke or Thomas Hobbes, or Aristotle or Plato, each of whom had a different explanation for the genesis and purpose of government.



“Sociologically, the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends. There is scarcely any task that some political association has not taken in hand … Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force. …
Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical forcewithin a given territory. Note that 'territory' is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the 'right' to use violence.” ("Politics as a Vocation” (Politik als Beruf), C. Wright Mills translation)


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#15 George H. Smith

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 01:01 AM

I agree with Nathaniel Branden. He nailed it on the head.

I used to call myself an "anarcho-capitalist" and propose that model as the way things should be. After a decade working in private security and completing degrees in criminal justice (2007), criminology (2008), and social science (2010), I came to see that so-called anarcho-capitalism is the way the world actually does work here and now.

Moreover, I have come to suggest that if government is voluntarily funded, then its best functions are not police and courts, but social welfare, a "floor" under every individual.

I have pointed out before and I do so again here and now that Ayn Rand got her definition of government from Max Weber. It was not in John Stuart Mill, or John Locke or Thomas Hobbes, or Aristotle or Plato, each of whom had a different explanation for the genesis and purpose of government.




“Sociologically, the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends. There is scarcely any task that some political association has not taken in hand … Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force. …
Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical forcewithin a given territory. Note that 'territory' is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the 'right' to use violence.” ("Politics as a Vocation” (Politik als Beruf), C. Wright Mills translation)


I'm familiar with the passage by Weber, having quoted and cited it many times over the years. I seriously doubt, however, whether Rand ever read Weber.

Moreover, Weber's conception of the state -- and he distinguished between "state" and "government" in a way that Rand never did -- was not all that unusual. Weber may have formulated his definition with more precision than many of his predecessors, but the basic idea had been around for a long time.

Ghs

#16 Dennis Hardin

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 01:31 AM

Dennis,

I would love to discuss the minarchism/anarchism controversy with you, but as a wise man once said, it is a "waste of time."

Schwartz is a moron. And many libertarian anarchists, myself included, thought that any attempt to forge an alliance with the New Left would lead nowhere. Even Rothbard said pretty much the same thing in his later years.

Ghs


George,

Why is my comment any more offensive to you than Branden’s statement, in 1970, that the “stupidity” (his term) being displayed by libertarian advocates of anarchy is undermining the rational case for capitalism and making the whole pro-capitalist cause take on the appearance of a “lunatic fringe?”

I am quite certain Branden does not regard you as “stupid,” George. [Obviously, neither do I.] He has had nothing but the highest praise for your scholarship and the quality of your writing. I don’t wish to insult you any more than he does. That’s not the point. But like it or not, the cause of laissez-faire capitalism has not been helped by the amount of energy and time libertarians have devoted to this topic.

I suffer no illusions about the prospect of you agreeing with me (or Branden) about that.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed your meatloaf.

#17 George H. Smith

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 02:10 AM

I am perplexed too. George H. Smith’s arguments are interesting but never convince. The United States, its Constitution and American History are not a lowly “competing government.” WE are not a flicker in the night, or a moth to a flame. WE are a paradigm, exceeding the lifespan of one man, one generation, or a century. Our uniqueness is obvious to anyone rationally observing our history, and our promise.


In the Federalist Papers, James Madison described the Constitution as a "bundle of compromises." And these were not incidental or unimportant compromises; some involved fundamental principles and would have revolted Ayn Rand, had she been around at the time.

If libertarian anarchism seems unrealistic to many people, this is for the same reason that Ayn Rand's belief in an ideal limited government without the power to tax seems equally unrealistic. Neither system will ever come about on a large scale, so both systems function as ideals.

Ideals -- i.e., abstract models of perfect legal systems -- are important for three reasons. First, as Herbert Spencer pointed out, they give us a sense of direction, both moral and practical, while we wind our way through a complex maze of legal and political realities.

Second, philosophic ideals function as moral standards that can be applied to real-life situations. Consider the question, Do we owe allegiance -- i.e., a moral obligation of loyalty and obedience -- to the U.S. government; and if we do, how far does this allegiance extend? There is no way to answer such questions without referring to general principles.

Third, discussions of, and debates over, political ideals compel us to think clearly about key concepts, such as what we mean by "government" and "consent." You may find the mental labor required for clear thinking tedious and unnecessary, but those of us who like to know what the hell we are talking about find this enterprise very useful.

Ghs

#18 Dennis Hardin

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 02:12 AM


Okay, suppose we begin with a perfect limited government that has obtained unanimous consent. But suppose that, over time, this government becomes fat and lazy and inefficient, and that as a result some of the original consenters decide that they would like to pay for a more efficient, but equally just, agency -- a "competing government" that follows exactly the same laws and procedures as the original government.

If the original government can enforce its laws and procedures without violating the rights of anyone, then so can the "competing government." So how can the original government stop the competing government without initiating force against it? How can the original government say, in effect, We enforce objective laws, but those laws are objective only so long as we enforce them. If another agency attempts to do the very same thing that we are doing, then those laws become nonobjective, so we will use force to stop any competition.

This sounds like rank subjectivism to me. It's like saying that two-plus-two equals four only when I add the numbers.

Ghs


The way to replace a government with "the exact same laws and procedures as the original government" is through the democratic voting process that has been established by the existing government. Otherwise, we are not talking about "the exact same laws and procedures" as the original government.

And once you say that the new "competing government" is unilaterally revoking those particular laws and procedures, it has taken on the role of imposing its own view of justice on the rest of society--just as you claim the original monopoly government was doing.

Once again, the anarchist is the one engaged in the de facto violation of rights, by destroying the social principle required for the protection of individual rights—i.e., the restriction of the use of retaliatory force to the prescription of objective law.

#19 George H. Smith

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 02:43 AM

Okay, suppose we begin with a perfect limited government that has obtained unanimous consent. But suppose that, over time, this government becomes fat and lazy and inefficient, and that as a result some of the original consenters decide that they would like to pay for a more efficient, but equally just, agency -- a "competing government" that follows exactly the same laws and procedures as the original government. If the original government can enforce its laws and procedures without violating the rights of anyone, then so can the "competing government." So how can the original government stop the competing government without initiating force against it? How can the original government say, in effect, We enforce objective laws, but those laws are objective only so long as we enforce them. If another agency attempts to do the very same thing that we are doing, then those laws become nonobjective, so we will use force to stop any competition. This sounds like rank subjectivism to me. It's like saying that two-plus-two equals four only when I add the numbers. Ghs

The way to replace a government with "the exact same laws and procedures as the original government" is through the democratic voting process that has been established by the existing government. Otherwise, we are not talking about "the exact same laws and procedures" as the original government. And once you say that the new "competing government" is unilaterally revoking those particular laws and procedures, it has taken on the role of imposing its own view of justice on the rest of society--just as you claim the original monopoly government was doing.


1) NB said absolutely nothing about voting procedures. He said that the original members uanimously consent to a given government. So does this mean that 100 percent of the voters must agree in order for a law passed by your ideal government to be legitimate?

2) Since when does the objectivity of laws and legal procedures depend on how many people approve of them? Do you consult majority opinion before embracing objective truths in other spheres? Do we need a majority to tell us that theft and murder should be illegal, and that certain objective legal procedures are necessary before finding defendants guilty of such crimes?

3) I specifically stated that my ideal "competing government" (an oxymoronic term, at best) observes the same laws and legal procedures as your ideal Randian government. In response, you invoked "the democratic voting process that has been established by the existing government." I therefore presume that you defend the moral legitimacy of majority rule, even to the point of prohibiting activities that violate the rights of no one.

4) Voting is a political procedure, not a legal procedure in the sense that I meant. If the ideal competing agency observes the same laws and legal procedures as the monopolistic government, and if these laws and procedures violate the rights of no one when enforced by the monopolistic government, then they cannot violate rights when enforced by a different agency. In invoking "the democratic voting process that has been established by the existing government," you have merely sugar-coated the fact that your government will initiate force against anyone who attempts to do the same thing that it is doing. This is the nature of all coercive monopolies.

5) Voting would mean relatively little in an ideal Randian government. If people dislike a given administration, they could simply refuse to pay for its "services." But the question remains: Could your government legitimately use force to prevent former customers from engaging another agency that provides the same services, but more cheaply and efficiently? If so, on what grounds? Because the original government has established certain voting procedures? So what? You must assume that such procedures are morally binding on unwilling people before you can introduce your Trojan Horse of majority rule.

So let's see your argument for majority rule. And, in presenting your argument, be very careful that you don't "prove" way too much. If, for example, you end up demonstrating the moral legitimacy of measures like Obama Care, which was passed via a democratic procedure, then you won't find many receptive ears, even among O'ists. In short, you will need to show why democratic procedures that produce desirable outcomes are legitimate, and why democratic procedures that produce undesirable outcomes are illegitimate. Good luck with that.

Ghs

#20 George H. Smith

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 03:03 AM


Dennis,

I would love to discuss the minarchism/anarchism controversy with you, but as a wise man once said, it is a "waste of time."

Schwartz is a moron. And many libertarian anarchists, myself included, thought that any attempt to forge an alliance with the New Left would lead nowhere. Even Rothbard said pretty much the same thing in his later years.

Ghs


George,

Why is my comment any more offensive to you than Branden’s statement, in 1970, that the “stupidity” (his term) being displayed by libertarian advocates of anarchy is undermining the rational case for capitalism and making the whole pro-capitalist cause take on the appearance of a “lunatic fringe?”

I am quite certain Branden does not regard you as “stupid,” George. [Obviously, neither do I.] He has had nothing but the highest praise for your scholarship and the quality of your writing. I don’t wish to insult you any more than he does. That’s not the point. But like it or not, the cause of laissez-faire capitalism has not been helped by the amount of energy and time libertarians have devoted to this topic.

I suffer no illusions about the prospect of you agreeing with me (or Branden) about that.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed your meatloaf.


Within two years after Nathan made that statement, he engaged in two lengthy private "debates" about anarchism with Roy Childs and myself. (These were held in Barbara's Hollywood apartment in Franklin West Towers.) I seriously doubt if Nathan had the same opinion after that.

Thanks for letting me know that you don't regard me as "stupid." I very much appreciate the reassurance.

As for the harm that the anarchism controversy has supposedly inflicted on the cause of laissez-faire capitalism, you are the one who started this thread. Moroever, many conservatives would say the same thing about Rand's ideas. Indeed, if Rand had placed as much emphasis on the illegitimacy of taxation as many of her libertarian followers have, she would have struck many people as even more of a kook.

Even so, this excerpt from Ayn Rand Nation: the Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, by Gary Weiss, expresses a common view of Rand:

http://www.alternet....G1X4OF&rd=1&t=2


So do I really care what Weiss and his ilk think of Rand? Nope. Nor do I care what O'ists who refuse to apply their own principles consistently think of libertarian anarchism.

Ghs




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