Mill and Polycentric Law Redux

Joe Miller was impressed by my earlier post on J.S. Mill's pluralist angle, but now he's cooled off and has reservations. Fair enough, says I. Joe puts his finger on a very real, difficult problem:

What happens when we find some particular political arrangement to be in violation of the harm principle? What, to pick a random example, do we say when one of the private legal services offers sharia law? Fine, one might say. If people voluntarily sign up for a particular view of the law, then what business of mine is it that they do so? And I'll agree to a certain extent. For the first generation of customers, sharia law is a perfectly legitimate option. But what happens in the second generation? What shall we say about the girls who are treated as second-class citizens, who grow into women unable to act in a way that is fully autonomous? When they remain customers of sharia law (because the very law under which they already live does not allow them any independent voice), have they done so freely? Even if they actually claim to prefer sharia law, can we really believe them at this point?

Ironically, this argument is almost the same one used against naive contractarianism by Lysander Spooner in No Treason IV: The Constitution of No Authority. The problem is that I never had the chance to give or withdraw my informed consent to the system of laws I was born under, so how can they reasonably be considered binding on me? I think there are arguments that overcome this objection, but for the moment I'll accept it as valid.

But it should be obvious that this objection applies to all forms of legal order, including a fortiori Joe's preferred form of a federalist, constitutional democracy. Indeed, one of the main arguments for polycentric law is that it suffers from this problem to a significantly lesser degree than any other kind of political order: by having law provided by a multiplicity of smaller firms rather than a great big firm, the harm that any single one can potentially do is dramatically decreased due to lower cost of exit.

Weirdly, Joe comes very close to making this argument himself, in a humourous way:

Indeed, in a democracy, the state merely acts as the instrument that restricts freedom. It is society itself, however, that wields that instrument. Government in a real democracy is not some mysterious bogeyman that sneaks up in the night to steal our freedom. "The Government" consists of a bunch of individuals whom we have elected and whom we can kick out. If our government steals our freedoms, it is only because we ourselves have consented to have it stolen. My freedom to pass the bong during my gay wedding held at the walk-up abortion clinic heated by my own private nuclear reactor and guarded by M-60 wielding Mexicans who can't speak a single fucking word of English isn't threatened by some group of rich white guys who have just decided that they don't like these sorts of things. Rather, the rich white guys vote against all of these sorts of things because the rest of the damn voters don't like those sorts of things. No, it's not government that is restricting my freedom. The only army that is a real threat to me is the army of suburbanites with their well-kept lawns, their soccer practices and piano lessons, and their disdain for anything that's actually, you know, fun.

Once again I think there are very good arguments against this idealized view of constitutional democracy, but will take it as-is for the sake of argument. Taken at face value, it's an argument for, rather than against, having markets in law: in a democratic system, all that army of suburbanites has to do to ruin Joe's fun is vote, which is a very low-cost activity. Under a system where law is a private good, they would have to actually pay significant amounts of money to an enforcement agency in order to prevent Joe from enjoying his bong. It's easy to vote for nannyish policies, but how many people would care enough about Joe's personal life to shell out a lot of extra cash to keep him from having his private fun?[1]

Finally, Joe concludes:

What all of this means, then, is that Mill's arguments for what we might call individual pluralism are couched in a specific context. Mill creates a large space for individual experiments in living only because he already assumes the existence of a state that will protect individuals from experiments that violate the harm principle. Polycentrism, however, offers no such protection. My private legal system (together with my private defense agency) will provide me with whatever services that I wish to pay for. What it cannot do, however, is to protect me when my family/community/religion coerces me into signing up for services that oppress me.

One wonders what to make of this, given the preceding paragraph. Mill does assume a state framework that will protect individual rights, but that's sort of the political philosopher's equivalent of assuming a can opener. How does one make sure that a government will actually stick to the principles Mill wants it to?

In a private market for law there would indeed be no explicit commandment along the lines of Mill's harm principle applied to all firms, but the incentives of the system would be such that oppressing people would be costlier to those doing the oppressing than it currently is. Pace Joe, I would sooner put my trust in a stable system of self-interest and competition to protect me than in the hope that a monopoly supplier will behave benevolently.

1Yes, these policies get paid for through taxes anyway as it is, but there's a big difference between saying everyone's taxes should pay for my moralistic policies and actually paying up front for them voluntarily. Internalizing costs makes a big diff.

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So this post sparked an

So this post sparked an idea. Why don't we make the suburbanites pay for their own oppression, or allow me to withdraw my money from my oppresion? Basically, if a group of people want to outlaw abortion, then they have to fork the bill to pay the abortion police. Those who are against abortion pay nothing.

Granted it's far from ideal; but it's more costly than a vote, and I no longer pay for my own oppression. Call it an interim solution.

Hmm, thinking about the reality that is government today this probably wouldn't work. The anti-abortion suburbanites would probably opt for deficit spending and enforce their will for free.

"I think there are arguments

"I think there are arguments that overcome this objection..."

Bring 'em on.

John, briefly, I don't think

John, briefly, I don't think one can tenably argue that you need consent to consider a law legitimately binding on someone if the law is just. Of course then we need to define what "just" means, but for the sake of this narrow point it doesn't matter as long as "justness" doesn't depend upon consent.

Miller writes: "But what

Miller writes:

"But what happens in the second generation? What shall we say about the girls who are treated as second-class citizens, who grow into women unable to act in a way that is fully autonomous? When they remain customers of sharia law (because the very law under which they already live does not allow them any independent voice), have they done so freely? Even if they actually claim to prefer sharia law, can we really believe them at this point?"

I don't see the difficulty Matt. The second generation is in no way bound by their parents agreements. All they need do is respect the rights of their parents, including property rights. They must leave their parents property if unwilling to live on the terms offered, and they must be free to go.

Spooner never disputed that

Spooner never disputed that *justice* was binding on all men, but when law happens to be congruent with justice it's still simply justice that's binding, not law.

“It is also, at all times, and in all places, the supreme law. And being everywhere and always the supreme law, it is necessarily everywhere and always the only law.

Lawmakers, as they call themselves, can add nothing to it, nor take anything from it. Therefore all their laws, as they call them, — that is, all the laws of their own making, — have no color of authority or obligation. It is a falsehood to call them laws; for there is nothing in them that either creates men’s duties or rights, or enlightens them as to their duties or rights. There is consequently nothing binding or obligatory about them. And nobody is bound to take the least notice of them, unless it be to trample them under foot, as usurpations. If they command men to do justice, they add nothing to men’s obligation to do it, or to any man’s right to enforce it. They are therefore mere idle wind, such as would be commands to consider the day as day, and the night as night. If they command or license any man to do injustice, they are criminal on their face. If they command any man to do anything which justice does not require him to do, they are simple, naked usurpations and tyrannies. If they forbid any man to do anything, which justice could permit him to do, they are criminal invasions of his natural and rightful liberty. In whatever light, therefore, they are viewed, they are utterly destitute of everything like authority or obligation. They are all necessarily either the impudent, fraudulent, and criminal usurpations of tyrants, robbers, and murderers, or the senseless work of ignorant or thoughtless men, who do not know, or certainly do not realize, what they are doing. “

So what argument of Spooner's do you think you've overcome?

John, the objection being

John, the objection being overcome is the one that says a law can't be legitimately binding unless it's been voluntarily consented to. If someone wants to challenge a law based on it not meeting some criterion of justice then that's a seperate argument. It seems like a category mistake to talk about "justice" being binding, because justness is a quality and not a thing -- if I say that "only men over six feet tall are allowed in the club", it wouldn't make sense to say that "over-six-feet-tallness is allowed in the club." You need an actual subject being referenced for the assertion to make any sense.

If you pass a law that says

If you pass a law that says men must accelerate toward the center of the earth at 32 feet/sec/sec are they bound by that law? No, they're bound by gravity.

Why apply the standard of justice to law at all if justice is not what obligates men to behave a certain way?

John, The second generation

John,

The second generation is in no way bound by their parents agreements. All they need do is respect the rights of their parents, including property rights. They must leave their parents property if unwilling to live on the terms offered, and they must be free to go.

But this misses the whole point of what I was arguing. Families can be just as coercive as states. There are other kinds of pressure than state pressures that can be brought to bear, and many of those pressures are actually far more seriously coercive than are the pressures of states (particularly in states that are already relatively free). Take a look back at The Scarlet Letter sometime. Hester Prynne was free (in one sense) to bang away at whomever she wanted. But the response from her society makes her not at all free to live her life as she sees fit.

It's no secret that victims of severe oppression can come to believe that their oppression is fully justified. So the bindingness of states in the second generation comes not from the state which says, "You must remain," but from an entire society that has warped the individual's very worldview. Telling such a person to just move away from home is all well and good for someone who has already grown up in a society that values individualism and champions pluralism. For those whose entire worldview has been shaped in a radically different way, such advice seems pretty out-of-touch.

I'm not arguing here that people are completely determined by their society. I am claiming that blithely ignoring the extent to which our very worldviews are shaped by the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures of our families, our social groups, and our religions results in a political philosophy that simply fails to map on to the world we actually inhabit.

John, the analogy is

John, the analogy is spurious. Humans are moral agents, not lumps of weight. However, it's helpful in a different way: the relation of explicit legal laws to justice is analogous to the relation of formalized scientific laws to truth. Sometimes they correspond, sometimes they don't; it's perfectly sensible to say "Einstein's general relativity has predictive power because it's true", but you wouldn't say "truth has predictive power".

Joe, one can't ignore your

Joe, one can't ignore your cogent points about societal coercion, familial and religious coercion, etc. But when that concern is applied in the real world, it often ends up in denying seperatism and polycentric law systems as a form of pre-emption (pre-vention rather) against possible future injustices. The case of Sharia law being enacted now, with future generations unjustly binded to it, is only speculative. We know the state oppresses people as we speak, so the move to seperate from the state is paramount. Besides, as Matt says, exit costs and the inevitability of benevolent-hegemony-gone-wrong put things in favor, even if slightly, of decentralization.

Matt, Why apply the standard

Matt,

Why apply the standard of justice to law at all if justice is not what obligates men to behave a certain way?

Lisa, I think your point

Lisa,

I think your point about coercive social institutions is well made. But how can you handle it without undercutting a person’s autonomy in other ways?

I worry that this very framing of the question misinterprets what autonomy really is. My autonomous choices are those that authentically represent myself. Here it is more formally:

To be autonomous is to be one's own person, to be directed by considerations, desires, conditions, and characteristics that are not simply imposed externally upon one, but are part of what can somehow be considered one's authentic self.

So someone who is choosing to act in certain ways because of social coercion just simply isn't acting autonomously at all. Removing those coercive institutions doesn't therefore undercut her autonomy; it provides the very possibility of her acting autonomously.

As for how I think that we can manage this sort of thing perfectly, the answer is, I don't think that we can. It's going to be impossible for us to be perfectly free from all forms of coercion. The real world choice that we face, then, is this: do I opt for an organizational principle that, by its very nature, simply gives up on doing anything at all about societal or institutional coercion or do I opt for some organizational principle that attempts to limit social coercion but that may itself become coercive? I opt for the latter. I'm willing to be convinced of the former, but I've not yet seen a good argument (or at least not a convincing one) that shows that limiting social coercion will never justify some governmental coercion.

Families can be just as

Families can be just as coercive as states.

Horseshit.

Compare what happens to kids who stay out too late or date the wrong people or go to the wrong church with what happens to people who don't pay their taxes.

Just because people give in to social condemnation doesn't mean that social condemnation is coercion.

Joe, I think your point

Joe,
I think your point about coercive social institutions is well made. But how can you handle it without undercutting a person's autonomy in other ways? Say I grew up in a society run by sharia law, or something similar. You could try to convince me that I would have a much better life if I left with you to live in your community, which is a liberal one. But what if I claim that I choose to stay where I am? You may very well believe that I'm not really choosing, and that may be true.
But where does that leave us? Do you choose for me, on the grounds that I'm really not free to choose even though I think I am? Can you claim to be better situated to evaluate the tradeoffs of my choices (for example, maybe I don't want more freedom if it means my family will ostracize me for life) than I am, since you were raised in a more liberal set of instutions? I think the problem of oppressive institutions like families is a valid concern. But it seems like an endless circle where no matter how many options I have, we argue round and round about whether I'm really capable of choosing any of them. What's your solution?

Matt's argument rests on a

Matt's argument rests on a critical but unfounded assumption: "I would sooner put my trust in a stable system of self-interest and competition to protect me." Self-interest and competition are notoriously unstable; a state emerges sooner or later. The question is whether it will be imposed upon people or, rather, more or less accountable to them.

Joe asserts that we are all coerced. He overlooks the positive side of family, church, and community -- namely, their inculcation and enforcement of respect for others -- upon which liberty very much depends. He also overlooks the fact that in societies with voice and exit (which ours is, in large though diminishing degree), what he sees as acqueiscence in coercion is really a calculated judgment about how best to live one's life, given the unattainability of nirvana.

Lisa Casanova hits the nail on the head.

Eddie Compare what happens

Eddie

Compare what happens to kids who stay out too late or date the wrong people or go to the wrong church with what happens to people who don’t pay their taxes.

I'm not sure that this is fair. After all, what happens to kids who stay out too late or date the wrong people is limited because we already live in a society that limits the extent to which social groups can coerce people. Perhaps the better comparison might be this: compare what happens to people who don't pay their taxes with what happens under, say, Levitican law to kids who stay out too late or date the wrong people. I'll take jail to dad dragging me out into the back yard to stone me any day of the week, thanks very much.

The point is, any sort of comparison of coercion has to compare the coerciveness of the state we live in with the coerciveness of social institutions as they could be without the state. Then we'll ask whether it's worth risking the coercion that might happen without a state in order to eliminate the coercion that happens in the (relatively) free state that we currently live in.

These are directed to Joe

These are directed to Joe Miller, who says:

My autonomous choices are those that authentically represent myself.

Which is tautologous nonsense.

Then:

The real world choice that we face, then, is this: do I opt for an organizational principle that, by its very nature, simply gives up on doing anything at all about societal or institutional coercion or do I opt for some organizational principle that attempts to limit social coercion but that may itself become coercive? I opt for the latter.

Okay, I give up. Tell me what it is you've opted for. Seriously. You don't like the "coercion" of social norms and you don't like the coercion of state-imposed norms. So what is your "organizational principle"?

You won't find it by posing "tests" like this:

[A]ny sort of comparison of coercion has to compare the coerciveness of the state we live in with the coerciveness of social institutions as they could be without the state. Then we’ll ask whether it’s worth risking the coercion that might happen without a state in order to eliminate the coercion that happens in the (relatively) free state that we currently live in.

Perhaps I can help. There's a middle ground: a state that ensures voice and exit, that is, something closer to the federalism envisioned by the Framers than the degree of centralization we now "enjoy." Such a system would enable persons to escape those locales that they find coercive for the ones they find less coercive. But it would not -- and could not -- rid us of the underlying institutions that you seem to find so coercive. See my previous comment.

Tom, I'm a bit confused

Tom,

I'm a bit confused here. The suggestion that you offer just is the same one that I defended in my initial post. Nor am I quite sure as to the hostility that you seem to direct toward the "test" that I suggest. All that I suggest is that we have to ask whether polycentrism, which makes it impossible to protect against social coercion, is somehow better (as in less badly coercive) than a central government. Isn't this pretty much your position, too? It certainly seems to be, given both what you say here and what I've read at your place about your response to anarcho-capitalism and to polycentrism.

So I'd have thought that we're pretty much on the same page here. It's true: I don't like social coercion and I don't like state coercion. So what I opt for is something that minimizes both. Polycentrism eliminates one at the cost of doing nothing for the other. Federalism, the principle that you and I both seem to accept, gives what seems to me like the best of both worlds. So whence the objection?

And for the record, it strikes me as unfair to pick on the off-the-cuff definition of autonomy that I offer when I formally cash out the definition in the very next line. That definition is not a tautology (in fact, the off-the-cuff version isn't, either; there is a distinction between a choice that I have made and a choice that is authentically mine. Lying still so that the rapist doesn't cut my throat is a choice that I make. It's not one that is authentically mine; sex with this person is not something that arose from a desire that was within me. If it were, then it wouldn't have been rape.)

Jonathan: "Is Colonialism

Jonathan: "Is Colonialism wrong by definition? Why?"

Well, the Encyclopedia Britannica defines "Colonialism" as:

"Control by one power over a dependent area or people.

The purposes of colonialism include economic exploitation of the colony's natural resources, creation of new markets for the colonizer, and extension of the colonizer's way of life beyond its national borders. The most active practitioners were European countries; in the years 1500–1900, Europe colonized all of North and South America and Australia, most of Africa, and much of Asia by sending settlers to populate the land or by taking control of governments. The first colonies were established in the Western Hemisphere by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 15th–16th century. The Dutch colonized Indonesia in the 16th century, and Britain colonized North America and India in the 17th–18th century. Later British settlers colonized Australia and New Zealand. Colonization of Africa only began in earnest in the 1880s, but by 1900 virtually the entire continent was controlled by Europe. The colonial era ended gradually after World War II; the only territories still governed as colonies today are small islands. See also decolonization, dependency, imperialism."

The extended definition (everything below the first sentence) seems to imply that non-state affiliated groups of people who simply homestead a tract of land on foreign soil are "colonizers". Defined this way, colonization is not per se coercion. But "control by one power over a dependant...people" is certainly a violation of NAP. And given the common usage of the word "colonialism" and all it implies - more or less synoymous with imperialism - yea, I'd say it is bad by definition.

Jonathan: "Aren't there any Iraqi mothers who are glad the US is there?"

Sure, there might be, but they have no right to expect US occupation and control at the expense of all those who have been brutalized by it. It would be the particular mothers you cite who would have to explain to the mothers who are victims of American bombing campaigns and checkpoint "accidents" why their sense of protection is more important than the lives and properties of the victims of US aggression. Besides, almost every poll I'm aware of shows Iraqis are irate at US control over their destinies.

You guys ever wonder if,

You guys ever wonder if, just maybe, all these discussions of justice and morality are just efforts to find design -- some natural "is" -- where none exists?

Why this so called tradeoff

Why this so called tradeoff between "social coercion" and "state coercion"? Any coercion coming from a group of people - the religious order or state goons - is in fact "social" coercion. And is Joe really trying to ditch the difference between everyone frowning upon what you do, perhaps avoiding you, and someone putting a gun in your face?

Again, I get the impression

Again, I get the impression Joe and those of his ideological ilk are semi-apologists for colonialism.

Is colonialism wrong by definition? Why?

Those Iraqi mothers say they want us out, out, out; but hey, they are suffering from a culture of abuse, so their words should be taken with a grain of salt…and a barrel of oil. (Sorry, that was too tempting.)

Which ones? Aren't there any Iraqi mothers who are glad the US is there?

Dain, And is Joe really

Dain,

And is Joe really trying to ditch the difference between everyone frowning upon what you do, perhaps avoiding you, and someone putting a gun in your face?

Of course not. Just as I'm sure that you're not trying to ditch the difference between a cop writing you a ticket for speeding and allowing dad to behead his daughter for showing a bit of leg. You seem to keep missing the point. Social coercion in liberal democracies is pretty benign precisely because it's social coercion in a liberal democracy. The state prevents you from doing anything more than frowning and avoiding. Without the state around to prevent such things, social coercion can take far more serious forms. To fail to realize this is to fail to live in the actual world. A political theory that fails to grasp the fact that there are two different kinds of coercion will necessarily be inadequate as a principle for organizing society. This is the advantage that someone like Mill or Hayek has over someone like Rothbard(who appears to think that only states are coercive) or Chomsky (who seems to think that only societies can be coercive).

I guess it just comes down

I guess it just comes down to deontology vs. consequentialism. In no way can I support state coercion (which IS social coercion - not something different and perhaps better) to maybe, perhaps, bring about a liberal society somewhere down the line. And in fact the stated goals of the consequentialists - peace and liberalism - would be sacrificed in order to bring about...peace and liberalism.

Where does Rothbard support coercive societies? I'm currently reading Ethics of Liberty and he doesn't say that societies are not coercive. He quite clearly lays out libertarian ethics as it applies to interpersonal relations, and not simply personal-state relations. And Hayke's evolutionary perspective seems silent as to what is right or wrong, instead supporting whatever has stood the evolutionary test of time.

Again, I get the impression Joe and those of his ideological ilk are semi-apologists for colonialism. Especially given his reply to Lisa, which in effect denies that one believes what they say they believe. Is this a libertarian spin on "false consciousness"? Those Iraqi mothers say they want us out, out, out; but hey, they are suffering from a culture of abuse, so their words should be taken with a grain of salt...and a barrel of oil. (Sorry, that was too tempting.)

Joe- On the other hand we

Joe-

On the other hand we have a benign liberal democracy in large part precisely because we have/had social coercion - the institutions which frowned upon tyranny and warlordism and harsh familiar rule led to the adoption and maintenance of a liberal political order (or at the very least provided the climate in which liberal political economists and philosophers were able to preach and work to install a liberal order). Hayekian that I am, I point out that history shows it to be IMO necessarily one way and not the other way 'round, as Iraq is showing us- a liberal democracy doesn't make social coercion benign, liberal social coercion begets a liberal democracy. Perhaps the only counterexample may be Japan, where liberal democracy was imposed by sword upon the people (though here its in fits and starts- the first liberalizing was Meiji, but that was in favor of industrial oligarchs, then a bit after Meiji, then a big step backward with the Imperialists/Fascists, then US-style liberal democracy welded back onto the now Chibi Nippon ediface.)

So round and round it goes, but I certainly think that the empirical evidence is convincing that an at least somewhat liberal society is the necessary requirement/prerequisite for a liberal democracy, or else in the Japanese case (ironically) the presence of a strong & broad ethic of sometimes brutal social coercion to enforce the new liberal paradigm.

The extended definition

The extended definition (everything below the first sentence) seems to imply that non-state affiliated groups of people who simply homestead a tract of land on foreign soil are “colonizers". Defined this way, colonization is not per se coercion. But “control by one power over a dependant…people” is certainly a violation of NAP. And given the common usage of the word “colonialism” and all it implies - more or less synoymous with imperialism - yea, I’d say it is bad by definition.

If exploitation is the problem, then I'd say that exploitation is wrong, not imperialism. The British ruled Hong Kong till 1997, and they were the only reason that Hong Kong was saved from communist tyranny and all that went along with it. Clearly, this colonialism was a benefit to the people of Hong Kong. Their cousins to the north were starving while they became one of the richest people in the world. The British brought with them the rule of law, free markets, and limited government. Foreign rule was a benefit to Hong Kongers. If you think that, despite their benign rule, the British were wrong to rule simply because they were British, and not Chinese, that seems to be a bigoted view.

Further, I'm not sure how the NAP applies at all in the case of Iraq. Prior to the US invasion, Saddam was "initiating aggression" against Iraqis daily. Depending on various estimates, he was killing on average up to 100 people a day (even after subtracting out the deaths that were due to sanctions) during his 20+ year reign. Do they matter? Are they not victims of aggression?

Sure, there might be, but they have no right to expect US occupation and control at the expense of all those who have been brutalized by it. It would be the particular mothers you cite who would have to explain to the mothers who are victims of American bombing campaigns and checkpoint “accidents” why their sense of protection is more important than the lives and properties of the victims of US aggression.

Why not? Why should they be expected to sacrifice their own sons at the hands of Baathists?

Besides, almost every poll I’m aware of shows Iraqis are irate at US control over their destinies.

Are these 'Iraqis' a monolithic group? Do they have a single voice?

I think you should check out the Iraq Index report that is put out by the Brookings Institution (certainly not a 'neocon' outfit). It paints a much more mixed picture than you seem to think is happening. Most of the kurds and Shia disapprove of attacks on US forces, and most Iraqis believe Iraq is headed in the right direction. Certain, Sunnis are the most Anti-US out of the ethnic groups, but that's not surprising given that they can no longer 'exploit' the rest of the population, can no long 'initiate aggression' on the others. The picture in Iraq is certainly more nuanced than 'Iraqi mothers want the US out of Iraq'. There are millions of Iraqi mothers (Kurds and Shia especially) that are glad the US is there and no longer have to fear their sons disappearing in the middle of the night only to be delivered back chopped up in bodybags.

I could make a similar argument to your 'apologists for neo-colonialism' line: that people who are against US intervention carte blanche are nothing more than apologists for tyrants and care nothing for the liberty and well-being of the most vulnerable people in the world.

Henke, "You guys ever wonder

Henke,

"You guys ever wonder if, just maybe, all these discussions of justice and morality are just efforts to find design – some natural “is” – where none exists?"

I'm pretty confident a natural "is" exists. I don't get the coneection you're attempting to draw between morality and design. Do you doubt that there are oughts appropriate to your nature?

For instance one can reason correctly or incorrectly. Do you doubt that you ought to reason correctly? Or can you coherently argue that perhaps you ought to reason incorrectly?

Just for emphasis, let me

Just for emphasis, let me quote a particular question from the Iraq Index report from the Brookings Institution (page 46):

QUESTION TO IRAQIS: THINKING ABOUT ANY HARDSHIPS YOU MIGHT HAVE SUFFERED SINCE THE US-BRITAIN INVASION, DO YOU PERSONALLY THINK THAT OUSTING SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS WORTH IT OR NOT? (chart shows those who responded “worth it”).

Kurds - 91%
Shia - 98%
Sunni - 13%
Total - 77%

Again, I ask, in the name of anti-colonialism, do the voices of these 77% not count?

Dain, Where does Rothbard

Dain,

Where does Rothbard support coercive societies? I’m currently reading Ethics of Liberty and he doesn’t say that societies are not coercive. He quite clearly lays out libertarian ethics as it applies to interpersonal relations, and not simply personal-state relations.

It's not that Rothbard supports coercive societies; rather the problem is that he offers nothing in the way of institutional framework to prevent or combat coercive societies. That's what I mean by ignorning the problem. Though as you say, he doesn't ignore them, technically. He tells everyone to behave themselves. I suppose that he can push the Magic Turn-Everyone-into-well-behaved-deontologists Button right after he pushes the Magic End the State Button. When your political theory reads something like:

1. Turn everyone into a good X-ist.

2. Watch X-ist society flourish.

then I guess that everything will work out nicely. Here in the real world, though, we need some sort of structure in place to deal with all of the people who are not in fact good X-ists.

Again, I get the impression Joe and those of his ideological ilk are semi-apologists for colonialism. Especially given his reply to Lisa, which in effect denies that one believes what they say they believe.

To the first part, my answer is, well, yes I am a semi-apologist for colonialism. I'd give you my defense of that, but Jonathan has already done such a nice job of it, it seems silly to reinvent the wheel. Short answer: Benevolent colonialism that takes horribly illiberal societies and helps to transform them into liberal ones is good. Exploitation of peoples/resources/etc is bad. Yes, historically colonialism has amounted to exploitation, but there is no reason to think that the former necessarily entails the latter.

To the second part, I must object that you're misinterpreting what I've said. My claim is not that people don't really believe what they say they believe. Rather, my point is that it is often the case that people have not autonomously chosen what they say they believe. One hardly needs to be a consequentialist to accept this point. It's probably most famously made by Kant. My point merely echoes Kant's distinction between autonomy and heteronomy.

Jonathan, I could cite the

Jonathan,

I could cite the pentagon's much more substantial report on the opinions of Iraqis, taken back in December of 04': http://mindprod.com/politics/iraqdsb.html

Full report here: http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/2004-09-Strategic_Communication.pdf

I've also attended lectures by unembedded journalists (the only legit kind) like Dahr Jamail and Jeremy Scahill who can tell you about the reality of US control of Iraq; from unannounced, random house searches to the increase in bodies arriving at the morgue (as compared to Saddam's time) as reported by Jamail recently at Anti-war.com

But even if a majority of Iraqis DID desire US occupation, what gives them the right to impose their wishes on all those who have died during the course of US invasion and continued occupation? And from the perspective of US citizens and soldiers sympathetic to those suffering from Baathist rule, what gives them the right to sacrifice the life of some for the sake of others? What if you or I were the sacrificial lambs of US entry into the country?

I'll have to look into the history of the British in Hong Kong. I don't much about that. I'm not much of an "ends justify the means" kind of guy, as you can tell, but as Brian Doss points out, as well as William Easterly in White Man's Burden, the countries that have experienced less imposed liberalization - economic and political - via colonialism have in fact shown more economic and political progress.

Joe,

"Rather, my point is that it is often the case that people have not autonomously chosen what they say they believe."

Does this go for you as well?

"Yes, historically colonialism has amounted to exploitation, but there is no reason to think that the former necessarily entails the latter."

Well, then you need to brush up on Lord Acton's dictum. There is a reason that coercive power and domination has historically resulted in exploitation. It's because it is exploitative!

What makes libertarians so enamored of central planning and coercion when it's done outside the US, yet appalled by similar tactics at "home"? Weird.

I’m pretty confident a

I’m pretty confident a natural “is” exists.

Is there scientific evidence of this? If it 'exists', then it should be verifiable, observable, measureable, testable or something. Falsify it: how would reality be different if there is no such thing as, e.g., 'natural rights'?

If your argument is merely that the notions of 'morality' and 'justice' are useful human conventions, I agree. But that doesn't make them 'natural', per se. It merely makes them useful ways of coping with natural phenomena.

Several observations, though

Several observations, though I know I am late to this thread. First, I think there are moral implications to the contingent facts of human existence, though that is rather beyond this topic. However, we should be clear about distinguising the various sorts of "ought" that arise in natural language. I might claim that one ought to reason correctly (i.e., rely on sound arguments in which true premises lead to logically valid conclusions), but I would be puzzled by someone asking me if that particular "ought" was a moral claim.

Second, we should distinguish between whether, on the one hand, there may be moral reasons extrensic to a legal system as a result of which one was therefore obligated to obey its just laws and, on the other, whether the system itself can morally demand our adherence. The question "why should I obey the law" is more about whether I am morally obligated to behave in a certain way because of my relationship to the state than about whether I am morally obligated to obey any particular law, just or not. If the law prescribes just behavior, I am already morally obligated because I am obligated to be just. Indeed, that would hold even in a fundamentally unjust state -- rape would be as unjust in Nazi Germany as in modern Germany. So I don't see where the justice of any particular law or even of the laws of a state in general by themselves morally obligate the individual to obedience to the state or, by extension, to obeying its laws.

Now, it is certainly true that it makes no sense to claim that one can only be obligated to obey those rules or laws to which he individually agrees. I can't play chess with you but then object to how the knight moves and insist I should be able to move it like a queen. However, presumably I agreed to a game of chess. Absent such agreement, the moral authority of the state remains in question.

Self, thought, and free will

Self, thought, and free will are unfalsifiable too. Feel free to argue against them.

Isn't what is useful significantly defined by your nature?

"Is there scientific

"Is there scientific evidence of this? If it ‘exists’, then it should be verifiable, observable, measureable, testable or something. Falsify it: how would reality be different if there is no such thing as, e.g., ‘natural rights’?"

I'll also point out that you are implicitly saying that we ought to evaluate the concept of morality according to certain criteria. You're invoking an ought to argue that oughts can be dispensed with. Clearly you can't dispense with oughts.

JTK - but alas, the is-ought

JTK - but alas, the is-ought divide is yet to be bridged.

Dain, Well, then you need to

Dain,

Well, then you need to brush up on Lord Acton’s dictum. There is a reason that coercive power and domination has historically resulted in exploitation. It’s because it is exploitative!

This is way too long to take up here, but it's an interesting point nonetheless. If you're interested, I've a longish response here.

Joe, "...suffice it to say

Joe,

"...suffice it to say that it's at least arguable that people who are horribly oppressing one another may fall into the same category as the prisoner."

(For those who haven't read Joe's words preceding this statement on his blog, the prisoner in this case is a legitimately imprisoned one who is being coerced by a prison guard into ending his throwing of food at other prisoners through threat of solitary confinement.)

But you are equating an entire group of people with one guilty individual. And unfortunately for the colonialism scenario, the "prison guard" is a vast military and political-beauracratic force. Your prisoner-prison guard case is clear cut; the case of colonialism and its subjects (a feudal term, ugh) - at least some of whom are guilty of nothing - is much more complicated.

The other example you give with the 3 year old settles it: You liken third world peoples to prisoners and toddlers.

Sati is indeed a horrendous practice, but to say that innocent people must be sacrificed - a necessary condition of the imperialist-colonial experience - to end it negates any special moral imperative on the part of the "coercive abolitionists". But then again you are a consequentialist, an ethic that is apparently good for everyone yet nobody in particular.

However, if Sati is ever a voluntary act, I wouldn't be in support of forcibly stopping a woman from carrying it out. No more than I would forcibly end suicide, And whether people do what they do according to strict rationality or blind adherence to custom is none of my business unless it avoids injuring me or third parties who desire my interference. And no, I have no right to bring along innocents in my efforts to save said parties. No right to "negative homesteading" as Walter Block would put it.

Joe, Doesn't that definition

Joe,
Doesn't that definition of autonomy leave us in the same place? I understand it (or maybe I don't) as suggesting that whether or not a person's choices represent their authentic self only accurately judged by another person. Maybe I will understand better if you tell me this: Say we're arguing over whether I'm really autonomous, and whether the choices I make truly represent my authentic self. You believe they do not. How do I convince you that they do?

Lisa, I think that once

Lisa,

I think that once you're at the point of offering arguments that some choice really does represent your authentic self, then it's pretty silly for me to continue to disagree. You may still be acting heteronomously, but there's no way for me to determine that any longer.

My concern is more with two different classes. First, there is the group of people who do things with no reflection whatsoever simply because those things are customary. It's not at all clear to me that such acts really are autonomous. The individuals in question might, if pressed, autonomously choose those same actions or they might not. Either way, they aren't currently acting autonomously. Second is the group of people who will say, in private, that they don't want to do certain things and would really prefer not to do those things, but who feel pressured to do them anyway (whether that's because doing so is seen as making them good citizens, good Christians, good children, etc.) There we have people who are acting inauthentically (i.e., heteronomously) because they are being pressured to do so by their society.

I don't know if that makes anything clearer. It's a start, maybe?

JTK, When you say ought has

JTK,

When you say ought has not been derived from is you are implying that there are certain criteria by which one ought to evaluate derivations. But where did that ought come from if not from is?

This sort of ought is not the kind that would have to be derived from an is. When you look to derive ought from is, typically, what you are attempting to do is to derive some sort of naturalistic ought, some sort of universal, objective categorical imperative.

The ought that you point to, however, is not this sort of ought. Yes, it's true that there are certain criteria by which one ought to evaluate derivations. But this isn't some sort of objective, categorical imperative. It's a hypothetical one. Namely, it's to claim that if one wants one's conclusions to follow from one's premises, then one ought not violate, say, the principle of non-contradiction. If I don't particularly care whether or not my conclusions follow from my premises, then I won't be all that concerned about following basic rules of logic.

I'm not sure that I see what is that ought claim is supposed to follow from. There is an is claim here: "It is the case that only those arguments that follow the principles of logic are guaranteed to follow validly." But the ought claim ("I ought to employ only arguments that follow the principles of logic") does not follow from that is claim.

Hume wasn't able to bridge

Hume wasn't able to bridge it, why do you believe I can?

Brian, "JTK - but alas, the

Brian,

"JTK - but alas, the is-ought divide is yet to be bridged."

No? Then offer an argument without asserting an ought.

Correct reasoning is indispensible in light of what is: Ought from is.

Joe, "Namely, it’s to

Joe,

"Namely, it’s to claim that if one wants one’s conclusions to follow from one’s premises, then one ought not violate, say, the principle of non-contradiction. If I don’t particularly care whether or not my conclusions follow from my premises, then I won’t be all that concerned about following basic rules of logic."

And you think there's no reason you ought to care? Reality is prepared to refute that notion with a vengeance next time you cross a busy street. Or drive a car. Or cook a meal. You can't survive without a functioning instrumental rationality.

When you say ought has not

When you say ought has not been derived from is you are implying that there are certain criteria by which one *ought* to evaluate derivations. But where did that *ought* come from if not from is?

JTK, Okay, then, modify the

JTK,

Okay, then, modify the claim: "If I want to survive, then I ought to follow basic rules of logic." It's still the case that the ought claim in question doesn't at all follow from an is claim. It's still a hypothetical rather than a categorical imperative.

Henke, While utility may

Henke,

While utility may vary in detail from person to person, all men naturally attain utility by the same means - by reason. That's your "is" and it implies an ought, you ought to reason correctly since that is that is your means for achieving any utility.

I’ll also point out that

I’ll also point out that you are implicitly saying that we ought to evaluate the concept of morality according to certain criteria. You’re invoking an ought to argue that oughts can be dispensed with. Clearly you can’t dispense with oughts.

---Sure, I invoke the "ought", because I find utility in it. We "ought" to use the scientific method to discover the nature of reality because it's effective, utilitarian. Similarly, you apply an "ought" to various behaviour because it maximizes your utility.

But you seem to be invoking a universal "ought". i.e., that morality ought to be based on (whatever). But what is the utility function? You can define your own utility function...but nature does not do so, nor can you define my utility function.

Henke, Is it natural to seek

Henke,

Is it natural to seek utility?

Joe, And wanting to survive

Joe,

And wanting to survive isn't in your nature? If there's no ought about reasoning then you might as well flip a coin to decide whether you're going to reason correctly or not. But I notice you're not flipping that coin.

I think we do seek utility.

I think we do seek utility. That's an accurate, if unenlightening, way to describe human behaviour. Of course, what constitutes utility varies from person to person.