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The Hard Case: When Electing Anarchists Is Counterproductive

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PeaceRequiresAnarchy Posted: Thu, Apr 19 2012 3:28 PM

I recently wrote a blog post which I called The Hard Case: Why Electing Anarchists Is Counterproductive. It was inspired by Wendy McElroy's essay Why I Would Not Vote Against Hitler.

McElroy's essay contains two main arguments. The first argument is that by voting against Hitler one would have to vote for another candidate, presumably a 'lesser evil.' McElroy thus opposed voting for this less evil saying that the vote "attacks innocent third parties who must endure the consequences of the politician I have assisted into a position of power over their lives."

But, what if the candidate running against Hitler was not a lesser evil, but instead a consistent libertarian anarchist promising not to commit any acts of aggression if elected?

McElroy provides a second argument against voting for Hitler granting this possibility. She argues that she still would not vote against Hitler because her vote would legitimize the acts of aggression committed by those who are elected in the future. She says, "the essential problem is not Hitler, but the institutional framework that allows a Hitler to grasp a monopoly on power. Without the state to back him up and an election to give him legitimized power, Hitler would have been, at most, the leader of some ragged thugs who mugged people in back alleys."

After pondering what it really means to say that a vote legitimizes the state/rulers I found that I agreed with McElroy that voting does legitimize rulers. I also concluded that in order to achieve a free society we must delegitimize rulers. And thus, I concluded that we should never vote, as voting (even for anarchists) legitimizes rulers and is thus counterproductive to the cause of a free society. So I wrote about this in my blog post linked to at the beginning of this post. I'm posting this here because I am curious to hear any comments / feedback on it.

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.500NE replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 5:54 PM

By not voting you are giving your consent to whomever  the winning candidate is by default - after all, you didn't vote against him...

I won't vote for Romney or OBAMA in this next election, but I will vote, even if my third party candidate won't win. But at least I didn't give silent consent to the winner by not voting.

Not voting as some kind of protest to de-legitimize the candidates is simply denying the political reality that we have to live with.

.

 

 

 

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You're denying the political reality we have to live with if you think your vote means anything.

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By not voting you are giving your consent to whomever  the winning candidate is by default - after all, you didn't vote against him...

I won't vote for Romney or OBAMA in this next election, but I will vote, even if my third party candidate won't win. But at least I didn't give silent consent to the winner by not voting.

Not voting as some kind of protest to de-legitimize the candidates is simply denying the political reality that we have to live with.

That's just completely false. If I declare myself a state and declare that I have the right to forcibly take your property from you and then offer you and some other people the option to vote for me not to take your property, your choice not to vote in no way represents "silent consent" to my act of aggression against you.

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Wheylous replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 6:07 PM

I think the only logically consisten thing then is to NEVER use anything ever provided by the government. Including roads. Good luck and tell me how that works out.

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I think the only logically consisten thing then is to NEVER use anything ever provided by the government. Including roads. Good luck and tell me how that works out.

Why is the logically consistent thing to never use anything provided by government? Using the roads paid for by government extortion does not harm others in the way that putting someone into a position of unjust power over others harms them.

Walter Block made the same argument that you did and Wendy McElroy accurately pointed out why it is flawed here  http://www.wendymcelroy.com/news.php?item.1268.1:

Walter further argues, every last one of the anarcho-capitalists who object to his candidacy on this ground, use the sidewalks for walking, the streets and roads for driving, U.S. currency for making purchases, post letters with the U.S. postal service, visit state libraries, museums, etc. It ill behooves so-called libertarian anarchists, who do not fully understand either of these two philosophies, to object to Ron Paul’s actions, which are in this one way indistinguishable from their own.

There is a difference of kind between walking down a sidewalk and electing someone to a position of unjust power over unconsenting others. Henry David Thoreau captured the difference well. In his pivotal work On Civil Disobedience, Thoreau maintained that no one had the obligation to confront, disobey or take any position whatsoever toward the state so long as his or her actions did not injure the person or rights of an innocent 3rd party. Otherwise, it is quite proper for a person to go about "the business of living" and deal with the state when and as it is prudent. Case in point: Although Thoreau did not like to pay taxes, nevertheless he did so when money was demanded from him to pay the salary of a teacher in his village. The tax he famously refused to pay was one that supported the Mexican American War; he refused to have his money used to harm innocent others. Assisting a politician into a position of unjust authority is a direct assault upon the rights and well being of the innocent 3rd parties over whom he asserts his power. Walking down a sidewalk is a difference of kind, not of degree.

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Bert replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 6:15 PM

In case if you haven't, I suggest you read Spooner's No Treason, since his views on voting are what you are going towards.

I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. - Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
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In case if you haven't, I suggest you read Spooner's No Treason, since his views on voting are what you are going towards.

Thanks for the recommendation. I read part of it a while ago, but I forget most of what he said, so I'll make sure to read it all sometime soon.

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Wheylous replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 6:36 PM

Tell me this: If you walked on the street one day and say "I give permission to Hitler to kill everyone", does that make you liable for damages caused by Hitler?

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 7:16 PM

@Wheylous: Excellent question.

Voting is an inconsequential act. It is not an aiding or abetting of any kind because it simply makes no difference at all. It's a lot like praying for God to destroy your enemies - it's vicious but it certainly plays no causal role in whatever harm does come to your enemies.

And to the extent that our actions do aid and abet the government, much of it is simply unavoidable - like driving on roads or riding any form of public transportation (including going through the airport). The government has inserted itself into every aspect of life, so you "aid and abet" aggression 100 times a day just going about your daily activities.

What is clear is that the government is an agent of moral and legal confusion. By forcing you to aid and abet its aggressions out of ordinary regard to your self interest, you are forced into the compromising position of balancing your legitimate interests (e.g. not going to prison) against the aggressions which your compliance enables the State to engage in. For example, not paying your taxes could be considered the highest form of resistance to government aggression but I don't recommend trying it - at least, not without taking a great deal of care - because you are likely to end up in prison.

By getting out of bed and going to work in the morning, you are directly contributing to USG's worldwide campaigns of violence and oppression - including the bombing and torture of untold numbers of innocents. Yet if you don't pay your taxes, you will go to prison. The only way to avoid paying them is not to go to work at all (starve). There is no "morally free and clear" path available.

But in this very observation lies the answer - the only reason things got this way in the first place was the lack of moral clarity regarding the true nature of the State's actions. Getting that moral clarity back is the first step which will set in motion an inexorable process of collapsing the Murder Inc state that has wrapped its tentacles around this country - and the whole globe. This is why the State has always sought to monopolize religion first - moral instruction is the existential threat to the State.

Consider all the rah-rahing of USG's bloody and wicked involvement in WWII, including carpet and nuclear bombing of entires cities for the express purpose of killing innocents and complicity in the wholesale slaughter of as many as 3 million Russian refugees returned to Stalin in Operation Keelhaul. Our moral compass is so upside-down and backwards that WWII is put forward as the canonical example of just war in public policy debates! The reasoning behind this is so abysmal it defies words - "Hitler was so bad that we were justified in doing literally anything to stop him, even wholesale aerial bombardment and murder of entire cities of innocents!"

Just grab the average person off the street and strike up a conversation about WWII. Within five minutes, you will understand the magnitude of the task of undoing decades or centuries of corrupt moral indoctrination. The idea that a few reforms here and there can reverse the tide is a complete failure to really grasp the scale of the problem. That doesn't mean there's no hope - I believe that the State order is ultimately fighting gravity but they've been spectacularly successful at it for, oh, about the last four or five millenia.

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Bert replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 7:38 PM

Clayton, I think this is one of those areas that gets the knee-jerk reaction towards the process of working on decentralizing the State and living in a world surrounded and "owned" by various governments.  Yes, we pay taxes and use services provided by the government, because in a lot of circumstances that's reality where we live.  Our intent is to change that, because we perceive those as negatives.  We drive on roads, because we must, but we do not consent to the government owning the roads by driving on them.  They have a monopoly of force on any given territory, but that doesn't mean one can't strive towards changing that.  It's akin to saying a Jew in a concentration camp consents to Nazi Germany because they accept the food given by the State; one does not consent voluntarily to these things, they simply are living their life how they see fit with their own grievances towards how things are run.

As far as WWII goes, I had an employee (around 19-20) once ask me why were we over there, I was stunned by the question so I really didn't know what to say.

I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. - Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 7:45 PM

@Bert: I'm not opposed to people taking a variety of different courses of action in opposition to the status quo. I think some of them are less effective (e.g. trying to "change things from the inside") than others. My point is more theoretical - until a reformation in moral ideas is effected, no lasting, meaningful change can occur to the status quo. Reformation of how people think about morality is the necessary and sufficient condition for the abolition of government insofar as it is a perversion of healthy social order.

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Voting is an inconsequential act. It is not an aiding or abetting of any kind because it simply makes no difference at all. It's a lot like praying for God to destroy your enemies - it's vicious but it certainly plays no causal role in whatever harm does come to your enemies.

I think the meaning of "aiding or abetting" is important here, but I am unsure of the exact meaning. I agree that voting, even for Hitler, wouldn't directly cause any harm to anyone. Indeed it would be an inconsequential act. You're just making a mark on a piece of paper.

However, as I argued in my blog post, I think that it can be said that voting causes (in some sense) people to commit more acts of aggression. I say this because most people are deluded into think that people who receive a majority of votes also receive the right to commit aggression (rule). The people who have this delusional belief then choose not to speak out against or otherwise work to prevent the acts of aggression committed by these people who receive the majority of votes or committed by the people who enforce the aggressive laws that the people who received the majority of votes write. So while voting may not directly cause anyone harm, in some sense I would say that it does perpetuate the delusion that people have that governments are legitimate organizations, thus meaning that when people commit acts of aggression in the name of government, fewer people react to this and instead passively accept it as legitimate activity. So in this sense I would say that voting does lead to harm to people.

Actually, this is analagous to praying that "God" destroys your enemies. If someone publicly prays that "God" harms some people and others can observe that this person wants harm to come to those people, then they now know that if they harm that person then they won't have to worry about retaliation from the person who is praying.

Tell me this: If you walked on the street one day and say "I give permission to Hitler to kill everyone", does that make you liable for damages caused by Hitler?

No, I wouldn't be "liable" for damages. But, in some sense you could indeed say that I would be partially responsible (not in a legal sense) for Hitler's crimes. For example, if a million people living near me started yelling out "Kill PRA! Kill PRA!" I would rightfully feel scared for my life. If someone did end up killing me, then I think it would be correct to say that everyone who participated in this hate speech against me would be partially responsible in some sense for me being murdered. Only the actual murderer could be held legally responsible, but there is a sense in which the other people yelling out for my death would be responsible. I think this is analagous to voting. Perhaps voting is inconsequential in that all you're doing is writing on a piece of paper who you want to become the "President of the United States" (which doesn't mean anything--it doesn't grant the person any extra rights, etc). Yet, given that that person campaigns to commit acts of aggression if elected then I would say that voting for him is analogous to saying "Hitler, I want you to kill everyone," or "Kill PRA!" So it's not completely inconsequential.

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Clayton replied on Thu, Apr 19 2012 8:55 PM

No, I wouldn't be "liable" for damages. But, in some sense you could indeed say that I would be partially responsible (not in a legal sense) for Hitler's crimes. For example, if a million people living near me started yelling out "Kill PRA! Kill PRA!" I would rightfully feel scared for my life. If someone did end up killing me, then I think it would be correct to say that everyone who participated in this hate speech against me would be partially responsible in some sense for me being murdered. Only the actual murderer could be held legally responsible, but there is a sense in which the other people yelling out for my death would be responsible. I think this is analagous to voting. Perhaps voting is inconsequential in that all you're doing is writing on a piece of paper who you want to become the "President of the United States" (which doesn't mean anything--it doesn't grant the person any extra rights, etc). Yet, given that that person campaigns to commit acts of aggression if elected then I would say that voting for him is analogous to saying "Hitler, I want you to kill everyone," or "Kill PRA!" So it's not completely inconsequential.

Nonsense, even our messed up Statist law would not hold people liable for that. There is a concept called "inciting violence" but I don't believe this has its roots in common law (I could be mistaken, it's an interesting point, for sure). As a general rule-of-thumb, only some kind of credible and imminent threat can constitute assault - the law, for example, does not consider a letter mailed to someone that says "I'm going to murder you" to be assault because the individual who mailed it isn't around to carry out the threat. But if he's standing in arm's reach, waving his fists and screaming "I'm going to murder you!" that's probably assault, even if he doesn't hit you.

I analyzed this problem before - I can't remember the thread - but basically I argued that assault that does not involve actual property damage (an actual strike of some kind) is real but still needs to be limited to some kind of property, otherwise you open a pandora's box where just about anything can be considered assault. In my theory, I tied it to unilateral imposition of risk.

Risk is kind of like garbage on your front lawn: we pay people to take it away because it has anti-value or disutility. So, unilaterally imposing a significant risk on someone is like dumping garbage on their lawn. It makes them poorer by transferring something of anti-value or disutility to them. I don't know what is "significant", but clearly it must be something more than just waking up and getting out of bed in the morning which could, in theory, contribute to someone's harm. So, it is a kind of theft in the same way that using someone's front lawn as your own personal landfill disposal is a kind of theft.

This is why I think for unarmed assault to occur, you have to be within arm's length. Armed assault, you only need to be within the operating distance of the weapon (knife, gun, club, whatever) and the weapon must be brandished in some way that is menacing, simply holding it or displaying it doesn't constitute assault. This isn't too far off from what the current law is, which is surprising - that is, until cops enter the picture and then the law is completely f---ed up.

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No, I wouldn't be "liable" for damages. But, in some sense you could indeed say that I would be partially responsible (not in a legal sense) for Hitler's crimes....
bolded for emphasis

Nonsense, even our messed up Statist law would not hold people liable for that....

I understand that one wouldn't be "liable" for damages that Hitler causes by voting for him. I was saying that there is a sense (a non-legal sense) in which someone can be considered partially responsible (maybe "responsible" isn't the right word either) for Hitler's actions. Perhaps a better way to say it is to say that by voting for Hitler (or by saying that you want Hitler to kill a bunch of people) you would be increasing the liklihood that Hitler would commit mass murder. I understand that this does not make you liable for Hitler's crimes, but my point is that by voting for him you would be making it more likely that he commit acts of aggression and/or you would be increasing the likelihood that many people choose to passively accept his rule. So in this sense voting is not a completely inconsequential act. It does tend to lead to certain things happening (such as widespread acceptance of the state's rule as "legitimate"), it just doesn't make you legally liable for the states' crimes.

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Wheylous replied on Fri, Apr 20 2012 8:45 AM

I think that it can be said that voting causes (in some sense) people to commit more acts of aggression.

You're shifting the goal poasts. You are arguing that voting for Ron Paul (or any anarchist for that matter) is bad. I highly doubt voting for RP would mean he would commit more acts of aggression.

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bloomj31 replied on Fri, Apr 20 2012 9:24 AM

@OP

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I'm a libertarian.

Let's say that I vote for a candidate who openly plans to commit aggression.

What are the personal consequences for me?

Because it sounds from your essay and the essay from McElroy that, at worst, I'm in danger of losing my libertarian card.

"When you refuse to vote, however, the deluded people notice your action and see that it is not consistent with their delusion that voting matters. If voting really did matter—if whoever received the most votes really did gain the moral right to commit aggression—then you would vote. But, you refuse to vote. Consequently, the deluded are forced to question their belief. Of course it’s possible that they could dismiss your act of non-voting by saying that you choose not to vote out of apathy. But, assuming that they know that you are not apathetic, your choice to not vote is very unsettling to them, at least compared to the choice to vote which would not make them think twice about their delusion that voting matters."

How would I, a registered voter, know whether you've ever voted or not?

The state doesn't hand that information out to registered voters.  All we get is a date and a time to show up.  Voting is done, at least in GA, in little voting booths.  I can't see who the people ahead of me are voting for or if they're even voting at all.  If there are people who aren't showing up to vote then I don't notice. 

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@Wheylous

Shifting the goal posts from what? I never said that by voting for someone you are liable for the damages that they cause when they commit aggression. Clayton misinterpreted me as saying that (which is why I reposted my comment that he replied to highlighting what he must have missed).

You are arguing that voting for Ron Paul (or any anarchist for that matter) is bad.

Yes.

I highly doubt voting for RP would mean he would commit more acts of aggression.

It's not just RP. Voting for RP could mean that Obama commits more acts of aggression unchallenged also. It has to do with the effect that voting has of perpetuating the delusion that many people have that whoever receives the most votes receives the right to commit aggression. It doesn't matter whether you vote for Obama or RP. Either way it's just the fact that you're voting that contributes to the statist delusion that those who receive the most votes gain the right to rule.

Look at it on a macro-scale. If nearly everyone voted then most people would never question their delusion that voting matters--that voting can give people the right to rule. However, if very few people voted then perhaps many more people would question their delusion and realize that the fact that some people cast votes does not mean that the people they vote for gain extra rights.

Imagine if a mafia somewhere decided to have an election in an attempt to appear legitmate. Imagine they gave the people in the city that they ruled over the option to vote between a few candidates. Would there be high or low turnouts at the election? My bet is that the turnouts would be very low because the people would recognize that the mafia does not have the right to rule. In response to being offered the chance to vote for the head of the mafia they woud say, "No, I am not going to vote because I do not recognize the mafia's right to rule so I am not going to participate in their elections." It's true that the act of voting would not represent consent to the mafia's rule nor represent a statement that one consider's the mafia's rule justified, yet people still would refuse to vote due to the likely chance that others would misinterpret their act of voting as meaning that they do believe the mafia's rule to be justified. And clearly they don't want others to think that they think that the mafia is justified, because then that then increases the chance that those others think the mafia is justified, which in turn hurts the cause of the free society. Thus, a vast majority of the people would likely refrain from participating in the mafia's election. In the same way I argue that we shouldn't participate in government's elections (no matter who we vote for, RP or anarchists included) because doing so necessary increases (or helps maintain) the legitimized nature of the United States mafia, allowing it to be able to rule, thus hurting the cause of a free society.

So again, it's easy to dismiss a single vote for RP as having no effect, but I think it's clear when you look at the macro-scale effects of voting that voting (no matter who you vote for) hurts the cause of the free society by making governments seem legitimate to so many people.

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Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I'm a libertarian.

Let's say that I vote for a candidate who openly plans to commit aggression.

What are the personal consequences for me?

Because it sounds from your essay and the essay from McElroy that, at worst, I'm in danger of losing my libertarian card.

Seeing as you read my essay (thanks) I'll say this: Walter Block accused McElroy of not being a libertarian for not supporting Ron Paul. I consider that a nonsensical claim. Similarly, I would say that Block is still very much a libertarian even though he supports Ron Paul. I wouldn't say there is any danger of losing your "libertarian card" what that is, whether you choose to vote or not.

The personal consequences of your vote to you would be so small as to be almost unoticeable. The personal consequences to you of spending 20 minutes of your time to go make a mark on a piece of paper would be, in my opinion, a waste of your time, but you may value your time differently.

How would I, a registered voter, know whether you've ever voted or not?

....If there are people who aren't showing up to vote then I don't notice.

They probably wouldn't. As I said in my previous post to Wheylous, I think you really need to look at the macro-scale effects of large numbers of people voting to see the detrimental effect that it has. Right now I believe it's something like 40% of Americans vote in presidential elections (I think it's usually less when a president is going for a second term and more when both the republican and democrat are new). But, imagine if that number was less than 1%? If 99% of people choose not to vote, what difference would that make?

I think it is clear that if that many people refrained from voting then many more people would wake up from their delusion that voting matters--that voting can give people the right to rule. I think our government would become less legitimized and look more like a mafia (see the second to last paragraph of my last post) and then fall apart completely. So your one vote may be negligible and nobody may be sure if you actually voted or spolied your ballot or whatever. But, I still maintain that by voting your are hurting the cause of the free society. I say this because of observation of the macro-effects of vast numbers of people voting or refusing to vote. And again, as I said in my blog post in order to achieve a free society we should be trying to get rid of rulers, not trying to get nice rulers. And in order to get rid of rulers we need to wake people up from their delusion that rulers are or can be legitimate. And because I think the electoral process is a major factor in deluding most people into thinking that the rulers are legitimate, then I think we should refrain from participation in it for the reasons stated earlier.

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Voting isn’t aggression, and it doesn’t constitute consent to be ruled.  So a libertarian qua libertarian (and by libertarian I mean someone who accepts libertarian principles, not the broader Blockean meaning of libertarian) can have no objection to voting.  Political philosophy has nothing to say about this matter.  Which means the question ‘is it ever a good idea to vote?’ must be decided by something else rather than just political philosophy. 

So we might rephrase the question by bringing in a specific goal: ‘is voting productive or counterproductive to the cause of a free society?’

PeaceRequiresAnarchy:
After pondering what it really means to say that a vote legitimizes the state/rulers I found that I agreed with McElroy that voting does legitimize rulers. I also concluded that in order to achieve a free society we must delegitimize rulers. And thus, I concluded that we should never vote, as voting (even for anarchists) legitimizes rulers and is thus counterproductive to the cause of a free society.

I think there’s an error here.  Voting is not the only thing that legitimizes rulers in the eyes of the masses.  There are lots of things that legitimize rulers, such as the erroneous beliefs that rulers are necessary or beneficial for justice, equality, fairness, national defense, law and order, to provide a safety net, to steer the market, to protect workers from greedy capitalists, consumers from dangerous products, and on and on.  All of these things make the state legitimate in the eyes of the masses too.

From this larger context, voting can be said to be productive to the cause of a free society, if voting is used as a means to help eradicate those all those other erroneous beliefs held by the masses.

You have analysed the act of voting in isolation, and yet you’ve used your conclusion to answer a wider question, a question which necessarily requires consideration of the bigger picture.  The bigger picture is that there are many, many other reasons why people believe in states, and a Ron Paul presidency, for example, would do so much to eradicate these beliefs that voting for Ron Paul to try to make that happen far outweighs the benefits of non-participation, in terms of the effect on the perceived legitimacy of the state.

The night is young, the revolution is only just beginning, and the time for mass non-participation in the political and voting system has not yet come.  There is more to be gained, at this stage, by playing the game and using it to our advantage, to reach a wider audience with our message.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Apr 20 2012 7:35 PM

+1 Graham

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@Graham

I agree completely. Thanks for pointing out the flaw in my reasoning. I'm not sure why I didn't notice it myself.

I had realized that there were many other things that legitimize the state in the eyes of the masses, but for some reason I thought I could just ignore them all and focus just on voting in isolation. But, of course I can't. "You have analysed the act of voting in isolation, and yet you’ve used your conclusion to answer a wider question, a question which necessarily requires consideration of the bigger picture." Somehow I didn't notice this.

I no longer believe that voting is counterproductive to the cause of a free society. The benefits that Ron Paul (for example) can bring by introducing a very large audience to liberty definitely do outweigh the counterproductive aspects of participation in the electoral process.

Interestingly, I still think the following passage from McElroy's "Why I Would Not Vote Against Hitler" essay is completely accurate:

The power of the state does not rest on its size – the number of laws on the books or the extent of the territory it claims. A state’s power rests on social conditions, such as whether people will obey its laws and how many resources it can command to enforce obedience. A key social condition is how legitimate the state is seen to be. For without the veil of legitimate authority, the people will not obey the state, and it will not long command the resources, such as taxes and manpower, that it needs to live.

In other words, freedom does not depend so much on repealing laws as weakening the state’s authority. It does not depend – as political strategists expediently claim on persuading enough people to vote “properly” so that libertarians can occupy seats of political power and roll back legislation. Unfortunately, this process strengthens the institutional framework that produced the unjust laws in the first place: it strengthens the structure of state power by accepting its authority as a tool of change.

This is all true. What McElroy (and I before 10 minutes ago) is missing though is that there are other things contributing to peoples' support of government other than the fact that people making up government are voted for (duh! I feel stupid now). And so voting for people like Ron Paul, while possibly counterproductive when viewed in isolation, can thus be said to be productive in the larger context due to how much the benefits of Ron Paul spreading the message of liberty outweigh the counterproductive aspects of voting that I talked about in my blog post. Wow, this seems so obvious now, but for some reason I was blind to it just a few minutes ago. Thanks again Graham.

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Clayton replied on Fri, Apr 20 2012 8:55 PM

The State's power ultimately rests on the chain of obedience:

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@Clayton

33 seconds into the video the narrator says "The command is inconsequential." Using his meaning of "inconsequential" I agree with you that voting is inconsequential. Earlier I was using a different definition, perhaps an uncommon one, which is why I disagreed with you. Good video.

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Wheylous replied on Fri, Apr 20 2012 10:00 PM

Clayton, I present to you the hitherto never earned by anyone "I Just Changed Someone-On-The-Internet's Mind" Award.

It had to happen once. Once. I don't foresee any other such miracles anytime soon. :P

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Clayton replied on Fri, Apr 20 2012 11:08 PM

@Wheylous: Haha, thanks, but I think it's entirely undeserved given PRA's nic.

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Voting isn’t aggression....

Why is this so? I agreed with it initially, but what's the reason? If hiring a hitman is a crime then can't a vote for someone like Hitler similarly be construed as an act of aggression? Hitler and his obedient law enforcers could be viewed as agents to voters' acts of aggression. What's wrong with this?

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Wheylous replied on Sat, Apr 21 2012 8:28 PM

I actually also noticed some discrepancies in the two...

I'll look into it later.

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if that is your criterea, that is your critere.  Nothing can relly be done to refute it. 

It isn't so much an argument as it is a type of "virtue ethic"

"As in a kaleidoscope, the constellation of forces operating in the system as a whole is ever changing." - Ludwig Lachmann

"When A Man Dies A World Goes Out of Existence"  - GLS Shackle

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Meistro replied on Sat, Apr 21 2012 11:18 PM

Voting is a mere statement of preference, nothing more.

 

... just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own - Albert Jay Nock

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So when Obama commands soldiers to go attack others and blow things up, is he merely stating a preference rather than committing an act of aggression? Which of Obama's actions are in violation of libertarian principles? If voting for Obama to tell another person to commit an act of aggression does not count as aggression, then why would Obama's act of telling others to commit aggression count as aggression? Can only the law enforcement people be held liable for the aggression that they commit or can their superiors whose orders that they obey also be considered responsible?

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Clayton replied on Sun, Apr 22 2012 1:59 PM

@PRA: You falsely assume that the President is doing what the public "commands" him to do in the same way that the Joint Chiefs of Staff do what the President commands them to do. Of course, this is what you are taught in any high school civics course, that democracy "holds leaders accountable" and expresses "the will of the people" and other such theological nonsense.

Please re-read my first post: voting is like praying for God to destroy your enemies. It is an inconsequential act. Voting for Obama has no more causal connection to the deaths of Afghan villagers by US bombing raids than praying to God for their deaths would have. Both voting for a warmonger and praying to God to murder your enemies are despicable acts of bigotry. But they have no causal connection whatever to the eventual outcome.

Note that, in Rothbardian legal theory, the mafia lord that orders his guys to shoot is not liable for the deaths - he merely gave instructions, it was the trigger-men who caused the deaths. On first glance, this might seem to be a license to mafiosos but it is quite the opposite. Sure, you can organize a mafia and issue commands to kill scot-free, but you're going to have a hard time finding people to follow your silly commands when they are the ones who will be held liable for following them and when you can be held liable for whatever extortionate threats you used against your underlings in order to induce them to follow your commands.

Obama is not legally liable for the deaths of innocents in Afghanistan in my reading of Rothbardian legal theory. What he is liable for are the orders which he gives which are all backed with aggressive threats: obey this order or go to jail (e.g. court martial or whatever). That aggressive threat is propagated, layer-by-layer, rank-by-rank, all the way down to the foot-soldier who pulls the trigger.

The root cause of the problem (bombing of innocents) is the limitation of liability for all these criminal acts up and down the entire chain of command. And democracy - far from being a liability enforcement mechanism - is precisely a form of liability-limitation. "Well, Obama can't be held legally liable for the aggressive threats he makes to his inferiors because the people voted for him and so that makes Obama's criminal threats... not criminal." This is the crux of the issue - taking an opinion poll doesn't change your liability. It's like someone being charged with murder who calls for a show of hands whether he's innocent or not. "Well, judge, I'm sorry, but the majority of people here don't think I'm guilty, so, that means I'm not guilty." What a bunch of bullshit.

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"What he is liable for are the orders which he gives which are all backed with aggressive threats: obey this order or go to jail (e.g. court martial or whatever). That aggressive threat is propagated, layer-by-layer, rank-by-rank, all the way down to the foot-soldier who pulls the trigger."

I was under the impression that Obama's inferiors voluntarily obey his commands. If they were to disobey the instructions then perhaps they would lose their jobs, but would they really go to prison? Is he really threatening his inferiors in government with violence?

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Clayton replied on Mon, Apr 23 2012 1:41 AM

would they really go to prison? Is he really threatening his inferiors in government with violence?

Yes.

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PeaceRequiresAnarchy:

Voting isn’t aggression....

Why is this so? I agreed with it initially, but what's the reason? If hiring a hitman is a crime then can't a vote for someone like Hitler similarly be construed as an act of aggression? Hitler and his obedient law enforcers could be viewed as agents to voters' acts of aggression. What's wrong with this?

Identifying specific actions in the real world and saying 'this is aggression' and 'this isn't aggression' is technically out of scope to the libertarian qua libertarian.  In any specific given case, it is up to courts/judges to decide whether aggression was committed, based on the general principles laid out by libertarian philosophy.  The same goes for applying words like 'homesteading' and 'threat' and 'consent' to the real world. 

The libertarian can give a general idea of what is meant by these words and can give idealized examples, but when asked 'is this aggression?' the libertarian is technically answering not as a libertarian, but as a judge interpreting/applying libertarian principles.  So 'is X aggression?' means 'do you think a judge applying libertarian principles would consider X to be aggression?'

Take the idealized hiring-a-hitman example.  At the one extreme you could reduce the hitman to a mere tool and say he's entirely innocent (i.e. the Nuremberg defense).  At the other extreme, you could say all the responsibility lies with the hitman, because he was the one who carried out the physical act.  Now, we as libertarians cannot say in a given case where this responsibility lies; we do so only as judges.  The task of a judge is to try to find out who is guilty of a crime (that is, who is responsible for a crime), and in most cases responsibility will probably lie between the two extremes, where both the hirer and hitman bear some responsibility for the aggressive act that occurred.  They played different roles, and whether the hirer or the hitman should get the heavier punishment depends on the specifics of the case.

So put yourself in the role of a judge, at a hypothetical Nuremberg trial the day after a libertarian revolution, where people are charged with all the various crimes committed by the state before the revolution.  Who is guilty?  Who bears responsibility for all the many acts of aggression that have been committed by the state?  One answer could be 'all government employees and no one else', but that is both too broad (because it includes all 'public workers' like schoolteachers, admin assistants at the local council office, etc) and too narrow (because it leaves out people who work in nominally private organizations but who are highly influential over state activities). 

The answer must be that there is a particular group of people, whom we may call 'the ruling class,' who bear responsibility for the actions of the state, along with the 'hitmen' (maybe tax collectors, police, soldiers, etc).  The difficult task of the judge is to identify who these people are and how much responsibility they each ought to bear.

So is voting aggression?  If the answer is to be yes, then what we are saying is that voters are a member of this ruling class, which a judge at a "libertarian Nuremberg" should find guilty of bearing at least some responsibility for the crimes of the state.  We can't say for sure, but is this likely?  I don't think so.  The connection between somebody who put an X in a box next to Obama's name, and the actual crimes being committed now by the US government is so remote, so tenous, that no reasonable judge would consider any responsibility to lie with the voter.  There's just no chain of causation there, and this makes it totally unlike if the voter hired Obama as a hitman.  There's no contract, only vague promises.  There's not even any implied endorsement, since there are other reasons why one might vote for Obama than they endorse him, or they may only endorse part of what he promises.  These are all relevant things for the judge to take into account, when he's deciding whether voters bear responsibility for specific crimes carried out by the state.

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Clayton replied on Mon, Apr 23 2012 3:18 PM

@Graham: But I think there is something conceptually wrong with your "libertarian Nuremberg trials" - most of the people who presently work in the State order in an aggressive capacity simply would not be in their current line of work if libertarian law had sway all along. I don't mean this merely as a descriptive statement of fact but as an exoneration of a large part of their actual culpability.

This is why the role of law is so damned important. Without just law, morality itself is actually perverted. Many police officers are very upright individuals. In fact, the scum bullies are able to get away with what they do by leeching off the upright image which is the result of the genuine uprights within police forces. But - on a libertarian analysis - most of what even the upright officers are doing is inherently aggressive. If the law were otherwise, I do not believe that these same individuals would pursue the same career choice, "the law be damned". They're police officers precisely because the law is what it is.

So, morality itself is perverted by bad law and I don't think even those who hold positions that are in violation of hypothetical libertarian law can be held legally or even morally responsible ex post facto for their actions under a non-libertarian legal order.

I think the "ruling class" is extremely difficult to precisely define. I think a certain degree of "knowingness" - a purely subjective quality - is required. I think that those who engage in thuggery in the State must also have a mens rea regarding it in order to be truly a part of the ruling Elite (in my view). They have to not only engage in aggression but know that that's what they are doing.

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Apr 23 2012 4:06 PM

Clayton:

But I think there is something conceptually wrong with your "libertarian Nuremberg trials" - most of the people who presently work in the State order in an aggressive capacity simply would not be in their current line of work if libertarian law had sway all along. I don't mean this merely as a descriptive statement of fact but as an exoneration of a large part of their actual culpability...So, morality itself is perverted by bad law and I don't think even those who hold positions that are in violation of hypothetical libertarian law can be held legally or even morally responsible ex post facto for their actions under a non-libertarian legal order.

This seems to conflict with your view of strict unlimited liability.  Could you explain a little more?

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Clayton replied on Mon, Apr 23 2012 4:15 PM

This seems to conflict with your view of strict unlimited liability.  Could you explain a little more?

Well, strict liability is "the way things oughtta be" but things aren't this way and I think that fundamentally alters the balance of culpability.

For example, consider a slaveowner who inherited his property from his father, who had inherited it from his father before him, and so on. In a society where slave ownership is legal, is this slaveowner really a "criminal" who needs to be tried once the laws are changed to abolish slavery? I think the answer is no and I think that, in general, we should not seek ex post facto liability for crimes committed under a corrupt legal order. Instead, we should seek to set the law straight (by opening up competition in the market for arbitrated resolution of disputes) and then hold people accountable to the law as it is/was when they committed the act in question. All forms of ex post facto evaluation of actions smacks of statism and inquisitionism.

I'm not saying slaves should be prohibited from suing their former slaveholders but I don't think that free-market law arbitrators are going to think that it makes sense to hold people liable for violation of the law as it is in 2012 for things that were not torts under the law as it was in 2011.

I also think this principle is important in reducing the resistance of a move towards liberty - a great deal of the resistance is generated by people who fear they could actually be held legally liable for the acts they committed under the old legal regime. Consider the many - obviously politicized - threats of war crimes charges against George Bush, for example - this illustrates the nature of the resistance. But introspecting on the past won't fix the only thing that we can change: the future. We shouldn't offer amnesty but neither should we promise a witch-hunt.

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gotlucky replied on Mon, Apr 23 2012 4:49 PM

Clayton:

Well, strict liability is "the way things oughtta be" but things aren't this way and I think that fundamentally alters the balance of culpability.

I agree with this statement.

Clayton:

 Instead, we should seek to set the law straight (by opening up competition in the market for arbitrated resolution of disputes) and then hold people accountable to the law as it is/was when they committed the act in question. All forms of ex post facto evaluation of actions smacks of statism and inquisitionism.

I like this idea, but your following statement seems to contradict it:

Clayton:

I'm not saying slaves should be prohibited from suing their former slaveholders but I don't think that free-market law arbitrators are going to think that it makes sense to hold people liable for violation of the law as it is in 2012 for things that were not torts under the law as it was in 2011.

The conflict that I see here is that you say that slaves should be allowed to sue in order to set the law straight, but that arbitrators would not hold the slave owners responsible.  Am I misunderstanding you?

Clayton:

I also think this principle is important in reducing the resistance of a move towards liberty - a great deal of the resistance is generated by people who fear they could actually be held legally liable for the acts they committed under the old legal regime. Consider the many - obviously politicized - threats of war crimes charges against George Bush, for example - this illustrates the nature of the resistance. But introspecting on the past won't fix the only thing that we can change: the future. We shouldn't offer amnesty but neither should we promise a witch-hunt.

I agree with everything here except for the first sentence.  I don't think there are actually that many people who could be held legally liable for their actions.  Most people in society today are not aggressors, even those who work for the state.  However, I think it shouldn't matter what the aggressors think - after all, they are benefitting under the system, why would they want to change it even if they were not going to be found liable?  In other words, why would a slave owner support freedom for slaves even if he weren't going to be held legally liable?  He benefits from the current system.  And if he truly felt that slaves should be free, then he would have set his slaves free.  So, why should we care what the slave owners think?  They aren't going to change anything.  We should care about what the victims and the rest of society think.  They far outnumber the aggressors.

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Thanks for the comments everybody; they are educational.

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