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Modern states commonly deploy coercion in a wide array of circumstances in which the resort to force would clearly be wrong for any private agent. What entitles the state to behave in this manner? And why should citizens obey its commands? This book examines theories of political authority, from the social contract theory, to theories of democratic authorization, to fairne Modern states commonly deploy coercion in a wide array of circumstances in which the resort to force would clearly be wrong for any private agent. What entitles the state to behave in this manner? And why should citizens obey its commands? This book examines theories of political authority, from the social contract theory, to theories of democratic authorization, to fairness- and consequence-based theories. Ultimately, no theory of authority succeeds, and thus no government has the kind of authority often ascribed to governments. The author goes on to discuss how voluntary and competitive institutions could provide the central goods for the sake of which the state is often deemed necessary, including law, protection from private criminals, and national security. An orderly and livable society thus does not require acquiescence in the illusion of political authority.


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Modern states commonly deploy coercion in a wide array of circumstances in which the resort to force would clearly be wrong for any private agent. What entitles the state to behave in this manner? And why should citizens obey its commands? This book examines theories of political authority, from the social contract theory, to theories of democratic authorization, to fairne Modern states commonly deploy coercion in a wide array of circumstances in which the resort to force would clearly be wrong for any private agent. What entitles the state to behave in this manner? And why should citizens obey its commands? This book examines theories of political authority, from the social contract theory, to theories of democratic authorization, to fairness- and consequence-based theories. Ultimately, no theory of authority succeeds, and thus no government has the kind of authority often ascribed to governments. The author goes on to discuss how voluntary and competitive institutions could provide the central goods for the sake of which the state is often deemed necessary, including law, protection from private criminals, and national security. An orderly and livable society thus does not require acquiescence in the illusion of political authority.

30 review for The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    Simply put; this is the best book I've ever read. This book will not convince the ideological dogmatism that has sunken in the mind of young liberals. However, it will convince the people that are intellectually honest with themselves. I've read 3 books on anarcho-capitalism (Tannehill's, The Market For Freedom, Friedman's, The Machinery of Freedom, and Rothbard's, For A New Liberty) and this is by far the absolute best. Accepting that the fact that the question normative ethics has not yet been Simply put; this is the best book I've ever read. This book will not convince the ideological dogmatism that has sunken in the mind of young liberals. However, it will convince the people that are intellectually honest with themselves. I've read 3 books on anarcho-capitalism (Tannehill's, The Market For Freedom, Friedman's, The Machinery of Freedom, and Rothbard's, For A New Liberty) and this is by far the absolute best. Accepting that the fact that the question normative ethics has not yet been settled (normative ethics is the branch of ethics in which examines questions like, "what is good?" and "what is the standard of right and wrong?"), he rather relies on intuitive beliefs that most people hold. The book is divided into different parts: why the social contract is not valid (Locke, Nozick, etc), why the hypothetical social contract is false (Rawls, Cohen), why consequentialism and the doctrine of fairness are false (utilitarians), the psychology of authority (drawing on empirical tests done, including the famous Stanford Prison experiment and the Milgram experiment), in the absence of government (answering questions on helping the poor, paternalism, etc), examining social theories (examining theories of human nature, for instance), predation (why countries and people are less likely to be predatory than they used to be. Also, countering Hobbesian theories of government), how society could look like (for instance, how the justice and police systems may look like), on foreign aggression (why it's less likely than an anarchist society would be attacked), and, lastly, a very, very optimistic view on why anarcho-capitalism may come some time in the future. Huemer does a flawless (if there are any flaws, I must have accidentally overlooked them) job on countering typical theories (social contract theories), why government is harmful (relying on ethical intuitions, as well as public choice theory) and gives a tour de france counter-argument to many criticisms of anarcho-capitalism (including why anarcho-capitalists may have a good counter to foreign aggression, and gives empirical data as to why these anarchists may not even need it. He also explains why the likes of Tyler Cowen and Robert Nozick are wrong to assume that private security agencies may be warring, create cartels, or come to form a monopoly). All-in-all, this is the best book on political philosophy that I've ever read. Nozick, watch out. If enough people read this book, Dr. Huemer will be considered the foremost leader on libertarian political philosophy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dave Burns

    Chapter 6 is worth the price of the book. In chapter 6, Huemer examines the attitudes of philosophers and ordinary people toward authority in light of recent developments in psychology such as the Milgram experiment, Stockholm syndrome, status quo bias, cognitive dissonance, etc. Just as Milgram's subjects gave in to authority figure and then rationalized their behavior, philosophers devised theories to rationalize the state. This chapter surprised me with its originality and persuasiveness. The Chapter 6 is worth the price of the book. In chapter 6, Huemer examines the attitudes of philosophers and ordinary people toward authority in light of recent developments in psychology such as the Milgram experiment, Stockholm syndrome, status quo bias, cognitive dissonance, etc. Just as Milgram's subjects gave in to authority figure and then rationalized their behavior, philosophers devised theories to rationalize the state. This chapter surprised me with its originality and persuasiveness. The book deserves maximum stars just for this chapter. In chapters 2-5, he attacks existing philosophical justifications of political authority, social contract, hypothetical social contract, democracy, consequentialism, etc. This discussion engaged me and fascinated me. I found it quite persuasive. In chapter 7 Huemer ties it together. 8-12 apparently describe how the world might work if Huemer's ideas about political authority took hold. (This topic has been covered in numerous other books, such as Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman, and I haven't read these chapters yet.) In chapter 13, Huemer sketches how the transition to such a world might happen. I hope this book gets the attention it deserves. If so it may eclipse Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia as the foremost work of libertarian political philosophy. Huemer has a video on YouTube where he summarizes the major ideas from the book. He also did a fascinating TED talk about political irrationality.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alex MacMillan

    This definitive treatise of anarcho-capitalist philosophy was a disappointment, as I quickly spotted gaps and unreasonable assumptions within its major premises that were never addressed or acknowledged. The ideological belief that government's innately coercive behavior is entirely illegitimate, and that all human relationships should be ruled by unanimous voluntary consent of the parties involved, rests on a naive and flawed conception of individual rights and liberties. When the individual is This definitive treatise of anarcho-capitalist philosophy was a disappointment, as I quickly spotted gaps and unreasonable assumptions within its major premises that were never addressed or acknowledged. The ideological belief that government's innately coercive behavior is entirely illegitimate, and that all human relationships should be ruled by unanimous voluntary consent of the parties involved, rests on a naive and flawed conception of individual rights and liberties. When the individual is an always-reasonable philosophical abstraction, as is the case in this book's many hypotheticals, perhaps political authority has no rational basis. Naive over-reliance on abstraction, however, is at odds with not only all human history but also evolutionary psychology: strong individual identities have so far thrived only as creations of strong states, with anarchy in practice only quickly returning to violent, insular, and decidedly non-capitalist government via hunter-gatherer (e.g. The Rule of the Clan; Noble Savages; The Walking Dead). Evolutionary pressures mandate that the individual identities and rights of Aristotle's "political animals" can only exist within the context of group memberships (family, nation-state, occupation, socioeconomic status, sports fandom, etc.). In the real world, individuals rarely make contractual decisions without considering how their compromises with third parties will affect their groups as well. Therefore, although they may sometimes act wrongfully, governments can legitimately exist as third party brokers, using laws to balance our individual wants with the needs of our group identities, in a manner that private actors cannot wholly accomplish (without using coercion, thereby restoring government to wherever anarchy took root). Once you accept the notion of group identities coexistent with individual rights (as the author's sole focus on individuals-only social contract theory and consequentialism fails to recognize), you can also acknowledge that group membership is sometimes not just voluntary. In a manner similar to membership in a family, membership in a nation-state is (for most people) an ascribed status. Indeed, citizenship in almost all nations is typically based upon fixed racial or ethnic membership – that is to say, most countries are groupings where every fellow citizen is one's distant genetic relative (e.g. The Ethnic Phenomenon; The Origins of Virtue). Government paternalism, done for the benefit of the genetic in-group it serves and protects, can be legitimate in the same manner that a parent may discipline and prioritize its children over others. The government represents your extended family, which has a unique biological stake in your ability to flourish within the society it maintains. The fact that there are good and bad parents does not mean that parenthood therefore lacks political authority without the child's consent to whatever action his parent(/government) takes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Howard

    Michael Huemer should be one of the more often referenced luminaries of the 21st century defenders of individual liberty, free markets, and voluntary association. He provides a cool, and intellectually honest defense of a stateless society. "I argue that the eventual development of an anarcho-capitalist order, while not inevitable, is neither impossible nor exceedingly improbable." After taking on the theoretical, consequential and psychological problems with authority, he turns to his defense of Michael Huemer should be one of the more often referenced luminaries of the 21st century defenders of individual liberty, free markets, and voluntary association. He provides a cool, and intellectually honest defense of a stateless society. "I argue that the eventual development of an anarcho-capitalist order, while not inevitable, is neither impossible nor exceedingly improbable." After taking on the theoretical, consequential and psychological problems with authority, he turns to his defense of a "society without authority." He does not skirt away from the difficult to solve pragmatic challenges to the philosophy of a stateless society. He faces them head-on: predatory nature of humanity, individual security, criminal justice and dispute resolution, war and societal defense, and eventually the move from democracy to anarchy. This book is best suited for a lower-level graduate course in political philosophy. It is the ideal tool for winning over the mind of a thoughtful or well-informed skeptic of individual liberty. Huemer is less of the eternal optimist as Jeffrey Tucker--and less poetic--in his presentation of anarchism but his hope for the future still shines through. "I have written as if the world's march toward democracy will continue, with all authoritarian governments ultimately destined to fall. This is not inevitable...The most salient and important trend that stands out in any study of the intellectual history of the past 2000 years must surely be the gradual accretion of knowledge and the corresponding move from worse ideas to better ideas. The process is of course not monotonic--there are cases of stagnation and regression--but the undeniable difference between humanity's knowledge today and its knowledge 2000 years ago is staggering." Huemer shares the same disdain for The State as Murray Rothbard, and the same distrust in government monopoly as David Friedman, but he convinces others of the need for a post-government society using diplomacy, humility, and meticulous argument. His argument against statism (and its illusion of authority) with two points: 1) "The democratic process fails to ground authority, as one typically does not acquire a right to coerce someone merely because those who want one to coerce the victim are more numerous than those who want one to refrain...The appeal to the obligations to promote equality and to respects others' judgment fails for several reasons, including that these obligations are not strong enough to override individuals' rights." 2) "Institutions of authority are extremely dangerous, and the undermining of trust in authority is therefore highly socially beneficial." There are more moral, economic, social, pragmatic, and equitable ways for individuals to organize. Huemer provides a way forward away from statism that makes voluntarism seem more attainable than ever before--even if a "society without authority" remains a few centuries into the future.

  5. 4 out of 5

    LDM

    Overall, compelling and well-defended. Possibly the best critique of political authority I’ve encountered; certainly the most cogent and reasonable defense of market anarchism I’ve read in a long time--if ever. I would actually feel comfortable recommending this book to people of different ideological persuasions, unlike Rothbard or D. Friedman. Huemer brings something like respectability to the radical notion that other people don’t have any legitimate claims to authority over my own god damn p Overall, compelling and well-defended. Possibly the best critique of political authority I’ve encountered; certainly the most cogent and reasonable defense of market anarchism I’ve read in a long time--if ever. I would actually feel comfortable recommending this book to people of different ideological persuasions, unlike Rothbard or D. Friedman. Huemer brings something like respectability to the radical notion that other people don’t have any legitimate claims to authority over my own god damn personal shit thank you very much. His lucid and methodical style makes a pretty extreme philosophy seem fairly reasonable. I don’t think Rothbard even comes close to achieving this. Even his tackling of the eternal anarchist bugbear—national defense—comes off as plausible. I had a lengthy piece written discussing the few problems I had with Huemer’s methodology and some of his conclusions, but either the responses at Cato Unbound and BHL put them better than I ever could or Huemer’s responses to said responses answered my misgivings to some extent or another. Saying any more would just add white-noise.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    First half of the book explains why the author thinks that there is no moral justification for government. Second half of the book explains how a society without government could function. Some of this is intriguing, some is obvious, some impractical. The second half of the book sketches how 'law and order' might work without government, and why a military might not be necessary, but there's not even the briefest attempt to explain how things like roads and water supplies would be dealt with. So First half of the book explains why the author thinks that there is no moral justification for government. Second half of the book explains how a society without government could function. Some of this is intriguing, some is obvious, some impractical. The second half of the book sketches how 'law and order' might work without government, and why a military might not be necessary, but there's not even the briefest attempt to explain how things like roads and water supplies would be dealt with. Some is explained clearly with good thought experiments, but much of it is repetitive and humorless. Anyway, moral or not, government isn't going anywhere within our lifetimes, or within the lifetimes of our great-grandchildren either. So I guess I'm a bit more interested in what can be done to improve government.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Luke Simpson

    Really good introduction to anarcho-capitalist ideas. The book is divided into two parts. In part one, Huemer argues that political authority is an illusion, that is, that governments do not actually have some special authority to coerce their citizens to do whatever they want them to do, and associated with that, citizens do not actually have any obligation to obey the governments ruling over them. This leaves open the possibility that governments are nevertheless desirable to have by virtue of Really good introduction to anarcho-capitalist ideas. The book is divided into two parts. In part one, Huemer argues that political authority is an illusion, that is, that governments do not actually have some special authority to coerce their citizens to do whatever they want them to do, and associated with that, citizens do not actually have any obligation to obey the governments ruling over them. This leaves open the possibility that governments are nevertheless desirable to have by virtue of producing better living conditions than an anarchistic society could hope to achieve. In part two, however, Huemer argues that a society with no government could potentially work as well or better than a governed society. I found the arguments compelling and well supported by empirical evidence and by the arguments of other thinkers. Highly recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Vidur Kapur

    I enjoyed this book. The author, Michael Huemer, comprehensively surveys the various arguments against his viewpoint, seeking out the strongest counter-arguments and fair-mindedly considering them. However, if one does not accept Huemer's meta-ethical views, namely his stance of ethical intuitionism, it is more difficult to agree with his conclusions. For someone who follows 'common sense morality', and relies heavily upon their ethical intuitions, the book makes a fairly solid case for anarchis I enjoyed this book. The author, Michael Huemer, comprehensively surveys the various arguments against his viewpoint, seeking out the strongest counter-arguments and fair-mindedly considering them. However, if one does not accept Huemer's meta-ethical views, namely his stance of ethical intuitionism, it is more difficult to agree with his conclusions. For someone who follows 'common sense morality', and relies heavily upon their ethical intuitions, the book makes a fairly solid case for anarchism. Nevertheless, moral intuitions are highly inconsistent and often contradictory, and have been shown to be unreliable by moral psychologists. Thus, when Huemer comes up against the best counter-arguments to anarcho-capitalism, he often resorts to dismissing them using the 'demandingness objection'. For example, when considering the Argument from Equality for democracy, which states that democracy should be maintained because it involves equally considering the interests of others, he calls it "absurdly demanding", because it implies that we ought to equally consider the interests of all people, which in turn would imply that he should donate each spare $50 he has to a cost-effective charity fighting global poverty, rather than on his personal consumption. Utilitarians, including myself, would in fact endorse this admittedly counter-intuitive conclusion, yet because of his reliance upon moral intuitions, he can dismiss it. Thus, from a utilitarian or consequentialist perspective, Huemer has not made the case against political authority. Similarly, in his actual discussion of consequentialism, Huemer claims that although consequentialists could make the argument that some forms of government lead to the best overall consequences, and that general obedience to the law is therefore required to ensure that the government does not fall, it is not the case that any individual citizen is required to obey the law, because they will each not have any influence on whether the government does fall. Yet, in this account, Huemer neglects to take into account expected consequences, or expected utility. Whilst it is true that it is highly improbable that any one individual's disobedience will have an impact on whether the government falls, there is still a non-zero probability of it having an impact. And, because the impact would be very large, potentially leading to chaos, when we multiply the probability with the impact, it still means that utilitarians and consequentialists in general should obey the law in most cases. Relatedly, in his discussion of rule consequentialism, which states that we should follow moral rules such as obeying laws because they lead to the best consequences overall, Huemer argues that if everyone were to become a philosopher, people would starve, but presumably that does not mean that everyone should follow the rule 'do not become a philosopher'. Again, however, on a utilitarian or consequentialist viewpoint, something like this could be the case (perhaps not with philosophy, but utilitarians do generally try to choose careers in which they can maximise their direct positive impact on the world or earn a lot of money to donate to effective charities - see the organisation 80,000 hours, for instance). Even if we use the rule 'become a philosopher if not too many people are doing so', this may still not be analogous to the rule 'break the law if not too many people are doing so', because many people break minor laws anyway today, and moral laws shouldn't be broken anyway. It is the case, however, that even if utilitarianism can successfully defend the prospect of political authority, it may still be the case that an anarcho-capitalist society would lead to the best consequences overall, from a utilitarian standpoint. This brings us to Part 2 of the book, where Huemer sketches out what an anarcho-capitalist society might look like, mainly focusing on private security firms and arbitration firms which would supposedly keep people secure. One big problem, of course, is that these firms may simply go to war with each other, but Huemer argues that because it would not be profitable for them to do so, it is unlikely that they would. This conclusion is highly questionable though, given our experience with various competing and warring Mafia groups throughout history and their protection rackets. Furthermore, it relies upon the notion that humans are rational agents in a free-market, when evidence from behavioural economics suggests that they clearly are not. Nonetheless, Huemer has another response, namely that even if the prospect of war between private companies is plausible in an anarcho-capitalist society, the intensity and destructiveness of such wars would be markedly smaller than the intensity and destructiveness of wars conducted by states today. On this point, though, Huemer fails to comprehensively review all of the government alternatives: whilst he cites evidence from the United States demonstrating that a lot of money is wasted on the military and on war, it's not the case that all states engage in wars: Denmark and Switzerland, for instance, spend very little on their respective militaries and rarely engage in wars. This, along with other concerns such as the amount of poverty and inequality (both of opportunity and income) in such a society, would lead a utilitarian to favour a social democracy such as those in Scandinavia which have relatively successfully fused together the best of socialism and capitalism, as opposed to an anarcho-capitalist society. Overall, then, I cannot be said to have been convinced by this book, and even from an idealistic perspective, I would much prefer another type of anarchist society - an anarcho-communist, or libertarian socialist, society. Such a society would not come about unless we acquire a post-scarcity world, or unless everyone suddenly becomes pure utilitarians who equally consider the interests of all sentient beings, but it is still the ideal, from a utilitarian perspective. As a side note, Huemer's discussion of authority and how easily humans succumb to mindlessly obeying authority was very interesting, and he himself seems like someone who takes his morality very seriously, especially considering the fact that he seems to donate a fair bit to effective, Give Well-recommended charities.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marco

    In this book, Michael Huemer aims to address one of the central questions of political philosophy: is there a legitimate source for the authority of a government? That question can be dismembered in two parts: first, whether there is a justification that allows government to impose to its subjects laws, even when they don't automatically follow from moral duties; second, whether the subjects have a duty to obey the laws created by the state. Huemer dedicates the first chapter to an exploration of In this book, Michael Huemer aims to address one of the central questions of political philosophy: is there a legitimate source for the authority of a government? That question can be dismembered in two parts: first, whether there is a justification that allows government to impose to its subjects laws, even when they don't automatically follow from moral duties; second, whether the subjects have a duty to obey the laws created by the state. Huemer dedicates the first chapter to an exploration of that question, by exploring the limitations usually established on political authority and delimiting the distinctive features of political authority. He also states his strategy: to start from (relatively) accepted concepts instead of applying a specific theoretical framework as a basis for his criticism of political authority. In chapter 2, the author discusses the traditional theories of social contract. He divides the traditional contractualist accounts of political authorities: explicit versions, that refer to an actual contract accepted by the citizens as the source of authority, and implicit theories, which define certain social behaviours as implicit acceptance of a social contract. Explicit theories, such as the Lockean vision, are given an analysis that, while brief, is still enough to show their shortcomings, especially in the inter-generational question. The author then changes his focus to the analysis of implicit social contract theories, arguing that the claims of an implicit acceptance of the social contract fail to meet the criteria usually established for valid consent (for example, the existence of a reasonable opt-out as an alternative to the acceptance of the contract). An alternate model of social contracts forsakes the question of an actual contract altogether, basing political authority on the hypothesis that "individuals *would* consent to the state under certain hypothetical conditions.". Chapter 3 is dedicated to the analysis of such models, popularized by Rawls, Scanlon and others; there, the author argues that switching from actual to hypothetical consenting fails to provide a justification for political authority, since it falls short of the usual criteria for consent. This is due, in part, to the fact that rational disagreement is possible even if one accounts for all differences motivated by circumstances, as argued by Berlin (value pluralism) and others. After presenting his arguments that neither actual nor hypothetical consent provide an adequate source for political authority, the book then switches its focus to the idea that, even if it is not possible to obtain the consent of every citizen, the will of a majority is by itself strong enough to generate obligations to the whole of the population. Chapter 4, therefore, deals with deliberative democracy, that, while having many merits -- especially when compared with other proposed models of government --, still fails to offer an acceptable basis for either political obligation or political legitimacy. Chapter 5 addresses consequentialist narratives of political authority. While those narratives manage to justify some (but not even most) of the roles claimed by the state (especially security and justice), they nevertheless fail to provide the context-independent and comprehensive basis required for authority, while also failing to make a solid claim for the monopolies of the state. If something has consequences good enough to justify the state acting in a certain way, consequentialist narratives do not establish beyond doubt that a non-state actor could not achieve the same goals. For example, a government would have no legitimacy to prevent a NGO from punishing criminals, provided it follows the same laws and procedures that the state would follow; arguing that the state has unique prerogatives, here, would be circular reasoning, since that's what one intends to establish in the first place. After pointing the weaknesses on the traditional philosophical accounts of political authority, the author then follows with the best chapter on the book: a survey of what psychological science can tell us about political authority. Through references to many known (and studied) psychological phenomena, it shows that our political intuitions are subject to many cognitive biases that can make people liable to accepting otherwise illegitimate authority. Based on this, and on his ethical intuitionism, the author claims that the conclusions of the previous chapters show that political authority lacks the solid grounding usually associated with it. Here I must make a special mention of Huemer's discussion of the formal aspects of authority, a topic sadly ignored by much of the libertarian literature. Given that the first chapters present a serious case against political authority, an obvious question follows: "if that holds, then what?" Chapter 7 begins to answer that question, by addressing what a state could legitimately do and how it can act. It also addresses how government agents and other citizens could act against unjust state action -- considering both non-violent and violent resistance -- and answers some possible objections against such courses of resistance. After establishing that the usual accounts of political authority lack the solidity that would be necessary to justify the extent of the powers conferred upon the modern national state, the second part of the book is dedicated to the exploration of how a society without political authority could function. It begins with Chapter 8, where some of the relevant criteria for the evaluation of social models are discussed. Based on the analysis done until this point, the author establishes a simplified model of human nature as a starting point for his analysis: humans are approximately rational (despite their biases, they usually act in a way consistent with their goals an beliefs), relatively selfish (that is, not entirely devoid of morality and bonds with other people) and aware of their environment. The chapter finishes with a discussion of utopianism and realism, setting for Part II the aim of establishing a realist market anarchist framework. Chapter 9 discusses the problem of political predation, opposing Hobbes's claim that the government would provide protection from the "war of all against all". To make his point, Huemer argues that not only the absence of a state would not turn interpersonal violence into a rational choice (especially when one takes into account cultural factors), but also that states give means for oppression. For totalitarian states, the latter claim is pretty straightforward; one could spend a life enumerating the cases of dictators using the machinery of government for their own enrichment. Based on the insights of Public Choice theory, the author takes the claim further, by arguing that even democracies can be tools for predation, be it from majorities against minorities, from voters against non-voters or from special interest groups with disproportionate influence. To make things worse, the usual mechanisms that democracies use to prevent such risks -- activism, media exposition, and constitutional checks -- fail to prevent the misuse of political authority; they may mitigate the problem, but not eliminate it altogether. The following chapters discuss how a market anarchist society could provide security and justice to its citizens. Huemer's answer to that involves a system of private protection agencies to provide physical and material security to its clients, and arbitration firms to solve disputes between individuals and between companies. Such businesses, unlike their government counterparts, would not have a monopoly; instead, they would compete in the market for clients, which could choose services more adequate to their needs. The barriers for entrance in such markets would be very small (for example, forming a local militia or being recognized locally as a fair judge); since it would not be feasible to maintain a monopoly, the companies would need to be more responsive to their clients, therefore providing services more adequate to the needs and means of customers. Since reputation would play an important role in such markets, companies would have economical stimuli to be as transparent and fair as possible, in order to retain their clients. A major objection to such a scheme comes from the possibility of conflict between protection agencies; in fact, authors have claimed that such a fragmentation of power would make conflict more likely. While Chapter 10 argues that protection agencies would not have incentives to fight one another, Chapter 12 presents a more significant response to the such objections, pointing out that the smaller scale of those agencies would result in less destructive conflicts than the ones between militarized states. More than that: the author points out how the needs of "national defence" proposed by realist literature in fact may lead to increased security risks, and how even societies without standing armies could resist an invasion through non-violent resistance or guerilla warfare. The chapter also proposes conditions in which a market anarchist society could peacefully thrive, inspired on Kant's "democratic peace". While the chapter addresses many of the theoretical questions of international security, it understate some of the threats, such as the massive cost imposed upon civilians by even a successful guerilla campaign, and the relevance of weapons of mass destruction, which can increase considerably the potential harm that comes from a conflict. Chapter 13 presents a feasible, if optimistic, model for transition: the emergence of competing, viable alternatives to essential state functions, followed by bottom-up privatization fueled by cultural change. The optimism is based on a certain -- and debatable -- view of human progress; that view, however, falls short of the error of treating progress as a linear, inevitable historical process. The book ends with a summary of the main points of both parts, concluding that not only political authority is not as solid as usually thought, but it is also unnecessary for the functioning of society. The book is at its best while dismantling the justificatory discourses of political authority, presenting not only a tight argumentation but also solid real-world evidence. When the book moves into the positive aspect of its proposal, the problems begin to appear: not that the arguments get any less solid, but they leave many open questions, especially in practical terms. While that's a reflex both of the priorities of libertarian scholarship and the speculation inherent to the exploratory purpose of Part II, Huemer's interdisciplinary approach is very instructive, both in its strengths and its weaknesses, by showing a mostly cohesive framework that can be improved. Combined with the power of Part I, this makes "The Problem of Political Authority" a very instructing book and a must-read for a general perspective on contemporary market anarchist thought.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Moss

    Absolutely masterful.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Rothschild

    Given that so many reviewers felt this to be the best book they have ever read in political philosophy, I feel compelled to explain why I gave it a less-than-stellar rating. I will not give the main outline of the book as many others have done so. I will limit my remarks to the weaknesses I found in the author's arguments. I found that the author's arguments display an overreliance on: 1. competitive markets as the best solution to societal arrangements. Yet the author never touches on the problem Given that so many reviewers felt this to be the best book they have ever read in political philosophy, I feel compelled to explain why I gave it a less-than-stellar rating. I will not give the main outline of the book as many others have done so. I will limit my remarks to the weaknesses I found in the author's arguments. I found that the author's arguments display an overreliance on: 1. competitive markets as the best solution to societal arrangements. Yet the author never touches on the problem of market failures. Take, for example, pollution. Markets have not been able to adequately address this issue; this is why we have an existential crisis evolving with respect to climate change. Traditionally, the way to correct for market failures has been for regulation by government. If there is no government, then how will market failures be addressed? 2. a view of the person as a largely rational, self-interested agent. Yet modern political philosophy has moved beyond this caricature to develop much more nuanced views of what constitutes a person. (Even mainstream economics, which uses models based on rational expectations, recognizes that these are useful for explaining some behaviours but do not fully reflect what the fulll complexity of human behaviour. For example, behavioural economics emphasizes the non-rational dimension to human behaviour, yet without developing any theory of what constitutes a person.) 3. common sense or intuitions about ethics. Yet the whole reason for the field of ethics is that moral judgments are usually anything but commonsensical. What the author proposes as moral intuitions may only be his own (Western) biases that he is attributing to all "intelligent" human beings. One's intuitions are a product of where and when one was raised. (Note that the author steers clear of any contentious, at least in Western culture, ethical questions such as the moral status of abortion. He admits that this is a good example where one's intuitions are of no help. More generally, the author steers clear of any moral questions where Judaeo-Christian religions have strong views. It is not clear where religion fits into his anarcho-capitalistic framework, if indeed there is any room for religious views at all.) 4. property rights as a given which does not need to be justified. Yet, within any political framework, rights need to be established (and based on a conception of the person in which such rights are key to understanding what makes for a person). Furthermore, in the absence of a central authority (usually government) to ensure the protection of rights, it is difficult to understand which rights should be recognized and protected. 5. on examples of bad government policies taken from the US experience. Yet there are many examples of good government policies (with respect to judicial and penal systems, to take but one area that the author focuses on) in other liberal democracies that illustrate how the US experience could be considered an exception and thus should not be relied on for most of the anecdotal evidence he uses to generally discard government policy as being misguided.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick Geiser

    This book is a systematic criticism of the concept of political authority, which Huemer analyzes as 1) a power to create duties and 2) a right to coerce. Part I attempts to show that the state has no power to create duties, while Part II attempts to show that the state has no right to coerce. The two parts of the book really are separable, and you can accept the conclusions of each part without accepting the other. For example, you could believe that there is not duty to obey the state, but that This book is a systematic criticism of the concept of political authority, which Huemer analyzes as 1) a power to create duties and 2) a right to coerce. Part I attempts to show that the state has no power to create duties, while Part II attempts to show that the state has no right to coerce. The two parts of the book really are separable, and you can accept the conclusions of each part without accepting the other. For example, you could believe that there is not duty to obey the state, but that there should be states that they may coerce people to do certain things. This position is also consistent with believing that a much better society would be stateless. This position is known as "philosophical anarchism." You could also believe that states have no right to coerce, but that we have a duty to obey them. I don't know of many people who hold this view, but it is a logically consistent one. Part I is a philosophical reconstruction and response to the dominant theories of political obligation (i.e. a duty to obey the state). Part II relies on empirical research and social science to argue that states lack a right to coerce by showing how many state functions could be carried out by individuals or private organizations. For my part, I regard the conclusions of Part I as decisive and Part II as plausible. One of the great virtues of this book is its methodology. The best philosophical argument starts from simple, widely-shared premises and generates surprising, unexpected conclusions (think Peter Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality"). Rather than start with a particular political theory, Huemer starts from a set of very plausible intuitions. This is a welcome reprieve from a lot of contemporary political theory, which starts from within a very particular research program.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Henrik

    I really enjoyed this book. It is the first book on political philosophy I've read so wasn't sure what to expect but it is easy to read and not dependent on any (abstract) theory. The author discusses the problem of political authority in a 'common sens' setting and how and why anarcho-capitalism might be a better alternative. If, like me, you think anarcho-capitalism sounds ridiculous, this is the book for you. It is one of those rare books that might radically change your perspective (you won' I really enjoyed this book. It is the first book on political philosophy I've read so wasn't sure what to expect but it is easy to read and not dependent on any (abstract) theory. The author discusses the problem of political authority in a 'common sens' setting and how and why anarcho-capitalism might be a better alternative. If, like me, you think anarcho-capitalism sounds ridiculous, this is the book for you. It is one of those rare books that might radically change your perspective (you won't look at a goverment quite the same way again). One thing lacking is a discussion of these societies in relation to global threats. One thing that goverments (and perhaps even larger structures) could be good for is working to meet scenarios of global impact (asteroid, climate change).

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    There is nothing particularly exciting about Huemer's style of writing. You have got to want this knowledge in order to enjoy this book. That being said, I really enjoyed his book. The section on the Psychology of Authority is simply fantastic. For the armchair anarchist I still prefer Rose's The Most Dangerous Superstition, but Huemer's text definitely makes you look more respectable.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eric Pavao

    Excellent. I can't recommend this book enough.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andreas

    Huemer makes a well crafted argument for Anarcho-Capitalism--one that I don't buy. Still, it was provocative, and it challenged me. So, I have respect for the author and his arguments.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Seth Green

    Here's the basic logic of the book, as I understand it. 1) There is a general presumption against violence, or the threat of violence (let's call the union of the two 'coercion'). 2) Coercion is justified when the benefits clearly outweigh the costs. The example Noam Chomsky gives is that it's ok for me to push you out of the way of a car, even if it hurts you, and to not ask your consent first. 3) If you're going to use force to do something, you should generally have exhausted non-coercive optio Here's the basic logic of the book, as I understand it. 1) There is a general presumption against violence, or the threat of violence (let's call the union of the two 'coercion'). 2) Coercion is justified when the benefits clearly outweigh the costs. The example Noam Chomsky gives is that it's ok for me to push you out of the way of a car, even if it hurts you, and to not ask your consent first. 3) If you're going to use force to do something, you should generally have exhausted non-coercive options first. (If I push you out of the way of a car, but I easily could have just warned you not to walk into traffic, but didn't because I wanted to be a hero, that would be wrong.) 4) The government is just people. The same ethical standards should apply to them, and their enforcers, as everyone else. 5) Almost nothing the government does meets the burden of proof of steps 2 and 3. 6) We should therefore work to dismantle governments (gradually and carefully) by replacing their functions with voluntary arrangements. Regarding the book itself: first, this is actually very well-written. Much academic philosophy is dry and difficult to parse. The examples here make sense. Huemer is a deep and wide reader. The prose is clear and straightforward (and sometimes funny) and, I think, fully comprehensible by a layperson. Second, a lot of it made me feel sad and bad. Powerless and hopeless, especially when reviewing evidence of abuse and failure (this horrible case was new to me: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_...), that easily, easily could happen to me. Like, today. So it is a good book to digest slowly. Third, my favorite sections were those dissecting traditional political theory that justifies political authority. I read Rawls in college but didn't get much out of it. I suspected that there was something important missing or elided there but it was such a great effort to find out what. Huemer did the work. I'm super grateful for that. (As he points out, Rawls in particular writes in a kind of legalese, that, at least for me, makes a close analysis painstaking.) Fourth, the last half of the book is dedicated to sketching out what an anarchist society might look like and how it might come about. I learned less from this because I'd read a fair bit about it before (David Friedman's 'The Machinery of Freedom' in particular) but it was a nice summary of current thinking on these questions. Final quibble: the kindle transcription has some issues (typos, sentences that bleed into each other, footnotes and text getting mixed and matched), and it's little galling to spend a fair bit on a book ($28 for me) with them. It's NBD but you might prefer a print copy. Highly recommend, overall.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tommy

    The strongest section in here is on the psychological aspect of obedience and why people follow commands from authority but this isn't a pure political issue since no one thinks you can abolish authority but the issue is the determination of what's legitimate authority. He wants all agents (be it government, corporate or an actual person) to be treated and held to the same standards as if they were the same thing but it should be obvious that soulless entities don't feel guilt and can only have The strongest section in here is on the psychological aspect of obedience and why people follow commands from authority but this isn't a pure political issue since no one thinks you can abolish authority but the issue is the determination of what's legitimate authority. He wants all agents (be it government, corporate or an actual person) to be treated and held to the same standards as if they were the same thing but it should be obvious that soulless entities don't feel guilt and can only have anything like morality imposed upon them. If you start by defining legitimacy and coercion in such a fashion that it's only coercion when someone is forced to share if they have everything but not coercion when someone is forced to do something just because they have notting obviously you are favouring people and since such distributional issues exist a consensus isn't really possible since we're going to be thinking about obligations and duties all very differently. When it comes to the bugaboo of taxation of all that supposedly worthless fiat currency it's not really necessary for funding anything the governments printing press can't, it's just an operational necessity for draining spending power out of the economy which must occur somehow when inflation is kicking in. Criminals must operate differently since they don't have that monopoly privilege and that's an important difference. When you pay the price for justice it matters what currency it's in. There are many cases in which we cannot tell whether a law is just or unjust; justice is a difficult subject. What ought we to do then? In cases where we do not know whether the law is just, we will simply not know whether it is permissible to break that law. I can say nothing here that will cause readers to be able to know in all cases what is just or what they ought to do. My only advice for such situations is that one do further research on the topic (perhaps in the ethical and political philosophy literature) and then exercise one’s best judgment. To some, this view will be unsatisfying. A more satisfying view would be one that provides a simple, more or less mechanical rule for what to do in all cases. For instance, if we could say, ‘When in doubt, always obey the law’, many would find this a more satisfying position than the position that we sometimes cannot tell whether we should obey the law or not. This isn't depoliticizing anything.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Frederik

    Huemer argues that states are illegitimate and we should let the market rule instead. If you think that sounds crazy, you should read the book, because it really isn't. I see two big problems with the account in this book (1) Huemer seems to think that property rights as we know them from our society today are basically legitimate. He doesn't defend this and I think it is wrong. Property rights are a kind of authority that needs to be justified like state authority. Like state demands, property r Huemer argues that states are illegitimate and we should let the market rule instead. If you think that sounds crazy, you should read the book, because it really isn't. I see two big problems with the account in this book (1) Huemer seems to think that property rights as we know them from our society today are basically legitimate. He doesn't defend this and I think it is wrong. Property rights are a kind of authority that needs to be justified like state authority. Like state demands, property rights are coercive. If I don't pay rent, at some point people will show up and force me to leave. (2) Huemer doesn't address markets failures. In his utopia there are no externalities, no public goods ect. To me, this seems like a big problem for the anarcho-capitalism dream. But to be fair, these problems are also very hard. It's not like the governments of today are doing a good job of solving them. But still a very thought provoking book that I would recommend to everyone interested in political philosophy

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kristaps Fabiāns

    Truly excellent and outstanding book that illustrates simply and yet comprehensively how political obligation and political authority are illusions conclusively showing that governments by definition have no real right to rule over their citizens. Unlike some other works this one doesn't rely on some anarchist code of ethics, but instead is based on common sense morality - an ethical foundation that would be accepted by most people. This makes this a 5/5 book, as it will make clear to pretty muc Truly excellent and outstanding book that illustrates simply and yet comprehensively how political obligation and political authority are illusions conclusively showing that governments by definition have no real right to rule over their citizens. Unlike some other works this one doesn't rely on some anarchist code of ethics, but instead is based on common sense morality - an ethical foundation that would be accepted by most people. This makes this a 5/5 book, as it will make clear to pretty much anyone willing to listen that a stateless society is the only ethical option. Besides that the author also lays out some good alternatives to government monopolies like the police, courts and armies and outlines a plausible way how we as a society could arrive at a functioning anarchist society.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    I'm not wholly swayed by the anarcho-capitalism Huemer argues for. The consequentialist/utilitarian argument for state authority still seems the most compelling to me and his rebuttal was, by his own admission, less than rock-solid. I was also disappointed that Huemer remained so focused on the American context and never really addressed how political authority -- and moral intuitions more generally -- varied across countries and cultures. But even if his arguments aren't necessarily good at con I'm not wholly swayed by the anarcho-capitalism Huemer argues for. The consequentialist/utilitarian argument for state authority still seems the most compelling to me and his rebuttal was, by his own admission, less than rock-solid. I was also disappointed that Huemer remained so focused on the American context and never really addressed how political authority -- and moral intuitions more generally -- varied across countries and cultures. But even if his arguments aren't necessarily good at convincing me, they're still good arguments: forceful without being impolite; accessible without being patronising; and thought-provoking throughout.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rhythima

    4.5 stars. Being my first political philosophy read, I was impressed with the writing style instead of the academic style that it was. The author is basically questioning the authority of the justice and especially criminal jurisdiction. Thus, the majority of his standpoints, even against Rawls are agreeable. Though this is beyond the scope of this book, I would have liked to hear (at least, in short) how the authority works (and does it have a problem as well) beyond just jurisdiction - e.g. fo 4.5 stars. Being my first political philosophy read, I was impressed with the writing style instead of the academic style that it was. The author is basically questioning the authority of the justice and especially criminal jurisdiction. Thus, the majority of his standpoints, even against Rawls are agreeable. Though this is beyond the scope of this book, I would have liked to hear (at least, in short) how the authority works (and does it have a problem as well) beyond just jurisdiction - e.g. for industries and general governance? A detailed review of this book will follow soon.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

    There's a new anarcho-capitalist in town. My only complaint about the book is that the author left untouched the role of government in intellectual property and healthcare. The latter is widely regarded as an activity highly important for the government to do, I would say on the same level as courts and police, at least in the current political climate, but as the population keeps getting older, I don't see this topic leave people's mind. Nevertheless, awesome book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Landon Oakes

    This book convinced me to become an anarchist. The case he builds against the authority of the state is so reasonable and clearly stated that the conclusion that the state is an unnecessary evil is hard to resist.

  25. 4 out of 5

    K.

    I don't agree with the author's conclusions, and I've never found the libertarian vision of society realistic. If the alternatives he covered were the only ones on offer, though, I'd find his arguments hard to beat.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Smith

    I have stopped reading this nonsense upon learning that US has "stolen" land from savages.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Auriuso

    A must read for political philosophy

  28. 4 out of 5

    Breanna Zimmer

    Perfect great book which operates Illustrates the farce of political authority and the superiority of anarchy over democracy. Great, modern day examples.

  29. 4 out of 5

    John Newcomer

    Quite possibly the greatest political science text ever.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    I commend Huemer for writing this book. He has done an excellent job in highlighting the moral and philosophical inadequacies that political authority represents, and in doing so covers a subject that is desperately necessary for the public at large to grasp and understand. I would heartily recommend this book (and will likely do so) to anyone in promotion of such purposes. For the first half of the book, I was impressed with his seemingly high level of research, ability to put forth arguments i I commend Huemer for writing this book. He has done an excellent job in highlighting the moral and philosophical inadequacies that political authority represents, and in doing so covers a subject that is desperately necessary for the public at large to grasp and understand. I would heartily recommend this book (and will likely do so) to anyone in promotion of such purposes. For the first half of the book, I was impressed with his seemingly high level of research, ability to put forth arguments in a simple manner and general reasoning style. In the second half of the book, quite unfortunately however, Huemer decided that it was a good idea to present his solution to the aforementioned problems of political authority -not unreasonable in itself, but subsequently so. I'm not going to provide a rebuttal to the innumerable and often horrible arguments that flow forth from this point, as that would require me to write my own book. Suffice to say, Huemer doesn't differ from other writers who have similarly covered the issue of political authority, like Larken Rose with 'The Most Dangerous Superstition', in near glorification of Market Capitalism as a solution to all the most pressing problems of humanity. Part of why I had enjoyed and appreciated his reasoning style so much in the beginning, was his seemingly impartiality in analysing and presenting issues. He starts of the latter section having the reader think he is going to continue with this level headed-ness, but it is quite apparently soon clear that there are some heavy biases at play. Inklings of this did appear earlier, under the guise of his "common sense morality" approach that seemed to for example, take property ownership as a given. One could temporarily forgive this to see the broader point that he was making, without yet realising that such a built in presupposition is foundational and necessary to prop up and legitimise his worldview. It should be stated that historically anarchists have always been against Capitalism, and likewise there is no common acceptance in this crowd that property ownership is beneficial, necessary or given. In fact, "anarcho-capitalism" is generally considered to be a contradiction in terms, and a fringe position within this philosophical school. The likes of Noam Chomsky attest to the level of ill repute it has, when he notes that such a system "if ever implemented, would lead to forms of tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history. There isn’t the slightest possibility that its (in my view, horrendous) ideas would be implemented, because they would quickly destroy any society that made this colossal error." Of course, such facts do not seem to bother Huemer, whose minority position in this regard is admittedly in stark contrast to the majority views of the general population. It should however, point to the arbitrary application of his principles. Despite all its problems, I still rate this book quite highly, and had he finished it off at Part I it would have easily been 5 stars. That said, I think he would have still benefited more by further explicit examination of the State entity, most particularly relevant would be its historical basis of creation and unfolding all the way back to the “Neolithic Revolution”. Had he done this he would have saved himself from the “colossal error” of believing in Market Capitalism as the solution, but instead realised that it is the very interests and operational structure of this system which necessitates and leads to the formation and use of the State as a tool for power consolidation, coercion and differential advantage. For him to promote an overtly competitive social system on the one hand, with moral codes such as voluntaryism and the non-aggression principle on the other, is simply baffling. It is akin to suggesting a game of musical chairs where the rules dictate no pushing or shoving. How does he honestly think that would go down? By his own admission, one would think he might understand this, when he states on p115 - “One common form of utopianism consists of confusing the way individuals and organizations are ‘supposed to’ behave with the way they will behave. When social systems are evaluated, it does not matter how a system is supposed to work; what matters is how it can be expected to work under realistic assumptions about human nature.” … In light of this, standing in contrast to some fairly basic anthropological and psychological (in particular behaviourist) understandings, it seems Huemer should concede that he is ultimately advocating a form of utopianism himself.

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