Roderick Long Rebuts Locke and Rand on Anarchy, Navigates Shrewd Path Thru Voluntaryist-Partyarch Debate

Over at C4SS’ Stateless U in ATP 102, I watched and critiqued Roderick Long’s talk “Foundations of Libertarian Ethics.” [See above.]

In “Foundations of Libertarian Ethics,” Roderick Long deftly refutes Lockean and Randian critiques of anarchy, using these same critiques against themselves in support of market anarchy. Long also evaluates strategies for achieving the stateless society, convincingly arguing the Spoonerite position that voting and running for office are not immoral. He also makes a convincing case that voting is not irrational.

Long first takes on Locke’s argument that without a central government, people will subscribe to different interpretations of justice. But Long points out that people have different interpretations of justice under government too. In fact, one can expect more legal uniformity under anarchy, not less, Long says. He cites the example of European merchant law that arose when state commercial law became outdated. Each national government had different laws, and they wouldn’t enforce each others’ decisions. So merchants formulated their own laws and applied them in a highly uniform way across the globe. The merchants enforced their law without the state via word of mouth, boycott, credit reports and ostracism.

While Long’s analysis wins outs, I don’t think legal uniformity across jurisdictions is particularly important. As long as individual property owners or legal jurisdictions post their laws and keep them understandable, there should be no problem.

Long next examines Locke’s claim that a generally known standard of law is required, and that anarchy would not produce this. But government produces too many laws, Long argues, since it is not restrained by market demand. And this is the same thing as there not being a generally known law code, because people simply can not know all the laws that congress and other law-making bodies churn out.

Long makes an insightful argument here, but Lockeans may see it as as a pyrrhic victory against a strawman. Locke didn’t argue for a large state such as the ones primarily in existence today. His ideal smaller state might not produce as much confusion in the realm of law.

Another defect of anarchy, Locke posits, is that individuals would be judges in their own cases, since everyone in a state of anarchy has the right to judge the law. They would be biased for themselves. Long argues that Locke is mistaken. There can be a third party judge under anarchy, it simply doesn’t have to be the same individual or institution for every single dispute. People can take turns being judges for others. Only anarchy allows this. Contrast this with the state: what if you have a dispute with them? Then the state gets to judge itself! What about if you sue the supreme court, Long asks. Who will be the final arbiter then?

Long’s argument doesn’t strike any vital organs. Inside the state there are many different individuals reigning as judges. When one of these judges is faced with a conflict of interest, he can recuse himself, and is often obligated to do so. Arguing that the state judges disputes that involve the state is a collectivization where Locke speaks of individuals. That’s a double standard. His argument about who will reign as judge if the supreme court is sued does stick, since the supreme court is the fixed final arbiter of disputes. Eventually the case could make its way to be heard in front of the supreme court. Given its unique position, it could theoretically hear a case against itself.

Locke’s final objection to anarchy is that everyone could be his own police officer. Long argues that Locke simply thinks that if there are organized threats under anarchy, a lone individual will be at a disadvantage. An organized defense, in other words, is necessary. But, Long argues that an organized defense doesn’t necessarily presuppose or require state involvement. He is convincing here. His killer critique of Locke on this point is that if you are worried about organized threats being hard to defend against, you don’t actually want to go and create one in the form of government!

A Randian objection Long addresses is the claim that no market is possible without a government legal order. But the opposite is also true, argues Long. How can a government come to exist without some kind of trade to finance its creation? It is indeed difficult to imagine a government preceding the marketplace. Governments produce nothing, they only consume. Thus there must be something to consume in the first place. A legal order, on the other hand, can arise spontaneously as individuals need it and by mutual agreement in a primitive analogue to what Murphy describes in chapter one of “Chaos Theory.”

Long also critiques the Randian idea that under anarchy, there would be no final arbiter, and therefore no legal finality. Long questions the claim that government actually provides any legal finality. For example, government has made many guarantees of help to the poor, but people remain in poverty. Also, government legal decisions don’t always result in restitution, Long notes. It’s not a question of a guarantees, he argues, but that certain incentives are more reliable. Government, being a monopoly, it is insulated from feedback and thus the right incentives are not in place

Finally, Long considers how to achieve a stateless society. There are two strategies, he says, the takeover strategy and the bypass strategy. Like Spooner, he thinks there is nothing really wrong with voting or running for office. It shouldn’t be the primary focus of one’s activism, he thinks, but neither should one abstain entirely. If, by voting, libertarians could change the outcome of a state’s actions from horrible to merely bad, wouldn’t it be worth it?

Long’s analysis is measured and strong. He is absolutely right. At some point, agorists and other libertarian (r)evolutionaries will be toe-to-toe with the state. Wouldn’t the outcome be more favorable if some of our own were on the inside and able to moderate the government response? This is a compelling argument.

Is voting irrational because it will most likely have little or no effect, Long asks. What about writing a libertarian blog post? Is that irrational, since it may have little to no effect as well? Long makes a striking point here. I must say that I feel my 250+ blog posts here have been considerably more effective than my two votes for Ross Perot in the 90’s. I get enormous personal satisfaction from the brain work required to research and write these posts. And the reactions I get are highly rewarding as well. That said, I think voting in state elections has its place. If we have even a slight hope of moderating the state’s evil, it may be worth it to vote (and run for office).

In this talk, Roderick Long persuasively rebuts both Lockean and Randian arguments against anarchy while navigating a shrewd path through the voluntaryist-partyarch debate minefield. His analysis is insightful and refreshing, if sometimes less than entirely pertinent.