First Principles, Part II: Contradictions & Clarifications


Based on The Rules, there exists the necessity for some kind of external force to compel adherence to the Social Contract and to administer Justice. This might be controversial among the type of people who spend their time reading blog posts with “First Principles” in the title, but it’s functionally the direction every single nation on Earth has decided to take. Laws, taxes, the police, it’s all about compulsion. I’m for it.

But that means there inhabits within The Rules a weird, tense contradiction, whereby I simultaneously argue that “Everyone shall be free” and “Everybody shall submit to a scheme of compulsion under which their liberties are restricted in order to ensure the liberties of others.”

I don’t see a contradiction here, not really, not if we agree that social philosophers know what they’re talking about. If we agree that a social contract makes sense, then there’s nothing unusual about people engaging within a system under which their liberties (usually manifested by things like money) are surrendered. I use the term “compulsion” pretty loosely, but I believe it exists inside a good faith arrangement, even if it is backed up by the threat of force. As long as the structure is Fair, I don’t think there are any inconsistencies.

Earlier, I described it in the following way:

The State supports the Law with sufficient and appropriate force, and if the State is legitimate, the Citizens enter into a compact with the State. Under the terms of this compact, the Citizens abide by those Laws that are just (or else they are punished) and the State does not unlawfully exercise its authority (or else there is revolution, whether at the ballot box or in the streets). When this compact works, Citizens can go about the business of flourishing, having at least some sense that they can count on seeing the next sunrise.

I’m not interested in defending the idea of a Social Contract here, just because I think it’s been done better elsewhere. All I’ll say is that, as a corollary to Rule #2a, I’ll add the following:

Rule #2a.I: Given Rule #1a (We observe better outcomes through cooperation), and given Rule #2a (We require that our cooperative interactions be regulated), our existence within & our interactions between ourselves and the State comprise implicit consent to allow our actions and Liberties to be regulated by the Social Contract.

I’d like to revisit this some time in the future, if for no other reason that it will be nice to get all of The Rules on one page again. But for now, it’ll work.

On Social Contracts & Libertarianism

I don’t really have any kind of political affiliation. I’m not a fan of either of the major parties; I’m too fond of the State (see above) to really be able to commit to libertarianism or any type of social anarchism; and I’m too market-oriented to really dig deep into modern socialism. If anything, I’d describe myself more as a bleeding-heart libertarian than anything else, albeit one with a much heavier focus on government-administered social justice programs.

I’m not 100% on board with them, but in terms of a commitment to civil liberties and social justice (that has a healthy respect for open markets without being slavishly devoted to plutocratic, robber-baron capitalism), it’s generally what I circle back to. For the sake of completeness, I’d like to offer a possible rebuttal I found, from Mike Munger, where he writes that:

In particular, the presumption in favor of self-ownership requires that the state or groups be prevented from using the individual or harming a person for the benefit others, even if the harm is “objectively” slight and the benefit is “objectively” enormous.

Why is autonomy important?  As I have argued it (especially in Part III), if the exchange setting is euvoluntary, then the autonomy of the participants must be respected.  Full stop:  MUST be respected.  Of course, that is an ideal setting, much like the economics profession’s question-begging assumption of “perfect competition,” where commodities are homogenous and there are many identical buyers and sellers.  That is the world of euvoluntarity. By noninitiation of force I mean that there are no revealed truths, no outside authority, and no immutable natural laws except those of physics.  Values come from us, the group of people who consent to be coerced if we violate the agreement.

Note that such an “agreement” cannot be a consent theory of state authority, unless the state is very small and new.  In an ideal setting, no one can be coerced without their prior consent. What if the exchange setting is not euvoluntary?   What is the role of the state then?  One possibility is that the state could take over the functions of voluntary arrangements to secure mutual benefits.  But historically that has not worked very well.  Instead, I think that the state should try to approximate more closely the conditions of euvoluntarity, so that private arrangements can proceed in a more effective way.  The state is thus not a replacement, or alternative, but rather a means of assuring that euvoluntarity is achieved.

Continued here

Categories: Dispatch

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