The Last Stop of the “S-Train”

Recently, I’ve been involved in a couple of twitter spats with self-described libertarians. One was over immigration; the other was over Bradley Manning. The former was civil, the latter was not. In each instance, the crux of the opponent’s argument reduced to a paramount presumption of the “rule of law” over any rational challenge. Of course, from a libertarian perspective, I find an appeal to an unchallengeable presumption of the rule of law to be foreign to the tradition. Interestingly, by pointing this out–particularly in referencing Thoreau–I incurred the charge of “anarchist.” Now, that’s an accurate charge, but the actual intent and implication of the charge was this position thusly placed me outside the libertarian tradition. In the case of the immigration “debate” that I had with the Social Media Director of Conservative Daily News, I was told I should be commenting on anarchism, not libertarianism. In the case of the Bradley Manning “spat” I had with Doug Mataconis, the charge was additionally gift-wrapped with the insult.1

Ah so you’re one of those idiotic anarchists. This conversation is over, moron

Anarchism is not a rational philosophy. I don’t care to converse with those who follow it.

So-called libertarians who condone traitors are worthless anarchists

And you have shown yourself to be an irrelevant anarchist who the rest of us can laugh at

Now, the context, which can be viewed here, is that insults came after lengthy twitter deconstructions of Mataconis’ stated reasons why Manning is guilty of espionage and treason. The challenges would simply terminate with Mataconis’ appeal to the insult. Now when I pointed that I was relying on a number of liberal and libertarian authors(“Locke, Hume, Hobbes, the radical french liberal economists, proudhon, spencer, tucker, george, nock,etc”) Mataconis responded:

I’ve read them too, bucko. I also understand reality, unlike you

But you can’t claim to have read and understood these authors(implying a firm understanding of both the liberal and libertarian tradition) and make a statement like:

“Anarchism is not a rational philosophy. I don’t care to converse with those who follow it.”

To make such a statement indicates either: (1) gross incompetence(stupidity=incapable of understanding what you have read), (2) lying(hasn’t actually read what is claimed to have been read) (3) repudiation (4) doublethink

Why? Because political obligation in liberal political theory–the social contract– is derived from an agent rational calculation that measures between (i) the compliance problem of anarchy vs (ii) the minimum amount of liberty an agent is willing to concede(constraint against “means”) to resolve this compliance problem. It’s a hypothetical contractual bargain. Anarchy is treated as the natural human condition. The State is an artificial construct, meaning it’s a tool, an invented device as means to an end. In this “bargain,” anarchy has to necessarily be a rational bargaining outcome in the total set of outcomes–by definition– because anarchy, specifically the constraints against it, is the thing rational agents are minimizing against(the degree they are willing to give up) to obtain the “cooperative surplus.” If “anarchy” is “irrational,” then the entire methodological foundation of liberalism collapses because agents are stripped of agency. The very notion of “bargaining” then becomes absurd. The State is no longer means, it is ends. Agency itself is the product of ends.

Now it may not be rational to choose anarchy over the State. But with Locke, for example, “anarchy” was only a sub-optimal arrangement(not one of total war). Where the confusion often arises is over Hobbe’s “war against all.” Hobbe’s “war against is all” is the foundation for Leviathan as the product of human agency. Hobbe’s view of anarchy or the State of Nature is not that it is irrational, but rather that it suffers from an intractable compliance problem. The compliance problem does not affect human agency, however. Politics is a bargain between exclusively rational agents. Leviathan is the product of this agency. Hobbes arrives at Leviathan from Human Agency because he does not neglect to extend the compliance problem to the compliance agency itself. Hence, no separation of powers bullshit. It is Leviathan.

One pet-peeve of mine is how the communitarians will often try to sneak in Hegel through the backdoor of Hobbes. That is, the “War of all against all” is why humans have “contracted away” human agency and why we have agency only as ends. Except, of course, for the cherry picking of those aspects of liberalism(human agency) that they find preferable. So, the State is Us and We are the State until “We” need to keep “Our” hands off of what “I” consider fundamental.

Returning to Mataconis’ statement regarding Anarchism, it should be seen as an example of (4) doublethink. Mataconis has been blogging on libertarian matters for a number of years, but you really won’t find any deconstruction of anarchism from him. You would think so, given the hostility of the dismissal. But the hostility in this matter can be likely explained by the fact that is not difficult to debunk assertions of the preeminence of the rule of law against rational challenges. Certainly, in the case of Manning, the contention that his voluntary contractual agreement to join the Military establishes his treason and guilt in this matter,regardless, is challengeable in the following way:

(1) contractual agreements impose obligations on both parties to the contract. There is a commitment to be met by both parties. If either party fails to meet those obligations, then the other party is released from further obligation. In some cases, the aggrieved party may try to collect compensation for the contractual breach. We can talk about Manning’s contractual obligations to the US Military, but the US Military is obligated to meet its own commitment to how it conducts itself in warfare. Specifically, (a) the Hague Convention of 1907 (b) the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (c) Protocol I Additions to the Geneva Conventions. These set of agreements define the boundaries of war crimes. If the US is engaged in war crimes, then the soldier is no longer bound by his commitment. But particular to this case we have:

(2) The Nuremberg Principle: A principle the US played a major role in fashioning that establishes that a soldier’s contractual obligation to his/her government(whether involuntary or voluntary) is not a defense against war crimes.

This, of course, is a rational argument that the US governments own legal commitments preclude any prosecution of Manning if it can be shown a formal or informal policy of war crimes. Of course, this rational argument would have absolutely no legal weight in a US Military court. But it probably would have weight in an “international court.” So, it is a demonstration, once again, of the “commitment problem.” The US government can’t be expected to enforce its own commitments. To get an enforceable commitment, you have to climb up another rung on the ladder–in this case, to an international court. So you need an Agency C to enforce the commitments between A and B.

Mataconis is worried about the commitment problem of A–in this case, Manning–in terms of the “rule of law.” But what he should be worried about is the commitment problem of B. Indeed, the preeminence of the rule of law applied to A illustrates a problem I’ve developed concerning the phrase. The implication is that a “proper” human agency is a product of the rule of law. But the “commitment problem” is a demonstration that rational agency is certainly not a “rule of law” ends.

The phrase “The Rule of Law is the legal sanction of the Rule of Men” is meant as a critique. But it is also a truism. It can be recast as a statement, “Law is the product of human agency.” And no system can escape that. Indeed, I’m not sure why you would want to. The servility of human agency to “necessity” not subject to rational challenge is a root cause of injustice and exploitation. Any attempt to root political obligation in “the rule of law,” which is often a favorite refrain of our “limited government” or “proper role of government” libertarians, eventually will have to resort to treating human agency as ends to necessity at some point. The difference between the communitarians and the “limited government libertarians” is that communitarians will acknowledge human agency as ends up front while “the libertarians” will keep it in their back pocket as a last resort.

Of course, as Doug Matacanis would say, this is all just philosophical bullshit. The important standard is “reality.” But this is just Orwell. The subjugation of reason to the immediate context is the foundation of Orwell’s version of totalitarianism. Orwell’s pessimism stems from the ease governments could simply control reality. I’m not surprised, then, when the likes of Mataconis demonstrate their seriousness by supporting the “Simpson-Bowles” fiscal accountability plan. The old Soviet regime has Lenin and Stalin’s tomb. We have our two eternally regurgitated republicrat stiffs on ice periodically de-thawed from the meat locker to deliver us a “serious plan” to redistribute the accountability from the invented realities of the political class.

Several years ago, Charles Johnson penned an essay “Take the A Train” which argued that “minarchy” and “anarchy” did not coherently converge to the same thing. This post is sort of a demonstration of that point cast in terms of the relationship between human agency and law. Therein we find the actual convergence point for all forms of Statism: “traitor.” No matter the form or the occupants, the “S Train” terminates to “traitor” at some point.

1 To be fair, I returned the favor a couple of times.

One thought on “The Last Stop of the “S-Train”

  1. Interesting that Doug, of all people, can’t see the problem with invoking a “contract” that apparently only one party can be held to…

    That the standards being violated in the case of the U.S. military so clearly have the fingerprints of the U.S. government on them reveals what international law amounts to in practice: states doing whatever, with the biggest guns saying “well WTF you gonna do about it?” The laws are cited or ignored based on their situational usefulness to pre-existing agendas, window dressing to what states were going to do anyway.

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