June 12, 2006 Leave a comment
I hate sloppy semantics. It’s not just an aesthetic issue, some pet peeve I have, but rather the belief that semantic pollution is the basis of bad thinking and pernicious persuasion. Those who control the language control the debate, control the agenda, control the narrow range of default positions …
(It’s not that I’m trying to take over that position of control. I just believe that intellectual precision is our best defense against Establishment manipulation.)
I do occasionally update the BlackCrayon dictionary, but BlackCrayon.com is at this point mostly an archive of my early philosophical anarchism, not an ongoing project. I’d like to port parts of it over to bkmarcus.com, which I’d maintain more vigilantly. (This requires me to become tech-geeky again in a way I’m hesitant to do, but I’ll eventually get around to it.)
Meanwhile, I blog the issues as they come up, yesterday’s epistle on extremism being the most recent example.
To a libertarian, the non-agression principle seems very straight-forward. So much so that we are baffled by others’ confusion.
Sometimes people grasp the concept of non-aggression, and approve of it, but have no idea what the word “principle” really means.
Sometimes people grasp both “non-aggression” and “principle” but fail to understand that groups don’t have any greater rights than those possessed by group members — in other words, many people are philosophical collectivists without even realizing it. The dominant ideology of the contemporary West is majoritarian democracy: the belief that 51% can decide whether something is right or wrong.
Then there are pure individualists — anarchists even — who don’t understand why the threat of force is itself a form of force, or why fraud, or even outright theft, are still forms of aggression, whether or not anyone is actually injured physically. At the other pole, we have some “minarchists” who think that being rude or cruel should count as forms of coercion, or who count non-scarce, non-tangibles (i.e., “intellectual ‘property’”) as potential targets of aggression.
Ultimately, I do think we have to appeal to property theory to explain what is and isn’t coercion, even in the supposedly non-economic cases, but I think the Tannehills do an admirable job of trying to lock down all the potential confusions on what I still think should be the straight-forward question of COERCION:
The society we propose is based on one fundamental principle: No man or group of men — including any group of men calling themselves “the government” — is entitled to initiate (that is, to start) the use of physical force, the threat of force, or any substitute for force (such as fraud) against any other man or grouop of men. This means that no man, no gang, and no government may morally use force in even the smallest degree against even the most unimportant individual so long as that individual has not himself initiated force.
 The terms “initiated force” and “coercion” are used to include not only the actual initiation of force but also the threat of such force and any substitute for force. This is because a man can be coerced into acting against his will by threats or deprived of a value by force-substitutes, such as fraud or theft by stealth, just as surely as he can by the actual use of physical force. The threat of force is intimidation, which is, itself, a form of force.
The free-market system, which the bureaucrats and politicians blame so energetically for almost everything, is nothing more than individuals trading with each other in a market free from political interference. Because of the tremendous benefits of trade under a division of labor, there will always be markets. A market is a network of voluntary economic exchanges; it includes all willing exchanges which do not involve the use of coercion against anyone. (If A hires B to murder C, this is not a market phenomenon, as it involves the use of initiated force against C. Because force destroys values and disrupts trade, the market can only exist in an environment of peace and freedom; to the extent that force exists, the market is destroyed. Initiated force, being destructive of the market, cannot be a part of the market.)
To the extent that voluntary trade relationships are no interfered with (prohibited, regulated, taxed, subsidized, etc.), the market is free. Since governments have always made a practice of interfering with markets, and indeed depend on such interferences in the form of taxes, licenses, etc., for their very existence, there has never been a sizable and well-developed market which was totally free.
The United States of America, though theoretically a free country, suffers from an almost unbelievable amount of market regulation. Though often called a capitalistic country, the USA actually has a mixed economy — a mixture of some government-permitted “freedom,” a little socialism, and a lot of fascism. Socialism is a system in which the government owns and controls the means of production (supposedly for “the good of the people,” but, in actual practice, for the good of the politicians). Fascism is a system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism. Under fascism, producers are allowed to keep a nominal title to their possessions and to bear all the risks involved in entrepreneurship, while the government has most of the actual control and gets a great deal of the profits (and takes none of the risks). The USA is moving increasingly away from a free-market economy and toward fascist totalitarianism.
Following Albert Jay Nock, I try to maintain the distinction between “government” which is a potentially voluntary activity, as with the governing bodies of contractual groups, and the State, which, following Hans Hoppe, I now define as “A compulsory territorial monopoly on final judgments.” (I’ll try to blog about this Hoppean definition soon.) The Tannehills do not make any such distinction:
Government is a coercive monopoly which has assumed power over and certain responsibilities for every human being within the geographical area which it claims as its own. A coercive monopoly is an institution maintained by the threat and/or use of physical force — the initiation of force — to prohibit competitors from entering its field of endeavor. (A coercive monopoly may also use force to compel “customer loyalty,” as, for example, a “protection” racket.)
Government has exclusive possession and control within its geographical area of whatever functions it is able to relegate to itself, and it maintains this control by force of its laws and its guns, both against other governments and against any private individuals who might object to its domination. To the extent that it controls any function, it either prohibits competition (as with the delivery of first class mail) or permits it on a limited basis only (as with the American education system). It compels its citizen-customers by force of law either to buy its services or, if they don’t want them, to pay for them anyway.