Sunday, June 05, 2005

I've been taken to task...again

In response to this post and tangentially, this one, Tom Knapp, of Knappster, shot back with some good counterpoints.
What seems to be missing in Bell's acceptance of the state as a tool for creating and maintaining "objective standards" and "rule of law" (or commenter probligo's "'standards' that govern the fabric by which the society survives") is recognition of the fact that placing the power to set said standards and rules into the hands of an organization with a monopoly on the use of force is inherently subversive of the objectivity Bell craves. The state does not have to prove its standards and rules against the reality in which they are supposed to operate; if they don't work, too bad: We've got the guns, we've said what to do and how to do it, now drill, ye tarriers, drill.
I agree completely that a ‘monopoly on the use of force’ can be, and often is, detrimental to the individual. History is littered with the bodies of innocents that were slaughtered by murderous regimes. I would disagree, however, with the implication that all states are uniformly brutal. I reject the notion that the existence of a state is wholly incompatible with individual liberty.

Furthermore, Knapp’s statement: “The state does not have to prove its standards and rules against the reality in which they are supposed to operate; if they don't work, too bad: We've got the guns, we've said what to do and how to do it, now drill, ye tarriers, drill.”—presupposes the absence, or simply ignores the existence of a constitution. The American experiment, ‘self rule’, is predicated on the principle that the government is directly answerable to the citizenry and bound by the constraints of the US Constitution. The government’s current configuration and relationship to the people may well not reflect the Founders’ intent, but I submit that such is the failing of generations of complacent voters and the architects of a welfare state.
Since the state is obviously not the only entity capable of developing standards and codes (as a matter of fact, many of its standards and codes are borrowed from their original developers -- ethical philosophers, religious movements and, in some specific cases, scientific researchers), it takes more than an assertion (even a proven assertion) that codes and standards are necessary to justify vesting a monopoly on the enforcement of said standards and codes in the state. What it takes is proof -- or at least strong evidence -- that the state is, and even as a monopoly will remain, the best enforcer of the best codes, or at least that vesting that power in the state will produce, on balance, better results than either vesting it in some other entity or simply standing aside and letting competition settle the matter.
This line of reasoning seems to be all or nothing…totalitarian state or absolute liberty. The state, theoretically a neutral arbiter, must necessarily have a monopoly on force so that the social contract might be objectively enforced. Competition is, ideally, provided for in the form of free, fair and regular elections. That said, I would argue that competing armed forces would, in short order, devolve into civil war because ‘might would make right’ in territorial disputes and the like. Resolution of such conflicts almost invariably ends with the victor subjugating the conquered. In the American Civil War, it was the rule of law, enumerated in the Constitution, that precluded many (but not all) of the negative consequences of post war reconstruction.

Another thing to consider, are the choices that have heretofore been made by people when given the opportunity. In the course of a century, certainly since the economic depression of the 1930s, voters have increasingly traded more and more of their (and their neighbor’s) liberty for security and government largesse. Presumably, these same individuals would act similarly in the absence of a state and indeed the absence of a binding social contract. Essentially, I think that an ‘organic’ anarchic society would suffer from the same perils as pure democracy, given that anti-social barbarians are liberally distributed in all cultures and communities. Both schemes require a higher degree of ethical and moral underpinnings than has been displayed by any population in history, generally speaking. The minority of individuals that could actually pull off literal self rule have always been grossly outnumbered. Sadly, I believe that Galt’s Gulch is the epitome of the utopian dream.