I caught this article, Most of Life Is Anarchy, while browsing Rational Review News. The author is Gene Callahan, a known libertarian defector. Callahan followed that up with addendum posts, Misunderstanding the Relationship of Spontaneous Order and Planned Order and The State Is Simply the Specialized Political Organ of Society.
There were of comments from thinkers that I respect in the first article, but unfortunately, none of them succeeded in debunking Callahan’s argument. And what is this argument? Callahan uses Jeffrey Tucker’s quote, “most of our lives take place under anarchy,” to affirm the State as a natural product arising from civil society. This, of course, is the ancient view that we can trace back to Aristotle. The ancient view holds no division between civil society and the Polis, viewing the latter as a natural fabric of the former.
Liberalism, a political theory that is the product of the Enlightenment, separates the two. The Polis, or the State, is an artificial construct. Liberal social theory holds that human agency with disparate moral ends can nonetheless use reason as means to coordinate mutual advantage(a Justice of Mutual Advantage regime). Liberal political theory holds that it is rational for human agency to surrender some liberty to secure a particular end. With Locke, for example, this end is property(or more specifically, a “property bundle”). However, the degree of liberty it is rational to surrender is a point of contention. For example, with Hobbes, an intractable compliance problem is reason for human agency to surrender much of its liberty to Leviathan(a singular authority. No separation of powers or plural authorities here).
Liberal Social Contract Theory holds the particular ends to be secured to be a product of anarchy(civil society) and the security of the particular ends to be by means of an artificial construct: the State. This is what is meant by the liberal distinction between civil society and the artificial State. The State can be thought of as a “tool” of sorts. Sure you can think of this tool as an evolutionary product of society but it is not the evolutionary end of society in the same manner one would say that the horse and buggy is not the evolutionary end point of long distance travel. There is no argument vis a vis liberalism of the necessity of the State as an end. If you make this argument, then you depart from liberalism and venture into the territory of Hegel and the communitarians. Put differently, there is no liberal argument for epistemic closure regarding the State as the necessary tool.
David Hume is generally credited for striking the early death-blow against liberal social contract theory when he duly noted that historically States arise from plunder and conquest, not unanimous consent. This historical fact leads to one of two approaches: (i) the social contract is pure fiction or (ii) not a fact, but nonetheless a useful abstraction for establishing the criteria of legitimacy.
Today, almost all, if not all, liberal political philosophers discount unanimity as a condition for legitimacy. “I did not sign that,” whatever its libertarian merits, is a dismissed argument in liberal circles. In this sense, it is pointless to argue (i). It is has been argued countless times before. The better approach is argue against (ii). In particular, the “useful abstraction” suffers from an intractable collective action problem.
The best “modern” argument against (ii) has been made by Anthony de Jasay. Specifically, de Jasay’s work, “The State.” In academic jargon, we would summarize de Jasay’s argument as an “incentive-incompatibility problem” of collective choice to abide by the “unanimity” of the so-called social contact. In plain terms, this simply means that control of the government begins where unanimity ends. Put differently, the liberal state suffers from a collective action problem of State Agency(the “Total State”: the State (i) setting the ends of compliance and (ii) serving as the enforcing means). In the end, we are reliant on democracy as an accountability mechanism to correct or constrain collective choice actions.
But is democracy a reliable constraint mechanism? No.
Interestingly, Callahan in his his subsequent posts compared the “planned order of the State” with that of “the planned order of the Firm.” Callahan is actually correct with his analogy, but the clarification offered by his analogy undermines his cause. Economic theory actually has a bit of a problem explaining “the Firm.” The best explanation, the one I tend to agree with, was offered by Oliver Williamson(for which he recently won the Nobel Prize for). The Firm is a type of DRO, a form of economic governance for the security of economic rents.
“The State as the Firm” is a principle of political economy that I often allude to. If we accept this principle–and Callahan, via his analogy, implicitly accepts it–then we realize that State(the modern liberal state) is not explained by tax collections. That is, the raison d’etre of the State is not the security of tax collections. Instead, the state is explained vis a vis the security of economic rents.
Callahan uses the “planned order of the State” to reject the “taxation is theft” argument because the State has an appointed an official tax collecting agency. Callahan argues that if the State arbitrarily allowed A to collect taxes while denying B the same power, then the illegitimacy(or perhaps, artificiality) argument would have merit. But if we shift instead to the “planned order of the Firm(ignoring the bait to argue endlessly on whether the IRS is a natural product of anarchy–“taxes are the price we pay for civilization”), we note that the State as Firm exhibits this precise arbitrary power: it allows and protects A as a rent-seeking agency while denying and prohibiting the same agency to B.
What we find is that de Jasay’s incentive-incompatibility collective choice problem leads directly to the State as the “planned(protectionist) order of rent-seeking agency.” And this is the rational choice foundation of “libertarian class theory.”
As a postscript I will note that Callahan is certainly aware of de Jasay, given that he at one time described “The State” as One of the most profound works on the nature of the state and still has entrails of his previous life lurking on the internet that wield de Jasay as a weapon against liberal social contract theory. But I have yet to come across any published refutation by him of de Jasay. Instead, he baits the Rothbardians into endless arguments. But Rothbard is a totally different species from de Jasay.
I did find this, however, that perhaps explains Callahan’s defection: Can a Christian be an anarchist?. If that post is accurate, then Callahan simply rejects libertarianism on the basis of rejection of authority being Satanic. And that makes him a religious fundamentalist. I have nothing against religious fundamentalists, per se. I can care less what your religious beliefs are. I do have a major problem, however, with those who have decided to subject themselves to a highly discretionary moral authority to rationalize the subjugation of others to discretionary authority to satisfy some type of necessary ends. That to me, is what evil is.
Another lesson why reason is means and not applicable to ends. Hail, Satan…