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Hierarchy, Authority, Authoritarianism, Left-Libertarianism

On Facebook, a left-anarchist friend wrote:

To the archists out there. What is your philosophical justification for hierarchy such as the hierarchy of a state, corporation, church, or any social organization based upon a chain of command?

This engendered much discussion. My own reply was:

“To the archists out there. What is your philosophical justification for hierarchy such as the hierarchy of a state, corporation, church, or any social organization based upon a chain of command”

This use of “hierarchy” and “command” to cover both coercive (the state) and voluntary, non-coercive institutions (church, family, corporation) is equivocation. We libertarians do not oppose hierarchy or command or authority in general, but only in the context of aggression. That is why we are libertarians, that is what it means to be a libertarian: to consistently and systematically oppose aggression of all types, both private (crime) and institutionalized (the state), on principled grounds.

In short, libertarians are just those people who seek justification for interpersonal violence, and who realize that only force in response to aggression can be justified, but that the initiation of force (aggression) cannot be justified. In fact I would define civilized man as he-who-justifies–and the libertarian as he who is most consistent and economically literate about it. All you need is a desire for justice, empathy for others, and a bit of economic literacy–and a desire for truth and honesty and consistency. Then you will have to conclude the anarcho-libertarian ethic is the only one that is possibly justifiable.

The problem with left-libertarians is that they are weak on the economic literacy part, due to flirtations with hoary marxoid ideas of labor theory of value, alienation, all this nonsense. This distorts their analysis and makes them willing to condemn actions that are strictly speaking not aggressive, and to conflate unalike things such as hierarchy-in-a-firm with hierarchy-with-a-state. It makes you focus on non-essential aspects of the state: what is wrong with the state is not that it wields authority or even that it is hierarchical (though its hierarchical nature combined with its aggression makes it worse than a private criminal–it makes it systematic and institutionalized, so a bigger criminal threat).

The reason “hierarchy” in private institutions is “justified” is simply that it does not need to be justified. Only the use of interpersonal violence needs to be justified. If I decide to eat a brownie at midnight, on my own home, my own brownie, I don’t need to justify this action, since by this action I am not infringing on others’ property rights. Likewise with voluntary/private/contractual hierarchies.

***

?”Hierarchy is hierarchy my friend.”

yes, and libertarians are not against hiearchy.

YOu might as well say “institutions are institutions”–yes we oppose one institution, the state, but not others.

” A state is just a capitalist corporation and a feudalistic landlord that consists of the military, police, courts, prisons, and the board of directors (i.e. the political class).”

Nonsense. Left-libertarianism is too allied with hoary confusions.

“Rothbardians are just individuals who want justified states according to Lockean standards. Rothbardians at best are radical minarchists (which is fine if you value it).”

you don’t know what you are talking about.

***

“Stephan, your entire argument is based on the implication that hierarchy doesn’t need to be justified. You may assert this all you want, but it doesn’t transfer the burden of proof back into our court, especially with the analogy you made to try to justify that claim. How is eating a brownie in your own home — an act that does not involve any form of interpersonal relationship (and therefore no contract) in which an individual asserts his/her dominance over their own PERSONAL property — in any way comparable to the employer-employee relationship which is interpersonal and deals with PRIVATE property which, by definition, makes it coercive?…”

“dominance”? Another equivocation. If it’s voluntary, it’s not bad-domination, bad-authority.

“Authoritarianism is any system that values authority and hierarchy. It can be positive like you said.” Any system values hiearchy and authority; it’s not a system otherwise.

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{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Neverfox February 27, 2011, 2:39 pm

    yes, and libertarians are not against hiearchy.

    Maybe libertarians aren’t (if we accept your historically recent definition) but AN-archists are not against HIER-archy? In the immortal words of Violent J and Shaggy 2, how does that work? As William Gillis wrote:

    “Anarchy” –in one of the most brilliant, clear and crystalline etymologies available in political ideology/idealism– is defined by its opposition to rulership. All forms of rulership.

    If it’s voluntary, it’s not bad-domination, bad-authority.

    This seems to obviously not be the case and so I’m going to say the burden is on you to prove this. It also seems like a pretty privileged perspective. This position also assumes that rulership can only be determined from the actions of the person who submits. Yet it still seems like an open question to ask “What kind of person would regard another as subordinate in this context?” No matter how airtight the theory is that force should not be used to prevent such relationships, I don’t see how you can argue that they cannot come under criticism.

    Only the use of interpersonal violence needs to be justified.

    That may be true within a philosophy that is defined as dealing only with the justified use of violence but that’s a rather trivial point. But in general, it’s clear that other things need to be morally justified even if they don’t warrant force to be used. Why are such considerations precluded from the scope of anarchism?

    At the end of the day, there are anarchists and there are anti-“aggressionists.” They overlap, of course, but they don’t appear to capture the same ideas.

  • crossofcrimson March 1, 2011, 8:35 am

    I think where most traditional anarchists run aground is in conflating conditional association and “rulership” or absolute authority. I’ve never seen another anarcho-capitalist bring this point to the forefront (so if I’m borrowing an idea that’s already out there I apologize for not tipping the proverbial hat) but I’ve thought quite a bit about this point and it’s the conclusion I’ve come to.

    Let’s say that I invite you over to my house. A condition for entering my house is that you must remove your shoes. It could be said that I’m asserting some kind of “authority” over you – a hierarchy even – in that I’m somehow forcibly telling you what to do. But is this really the case? Some defenders of private property would say yes. But I think this is an oversimplified way to look at things.

    I don’t believe, as property owners, we are ever asserting that we have specific rights to make others do whatever we want. You have just as much of a right to wear shoes when you’re in the house as you have when you’re on your own property. Instead, what I’d like to suggest, is that any power that we have is tangential to our own property rights – that, if we do indeed grant that property is a valid concept, we simply have control over who may or may not use that property and no other enforcible powers beyond that. Therefore, any expression of power or authority as such exists only to the extent to which we may withdraw our explicit or implicit consent for others using that property.

    So, to get back to the analogy: If I tell you to remove your shoes before entering my house, I’m not claiming some authority over you in that I have some right to tell you what you can and can’t do. On the contrary, my request only has power to the extent that it is an implicit condition upon which you may use my property.

    If we were to take such conditional interaction and, as other anarchists often do, conflate it with authority, then it would make a good deal of fairly ambiguous daily interaction immoral. Families, churches, and many other voluntary organizations would seem malicious and predatory under such a notion. In fact it would seem hard to justify trade as being anything other than malign under such a notion. For, if one was asked to shovel snow out of a driveway in exchange for money we could then say that person was being temporarily subjugated to the will of another. We may say, “Clearly this is absurd – the person in question is not being forced to do such a thing. He’s doing it of free will and association.” And such a point couldn’t ring any clearer. In fact, it would ring just as clear and for the same reasons in regards to the removing of your shoes before you enter my house, or in regards to labor being exchanged for wages on the floor of an assembly line.

    This is why anarcho-capitalists will forever clash with anarchists of other stripes. Few self-described anarchists seem to be willing to differentiate conditional association with what ANCAPs would describe as “authority” (forced hierarchy), even if those anarchists (according to their own view) willingly subject themselves to many conditional associations in their everyday lives without recognizing them as such. It presents an inherent problem to their ideology, and I believe it’s largely (maybe even subconsciously) why many dismiss private property altogether, or subscribe to the labor theory of value – it’s the result of cognitive dissonance.

    Ultimately the distinction is clear. Private property as such is not simply a throwback to a feudal system (as other anarchists often claim) where owners of large tracts of land claim ownership over the lives of serfs. Instead we claim that any such command or power, as it may be perceived, can exist only, and unequivocally, as an expression of property rights -and nothing else. We submit then that all voluntary association, trade, or hierarchy is derived from the ownership of ourselves and willful consent therein – and that, as such, by nature their exhibition cannot be coercive. Even more clearly, the idea of restraining men from such voluntary association would be, by definition, explicitly coercive. In this way the anarcho-capitalist position is clear; free men of free association born out of an inherent ownership of self, labor, and the product thereof, reasoned simply and deductively. In this way, I don’t believe the onus is on Rothbardians to further justify self-ownership and free association. The onus is instead on detractors to explain why men should not own themselves or should be restricted in their associations with other free men.

  • Chris Thomas March 5, 2011, 7:33 am

    “The reason “hierarchy” in private institutions is “justified” is simply that it does not need to be justified. Only the use of interpersonal violence needs to be justified.”

    This is true only if justice is the only aspect of morality that you’re concerned with. If you’re a thick libertarian (which is another way of saying you’re a libertarian who links justice with other aspects of morality) then you need to justify many types of action, including non-aggressive action. For example, being mean because you like to see others unhappy is improper behavior. If you can show that many types of hierarchical relationships are sufficiently related to aggression, then you may be able to show that they are condemnable, even if they are not a violation of justice.

  • crossofcrimson March 7, 2011, 4:16 pm

    “This is true only if justice is the only aspect of morality that you’re concerned with.”

    I think thin libertarians would argue that justice (as a virtue) is the only purview of government or law in the way that we understand it. There are obviously other virtues which people believe ought to be endorsed (virtues that many libertarians may agree with). However they feel it has no place in the sphere of what constitutes just aggression. That isn’t to say that more thickly bound conceptualizations of libertarianism are wrong. The fundamental disagreement is regarding the scope of political justice.

    • Neverfox March 7, 2011, 6:27 pm

      I think thin libertarians would argue that justice (as a virtue) is the only purview of government or law in the way that we understand it.

      But I don’t know any thick libertarian who argues differently. Such a statement, therefore, goes nowhere towards answering the question “thick or thin”? In other words, the difference between thick and thin libertarians is not over the purview of law but over the scope of things that one is committed to (though not necessarily logically committed to) because they are a committed to non-aggression.

      There are obviously other virtues which people believe ought to be endorsed (virtues that many libertarians may agree with).

      Sure, but the thick libertarian is arguing that you can’t help but have good reasons to endorse some of them if you actually endorse non-aggression. In other words, a libertarian can’t reject them “without in fact interfering with its proper application,” “without logically undermining or contradicting the deeper reasons that justify the non-aggression principle,” or without failing “to condemn the destructive results that flow from [aggression]—even if those results are, in some important sense, external to the actual coercion.”

      If it makes sense for NAP-supporters, as NAP-supporters, to adopt these non-NAP commitments, then in what way does it make sense to say that libertarianism is only the NAP?

  • crossofcrimson March 8, 2011, 9:08 am

    “But I don’t know any thick libertarian who argues differently. Such a statement, therefore, goes nowhere towards answering the question “thick or thin”? In other words, the difference between thick and thin libertarians is not over the purview of law but over the scope of things that one is committed to (though not necessarily logically committed to) because they are a committed to non-aggression.”

    I don’t disagree with you and nothing I’ve written (hopefully) indicates otherwise. I suppose the distinction I’m trying to make is that while libertarianism may imply certain tangential evaluations, it’s not clear to all of us what place that holds in political conversation (theories of justice). For instance, a thickly bound libertarian conception may hold that personal independence (economically or otherwise) is preferable, but it’s not clear why someone discussing libertarian application to law should be introducing, say, subsistence farming into the discussion. Libertarianism, in some sense, might imply that this is preferable, but it has little to do with application in the sphere of justice.

    That isn’t to say that libertarians can’t play to values outside of the sphere of justice. But sometimes these “thick” libertarians will, wittingly or otherwise, subvert or negatively augment their principled libertarian conception of justice by bringing these tangential values into the sphere of debate over justified aggression. This is what thin libertarians are leery of. People like Roderick Long and Sheldon Richman do a pretty good job of not falling into such a trap; they are able to separate the two and still have a discussion about these other values. Other left-leaning libertarians sometimes seem to have a harder time doing this.

    “If it makes sense for NAP-supporters, as NAP-supporters, to adopt these non-NAP commitments, then in what way does it make sense to say that libertarianism is only the NAP?”

    Again, just to reiterate, when most people discuss libertarianism they are talking about the sphere of political theory (law). The question, in this context, shouldn’t be “in what way does it make sense to say that libertarianism is only the NAP?” – it very well could entail more. The question is, what values entailed by libertarianism (if they are at all) other than NAP have any place in the sphere of justice? The worry, of course, is that any such introduction of values would obviously augment the application of the NAP (by nature…otherwise why does it matter?) and arguably detract from it or make exceptions to it. Other values may become a wedge through which the door to _exceptional_ violence is held open. And, again, given the writing of many left-leaning libertarians, those worries are not provoked mistakenly. Thin libertarians have reason to be skeptical.

  • Chris Thomas March 8, 2011, 11:56 pm

    “…while libertarianism may imply certain tangential evaluations, it’s not clear to all of us what place that holds in political conversation (theories of justice).”

    There’s something to this, but in the current discussion, I don’t think that’s at issue. The question is whether any type of non aggressive behavior can be considered bad from a libertarian perspective. A thick lib can certainly admit that there’s no place for the law to forbid certain types of (non aggressive) hierarchical relationships, and still say that these relationships cannot be morally justified. To be libertarian however, he must insist that all offensive behavior which is non aggressive only be combated by non aggressive means. (Boycotts, social condemnation, education, etc.)

    “But sometimes these “thick” libertarians will, wittingly or otherwise, subvert or negatively augment their principled libertarian conception of justice by bringing these tangential values into the sphere of debate over justified aggression.”

    If this means that they allow values other than non aggression to cause them to support aggression in some cases, than that is a real problem for a libertarian. But I think in practice, many thin libs simply assume that any condemnation of a non aggressive act is an implicit call for some agency (maybe the state) to forcibly repress it.

    As a side note on the thick/thin debate generally, I’ve often thought that Rand’s problems with libertarianism were not with libertarianism per se, but with some straw man version of an ultra thin libertarian. She seemed to have (more or less blindly) decided that libertarianism is defined by an acceptance of non aggression, coupled with an insistence that it does not matter what other beliefs go with it. That is, at best, a distortion of thin libertarianism.

  • crossofcrimson March 9, 2011, 10:48 am

    ” A thick lib can certainly admit that there’s no place for the law to forbid certain types of (non aggressive) hierarchical relationships, and still say that these relationships cannot be morally justified. To be libertarian however, he must insist that all offensive behavior which is non aggressive only be combated by non aggressive means. (Boycotts, social condemnation, education, etc.)”

    I think this is mostly correct. Unfortunately I often see thick libertarians (primarily of the left variety) letting these tangential values (libertarian as they may well be) obfuscate a somewhat clear and straight-forward understanding of libertarian justice. If their interest in other entailed values does not conflict with libertarian justice, I see no “political” conflict therein – yet the conflict ensues for some.

    “But I think in practice, many thin libs simply assume that any condemnation of a non aggressive act is an implicit call for some agency (maybe the state) to forcibly repress it.”

    I think this is also unfortunately true in many instances. However, the positioning is somewhat nuanced. Take, for instance, the commentary at C4SS on the funding of public sector unions. I believe conversations about where tax money actually goes, what is actually spent or what could lower spending, for instance, are all valid areas of critique for both sides. But the “thick” libertarian propensity (because of their elevation of what they perceive to be the entailed libertarian value of equality) has put many in the position of defending certain beneficiaries of the state while condemning others. Are they calling for explicit state action? I would say not. But it’s arguable that they’re putting themselves in the position of criticizing a move, through the state, which might repeal its over-all coercion on net. This is what gives thin libertarians cause for worry.

    “She seemed to have (more or less blindly) decided that libertarianism is defined by an acceptance of non aggression, coupled with an insistence that it does not matter what other beliefs go with it. That is, at best, a distortion of thin libertarianism.”

    I think this is somewhat true and untrue. Again, between scope and context, this is a fairly subtle difference in understanding. This is not to confuse actual parties with political leaning (although the parties have derived their names, usually, from such leanings), but take the example of someone saying that they are a democrat (not necessarily big “D”, but in a generally political context in modern America). What is the main thrust of the democratic philosophy? I would venture to say it’s primary thrust would be that people should have a (somewhat) equal say in the political process. That would be the primary tenet. It could be said that having such a political theory might bind you to certain ethical evaluations. Most obviously equality might be entailed. In that same vein, charity from equality perhaps. Would it make sense to say that being a charitable person is what constitutes a “democrat”? This is where I think over-all scope is in question – and not scope in the context of political philosophy even (per se) but the scope of terminology. The term democrat, as we know it, might entail other values – but those values are not necessarily implied within the context of political labeling. Democratic values might entail charity – but one need not be charitable to be democratic in the political sense. I think the over-all confusion might be the conflation of “libertarianism” in two different arenas; more generally in the ethical sense, and in the derivative political sense (justice being a derivative of ethics). The problem might lie in the spectrum that exists between libertarian political philosophy and libertarian ethics – the former obviously stemming directly from the latter but not entailing the other values derivative from ethics (charity, virtue, aesthetics, etc.).

    It’s probably not a perfect analogy; but I suppose there are different contexts for the word “Christian”. In one sense, that religion is an expression of belief…a qualifier. It’s a belief that Jesus was, in fact, the Son of God. But there is a much broader sense in which being a Christian entails values other than mere belief. It may entail meekness, sacrifice, piety, etc.. It doesn’t mean that either conception is wrong, or that they are incompatible – it’s a reflection of differing scope or context. We can understand, on the one hand, how one Christian may say that another is not really Christian if he does not do or value X, Y, and Z. On the other hand, we can also understand how the other Christian may agree or disagree, but also find that such accusations are irrelevant given the context in which he is saying that he is Christian.

    Unfortunately I think it’s a really sticky debate. And it doesn’t really seem like there’s even a clear dichotomy. There’s a sense in which both are right in what they claim – yet the misunderstanding between the two in their vernacular is causing them to argue past one another. In any case, it’s an argument that will carry on in the future (along with its frustrations). But it’s good when two people who obviously disagree on it somewhat can have a productive conversation; or at least one that doesn’t devolve into resentment and name-calling.

  • crossofcrimson March 9, 2011, 10:52 am

    Also, to clarify further for anyone else who happens to read this conversation, I believe that a large part of what thick libertarians see as “immoral” non-aggressive hierarchies are not, in fact, immoral at all – even taking into account the values they believe are entailed by libertarianism. But, again, I believe it’s a misunderstanding in semantics to a large degree.

  • Alan Chapman March 14, 2011, 12:08 pm

    Left-libertarians who oppose hierarchy and private property should practice what they preach. They can start by leaving their doors unlocked.

    • anonymouse April 8, 2011, 6:46 am

      @Alan Chapman
      the same can be said about anarcho-libertarians at state-sponsored university positions – they should abandon them, to be consistent with what they preach (I’m talking stricty about those that follow deontological ethics)

  • Edmund O'Sullivan March 21, 2011, 4:51 am

    Stephen,
    I wonder whether you can help me.
    Does your critique of IP apply to intangible assets generally (like brands, goodwill and the other of the 21 categories of intangible assets which the FASB allows companies to put in their balance sheets)?
    If not, can you explain why?
    If yes, doesn’t this call into question the existence of most large corporations, the book value of most now comprises intangible assets?

  • Scott Kerr March 23, 2011, 6:41 am

    I’ve only recently been reading Austrian economics, but here’s my take: Mises held the position that such patents were not comparable to good will in that patents are replicable leverage. Anyone who “knows” the content of a patent can exploit it as a form of usifruct. Whereas the forms of “IP” you cite (whether indeed they are in realilty IP or not), can only rightly be exploited by a specific company. I could pretend to be coca-cola, but that’s not going to yield the same goodwill as being coke. But I could copy their formula and market something cheaper that tastes the same. Mises would oppose the former but condone the latter as it benefits consumers. That was his ultimate criterion for these matters.

  • anonymouse April 8, 2011, 6:43 am

    I know womans that like to be dominated by men in bed. According to left-anarchists when I dominate woman in bed, by her permission because she likes it, it is unjustified. WTF?

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