Blogs > Liberty and Power > ANARCHY IS ORDER

Jan 4, 2004 12:10 am


I've been having a running online debate over anarchism with Robert Bidinotto; he maintains that the rule of law depends on the existence of a"final arbiter" in society, whereas I maintain that the rule of law not only does not require, but is actually incompatible with, such a final arbiter. For those who are interested, here are the relevant links:

Bidinotto's original article: The Contradiction in Anarchism
My critique of Bidinotto's article: Anarchism as Constitutionalism
Bidinotto's reply: Contra Anarchism
My counter-reply: Anarchism as Constitutionalism, Part 2
Bidinotto's counter-counter-reply: Contra Anarchism, Part II
I'll post a link to my counter-counter-counter-reply as soon as I've written it!

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More Comments:

Leonard - 1/5/2004

I wanted to make two points wrt to the debate thus far. I'm sure there's much more to say, but time's limited.

First, both you and Bidinotto have falled into the trap of writing about systems using terminology appropriate only within the system. In particular, there is no such thing as natural rights outside of human systems. Rights are handy notions, but we create them and enforce them (or not). They don't exist as platonic forms out there, waiting to be modelled by our legal systems.

Hence, when you write, for example: "under anarchy there is no 'unlimited right to secede' from just legal arrangements", you're obscuring the reality (that people won't be able to escape retaliation) with your moral gloss on it (that that's a good thing). I agree with you on both counts, but for the purposes of clarity in the argument we should keep our moral ideas out of it.

In anarchy (and under the state), some people will think they can secede to escape retaliation - and that doing so is morally OK. (Morally OK for them, at least, if not everyone.) Others - most others - won't agree. The system as a whole (both systems) will almost always punish aggressors regardless of whether or not they try to secede to escape punishment. We can deduce that much. But it is not about right and wrong in a universal sense, it is about power and the desires of the mass of consumers.

That is where "rights" come in. Most people feel it would be unjust for someone to, i.e., kill someone then declare his secession from all outside law (or declare the secession then kill, either way). Both anarchy and the state will channel this general feeling into law(s). So the system does reify rights in that sense. But it happens from within, not from without.

My second comment is mostly about Bidinotto: in discussing the "final arbiter" he is again commiting the fallacy of composition. Every dispute has a "final arbiter", in a sense: eventually all the parties to a fight give up for one reason or another, and time moves on. The Hatfields and McCoys, for example, are no longer feuding; thus the "appeals" process, both within and without the law, has been exhausted. Bidinotto argues as if there must be one specific final arbiter, which is not true; and it is equally untrue under the state as in anarchy. Yes, it's true that right now our most powerful arbiter is Sandra Day O'Connor, because she's the most weak-minded vote on the most powerful arbitration panel in the land. But that body's opinion and/or power is not always respected, as was the case with Andy Jackson, or during the latter part of the lynching era in the South, or is the case today when zealots kill abortion doctors, spike redwoods, etc. Or more prosaicly, when we all knowingly commit minor infractions: speeding, rolling stops, etc. Everyone in the system, from top to bottom, and including the people, has at least some power to enforce "law" and "right" as they see fit. Thus, who exactly the "final arbiter" is, in any given case, is not always clear. Yes, the courts do often rule on the law, and when they do that is usually the end of it. But not always.

Ken Gregg - 1/4/2004

Just as an addendum, I have found some of the best writing by libertarians to be on precisely this subject. Bryan Caplan has a recent article, and the body of work by George H. Smith ( )has been quite insightful as well.

Again, just a thought.
Just Ken
Ken Gregg

Ken Gregg - 1/4/2004

Repercussions often work like that. A mentor of mine many years ago started an argument with Leonard Read over the contradictions in government. As a consequence, he was banned from publishing in The Freeman for decades and Read spent much of his time defending government, much to the surprise of the other libertarians who had moved further toward the free market anarchist position.

My mentor, Bob LeFevre (who was never quite the pacifist that others claimed), was always regretful over this spat and thought he had done damage to FEE (which was Read's organization) which would take many years to overcome.

I always look at these differences as an excellent means in clarifying fundamental libertarian language, but less than fundamental in identifying principles. This discussions always seems to be there, whether it was in the early 1800's with Thomas Hodskin (who was a brilliant anarchist in the Scottish Enlightenment tradition) versus the early moral chartists, or in later periods.

Just a thought.
Just Ken
Ken Gregg

Franklin Harris - 1/4/2004

Now this brings back memories. I was the guy who started this argument with Bidinotto in the first place. His original "The Contradiction in Anarchism" was itself a response to something I wrote on an Objectivist e-mail list.