Michael Huemer’s “Problems of Political Philosophy” is a book that discusses issues of political authority and governance in relation to theories such as anarchism and capitalism. Huemer attempts to argue that no government has legitimate political authority in the first part of the book, and in the second part of the book he attempts to argue for an anarcho-capitalist system in place of the state, which in his view is the one that works. The first part of the book appears convincing because it mainly deals with theoretical underpinnings to political authority. However, the second section of the book leaves much to thought. In my opinion, Huemer fails to realize that capitalism and true anarchism are incompatible and may necessarily fail to work because of the incompatibility. While Huemer believes that anarcho-capitalism may work, some anarchists believe that it cannot work since it is not a form of anarchism nor is it a form of anti-capitalism or anti-statism. This paper argues against Huemer’s anarcho-capitalism as a political thought that cannot work.
In his book, Huemer tries to address several questions that include, where does the government get the power or right to act and behave in ways that no other body or agent can? Why should everyone else obey what the government deems to be right or wrong? In answering these questions, Huemer dispels the notion that government has legitimate political authority to govern everyone and every agent. Huemer explores the position that government derives its powers from a social contract. In this respect, the main idea is that government derives its powers from special powers granted to it by the people. To Huemer, this is not factual because not everyone agrees to be governed by a government, pay taxes or abide by the laws set by government. Joseph Raz notes, ‘‘mediation through law serves the role of concretizing moral principles—that is, of giving them the concrete content they must have in order for people to be able to follow them’’. However, Huemer disagrees observing that people only do this because they do not have a choice. Most people only pay taxes or abide by the given laws and regulations because of the consequences that they will face if they fail to do so. This means that it is not actually a social contract where the people give the government powers but the opposite of this where the government gives itself powers and imposes them on the people.
There are many arguments to show that one has a social contract with government and that he or she has implicitly accepted to give it legitimate political authority. Huemer notes that one of this is that where one resides within the government’s territory. A statist would claim this because of the presupposition that the state owns all the territory where it claims jurisdiction. However, this is erroneous because it only makes sense when it is clear that the state has legitimate authority, yet this is the main sources of contention with regard to the claim of legitimate political authority.
Another argument that points to legitimate political authority by the government is democracy which is equally not correct. This claim notes that if a majority of people vote that the government has legitimate political authority, then it does. However, the fact that the majority of people have voted for something does not mean that it is actually correct. For instance, if a majority of people vote that a government should forcefully acquire land from minority communities, it does not mean that this is an ethical or the right thing to do. However, in the existence of government, it does have to coerce people in ways it does, for instance through the use of law, to maintain its existence and maintain order. Maintaining order should be the priority rather than maintaining its existence. The government must make laws to prevent the occurrence of a Hobbesian war of all against all. Nevertheless, the question here should not be why such programs by the government are beneficial but how they are justified by a threat of a Hobbesian war that would result from anarchy.
Huemer argues that sometimes the use of coercion is necessary to ensure that a disaster does not occur. However, to him, this does not outrightly mean that coercion should be used continuously especially beyond the minimal amount required to prevent disaster. For instance, if the probability of a Hobbesian war is high, then the state would be justified to use minimal coercion to prevent it. As such, Huemer supports statism to a given extent.
Having noted this, Huemer then turns to the question of the failure of legitimate political authority. An important question that Huemer tackles in the second part of the book is in a situation where there is no political authority, should the state be abolished? This question brings into the picture the notion of anarcho-capitalism. To him, the most important question is not whether government should be existent but whether the moral standards applied to private agents should also be applied to the state in a similar way.
In support for the anarcho-capitalism, Huemer argues that this thought is not just for anyone who rejects the idea of legitimate authority. This is because most of them would be minimal state libertarians rather than anarchists for the fact that, to them anarchy would not work because it entails violence and chaos. On the other hand, those who would reject anarchy would do so because they do not understand what anarchy entails. Huemer argues that an anarcho-capitalist society is one which the services provided by government are provided by competition agencies that are hired either by individuals or property owners. An example he provides is the services provided by governmental police. Instead of the police, such services would be provided by competing security or protection agencies that would require that their clients act peacefully or seek peaceful resolutions to disputes because of the understanding that violence is an expensive way of solving differences and disputes. He states that such agencies would refuse to protect individuals or property owners that decline to seek peaceful resolutions or initiate conflicts wilfully. He states that agencies that would not act in this manner would be unable to compete in the market because of the costs brought about by their clients. He also notes that the services provided by courts would be provided by private arbitrators that are hired by individuals or agencies in dispute. Laws to be used in such scenarios would then be formed by the arbitrators, for instance in the same manner that the British Common Law came into being.
However, the above argument is problematic in many ways. First, this anarcho-capitalist society will not work. First, Huemer seems not to understand or ignores the fact that in society, there are different groups of people. There are the poor as well as the wealthy and also people have different beliefs and cultures. In addition, people live in different parts of the world and still get into disputes.
In a situation where a poor person has a dispute with a wealthy person and both require an arbitrator to solve the dispute, it becomes difficult especially where the poor person cannot pay for the arbitrator. In a similar situation but one that occurs where a state has legitimate political authority, the poor person will not only be provided with a lawyer by the state but the arbitrator will be a judge under the state’s payroll. In an anarcho-capitalist society, the poor person is likely not to get justice because he or she will not be able to pay the arbitrator. In addition, because the wealthy person has more funds, he could pay the arbitrator more to ensure that the dispute is solved to his or her favour.
Another problem that this presents is that the arbitrator is not governed by any law. In case of a dispute, the arbitrator is the one to make the law that will be applied to a specific dispute. This means that there is no standard rule that could be applied to disputes of a similar nature and the arbitrators can change the laws whenever they deem fit since they are the ones developing the laws. For justice to prevail, there has to be a standardized manner in the application of law especially on disputes of a similar nature. In an anarcho-capitalist society, the arbitrator can decide to form an unfair law affecting one of the parties depending on what the arbitrator thinks is right or wrong or simply because the arbitrator does not like that party or has a hidden agenda.
We can do it today.
Today, the existence of state governments helps individuals, property owners and business entities settle disputes because of the presence of laws and regulations developed by these states. For instance, when an agency in the United States has a dispute with another agency in United Arab Emirates, courts such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) can help resolve such disputes. However, in an anarcho-capitalist society where such courts do not exist, such disputes become difficult to solve. These are disputes involving entities from different parts of the world with different cultures and they present problems especially when there is no standard way of resolving such disputes or when the willingness to solve such disputes solely lies with them even when the disputes could be affecting millions of people.
Another problem with Huemer’s proposition entails the willingness of disputing parties to hire competing protection agencies that would help them act peacefully or seek peaceful resolutions to disputes. In a dispute, all parties could have issues that are affecting them negatively or one party could be the one being affected negatively while the other enjoys the benefits. In such a scenario, the party that is not being affected negatively could decline to engage in dispute resolution especially where there is no law stating that it is actually doing something wrong. Therefore, this would be a problem to sort out.
Huemer points out that the anarcho-capitalist system is not so much different from the current system especially with how anarchy is usually assumed to be. He states that libertarian anarchists do not propose to have a world without law or to eliminate the functions and responsibilities of the courts and the police. Rather, he notes that libertarian anarchists believe that the provision of law and order could be done in a different manner. The anarcho-capitalist and governmental mechanisms of providing law differ in terms of voluntary versus coercive nature of law and order and competition versus monopoly. In terms of volunteering versus coerciveness, the anarcho-capitalist system allows people to hire arbitrators and protection agencies while the governmental system forces people to use state services. In terms of competition versus monopoly, the anarcho-capitalist system encourages protectors to compete among themselves for the same service while the governmental system only provides government service, which is a monopoly. These are the key differences. How then is the anarcho-capitalist system superior to the governmental system?
The anarcho-capitalist system is problematic because of the distrust of corporations. As much as Huemer thinks that the anarcho-capitalist system is better, the distrust of corporations is a problem area. The protection agencies and arbitrators will always work with what suits them in as much as it should be what works for the client. The protection agencies and arbitrators will not be working under specific laws but by laws that touch on their clientele and the view that all people and agencies should seek peaceful ways of resolving disputes. There is no assurance that such a system will work given that the competing agencies could have different agendas in the market where they operate. Moreover, the agencies could be owned by the same people or agencies that are in dispute or their allies. This makes provision of justice a difficult endeavour for the disadvantaged entities. The assumption that Huemer makes in proposing an anarcho-capitalist system is that both the advantaged and disadvantaged groups have a level playing ground when it comes to resolving disputes just because this is governed by the need to resolve conflicts peacefully. Even in governmental systems where coercion is the order of the day, getting an amicable solution is a difficult process because of aspects such as this, yet the law is clear and affects all agencies and individuals.
Huemer tries to combine anarchism and capitalism, yet the two are are incompatible. In every proposition that Huemer makes, the most important aspect is to do away with the state because it represents an aspect of legitimate political authority which Huemer believes does not exist. The state represents armed entities that have bureaucratic agencies, legislative and administrative bodies, laws and judicial systems to promote coerciveness and the interests of the ruling class (political authority) against all others. The state is a core entity in capitalism and a cause of problems in anarchism. As such, the main issue here is how anarcho-capitalism combines anarchism and capitalism into one entity that is integrative and properly functioning entity. Basically, Huemer builds a system where capitalists have to forego the state and its manifestations and agree to a system where everyone is equal and class is not present. Anarchists also have to agree that as much as self-governance is key, competing private entities have to be existent because they increase quality and decrease costs of governance.
This is problematic because anarchism and capitalism are two opposing political and philosophical thoughts, yet Huemer wants bring about a consensus of the two by ensuring that both abandon the core aspects that they consider dear to them. What Huemer tries to envision is a society that operates according to intelligible and fixed laws. In this sense, he assumes that the provision of service by private agencies should be subject to the same laws of free competition. This cannot be the case yet the arbitrators are supposed to formulate laws with which to preside over disputes brought by the disputing parties. Huemer’s proposition jolts down to three key aspects. First, every person has to observe John Locke’s principle that each human being has a property in his own right. Secondly, that there has to be a single moral underpinning that binds all persons. Third, that society can run without central direction, which is the state. While the first and third could possibly work, the second cannot because what one individual considers to be moral, the other might consider immoral. For instance, an individual might consider profit making by business entities to be moral while another could consider this stealing by selling a service or product at an extra cost and thus immoral.
In conclusion, Huemer’s anarcho-capitalism cannot work as shown in this paper. It is not anti-capitalism and not anti-statism because it borrows ideas from the two notions and rejects others but does not dismiss them. Operating in a world where private competing agencies and arbitrators operate to resolve disputes peacefully is to an extend being overly optimistic. While it could be problematic to prove legitimate political authority by governments, it is also problematic to prove that a stateless society with a standard moral code can also work to ensure peaceful co-existence of individuals and property owners.
- Huemer, Michael. “The problem of political authority.” In The Problem of Political Authority, pp. 3-19. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2013.
- Kavka, Gregory. “Why Even Morally Perfect People Would Need Government’’. In For and Against the State, ed. John Sanders and Jan Narveson (Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), pp. 41–62.
- Raz, Joseph. Between authority and interpretation: On the theory of law and practical reason. OUP Oxford, 2009.
- Renzo, Massimo. “State legitimacy and self-defence.” Law and Philosophy 30, no. 5 (2011): 575-601.
- Price, Wayne. The Abolition of the State: anarchist and Marxist perspectives. Author House, 2007.