Saturday, April 27, 2013

Books: The Problem of Political Authority

I'm looking forward to reading this book: The Problem of Political Authority, An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey by Michael Heumer ($36, paperback). Excerpts can be found on Heumer's website.

A strong recommendation from John Danaher (Philosophical Disquisitions) is enough to convince me to drop a few bucks on this.

Needless to say, I think that the problem of political authority is the fundamental issue in political philosophy, and I was sorely disappointed by how it was dismissed as an issue in the political philosophy survey course that I took in college. Even those who support political authority should grapple with this issue, because the nature of political authority has profound consequences for determining the appropriate use of political authority (which seems to be what political philosophers care about).

While we're on this topic, I want to reiterate my recommendation of Common Sense, as a beautiful example of how to demolish the perception of political authority ($0, online). 

For completeness, here is related content that I noticed:


Anonymous said...

"The central thesis of the first part of this book is that political authority is a moral illusion. "

Just to note: the core of liberal political theory holds political obligation to be rational, not moral. The moral state is the "state of nature" and consent to a violation of this state of freedom by an artificial device("the State") is derived from a rational argument, not a moral one.

the moral type of arguments(or appeals) originate from the communitarian/republican tradition that derive from the ancient view(not the enlightenment view) of the State(or the polis) as a natural fabric of the human condition(and essential for human flourishing).

Huemer is correct that libertarian moral arguments against the State(NAP) are not convincing(at least not from a liberal perspective) because, once again, liberal political philosophy holds that is rational to cede some violations of liberty in order to secure human ends,e.g., property(Locke) or security itself(Hobbes). But this is not really any kind of new insight. I've even written about that very point many times.

The best argument against the liberal state remains de Jasay's "The State," the central thesis being that the State is not collective action agency for securing human ends; rather it is its own agency that is in competition against your own ends. The more States resemble political economic firms(the US, the EU), the more they devolve into "security states"(meaning everyone is hence treated as a potential threat), the more relevant the de Jasay thesis. My contention is that the raison-d-etre of the 21st Century State is to enforce a political economy of digital economy where the use of the products for private use becomes more or less illegal.

But the communitarian version of the State is more or less immune from these types of arguments. They don't accept the liberal premise concerning the artificiality of the State. Quite the opposite: they begin from a premise regarding the morality of the State. Hence, there really is no rational discourse possible between the two sides. If one side has a system of math or logic that derives 2+2=5(here, i'm not using this in the "doublethink" sense) and another side has 2+2=4, there really can be no discourse(as an analogy, germane to your field.think of the evolution vs creation debate when one side begins with the premise that god created the universe and all life forms).

Libertarianism, as a political theory, is only applicable as an argument against the liberal version of the State(since liberalism and libertarianism share the same premises). Since I contend that they are actually very few liberals and that american politics is dominated by communitarianism(the political discourse more or less boils down to competing sides accusing one another of being liberal), books such Huemer's have a very narrow audience. frankly, having read the weak-sauce that liberals(public choice theorists, e.g.) have put up against the likes of de Jasay(they can't dispute it, rather they resort to more or less admitting to a moral preference for the fiction of the liberal state), you realize that political science is a rather futile endeavor(other than for self-enlightenment).

Anonymous said...

forgot to mention: i took that beginning quote from Huemer's excerpt on his site...

Anonymous said...

one last point:

liberal political philosophy has to be understood in the context of the 17th century english civil war. Hobbes and Locke use the same methodology to arrive at quite different conclusions: Hobbes: it is rational to obey leviathan. Locke's version, in contrast, is really centered around justifiable revolution(terminating political obligation).

Of course, today liberalism is hardly associated with justifying the limits of political obligation. To explain this, you have to resort to libertarianism(deriving from the more radical French liberal tradition). in the end, I contend that libertarianism, as a political theory, is nothing more than a positive theory of dystopia(in contrast to the utopian conclusions of liberal philosophers, defining utopia to mean a regime of a justice of mutual advantage).

Libertarianism gives us a third conclusion: an intractable problem of revolution and a trajectory to de Jasay's end point: even when everyone comes to hate the State(benefits literally no one), you still can't get rid of it

Ricketson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ricketson said...

What is de Jasey's most acessible/concise book?

Here is the list from Wikipedia:

The State (1985)
Social Contract, Free Ride (1989)
Choice, Contract, Consent: A Restatement of Liberalism (1991)
Before Resorting to Politics (1996)
Against Politics: On Government, Anarchy and Order (1997)
Justice and its Surroundings (2002)
Political Philosophy, Clearly (2010)
Political Economy, Concisely (2010)
Liberale Vernunft, Soziale Verwirrung (2010)

Anonymous said...

Cato unbound debate on the topic 5 years ago may prove helpful

I haven't read all of hi stuff, so i couldn't answer your question. His method, which can be described more or less as "critical rationalist," is not the most entertaining style, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

An old post i wrote on the topic