My Answers to Larken Rose’s Five Questions For Statists

government-on-trialHere are five more questions from a Libertarian addressed to “statists”. These questions are more philosophical than the 11 Questions To See If Statists Are Hypocrites, and make a whole lot more sense.

1) Is there any means by which any number of individuals can delegate to someone else the moral right to do something which none of the individuals have the moral right to do themselves?

No. Human rights are universal.

2) Do those who wield political power (presidents, legislators, etc.) have the moral right to do things which other people do not have the moral right to do? If so, from whom and how did they acquire such a right?

No. Human rights are universal.

3) Is there any process (e.g., constitutions, elections, legislation) by which human beings can transform an immoral act into a moral act (without changing the act itself)?

No, but the grey areas around the edges of morality can change over time. For example, when does a human become a human? Before conception (the long held position of the Catholic church in banning contraception)? At conception? Once the embryo is recognisably human? Once it can viably survive on life support? Once it can viably survive unassisted? Once it is born?

4) When law-makers and law-enforcers use coercion and force in the name of law and government, do they bear the same responsibility for their actions that anyone else would who did the same thing on his own?

Yes, but the consequences of those actions may be different. For example, if a police officer, to whom we have delegated the authority, breaks down a door with probable cause while searching for criminal activity, I don’t expect them to face the same consequences that I would. However, if I broke down a door to rescue someone being held captive, I would hope that a judge would forgive my infringing on the kidnapper’s property rights because their violation of their victim’s rights far outweighed my infraction. Similarly, if a policeman broke down my door without cause, I would expect to be able to sue them, as I would anyone else who did the same.

5) When there is a conflict between an individual’s own moral conscience, and the commands of a political authority, is the individual morally obligated to do what he personally views as wrong in order to “obey the law”?

No. He is legally obligated, but not morally obligated. Morals are not, in general, obligatory. I’m obliged to pay my taxes, even if I have no moral qualms about not doing so, because if I don’t, men with guns will come and lock me up. But although I believe murder is immoral, I’m under no obligation to refrain from it. Rather, I voluntarily choose to follow my moral inclination not to, even if I believe I could get away with it.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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8 Responses to My Answers to Larken Rose’s Five Questions For Statists

  1. Antonio says:

    About #4, I think you missed the point of Larken’s question. He is not talking about a lawful activity or a moral action. A policeman breaking down a door, with probable cause, is doing something moral. It would be the same if a private citizen did it. Neither one should face criminal sanctions.

    That is Larken’s point. This question must be seen in the context of all the others. If, however, a policeman breaks down a door when they didn’t have probable cause, or simply made a mistake, it does not stand to reason that they should not face some criminal or civil sanction. A private citizen would. The policeman is not above the law. If they have some kind of immunity, then the people who gave him his authority also do. If the people don’t have immunity, the police don’t either. The policeman can’t have superior rights to the citizens that delegate their authority to him. So it is with all State actors.

    How could you face consequences if you broke down a door, with probable cause? Is it because you are a private citizen? There should be no difference, because the policeman can’t have rights that the citizenry doesn’t have.

    If the police or a private citizen make a mistake, the consequences should be the same. If the police and a private citizen act morally to stop a crime in the act, likewise, there are no consequences. Both entities should be treated the same. That is the point of the question. Because they are not treated the same, the State actors are not held to the same standard as would be expected of the people who give them their powers. This is illogical.

    • jimbelton says:

      I guess the question is what do you (or Larkin) mean by held responsible. In the society we live in, we have an implicit contract with those we elect to enact laws and with the police to enforce them. I can envision making an explicit relationship with someone, giving them the right to enter my property to protect it, for example. I am not giving them my property rights, but I am giving them permission to do something that, were anyone else to do, I might have issue with. The reason the state is different is that unlike (for example) a strata agreement, which I enter into willingly if I buy a condominium, we were born into our legal and political systems. I think, fundamentally, that we don’t treat everyone equally. We make agreements with some, and not with others. But what we can’t do is take away their rights, or absolve them of their responsibilities. Hope that is at least something of a clarification.

      • Antonio says:

        I think the simplest response is that “responsibility” means being held accountable to the same standard, regardless of who you are. So, if a policeman, or some other State actor, does something wrong in the carrying out of their official duties, can they be excused when a private individual will not be excused? If so, who can give this special dispensation?

        Regarding your example, I think the salient point that needs to be brought out is that you are giving someone the right to do something which is moral on its face. You can’t give them permission to do something which is immoral. I get that you give exclusive permission for someone to act, and exclude others from that permission – for your own property. But that permission cannot include something which you cannot do yourself. Nor can that permission apply to the public. If you are saying that you can delegate a power to someone which also gives them power over others, then I say you can’t do that, especially when the actions of the authority are immoral, i.e., something contrary to the prevailing notions of right and wrong. The State is not different. It must play by the same rules as everyone else; otherwise they have unaccountable and illegitimate authority.

        That’s what Larken Rose means. I think maybe the key phrase in his question is, “in the name of law and government”. In other words, can they break the moral law in order to enforce the moral law? That’s what they do, you know. They say it’s against the law to steal, for instance, but they steal money from people every day, saying, “The law says you must pay taxes”. To use a well-worn example, how is the government doing this distinguished from a highwayman doing the same thing? Because we empowered them to pass laws? Can we empower them to do what is immoral (stealing)? Is that moral because they are “government” and, therefore somehow different? (Question #2)

        We make agreements with some, and not with others. But what we can’t do is take away their rights, or absolve them of their responsibilities.

        To whom are you referring? Whose rights can’t we take away, or whose responsibilities can’t we absolve? I think I understand the first part of that quote, which you explained more fully above.

        I also have a major problem with the notion that we have an “implicit” contract with those we elect. If we have anything, we have an explicit contract (The Constitution, if you subscribe to that particular belief; I don’t). An implicit contract implies the option to obey, or not. An implicit contract has no legal force. It’s like a verbal agreement. Not enforceable when push comes to shove. So, did you mean “explicit contract”? This is where Spooner comes in. If the contract is explicit, when did you sign it? What guarantees that your agents do what you authorize them to do, and nothing more?

        I’ll stop here, for now. If you choose to engage with anything I have written, please do so for my second paragraph.

  2. Antonio says:

    I would also like to point out that a more simple interpretation of that question is that if force or coercion is used by the government, how is that different from a private individual using force or coercion to do the same thing? This is somewhat related to Question #3. How does the same action performed by different entities become moral in one instance (State actors) and immoral in the other (private citizen)?

    • jimbelton says:

      As I said in my previous reply, a private citizen who I give permission to enter my private property can do so morally, and someone I haven’t cannot, without violating my rights. I think that’s clear. What is unclear is whether the state has any legitimate claim to saying that we have granted them permission to do what they do. I suppose since my parents emigrated to Canada, they explicitly agreed to live by the laws of the land. Those of us naturally born to our countries certainly haven’t, unless you count the pledge of allegiance, which is more an indoctrination than a voluntary agreement, IMO.

      • Antonio says:

        If we grant the State (or any agent of our choosing) permission to do things which we can also do, then there is no problem. The problem comes in when they claim they have the power to do something which we cannot do. That is a big difference.

        In any question regarding the legitimacy of a government action, simply ask yourself, “Can I do that same thing without being charged with a crime?” If the answer is, “Yes”, then the government’s power is legitimate. If the answer is, “No”, then the power is illegitimate. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

      • jimbelton says:

        Well, you might be charged with the crime, but if so, you should be able to defend yourself. For example, if I kill someone in self defense, I might be charged with murder, but hopefully I can answer the charge and be aquitted. And similarly, if a policeman kills someone, they can be charged and convicted of murder. But I agree with your thesis.

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