The Philosophers of ‘Circle Blogosphere’

Ok, ok.  So I am not a philosopher, I only play one of the internet.  However, some of these guys are philosophers; or, at least they are the contextual equivalents.

Here’s a little background to get everybody up to speed (so, strap in, there’s a lot of ground to cover):

Last week, after the Supreme Court decision, Daniel Kuehn over at ‘Facts and Other Stubborn Things‘ basically said, “Everybody and their brother is going to be weighing in on this, and rightly so.  But, one should be weary of bad arguments.”   I completely agreed with this, but I did so on specific grounds.  I said that if we are going to give credence to the theory of “social contract”, then surely even the lowest dullard should weigh in. Daniel sensed exactly what I was getting at and immediately replied, “But social contract theory is silly”. Yes, more agreement, but this is where it starts to get a little more interesting.

Leave it to Mattheus von Guttenberg at ‘Economic Thought‘ to see the deeper context of what I was saying. He asks, “what’s the alternative” and reasons his position thusly:

…I’d always assumed that social contract theory was held by most or all non-libertarians as the justification for a state. Some type of Hobbesian “understanding” was reached and everyone agreed it was proper for some men to have power over others. Something like that. But silly? How can Daniel reject it without simultaneously granting the argument that the state is illegitimate? Without a contract (social or not) between state and citizen, there is no “self-governance.” It is impossible to “give consent” to the state. The myth of government as an agent on behalf of the people (who ushered in its existence) must be thrown away if social contract theory is wrong.

I was also under the same impression as von Guttenberg.  In a democratic system, is social contract not the justification for the state itself?  Apparently not, because both Daniel Kuehn and Dr. Gene Callahan disagreed, as well as did Jonathan Finegold Catalán (which surprised me a bit).

While Daniel disagreed, he also never made it explicitly clear as to what his position is, and instead made a blog post that I saw as more of a phishing-for-an-answer venture than anything else. Therein I speculated as to what justifications there could be for a state other than social contract, and what I came up with is what I call the “old republican” justification: that some people are meant to rule while others are subordinate, that this is the natural order of things. Of course, I don’t agree with this (or any) justification for the state, but it does represent a compromise between the social contract (democratic) and sovereign (autocratic) forms thus it is a valid justification given the context.

Ok, now that you’re up to speed, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

Dr. Callahan mentioned that I was discounting both the classical and Christian theory regarding this topic. I must admit, I did do this regarding the theological justification, but it was more out of rejection than anything else (that’s another issue altogether). I don’t think that I discounted the classical justifications so much as I merely didn’t mention them in detail. I’ll admit, I am not the most well-read on some of the older theory. I mean, I’ve read some of the Greeks, some of the Renaissance thinkers, the Scholastics, etc; but certainly I am far better read from the Enlightenment period and onward. So, I was actually pretty happy to see Dr. Callahan post a quote from Giambattista Vico (an Enlightenment critic), that reads:

Legislation considers man as he is in order to turn him to good uses in human society. Out of ferocity, avarice, and ambition, the three vices which run throughout the human race, it creates the military, merchant, and governing classes, and thus the strength, riches, and wisdom of commonwealths. Out of these three great vices, which could certainly destroy all mankind on theface of the earth, it makes civil happiness.

To this I asked whether this means that the state is magical.  That seems like the only justification for the state that could be gleaned from this particular quote.  And while I missed the opportunity,  Hieromonk Enoch asked:

But, if these vices are in men, do not men compose government also?

Enoch essentially put into better form what I was already doubting with my statement, whether or not a state can actually restrict the vices of men when the state is merely composed of men.  This is why I asked whether the state was magical, because it seems to me that if you merely give power to those of the same vices, you aren’t correcting the problem of vices, rather you are merely concentrating them in the form of the state.  This is when Gene pulls out a very good analogy, one that puts the state into the position of referee over a game of basketball.  I’ll let Dr. Callahan explain:

Let us imagine a time when the basketball referee had not yet been thought of. Play was dirty — nasty and brutish, we might even say. The team that won was usually the team that cheated the most. Fans who wanted to see basketball played, rather than a wrestling match, grew disgusted. Players anger and greed and ambition continually got the better of them, prompting them to flout the rules. Violence and injuries were rampant.

Finally, someone hit on the idea of having referees. The idea is that they would not be part of the competition themselves, but merely enforcers of the rules of the competition. But a number of people pooh-poohed this idea: What, are referees supposed to bemagical creatures who could mysteriously rise above the conflict on the court? Aren’t the referees themselves human beings who are subject to the very vices to which the players are prone?

Of course, the usefulness of having referees does not at all depend on their being magical, or free of vice. It does not depend on them being a better person in any sense than is the average player. Rather, they are expected to act differently than the players do because they have been given a distinct role in the game: they are not (by the design of their role) interested in the outcome of the game, but only in seeing that the rules of the game are observed, or, if they are not, that the proper penalties are enforced.

I must admit, I really thought that Gene got me on this one, but I still had a sense that something just wasn’t quite right.  Then it dawned on me:  I completely agree with Dr. Callahan!

You see, I don’t disagree that referees are needed to maintain order in society, because to do so would be to take the utopian position that Rothbard might have called a “revolt against nature” (i.e. to revolt against the nature of man).  What I do take issue with is that we should have a monopoly power-center in the form of a state to serve this function of governance.

Unlike many libertarians, I do make a distinction between “government” and the “state”.  To me, government is more of a system or process, not an entity in itself.  Whereas the state is an actual entity that serves as the government (i.e. the state is a form of government).  I completely agree that government is necessary, but I disagree in how such government should be undertaken.  To attempt to use Gene’s own analogy , I don’t think that we should have a monopoly referee, nor do I think that the players of the game should be chosen by the electoral vote of the spectators every few years, as I think that this would surely make for a corrupt and unfair situation.  Rather, I believe that the referees and players should be chosen by all involved, and in real-time.  In other words, I believe that the government should be chosen by the market in what is called an “emergent governance” (a term that I borrow from Ryan Faulk).  In only this way can we have a government (or, more likely governments) that not only serves to restrict the vices of men, but it does so at all levels of society (including that of the government itself).  For without best serving society any such government would surely fail and be replaced by a more efficient and just government as the market dictates, and in an emergent order as dictated by all involved.  It also entirely decentralizes power such that no single entity can maintain a monopoly, because its legitimacy is based upon voluntary means and it must compete against other governments that may arise in the marketplace.  Dr. Callahan did hint at what he thought the libertarian response might be when he linked to Dr. Murphy’s ‘Chaos Theory’ article, but he still didn’t quite get the substance of it (I don’t think).

Now, after this long-winded explanation of events, one might notice that we are now back at square one:  what is the justification for the state?  I can identify at least three of which most others are derived:  social contract (democratic), the old republican (aristocratic), and sovereign entity (autocratic).  However, I still maintain that none of these justifications hold a candle to the justification for the stateless society, and I don’t think that any ever will.

Explore posts in the same categories: Government, Political Philosophy

2 Comments on “The Philosophers of ‘Circle Blogosphere’”

  1. sharon Says:


  2. Bob Roddis Says:

    It seems to me that most justifications of “the state” are based, as you said, upon some type of “social contract” theory, implicit or explicit. Rothbard simply wants the players to voluntarily agree upon who the referee will be, including the extent and nature of his/her powers based upon contractual privity. The statists, on the other hand, seem to conclude a priori that a true voluntary consensus is impossible and thus some group or gang must necessarily impose its will upon others by force. And, of course, most people seem to think that such a gang does indeed have magical powers, like Mary Poppins twitching her nose to get the toys in the nursery to jump back on the shelves.

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