Friday, September 21, 2007

What is Caesar, and what is due to Caesar?

Interesting. And, I regret to say, a good segue. Sorry.

He's suing God for "Making terroristic threats, inspiring fear and causing 'widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants.'"

If his God is Caesar, (the State) then he's certainly suing the correct entity. But if he believes he is suing the omnipotent, all-good creator of the universe, I think he's slightly confused. Death, violence and terror are the domain of coercive, tax-based government. Mercy, kindness, forbearance, long-suffering, charity and justice are of God and his followers. The two dominions are always juxtaposed, by their respective natures.

I don't think God believes that having men forcing (at gunpoint, ultimately) other men to surrender the fruits of their labor (even for a good end) is justifiable. It reeks of consequentialism.

To believe that taxation qua forcibly depriving another of their property is necessary because of fallen human nature is to say that taxation is an evil that you can justifiably intend in itself, not an evil you may merely allow. (Unless, in some twisted way, one considers being forced to surrender that which belongs to you a "good?") Many do consider it a "good. "

Can taxation be compared to a painful medicine that benefits an ailing body politic? Is it like a lancet, which causes pain while draining an abscess, thereby benefiting the whole body? No.

First, the body politic is not one leviathan conglomeration of humanity. It is a conglomeration of men with power and and men who allow it to have certain powers (which the men with power invariably enhance and abuse.)

Second, the ailment afflicting any body politic is sin. The nature of the body politic (fallen human nature) is sinful. However, all sin is individual. Unless one believes that force can change human nature, one can only treat the symptoms of the illness. Some of these symptoms (individual sins) are actions that violate the rights of other individuals. Anyone can, in theory and practice, justly prevent or correct such violations. The state, in practice, has proven itself incapable.

Third, medical care must be voluntary. Even the state legal system recognizes this: a man may refuse medical assistance while he is still conscious. If he lapses into unconsciousness, it is considered consent for treatment. Do any of you consider yourselves unconscious? If so, do you think that those in power are somehow magically more conscious than you, now that they are in possession of power?

Can one compare taxation to commandeering another person's property, in a grave extreme, to escape harm? (Robbers, for example?) Certainly, one may morally commandeer a vehicle to escape from people who wish to unjustly kill you. Is this at all a good comparison, however? It would be a mistake to think that this is a Hobbesian world in which we live, where one must lock one's doors, because failure to do so would mean someone would doubtless enter your house and deprive you of life and property. Somehow, I don't think that a mere common robber could deprive me of half my annual income. It takes a special kind of robber to do that. One with a pretentious claim to moral legitimacy. One who says he's taking my property for a good cause, and if I don't comply, he will kill me or ruin my life. Even though I may give 50% of the contents of my wallet to a man with a gun stuck in in my ribs, and though he assures me he will do good things with my money, it does not justify his doing it. Does it?

The fact is, we do not live in a world where it is continually necessary to take from others to escape dire evil. In fact, a good many of the evils we suffer come from believing that we do live in such a world. Such a world view is paranoid in its truest sense. To live in such paranoia is to really a possess a cynical view on human nature, whether this cynicism is deliberately possessed or not.

Coercive government is not a part of true human nature. It is merely a symptom of fallen human nature. It is, as Augustine believed, the result of sin. Anyone can treat the manifested symptoms of fallen human nature, when manifested in acts against the life, liberty and property of human beings sharing an equal nature. One can only correct the underlying cause of sin by voluntary means. The coercive state isn't about "voluntary." At all. It merely considers itself (and is considered by its supporters) as an impartial rectifier of the symptoms, and sometimes the "causes," of fallen human nature. It isn't impartial. And it has no serious incentive to be impartial. The coercive state is partial to itself, and it perennially violates the rights of others in order to give itself partial treatment. Individuals do have incentive to be partial to others. (Christ commanded it, in fact.) But in some cases, individuals have the right to deny others from pursuing an injustice against another human being: (self-defense against rape or arson, recovering stolen goods on one's own.) There is no reason why a set of men chosen by 51% of a population have some God-given proprietary claim on the administration of justice. Especially when it has rendered such a laughable claim null and void through its patent lack of administering true justice.

27 comments:

Andy Bodoh said...

I have said it before and I will say it again Geoff: the error of libertarians/anarchists is their misevaluation of the place of custom in society.

You argue that taxation cannot be right because every man has an absolute right to property. I do not see how you can defend this point, especially when you admit that property can be commandeered by another in the case of grave need.

Alright, you say, but it can't be commandeered by the government because they don't have grave need. However, you don't have any argument to demonstrate that the only ligitimate way that property can be comandeered is in circumstances of grave need.

Regardless, you say, the government is illigitimate anyway. Why? Because it is an evil stemming from the fall. First of all, you have not demonstrated that it stems from the fall. Secondly, even if it stems from the fall, you have not demonstrated that it is evil. Our Redemption stemmed from the fall, does that make our Redemption evil? Thirdly, even if it is evil, you would have to demonstrate that it that it is intrinsically illigitimate. Death is an evil stemming from the fall. Death is not illigitimate though.

Be careful not to use circular reasoning, too: coersive government is bad because it feeds on coersive taxation, and we know that coersive taxation is bad because it feeds coersive government.

On the contrary, God created man with the gift of reason through which man acts in pursuit of the good. In practical circumstances, man seeks the good. Men as social creatures build societies through interpersonal human relationship directed to the satisfaction of their needs and wants. In society men occassionally find themselves in conflict with other men. They find that it is reasonable to turn to a third party to resolve the conflict. Throughout history we see the establishment of an institutionalized system for resolving conflicts because the people in society believed that such an institution was a reasonable means for conflicts within society to be resolved for the sake of justice, social stability, and to keep people from resorting to violence.

In conjunction with this, we also see in history the extablishment of a penal code in order to punish unacceptable behavior. This penal code was not relegated to interferance with other people's rights. Why? Because people thought that it was reasonable that if certain conduct was not wanted within the community, they should be able to say, "Don't do this or else we will exclude you from the community."

You seem to be under the impression that every society has established itself as a democratic society where a mere majority could dictate was was right and wrong. Thank God this is not the case. The fact is that the nature of a community (properly understood) is such that socially accepted moral norms tend to be similar so that a vast majority of the community tend to agree that cetain behavior is right and certain behavior is wrong. They did not want this "wrong" behavior in their community, and so they thought that it was reasonable to punish it and to set up and institution dedicated to regulating such behavior, if such an institution was considered necessary or reasonable.

Now, you may argue that a government is not legitimate because you have not concented to it. However, you are free to leave at any time. Either your parents (who have legitimate authority over you as long as you are dependant on them) make you stay, thereby obligating you to obey the government, or you choose not to leave. As long as you stay you are placing yourself within a community with a custom that shapes the government authority over you. Granted, to leave would be burdensome, but there is no human right to exist as you want free from unwanted outside intrusion. You have chosen by your decision to join or remain in the community to be a part of that community and use the interpersonal relationships within that community as ends and means to the satisfaction of your needs and wants. Custom is a natural part of that community.

Now, before you pull out the Holicost and ask me if I defend the custom of that society, I want to point out that custom is community based and communities are based on interpersonal human relationships. This means that custom is essentially local. Because a government's just authority is shaped by custom, government ought to be local (read here the principle of subsidiarity). The holicost was conducted by a centralized totalitarian regime. Secondly, practical reasonableness will not often produce perfect results, but it will generally not produce terrible results. Practical reasonableness is best protected in the community setting and is the backbone of custom. Custom, when it islocal, tend to be good (though not necessarily perfect). Unfortunately in modern society the potential for mass communication through the media, and the tendencies since the development of the nation-state, have deeply impacted the community, undermining local custom and practical reasonableness on issues of local government. However, the stronger the bonds of interpersonal relationships within a community, the stronger the community is. The stronger a community is, the stronger the custom of the society is. The stronger the custom of a society is, the better the government would be.

I am not arguing that a libertarian society is illigitimate. In fact, if a society had a libertarian tradition and custom, it may be a very good society. However, I am arguing that libertarianism is not the only legitimate form of government, because it is reasonable for people to structure their societies differently.

That being said, I am amused that the staunch libertarian/anarchist position is, in many ways, totalitarianistic. It attempts to make a argument that this is the only way society can be structured, even when it can only point to a handful of libertarian societies that have worked in the history of the world. Are we to conclude then, that every society since Adam that has established a government has been illigitimate? That their use of authority has been wrong? I cannot accept this conclusion. Reason is directed towards truth, and the fact that nearly every society that has ever existed has found governments to be reasonable seems persuasive to me that governments can be morally legitimate.

Geoff said...

Custom is good. Violence to enforce it is a moral evil. Defending oneself from injustice is not a "custom," it is a human right.

For example, the custom of stopping at stop signs can only be enforced not because it is merely "custom," but because that custom was developed as a means of protecting the lives and property of others.

I have never met a libertarian/anarchist who does not respect the role of custom. We merely recognize that some customs are ultimately arbitrary and ineffective in either theory or practice. Such customs they have no basis for enforcement with the use of force. An example of this is Going to church on Sunday. This is a custom based on right reason, and a moral good. But mere custom in itself does not justify the use of force to maintain the said custom. If a custom is, indeed, customary, it will not need force to keep it in existence. The only customs that can legitimately be upheld are those that protect the equal rights of human beings.

I argue that taxation cannot be right because it is unreasonable to found a permanent system that could be provided for through uncoercive means.

We don't have a grave need of coercive government. Therefore, I have the right to keep my property.

I was careful NOT to say that because something is the result of the Fall it is therefore "unnecessary." The medical sciences are a result of the fall. We do need medicine to treat the symptoms of illness. Do we need the illness? No. Do the means of treating the illness have to be just in themselves and voluntarily funded? Yes.

Death is the most illegitimate thing on the face of the earth. It has no right to exist. God did not create it. It is the bastard child of sin. Do we all need to die? Yes. That is part of the human condition. Do we all need government in order to avoid the second death? No. My contention is that coercive government detracts from the end of salvation.

Circular reasoning? Coercion to effect an unreasonable surrender of property is bad. Therefore, a government that uses such coercion is bad. That looks like a straight A-to-B dot connection to me.

It is entirely reasonable to turn to a third party to preclude or rectify conflicts. It is also entirely reasonable that such conflicts would be far fewer if everyone could administer justice as they saw fit. It is unreasonable to give a man a gun and a claim to legitimate exercise of a special authority and expect that he is suddenly going to be an impartial arbiter of justice.

It's reasonable to exclude someone from a community. Why does it have to be enforced with violence? Why could not the community simply refuse to have personal and economic dealings with such a person? If the "community" really wanted it, it would happen, at least a majority of the time. If someone is a danger to others, they should be removed from society. Permanently. Because reason tells us that extremely few prisoners are ever "reformed." A government is set up by a community to do what the members of the community wants, right? The members of the community don't want someone to perform certain behaviors, and wants the government to exclude that person from the community through violent means, because the community apparently really doesn't want to exclude that person from the community through non-violent means, which it could easily do, if they really wanted to. That is unreasonable.

For 6,000 years, we saw slavery in effect in almost every society, because people considered it reasonable that they should enslave others to do work for them, for whatever reason, including the fact that they might have been defeated in battle. Where is slavery now? Only in countries where people do not live according to reason, but by violent enforcement of their perceived laws of God. And here, where we are slaves 30% to 40% of the year. Hey, the slaves got food and shelter for the work they did for their masters, right? They got something out of it.

I am under no delusion that every society has established itself as a democracy. Monarchies are also chosen, (or acceded to,) by a majority. So are once-Constitutional Republics. So are Communist governments. So are many dictatorships.

Just because the END of establishing an institution to enforce the rights of men and to prevent violence and uphold justice is good and reasonable, does not mean that the MEANS are necessarily good and reasonable, Andy! I have no problem if someone takes back something I stole from them. If I try to stop him with violence, he has every right to stop me with violence. Do you think that system will result in "widespread chaos?" I think it such an environment would result in a populace that thinks twice before initiating aggression. It beats what we have now: career criminals who leech off of society, saying, "The government won't catch me. And if they do, I still may beat the system."

I have no problem with government in itself, Andy. I will obey any rules that any government or any person makes, as long as they are intended to and effective in protecting the life, liberty and property of others.

A coercive government is not a "custom" in itself. It is an institution. Customs are actions performed or not performed by a majority of people, flowing from human nature. People do not perform a government. Marriage is not a "custom." Getting married is. Marriage is an institution, independent of whether people wish to engage in it or not. Customs are linked to the will of the people. Governments are infinitely less so.

Nor are all customs reasonable, just, or compatible with human nature.

I can leave. That's true. If your kid was having his lunch money stolen at the school every day, I don't think you would you be so flippant if the principal said, "It is customary that bullies can take other people's money without repercussions. You can leave if you don't like it." I think you would you try to convince other parents and the teachers that they shouldn't ignore this injustice.

I'm not talking about "structuring society," Andy. Individuals freely interact with other individuals, and thereby structure their own society. That's the libertarian mindset. I'm not talking about "imposing" a libertarian government. The whole point of libertarianism is that nobody should impose anything on anyone. The underlying premiss of the libertarian ideal is the non-aggression principle.

Any institution must be in accord with human nature. Its end AND its means must both be just. I fail to see how a coercively-tax funded government is in accord with human nature.

Andy Bodoh said...

"Custom is good. Violence to enforce it is a moral evil."

Why Geoff? Custom is one of the basic sources of stability in a society and one of the chief sources of a society's identity. To direct a major attack against a society's custom is to fudamentally destablize society, tantamount to an attack with force of arms. In such cases the question of violence is a matter of prudence.

"I have never met a libertarian/anarchist who does not respect the role of custom. We merely recognize that some customs are ultimately arbitrary and ineffective in either theory or practice. Such customs they have no basis for enforcement with the use of force."

You say that you respect custom, but imply that the customs you disagree with are arbitrary and ineffective and thus illigitimate. Why? Custom is custom because it was established and maintained. Custom is custom because people found it reasonable. That reason might not be perfect, but I would sooner belief that what is more reasonable than a system that hasn't been put into practice in more than a handful of societies.

"Taxation cannot be right because it is unreasonable to found a permanent system that could be provided for through uncoercive means."

Just because there is one way of doing something, doesn't make an alternative way, even if is worse, unreasonable or wrong. Taxation is a longstanding practice. It, like slavery, may be wrong, but if so it is not wrong just because there is another way conceivable.

"We don't have a grave need of coercive government. Therefore, I have the right to keep my property."

Once again, as I said before, you don't have any argument to demonstrate that the only ligitimate way that property can be comandeered is in circumstances of grave need.

"It's reasonable to exclude someone from a community. Why does it have to be enforced with violence?"

It doesn't have to be the only way. It has to be a reasonably good way.

"The members of the community don't want someone to perform certain behaviors, and wants the government to exclude that person from the community through violent means, because the community apparently really doesn't want to exclude that person from the community through non-violent means, which it could easily do, if they really wanted to. That is unreasonable."

What about efficiency of government action as opposed to economic sanction, the concern that someon might resort to excessive violence, etc. These factors also contribute to the "resonableness" of a system.

"For 6,000 years, we saw slavery in effect in almost every society, because people considered it reasonable that they should enslave others to do work for them, for whatever reason, including the fact that they might have been defeated in battle."

Yes, slavery was considered reasonable. And how does Paul respond to slavery in his time? Not by condemning it as unreasonable, but by suggesting that it ought to lived in a Christian fassion:

"Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings, knowing that each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. Masters, act in the same way toward them, and stop bullying, knowing that both they and you have a Master in heaven and that with him there is no partiality."

This same attitude should inform our approach to all well established social practices. Practical reasonableness isn't perfect, imperfect can still be good.

"A coercive government is not a "custom" in itself. It is an institution."

Perhaps there is a distinction between a custom (a practice) and an institution. However, the common and widely accepted practices of of a government and the behaviors tolerated or not tolerated by a society are not institutions. They are customs.

"Customs are linked to the will of the people. Governments are infinitely less so."

That depends on what type of government it is. A local government in a small and close-knit community is pretty closely linked to the "will of the people". That is where governments are most legitimate.

"Nor are all customs reasonable, just, or compatible with human nature."

Granted, not all customs are good. Not all theories are good in practice either. I would much sooner accept a longstanding custom that seems reasonable, just and compatible with human nature than one untested in modern society that requires us to destroy much of our social custom to impliment.

"If your kid was having his lunch money stolen at the school every day, I don't think you would you be so flippant if the principal said, "It is customary that bullies can take other people's money without repercussions. You can leave if you don't like it.""

First I was not being flippant. Social custom is generally enforceable because society does not impose a staying reqirement. Second, why would I consider keeping my children in a school that tolerates bullies? The custom reflects the values, and I would not tolerate sending my children to a school where values are so wrong. This would be a prudential and a moral decision on my part.

"I'm not talking about "structuring society," Andy."

You are talking about structuring society. You are talking about structuring a society around the principal that life, liberty and property are absolute rights that no government can touch.

"I fail to see how a coercively-tax funded government is in accord with human nature."

Show me where it fails.

healthily sanguine said...

Granted, not all customs are good. Not all theories are good in practice either. I would much sooner accept a longstanding custom that seems reasonable, just and compatible with human nature than one untested in modern society that requires us to destroy much of our social custom to impliment.

Andy's point here reminds me of one of the very few things I remember from Christendom's Political Science core: LUNCRA! The Law of Unintended Negative Consequences to Rational Action cannot be lightly forgotten in such discussions as these. What would it mean to society if its customs or institutions or whatever you wish to call them were to undergo a radical change? Change can be both good and bad, but too often in our idealism we tend to underestimate the bad.

Circular reasoning? Coercion to effect an unreasonable surrender of property is bad. Therefore, a government that uses such coercion is bad. That looks like a straight A-to-B dot connection to me.

There's a middle term missing somewhere, I think. Your jump comes in assuming that individual "coercion to effect an unreasonable surrender of property" is the same as such coercion enacted by a legitimate authority. If my moral theology serves me well, in evaluating the "goodness" or "badness" of an action you consider not only the object but the relevant circumstances. As Andy points out, you have yet to prove that the only way property can be legitimately taken from another without his consent is in grave need. You really need to provide backing for this before you can say, "A government that uses such coercion is bad."

Both of you are appealing to human nature in your arguments, but I must still insist that there appears to be a divergence on what exactly this nature is. Perhaps this will become clear soon.

Geoff said...

Why Geoff? Custom is one of the basic sources of stability in a society and one of the chief sources of a society's identity. To direct a major attack against a society's custom is to fudamentally destablize society, tantamount to an attack with force of arms. In such cases the question of violence is a matter of prudence.

It used to be a custom to tip one's hat to another person. Failure to do so violated no one's rights. You cannot justly enforce a violation of such a custom with force of arms. The custom of having stoplights, and of stopping at them, rather than killing someone by zipping through it can be enforced with arms, because this action actually poses a threat to the lives of others. Will the lack of an armed intervention for the occasional case that would happen without a coercively-funded police force result in a catastrophic societal collapse? Not likely. Because people get away with it all the time as it is.

You say that you respect custom, but imply that the customs you disagree with are arbitrary and ineffective and thus illigitimate. Why? Custom is custom because it was established and maintained. Custom is custom because people found it reasonable.

Customs such as rendering the unwashed masses incapable of defending themselves, the early 1900's societal custom of prohibiting alcohol because "it's bad," customs such as slavery, welfare, customs of thought including subsidies and enacting idiotic protectionist trade policies, customs of prohibiting the use of denotated silver and gold coins... all done because they were considered "reasonable." In Realityville, they are tremendously damaging, and would never have caused so much damage if there had been no coercive agency to ensure that all these idiotic, yet "reasonable" ideas were followed to the letter.

Just because there is one way of doing something, doesn't make an alternative way, even if is worse, unreasonable or wrong. Taxation is a longstanding practice. It, like slavery, may be wrong, but if so it is not wrong just because there is another way conceivable.

Most people earn their money through work. Some people deliberately keep themselves so impoverished so they think they have a claim to take the property of others. That is what government is. It is an artificial creation and sustainment of services, fed by the notion that coercively-taxational government is the only possible way these services could be provided. It is a parasite that people happen to think is beneficial to them. Whether people think it is beneficial or not does not make it less of a parasite.

Yes, slavery was considered reasonable. And how does Paul respond to slavery in his time? Not by condemning it as unreasonable, but by suggesting that it ought to lived in a Christian fassion:

"Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings, knowing that each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. Masters, act in the same way toward them, and stop bullying, knowing that both they and you have a Master in heaven and that with him there is no partiality."


How can anyone be a "Christian" slavemaster, Andy? It's a ghastly notion, and a contradiction in terms. Slavery, as the Church has taught for millenia, is a grievous offense against human nature.

Now, the slaves St. Paul was addressing were most likely those who had committed a crime, and were actually repaying the people they had wronged. Not average Joes like you and I, who have committed no crimes. Unless, of course, only about 30 to 40% of our lives are "criminal."

A local government in a small and close-knit community is pretty closely linked to the "will of the people". That is where governments are most legitimate.

I would instead use these words: "That is where taxation-funded governments are the least egregious."


Granted, not all customs are good. Not all theories are good in practice either. I would much sooner accept a longstanding custom that seems reasonable, just and compatible with human nature than one untested in modern society that requires us to destroy much of our social custom to impliment.

I'm not suggesting we destroy any social custom. But if you want to keep in existence a previously uncoercive social custom that has been institutionalized to be backed up with force, like prohibiting the carrying of arms for peacable purposes, then I've got a problem with the institution. If there is a custom that people don't carry firearms, great. A mere arbitrary custom can't throw someone in prison for not doing any harm to anyone else. A government can, and they do, every day.

Laws are related to customs. The words are not interchangeable. A custom is not necessarily a law, nor can an arbitrary custom legitimately have the force of law behind it.

First I was not being flippant. Social custom is generally enforceable because society does not impose a staying reqirement. Second, why would I consider keeping my children in a school that tolerates bullies? The custom reflects the values, and I would not tolerate sending my children to a school where values are so wrong. This would be a prudential and a moral decision on my part.

I apologize, I should have seen you weren't being flippant. However, Andy, to what foreign land should I travel, which does not have a coercive government? There is no such place on earth. Yet. In light of this, is it not reasonable to try to convince people that coercive government is inconsistent with human nature, if, indeed, it is the case?

You are talking about structuring society. You are talking about structuring a society around the principal that life, liberty and property are absolute rights that no government can touch.

No, I'm talking about allowing people to do as they would without a coercively-funded supervisory government. This first takes convincing them that they really DON'T want such an institution. That it is unreasonable to have such an institution.

I'm talking about pointing out to people that life, liberty and property are equal among all people, and that a government has no special right or authority over them, any more than any other person does, but that it always tends to violate all these goods more than one's fellow man ever would. Worse than that, it makes a moral claim to have a special right over them. The fact that government is usually a worse threat to life, liberty and property than one's equal fellow man should be enough to convince a rational individual that he really doesn't want it above him. God tried to get that message across 3000 years ago. It still hasn't sunk in. That is because pride leads us to want power over other people. To reshape others in our own image, or to force others to be in God's image. It goes from the reasonable idea of mere self-preservation and building others up through reason and example, to the idea of using force to submit the world to God and our own power-hungry wills.

Geoff said: "I fail to see how a coercively-tax funded government is in accord with human nature."

Andy said: Show me where it fails.


I demonstrated in one of the above paragraphs. Coercively-funded government is like someone deliberately cutting himself so he can take bandages from other people. It's reasonable to want a bandage for an injury. It's unreasonable to not stop cutting yourself. Stopping cutting oneself would be to transfer every government function to the free market.

Andy Bodoh said...

ON THE LEGITIMATE USE OF VIOLENCE TO PROTECT SOCIAL CUSTOMS

My Position: Custom is one of the basic sources of stability in a society and one of the chief sources of a society's identity. To direct a major attack against a society's custom is to fudamentally destablize society, tantamount to an attack with force of arms. In such cases the question of violence is a matter of prudence.

Geoff's Objection: It used to be a custom to tip one's hat to another person. Failure to do so violated no one's rights. You cannot justly enforce a violation of such a custom with force of arms.

My response: First, I distinguish between "a society's custom" and "a custom of a society". A custom of a society is an individual practice. Society's custom, in the sense that I used it, relates to the particular customs of a society as a whole, or the particular customs of a society in relation to some value or norm accepted by that society. Thus, when I say that force or arms can be used to protect a society's customs, it is because customs are expressions of moral norms accepted in a society. When violation of the customs are such that they attack the society's moral norms, defense of the custom is permissible under the guidance of prudance up to and including the use of force.

Tipping one's hat was a expression of the basic societal norm that every woman by her nature deserves the respect of every man. There were many other ways in which this norm was expressed, i.e. holding a door, standing as long as a lady was standing, etc. When this norm is widely accepted in a society and widely expressed through partiular customs, this norm has the force of an unwritten civil law.

Furthermore, failure to tip one's hat hardly constitutes an attack upon the custom, much less a major attack.

ON THE RESPECT DUE TO CUSTOM

My position: Custom was established and maintained because a society thought that it was considered reasonable in practical situation. As such, civil society should give custom great respect.

Geoff's objection: "Customs such as rendering the unwashed masses incapable of defending themselves, the early 1900's societal custom of prohibiting alcohol because "it's bad," customs such as slavery, welfare, customs of thought including subsidies and enacting idiotic protectionist trade policies, customs of prohibiting the use of denotated silver and gold coins... all done because they were considered "reasonable." In Realityville, they are tremendously damaging, and would never have caused so much damage if there had been no coercive agency to ensure that all these idiotic, yet "reasonable" ideas were followed to the letter." Custom can only be enforced when it was created to protect the life liberty or property of others.

My response: The heart of my presentation of custom emphasized that custom was essentially community-based, and thuse law ought to follow the principal of subsidiarity. Yet each of the customs that Geoff objects, with the exception of slavery, where customs in only a part of the country that where then made into law (contrary to the principal of subsidiarity) enforced against communities where the law ran against custom. These are precisely the cases in which I would affirm the resistance of the law. They show a disrespect for custom.

Regarding slavery, in every country that I know with the exception of America, slavery was dispossed of first through a law that reflected the custom of the people. Slavery was rejected by the people before it was rejected by law. In America slavery was put down by force of arms. Do you think that the Civil War was a good thing, Geoff?

ON SLAVERY

My position: Slavery was once considerred reasonable. Paul responded to it by telling slaves to be obedient and masters to be good. This was "slavery in a Christian fashion".

Geoff's objection: Slavery is a fundamental violation of human dignity and cannot be lived in a Christian fashion. The slaves Paul talks about "were most likely those who had committed a crime, and were actually repaying the people they had wronged."

My reply: First, I concede that slavery is incompatable with the full message of the Gospel. However, on what basis do you assert that these slaves were "most likely" criminals?

Slavery was established by custom. The Church opposes slavery. However, the Church did not propose a radical extinction of slavery. Instead the Church worked to advance the Gospel believing that the Gospel message would help societies perfect themselves, leading to the elimination of slavery.

The reason I brought this up is to show that the presence of custom, evil though they may be, are carefully treated and respected even by the Church.

Furthermore, I would also point out that I see no longstanding teaching of the Church against a tax-based government, as there was against slavery. Do you find any such teaching?

ON WHETHER OR NOT LIBERTARIANISM OPPOSES CUSTOM

My position: Libertarianism asserts that man has a fundamental right to life, liberty and propery and that the only laws that may be legitimately enforced are laws protecting life, liberty, or property. Geoff further asserts that tax-based government (those that sustain themselves by coersive taxation) violate man's fundamental right to property, and is thus illigitimate. I argue that this position 1) goes against present custom and 2) goes agianst the proper relation of custom and law.

Geoff's position: "I'm not suggesting we destroy any social custom."

My response: You have argued elsewhere, for example, that drug use and pornography should be legalized because these behaviors do not affect another's right to life, liberty, or property. You say that laws against pornagraphy and drug use are illigitimate when backed up by force.

However, many communities in America would want to prohibit drug use and pornagraphy in their communities because they believe that these behavior are wrong. Suppose they had a chance to decide the issue. I would assume that using the custom of majority vote, they would establish it as their custom that their local government can act to prevent the use of drugs or the presence of pornagraphy. You would argue, I assume, that this was illigitimate.

I believe that this is 1) a demonstration of the proper relation between custom and law based on the principal of subsidiarity 2) a demonstration that libertarianism opposes the present customs (or the potential customs thatwould be real if the federal government didn't (wrongfully) control these issues).

ON THE PRINCIPAL THAT CUSTOM IS LEGITIMATELY ENFORCEABLE WHEN A SOCIETY DOES NOT BIND MEMBERS TO STAY

My position: Conscent is not required for a law not regarding life, liberty, or property to be binding. A community can protect its custom with law in part because it does not bind anyone to remain in the community. As a child, your parents choose to live in a community, and their choice binds you. As an adult you choose to live in a community. Custom is so related to the community that it is essentially the very identity of the community. By choosing to live in a community, you chose to be bound by its customs.

Geoff's position: There is no place without a coerisive government. "Is it not reasonable to try to convince people that coercive government is inconsistent with human nature, if, indeed, it is the case?"

My position: The fact that every society has established a legitimate government does not mean that coersive government is illigitimate. Your inability to escape a coersive government does not disprove my claim. Furthermore, while I do not oppose your right to seek the truth or try to convince others that what you believe is the truth, if my above claim stands (that a society can enorce their customs through coersive law), it is because the existence of coersive government is not, indeed, contrary to human nature.

WHETHER LIBERTARIANISM PROPOSES TO STRUCTURE SOCIETY

My position: Libertarianism proposes to structure society because it proposes disallowing the existance of tax-funded governments.

Geoffs objection: Libertartianism is not about structuring society, it is "about allowing people to do as they would without a coercively-funded supervisory government. This first takes convincing them that they really DON'T want such an institution. That it is unreasonable to have such an institution."

My reply: If I would prohibit the people of my society from driving red cars on Tuesday, they that prohibition would be a social structure. People would structure their lives around that prohibition. If I would convince people that it was wrong to drive red cars on Tuesday, that "custom" is a social structure because people would structure their lives around that custom. Geoff seeks to convince people that it is wrong to give an institution the authority to collect taxes through coersion and etc. Geoff is advancing a social structure.

THE RELATION OF LAW AND CUSTOM

My position: Custom lies under civil law such that a law is not legitimate unless it is rooted in actual custom.

Geoff's position: Laws are related to customs. The words are not interchangeable. A custom is not necessarily a law, nor can an arbitrary custom legitimately have the force of law behind it.

My response: First, if custom is founded upon practical reason, then it is cannot entirely "arbitrary". Secondly, I do not argue that positive law and custom are identical. Custom is much broader than law and underlies law.

According to Thomas, law is a ordinance of reason promulgated by the head of the community for the sake of the common welfare. Custom is derived from practical reason as individuals seek the good in a community setting. It is not surprising that a community's law reflects the content of culture. Similarly the view of the "common welfare" is also related to practical reasonableness that shapes custom. Most importantly, the question of who is the "head of the community" is essentially based on custom.

THE LEGITIMACY OF TAX-BASED GOVERNMENTS

My position: Governments incorporating a coersive taxation system are not necessarily opposed to human nature.

Geoff's position: "Most people earn their money through work. Some people deliberately keep themselves so impoverished so they think they have a claim to take the property of others. That is what government is. It is an artificial creation and sustainment of services, fed by the notion that coercively-taxational government is the only possible way these services could be provided. It is a parasite that people happen to think is beneficial to them. Whether people think it is beneficial or not does not make it less of a parasite....Coercively-funded government is like someone deliberately cutting himself so he can take bandages from other people. It's reasonable to want a bandage for an injury. It's unreasonable to not stop cutting yourself. Stopping cutting oneself would be to transfer every government function to the free market."

My response: Your primary argument seems to be that tax-based government is illigitimate because it distributes money from working people to people that don't work but should. Your secondary argument seems to be that the all the services a government provides can be provided by the free market.

I agree that government redistribution of wealth is illigitimate. However, that does not mean that a tax-based government that does not redistribut wealth is illigitimate. Secondly, a system is not illigitimate because there is an alternative way, even if the alternative is better. Government is a reasonable means to provide these services and avoid potential problems (i.e., what happens if one party refuses to mediate a disagreement when the other party wants it, and what happens if one party refuses to be bound by judgment that goes against him?).

Geoff said...

You keep on using the words "a society 'establishes'or 'chooses' [something]." Do you mean a majority of individuals in a particular region, or do you mean some sort of "general will?" If I don't choose what "society" chooses, am I not a part of "society," and therefore can I be thrown into prison?

My response: Your primary argument seems to be that tax-based government is illigitimate because it distributes money from working people to people that don't work but should. Your secondary argument seems to be that the all the services a government provides can be provided by the free market.

No, that is not my primary argument. I am not talking about welfare or redistribution. I am talking about a continous, unnecessary monopoly. About the 'logic' that runs: "Someone needs to do provide these services. We, the government, provide these services, and always have. Therefore, forcing you to support us is legitimate. Give us your money or else."

In every Catholic work I've read on the subject, there must be a serious need to take property from another person. In addition, there is a moral necessity to give back what you have taken to survive an exigency. Governments never really seem to do that. If you take 100 bushels of corn a year from me, I don't want 100 bushels of peas at the end of the year.

It is unreasonable for anyone to take that which belongs to another person to support a court system, when there are plenty of people willing to donate to support an impartial system of courts to pass judgments. Do you fear bribery? What's stopping the wealthy from bribery now?

It's unreasonable for me to take a fire extinguisher from someone else to put out a fire, when I can use the fire extinguisher I acquired through voluntary exchange. If the government has a monopoly on providing fire extinguishers, then yes, they're going to "have" to take money from people to purchase them. But it's not necessary, and it's ridiculous to let a government keep itself in business when there are more reasonable alternatives to providing a necessary service.

Taking money from everyone is less desirable than having some donate. The end can be achieved either way. One is reasonable, in light of the fact that it is voluntary.

Coupled with the eternal fact that no government with the power to forcibly tax will stay within its defined boundaries, or small, but will eventually become tyrannical is an extremely good reason not to have them. That, and you need to remember that 200,000,000 people died in the 20th century. Not due to the "chaos" that resulted from Farmer Jones not paying for the chickens belonging to his neighbor that his dog killed. No. Those millions died because of governments that had the power to tax. They may have started out relatively benign. But they never end that way. It's unreasonable to ever expect that they will, given human nature.

For all the problems a coercively-taxational government may solve, it invariably creates ten more problems. That's because you can't keep it in check by means of a strongly-worded document. The individuals that comprise society would find a way to settle disagreements without having 100-year feuds.

Government is self-propagating. A coercive government like someone who keeps cutting himself and keeps on demanding that others give him bandages to put on the cuts. Someday, people are just going to say, "You're being entirely unreasonable. We are under no obligation to support you just because you have a monopoly on some service you provide. Bleed to death." Too bad for us the bleeding person has a gun. He'll get his bandages, even though he has destroyed his claim to them by his actions.

Andy Bodoh said...

I apologize for presenting your objection wrongly, but I misunderstood your analogy.

THE LEGITIMACY OF TAX-BASED GOVERNMENTS

Geoff's posiiton: Government is "a continous, unnecessary monopoly....'Someone needs to do provide these services. We, the government, provide these services, and always have. Therefore, forcing you to support us is legitimate. Give us your money or else.'"

My response: Unnecessary does not necessarily mean illigitimate or unreasonable. A coercive, tax based government can be legitimate if it reasonable and not contrary to human nature. You have argued that there is an alternative, but the presence of an alternative, even a better alternative, does not make it unreasonable. You have also not demonstrated that it is contrary to human nature for a government to be funded by a coersive taxation system. Your best argument, that property is an absolute human right, cannot stand when you admit that one can legitimately deprive another of property in at least one circumstance (grave need).

You respond to both of these objections here. If I read you correctly you say:

1) A coersive taxed-based government is unreasonable because "it is unreasonable for anyone to take that which belongs to another person...when there are plenty of people willing to donate [what is needed]....Taking money from everyone is less desirable than having some donate. The end can be achieved either way. One is reasonable, in light of the fact that it is voluntary." To demonstrate this point you use the fire extinguisher analogy: "It's unreasonable for me to take a fire extinguisher from someone else to put out a fire, when I can use the fire extinguisher I acquired through voluntary exchange....It's not necessary, and it's ridiculous to let a government keep itself in business when there are more reasonable alternatives to providing a necessary service."

My reply: First, how can you be certain that people are willing to "donate" to sustain an impartial court system? This seems to be pure speculation. Second, "donate" means to give as a gratuity to a good cause without recieving a direct benefit. However, if an authority recieves his compensation directly from the gratuity of individual members of a community, is it not foreseeable that a wealthy man of the community could use his "donation" as a bribe, or threaten to withhold his substancial "donation" is a decision goes against him? Even more troubling...What if the wealthy and good man of the community was about to have most of his wealth taken from him through a legitimate lawsuit. Without this wealth he could not make the regular donation that sustains the court. He would not want to see the court bribed, but it is clear that the judge will not have a job next year if he decides the case correctly against the wealthy man? Do you seriously believe that this will not impact impartiality?

I am concerned about bribery. I admit that bribery is not entirely precluded through the tax-based system. But the system does not lend itself to bribery as the donation system would (look at the way every non-profit treats its benefactors). It might well be that the donation system is better, but that does not make the concerns about it any less real or the alternative any less reasonable.

I would also look at your argument:
"It's not necessary, and it's ridiculous to let a government keep itself in business when there are more reasonable alternatives to providing a necessary service. Taking money from everyone is less desirable than having some donate. THE END CAN BE ACHIEVED EITHER WAY. One is reasonable, in light of the fact that it is voluntary. "

Once again, just because one way is not necessary doesn't make it unreasonable. Just because it is less desirable does not make it unreasonable. What makes it reasonable is CAN THE END BE ACHIEVED. Slavery is a reasonable way to build a pyramid, because you can achieve the end. It is not good because it contradicts human nature. However, we are discussing reasonableness as one of the two elements (see two part analysis above). You even say that your way is more reasonable. "More reasonable" does not make the alternative unreasonable.

2) The only time one can deprive another of property is when he is in grave need because "In every Catholic work I've read on the subject, there must be a serious need to take property from another person."

My response: The Catholic tradition seems to be that the only time an individual can take property from another is in grave need. Granted. However, in my reading the Catholic tradition supports, or at least has not opposed, coercive taxation by a legitimate authority. You cannot use Catholic tradition as your authority on one point and reject it on another when the same theory (man's right to property) is implicated by both. The question is what theory can you point to that shows that coersive taxation is against human nature but that depriving someone of property in grave need is not opposed to human nature. I belive that I can and have presented an argument supporting my position earlier this summer.

The last point: You ask "You keep on using the words "a society 'establishes'or 'chooses' [something]." Do you mean a majority of individuals in a particular region, or do you mean some sort of "general will?" If I don't choose what "society" chooses, am I not a part of "society," and therefore can I be thrown into prison?"

First of all, the "general will" theory is vague and sketchy. I would not ascribe to it but in a very limitted and qualified way. Nor do I intend to imply that a majoritarian vote is all that is required. However, the problem with such questions as "what is miminally necessary for a society to grant authority to an individual" is difficult or impossible to answer. It is clear that unniversal assent not contrary to human nature should suffice for a particular action. Beyond this it is not clear.

The problem is that we have no historical circumstance that allows us to consider the question of the formation of society. In every circumstance that we have on record, people are comming from a culural background that affects their notions of "fairness". A great example is the majority vote. The Colonies accepted the majority vote or supermajority vote as legitimate in parlimentary proceedure because of their English customs. Does this make majority vote the only concievable way, or sufficient when no "custom" exists? Certianly not in the former, and perhaps not in the latter.

There is no way we can see or prove what would happen in Hoobbe's, Locke's or Rosseau's state of nature. This is impossible and not good grounds for a political theory.

However, we do know that people in a society did establish an authority. Since then the particual society has been shaped by that action and subsequent actions of that government and those people. Different societies have developed in different ways. The best word to describe these developments as they affect society as a whole is "custom." That is why custom ought to be given great respect in society.

With this in mind, it customarily matters little whether you agree with the authority or society. You are not free from law that you dispute. That law, and the authority that a law has in society depends not upon individual choice but upon custom. In an established society, you do not "choose" with or against "society". You choose to join a community (implicitly or explicitly) in order to satisfy your needs and wants. In joining a community you are relying on an established social foundation. Custom is part of this establishment. You are not free to reject the place of custom in whole or in part because you don't like it. You are relying on custom for your basic needsand wants.

Andy Bodoh said...

I apologize if parts of my last post were not clear, but I war writing it in a hurry between classes today. Essentially though, in the last part I wanted to point out that we have no experience, historical or otherwise, with forming a society apart from preexisting customs. These preexisting customs helped to shape our conception of what is necessary for a person to have the authority to make law, and how binding that law is. Perhaps it all goes back to consent. Regardless, I can consent to be bound in the future. Once I am a member of a society (i.e. I involve my self in a network of interpersonal human relationships to achieve my needs and wants), I am benefitting from the social structure which is established in a large part on custom. I cannot "use" society and reject the custom on which that society is established. This doesn't mean that I have to accept and confom myself with that custom, but I must at least respect that custom. Respect for a custom requires due respect and obedience to the laws of a society. Not absolute respect and obedience (i.e., to bad laws like slavery) but due respect.

In the context of this discussion, then, I believe that it is chiefly your burden, Geoff, to demonstrate that our specific custom of allowing our government to coersively tax us is illegitimate. You can accomplish this by showing that a coersive taxation system is unreasonable (as opposed to simply "not in our best interests") and/or is contrary to human nature.

One other point I wanted to bring up and didn't was concerning your fire extinguisher analogy. You said "It's unreasonable for me to take a fire extinguisher from someone else to put out a fire, when I can use the fire extinguisher I acquired through voluntary exchange."

Your analogy limps on two counts. First, I can think of a thousand cases in which it would be reasonable for me to take a fire extinguisher from you when I can use my own. What if mine is not readily available. What if I will use yours and then give you mine. What if I will use your and then buy you another one. What if mine is not as good an extinguisher. Etc.

Second, establishing a society in which you are making public policy that will future actions in unconceived situations is certainly much more contingent that responding to a single issue with no long-term impact. There is a degree of uncertainty in social policy, and that is why there can be more than one reasonable answer. However, once social policy is shaped by one answer instead of the other, it is often imprudent or even objectively evil to uproot all that one must in order to change that earlier answer. Even if the “custom” is evil, it must be addressed with great caution.

healthily sanguine said...

Yeah, that's very true. I think that's why, on a completely unrelated note, Pope Benedict XVI has not made any drastic liturgical decisions like "all masses must be said ad orientem" or "extraordinary Eucharistic ministers are abolished," even when the widespread current practice on these points is obviously less than ideal. I mean, he knows the true meaning of liturgy and its purpose, but at the same time when confronted with the real-life situation he does not demand instant change. :)

richard said...

From a personalist perspective, I think we can conclude that one who acts qua ______ (whatever position you like) also acts qua person and qua personal moral agent. As an example, you act qua employee at your job, but you are also morally responsible for your acts even if hey are at the direction of the company. Thus, when an agent of government engages in acts of taking other people's money or acts of violence against those who did not initiate violence, that agent of government also acts as an individual. This leaves three possibilities.

One is that the the individual is engaging in acts not morally available to an individual: aggressive violence, robbery, etc(these are the names given these behaviors as carried out by private personal actors).

Another option is that the government agent acts only qua government agent and bears no moral responsibility for acts related to his office (job position).

Last, by a magical (supernatural?) happening, the government agent possesses a changed and higher being that operates within a higher and broader moral universe where means may be discounted if the stated end is lofty.

To avoid metaphysical problems, it follows that any individual is morally responsible for all of his acts, even those carried out while acting qua government agent. Also, such an agent of government is still a human personal moral agent and may not engage in acts not morally available to any other such moral agent. All human person have one ultimate good and therefore one moral code which must not be transgressed even when acting in an official capacity.

Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not murder

richard said...

An addendum to my previous comment.

The central problem with governments is the means employed to reach ends. Even in the realm of providing a service like police protection or courts, government uses an evil means to a good end (problems of governments actually being able to deliver promised goods being left for another time). Government employs force against uninvolved third parties when it taxes to pay for its law enforcement and adjudication.
To take an instance, when the government puts a suspect on trial for robbery (taking of property from present or presumed present victims) the government pays for that trial with money taken under threat of force when the takee was present, sounds like robbery to me. This is particularly odious because one robbery of an individual by an individual, is followed by the robbery of all tax payers by all tax receivers.
While it is right and good to punish robbers, it cannot be just to bring about that punishment by MEANS of yet more robbery.
It is good to escape from would be murderers, but one may not employ threat or violence against innocent third parties to bring about such an escape.
It is not permissible to protect innocent lives, as from terrorists, by taking innocent lives. Good means can produce a good end or perhaps a bad or indifferent end, but bad means always produce a bad end. If a proposed means may not be employed irrespective of the end, the means may not be employed at all. The end does nothing to reform the means. Using coercive force to get money goods or services is not acceptable for getting a new car, or to build a wonderful new church, so it is also not permissible for getting funds for courts and police.
'Douay-Rheims Bible'
"Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit." Mat 7:17

Andy Bodoh said...

Ends do not justify means. Granted. However, your criticisms seem to imply that the government acts as an individual withiin a society, like a corporation. That is not granted.

Individuals are acting both as government agents and moral actors. However, as a government agent they are possess some specific authority. Authority is a responsibility and a privilege/duty. The responsibility is a moral responsibility to exercise that authority in accordance with nature and right reason. The privilege/duty is generally a privilege/duty to do what no individual qua individual has moral legitimacy to do.

The classic example is a parent. A parent has authority over his child. A parent has a responsibility to use that authority in accordance with right reason and nature. He also has the privilege to conduct his relations wo that child in a way that no other individual (except the other parent or an agent of the parent) is morally permitted.

It seems that you envission the government as the agent of individauls. That is not true. The government is the agent of society.

In matters like depriving someone of property or killing someone, it is not the behavior that is immoral. The intension qua intension is not immoral either. What is immoral is the relationship of that intention to the intendor--the fact that the intention is contrary to the intendor's nature qua intendor.

Individuals cannot legitimately intend to deprive another person of life (you may qualify this, but it is essentially irrelevent to the main point). To do so is intrinsically unjust. Thus an individual who does so has unjustly deprived someone of life and has thus committed murder.

The case is not so easy with stealing, as an individual can in some circumstances deprive another of property. However, if he deprives another of property unjustly he commits theft.

However, these rules derive out of man's nature and the implicit obligations to love neighbor as self and do good and avoid evil (I am following Finnis here).

Government is not an individual. Government does not have the same nature as individuals. Governments as human institutions are obligated to do good and avoid evil, but that does not necesarily mean that an agent of the government, exercising legitimate authority cannot intend-as-a-agent-of-the-government the death of an individual and etc.

This is quick and may need revision, but essentially the specific rules of morality (e.g.e no directly intending the death of an individual) do not necessarily apply to a government becuase it is not an agent of individuals or an individual itself, it is an agent of society.

Andy Bodoh said...

The distinction between individual intendor-as-intendor and government agent intendor-as-intendor can be resolved at looking at the identity of the individual intending the act. Legitimate authority marks the identity of the individual--the personal identity. This makes their actions legitimate where it would not otherwise be so.

For example, an individual's actions to become a parent affect their personal identity in relationship to that child. Part of this effect is the natural authority over the child conferred on that parent.

Geoff said...

Andy, it seems that you are stating that someone acting as a government agent has a different nature than the rest of us, in the way that a father has a different nature than a single man. Let's look into this.

How does a father get his authority? He gets it through the voluntary contract between himself and his wife, and the nature of marriage, founded by God. He cannot expect a woman who has not voluntarily chosen to submit to his authority qua husband. Nor may he expect another man's children to submit to his authority qua father.

How does a Catholic priest get his authority? Through a voluntary act: the imposition of hands by a Catholic bishop, whose power is directly linked to an institution founded by God.

How does an employer acquire authority over an employee? Through a voluntary contract.

How does a creditor have authority over a debtor? Through voluntary contract.

Now. How does a person chosen by a few people, or even a majority of people (N.B., ANY kind of tax-based government) have authority to force other people to surrender their property? Government is not necessarily voluntarily entered into. Governments that use violence are definitely not instituted by God. Where does a government's authority come from? Does it differ from your and my authority? Where does its power come from? God himself?

Government is an instrument, the intent of which is to maintain peace, ultimately, through violence. This is something anyone can morally do. But one may not use violence against non-aggressors as a means of combatting aggressors.

As for custom, are you prepared to kill someone for a breach of "custom?" Would you have been willing to ultimately snuff Rosa Parks because she refused to give her seat up? Or at least give her a good beating? No? Why not? She was swinging a veritable cultural sledgehammer at the customs held by that society. How about the people from Operation Rescue? Society and the government both believed they were being "unreasonable." It wasn't customary to do such things. Should they have gotten beaten up and imprisoned for their outburst of disrespect for that custom which society and the government have both deemed "reasonable behavior?"

Customs come, customs go. Human nature always remains the same. One is always allowed to protect his life, liberty and property from those who would seek to impinge upon it. Whether the violation is "customarily accepted by society" or not.

Customs do not arise from the top down, as you know. Customs arise through spontaneous, voluntary interactions among men. It's why we walk down halls on the right and left side, respectively. A society needs the customs it has only so long as it needs them. Then it will let them go, and no amount of legislation will change that. It is not necessary to use force to oppose any violation of custom beside those which threaten the life, liberty and property of others. Can you give me an example of an existing custom that should be codified, or that is codified? And how a breach of this custom would result in a societal collapse?

Customs arise through voluntary interactions. Therefore, if they are still actually customs (and not violations of the life, liberty and property of others) they need no law to uphold them when the majority of people stop adhering to them. Because it ceases to become a custom.

You seem to want to impose a status quo from the top down. As though customs are like the top of a pie crust: customs are held up so long as the people hold them up, but when the people recede from the "custom," the hardened crust remains. It's just a shell at that point, with no "good stuff" (voluntary action) to actually have it be a custom. It's a remnant of what was. And it seems that instead of crushing the crust, you want to use force to make the filling adhere to the crust which it had once voluntarily lifted up.

People were happy with George Washington, and they wanted him to be king of the U.S. Why? Because they loved the status quo, while not realizing that the status quo is not maintained by a ruler, but by the voluntary interactions of people themselves.

Does any government have a special nature given it by God, Andy? Are you actually saying that? Are any means, for the government, de facto justified in the pursuit of ends that are legitimate for any one of us to pursue?

It appears to me that you believe that the government (or "society," whatever that is) can justly be the the sole arbiter of what is "reasonable." That somehow, the people (politicians and their voting base enablers) that brought us WPA, the War of Northern Aggression, the Federal Reserve, Social Security, Prohibition and the 'War on Terror' are somehow bestowed by the Almighty with a supernatural ability to judge whether something is "reasonable" or not. And that once they have divined what is reasonable (whether it is or not,) they can somehow morally force you to support it. That they have a moral claim to use violence against non-aggressors as a means of punishing aggressors. But that somehow they're not themselves aggressors, as long as what they are doing is "reasonable," and what is reasonable is decided by the society that chose the government. That looks like very circular logic to me.

As it is, you're embracing some sort of "social contract" theory, where the fact that one merely lives and interacts harmoniously with other people is somehow giving individual consent to have violence inflicted against you AND others. I owe my neighbors nothing but to treat them justly. To render what is due to my neighbor. If someone sets himself up as a king, and swears to defend the property of others, I do not suddenly become obliged to surrender my money to him on pain of force. Even if a majority of other individuals wants him to do it for them. If government is instituted by custom, it's an unjust custom, just like the jus primae noctis. But of course, it was deemed "reasonable."

Andy Bodoh said...

Andy, it seems that you are stating that someone acting as a government agent has a different nature than the rest of us, in the way that a father has a different nature than a single man.

I did not say different nature. I said a different identity. A man’s nature does not change with fatherhood. His identity changes. Choice does not change nature. Choice changes identity. The man’s nature remains the same, whether he is a father or not. Quoting from you in the very same post Human nature always remains the same.

A father does not get his authority by contract. A priest does not get his authority by contract. They both get their authority by choice. A priest gets his authority by accepting that authority (responsibilities and privileges). A father gets his authority by accepting that relationship over the child, with the responsibilities and privileges inherent in it. Contracts are only one way to get authority.

There seems to be a non sequitur in your argument. ”How does a person chosen by a few people, or even a majority of people...have authority to force other people to surrender their property? Government is not necessarily voluntarily entered into.”

A person who becomes an agent of the government voluntarily accepts the authority of his position. It may be that some people, even a majority, don’t want him to have that authority, but then again some children don’t want their fathers to have the authority that they have, and many Catholics don’t want the Church hierarchy to have the authority that they have. Just because one does not want the one over him to have authority does not necessarily mean that the one over him doesn’t have authority.

Where does a government's authority come from? Does it differ from your and my authority? Where does its power come from? God himself?

Yes, a government authority is different in kind than an individual’s authority. There is very good (papal encyclical good) authorities to say that government authority and power comes from God.

“one may not use violence against non-aggressors as a means of combatting aggressors.”

Allow me to point out that a government cannot legitimately use violence against a person unless that person has broken the law. Now, if a law has legitimacy, than it might be entirely appropriate to say that one who breaks the law is an aggressor against society. If so, then the government does not use legitimately use violence against non-aggressors. The issue comes done to what laws are legitimate or not.

Does any government have a special nature given it by God, Andy? Are you actually saying that? Are any means, for the government, de facto justified in the pursuit of ends that are legitimate for any one of us to pursue?

Read my post carefully. I was careful not to say that government means were de facto justified. What I did say was that government was a social institution, and not an individual, that an individual has a different nature than a government, that morality arises out of nature, and so the specific norms that bind individuals do not necessarily bind governments. This does not say that no norms bind governments.

“As for custom, are you prepared to kill someone for a breach of "custom?"” Geoff, I answered this in my second to last response to you. See “ON THE LEGITIMATE USE OF VIOLENCE TO PROTECT SOCIAL CUSTOMS.” It depends on the custom and on prudence. I would certainly feel justified in killing communists who tried to undermine my society through attacks on custom, though it would be a matter of prudence. I would argue that the right to revolution can be based on a protection of custom.

One is always allowed to protect his life, liberty and property from those who would seek to impinge upon it. Defend this. You have not explained why I can protect my property against the government taxation but not against a poor man.

“Would you have been willing to ultimately snuff Rosa Parks because she refused to give her seat up? Or at least give her a good beating? No? Why not? She was swinging a veritable cultural sledgehammer at the customs held by that society.”

No I would not punish Rosa Parks. Customs are not always reasonable or just. Unjust customs are like unjust laws. They do not have to be followed or obeyed, but it becomes a matter of prudence. However, you have not demonstrated that government is not intrinsically unjust or unreasonable. You have not demonstrated that taking money through taxation is unreasonable or unjust. That is why I asked you for a theory based on human nature which would permit a poor man to deprive another of property in grave need but not permit a government ever to deprive a citizen of money through taxation. You have not yet supplied one.

“How about the people from Operation Rescue? Society and the government both believed they were being "unreasonable." It wasn't customary to do such things. Should they have gotten beaten up and imprisoned for their outburst of disrespect for that custom which society and the government have both deemed "reasonable behavior?"”

Abortion is a perfect example in my favor. Remember that I said that custom (and law) was essentially community based. Abortion was legalized not through custom but through a government that was not acting according to the principal of subsidiarity (not to mention other natural laws). This was a violation of custom, and defense of custom was legitimate. It had to be done so in a moral and prudential means though.

Now, I can ask you the same question. Operation Rescue was violating property rights. According to you, the right to property is absolute but when the property is taken to satisfy grave need. The government was working to protect property. Isn’t that legitimate?

Can you give me an example of an existing custom that should be codified, or that is codified? And how a breach of this custom would result in a societal collapse?

Many legitimate laws that involves what you call “liberty” I would call codified custom. The Bill of Rights, for instance. Many of the criminal laws that do not involve “life” or “property” are codified customs. I am not arguing that a breach of these would result in societal collapse. I do not have to argue that. (See the bold section below)

Furthermore, regarding your argument that law is not necessary to uphold custom, you are missing the point. “if they are still actually customs…they need no law to uphold them when the majority of people stop adhering to them. Because it ceases to become a custom.” First, I have not related customs to a majority or a minority. Second, your if/then is intrinsically contradictory. “If it is still a custom…then it is no longer a custom.” I am frankly baffled. However, you seem to be saying that customs do not need to be supported by law because if a majority opposes them, then they are not custom. (see bold area below)

“You seem to want to impose a status quo from the top down.”

I specifically said that customs and law are local and community oriented. I ask you please to get the idea of a centralized government out of this discussion. I am not supporting a centralized government, but all of your examples involved centralized government: “WPA, the War of Northern Aggression, the Federal Reserve, Social Security, Prohibition and the 'War on Terror'.” I am not defending these as customs. The most that I will defend as customs is the Constitution (properly read) and such as a proper enunciation of the existing custom and establishment of a social structure intended to respect that custom.

If you want to describe my concept as a pie, (which is not bad but not entirely accurate) I would describe your concept as a cookbook that is titled “Every Good Recipe.” The only problem is that the cookbook has one page with exactly one recipe on that page that no one had made, much lest tasted.

However, what I am saying is that sometime in the distant past, governments emerged in society. They seem to have emerged out of the consent of the governed, but the specifics of it probably differ from society to society and are lost to history. The extent of its authority and governments powers were matters of custom. Like all customs, governments and laws are essentially local oriented. Governments serve a reasonable ends of structuring society according to the customary norms of the society through its use of law. The society’s customs as a whole are the basis of social structure and stability (and much more). Because the individual customs (including government structures and particular laws) are so interwoven with each other, one should not reject one custom or set of customs (like government or a group of laws) unless they are unreasonable (that is, they do not accomplish their intended end) or they are immoral (contrary to nature). Even if a custom is unreasonable or immoral, eliminating it should be done with caution. I am not saying that laws or customs cannot be changed, or that law is even legitimate where custom has substantially changed. I have never said this. However, the libertarian position is willing to reject large segments of custom out of hand when it argues that no non-libertarian government is legitimate. For this reason, I reject the this argument.

” "society," whatever that is” I made it a point to define society.

“It appears to me that you believe that the government (or "society," whatever that is) can justly be the the sole arbiter of what is "reasonable."”

No, “reasonable” means, as I have said above, “capable (in theory) of achieving its intended end.” The tax-based system is capable of achieving its intended end. You have not demonstrated that the tax-based system is unreasonable or morally illegitimate.

Geoff said...

"A father does not get his authority by contract."

Andy, what is a marriage?

"A priest does not get his authority by contract. They both get their authority by choice."

Yes. By choice. That means in marriage and the priesthood, the parties involved make a choice to submit to one another's authority, in an institution established by God, morally binding only to those within the institution established by God.

The woman is not forced to submit to the man's authority. She chooses to. The children are, by nature, subject to their parents. No one is violently forced to submit to a priest's authority qua priest, except in the Middle Ages. And no one is naturally bound to submit to another person who pulls a "divinely-instituted entity" out of peaceful, orderly interactions among humans that can exist without coercive government.

"A person who becomes an agent of the government voluntarily accepts the authority of his position."

You take as an a priori fact the existence of a coercive government. Where does this "position" come from?

"[S]ome children don’t want their fathers to have the authority that they have, and many Catholics don’t want the Church hierarchy to have the authority that they have. Just because one does not want the one over him to have authority does not necessarily mean that the one over him doesn’t have authority.

There's a difference here: marriage and the Church are natural and supernatural institutions, both instituted by God. There was no violence before the fall. Therefore, governments which ultimately use violence to effect their ends are NOT natural. Furthermore, God does not institute governments that are run by violence. He allows his silly people to do that.

"However, you seem to be saying that customs do not need to be supported by law because if a majority opposes them, then they are not custom."

A custom is a practice followed by a goodly number of people in a society. If those people stop following the practice, it ceases, by definition, to be a custom. It becomes history. (Like using the N-word?) Now, you say that you would not be against killing Communists who were trying to undermine society's customs. Which customs are you talking about? Celebrating Christmas? (Liberty?) The custom of not being beaten to death in the street by government goons? (Life?) The custom of being able to effectively provide for yourself and your family? (Property?) What customs?

It seems to me that unless you need to use force to protect life, liberty and property, your slaughter is unjust. Because you can't kill people for trying to convince others of a mere ideology. And you know what, if their ideology is dangerous to your society, it seems to me that your society's customs were pretty pathetically weak to begin with. Kind of like the argument that the Muslims are going to invade the U.S. and impose Islam through terrorism OR through 'democracy.' Oh really? How many people here wanted to convert to Islam on 9/11? How many people want a theocracy, complete with Virtue Police? If the people don't want it, they won't let them get power. Because either A) They will not vote people who want Islam into office, or B) They will violently oppose the aggression of the Muslims imposing their beliefs on everyone else. Or, C. They will let Islam wash over their alreaedy lukewarm lives, lives which can only be ultimately protected from the effects of Islam through an internal conviction. And that internal conviction is necessary in either case: A or B.

Yes, a government authority is different in kind than an individual’s authority. There is very good (papal encyclical good) authorities to say that government authority and power comes from God.

First, these encyclicals do not state that a government agent has any more of an authority than an individual. Second, even if they did, they are not infallible. You and I both know that we can look up some encyclicals that call for what is in effect Socialism, even while decrying the word. And that we can find encyclicals that have flawed premises that result in flawed conclusions. There's still a lot of honest theological debate going on about coercive government and the morality thereof.

"Now, if a law has legitimacy, than it might be entirely appropriate to say that one who breaks the law is an aggressor against society. If so, then the government does not use legitimately use violence against non-aggressors. The issue comes done to what laws are legitimate or not."

And this question is effectively decided by ultimately-violence-based governments. Because they can.

" "society," whatever that is” I made it a point to define society."

I know. In practice, however, your definition seems to have reverted back to some "general will," or an all-encompassing entity with a fake or real authority granted by God or an unknown source, capable of justly subjugating others. Like society has a nature of its own outside of the individuals who comprise it.

"If you want to describe my concept as a pie, (which is not bad but not entirely accurate) I would describe your concept as a cookbook that is titled “Every Good Recipe.” The only problem is that the cookbook has one page with exactly one recipe on that page that no one had made, much lest tasted."

I think I would call my cookbok book, "The Recipe Most In Accord With Human Nature." Many recipes are out there. They're tasty to varying degrees. None have yet been perfected. In fact, all of the ones that have been consumed in the past and present call for ingredients like toadstools. Some call for ricin, and some call for cumulative toxins such as fluoride. Depending on the size of the dose and potency of the poison, these recipes don't instantly kill the body politic, but they sure do make it ill, and a lot less healthy than it could be. Because a body's diet should be in accord with its nature. Coercive government's recipe book should probably be called "The Twinkie and Arsenic Diet."

I specifically said that customs and law are local and community oriented. I ask you please to get the idea of a centralized government out of this discussion.

Why? Centralized coercieve governments are localized coercive governments writ large. They're just a less concentrated dose of the poison, and less egregious.

Now, I can ask you the same question. Operation Rescue was violating property rights. According to you, the right to property is absolute but when the property is taken to satisfy grave need. The government was working to protect property. Isn’t that legitimate?

Not only can the property be taken when there is a grave need, but it must also be returned to the best of one's ability, after the immediate, grave threat is over. And one may not deliberately keep oneself in an immediate, grave threat, or even hold onto the idea that living peacably in society is an immediate grave threat to your life, liberty or property necessecitating depriving others of THEIR property through violence!

Andy, do you have a human right to make money off of killing innocent people? No. They're murderers. Nobody has the right to make money by killing innocents. That's like you saying that I believe you can't wrench a pistol out of a murderer's hand because it's his pistol.

"No, “reasonable” means, as I have said above, “capable (in theory) of achieving its intended end.” The tax-based system is capable of achieving its intended end. You have not demonstrated that the tax-based system is unreasonable or morally illegitimate."

Andy, if someone wanted to impregnate a woman, could he rape her? Or should he marry her? Because by your definition, rape would be "reasonable." Morally illegitimate? Well, if you consider it reasonable, how can it be morally illegitimate to violate a woman's very being and possessions to bring another child into the world? Such a good end!

It would be reasonable for me to ultimately beat a dog to death in order to get it to stop barking, too. After all, we humans have "authority" over the animals. Or.. perhaps there are means to effect these ends that do not, in fact, rely on violence to achieve them. Perhaps, if one's end ultimately requires violence against non-aggressors as a means... perhaps it is a sign that one may not use such means to achieve the end?

Andy Bodoh said...

1. A man does not become a father by marriage. He becomes a father by engaging in sexual relations (or other illigitamate activities). However, he does not aquire authority by merely being involved in the conception of the child. He does not have authority until he accepts the responsibility/privileges of fatherhood.

2. One chooses to submit himself to authority. I don't have to dispute this. I have already argued that by living in society you have consented to the government. See "ON THE PRINCIPAL THAT CUSTOM IS LEGITIMATELY ENFORCEABLE WHEN A SOCIETY DOES NOT BIND MEMBERS TO STAY" and related material.

3. I do not take government as an a priori fact. I take social custom as an a priori fact, if only because it is impossible to concieve of man existing independent of a pre-existing custom. Specific governments as we see them in history are products of custom. We see no government in history that is not (in substantial part) a product of custom. As with all custom, it out to be given deferential respect in society unless it can be shown to be (a) unreasonable or (b) immoral.

4. You keep saying that marriage and the church are God-ordained institutions, but that government is not because violence did not exist before the fall. I just would like to point out that this is not an argument based on an analysis of human nature. How do you know what things would be like before the fall? How do you know that a government is not a God-ordained institution? For that matter, is there a single credible theologean that says that the family and the church are instituted by God but the State is not? I beleive that I have been fairly careful to remain in the realm of political philosophy, and not base any of my arguments solely on a part of Revelation.

5. We have tried to have the discussion before, but you assert the right to liberty. What the heck does this mean in terms of human nature? What basis do you have for asserting an abosulute right to "liberty"?

6. Regarding the communists, I beleive that their actions to undermine morality (e.g. sexual morality) is sufficient grounds to resist it with violence. However, a libertarian would say, "As long as they were consenting..."

7.In practice, however, your definition [of society] seems to have reverted back to some "general will," or an all-encompassing entity with a fake or real authority granted by God or an unknown source, capable of justly subjugating others. Like society has a nature of its own outside of the individuals who comprise it.

First, my argument is very distinct and incompatable with Hobbes, Locke, or Rosseau. If you want to attack it, go ahead. Don't simply just try to catagorize it as "general will" theory.

Second, I have said that the essential element of society is real interpersonal relationships. Relationships are real things, even if they are intangible. They are a point of conection between individuals. These relationships are ultimately what govenrments are based on.

8. The reason I asked you to stop using the examples you were using is because you and I both believed them to be bad things for different reasons, and it would be a waste of time to discuss them.

9. In your last paragraphs you conflate reasonableness and morality. Why? They are distinct. You can always ask "does this accomplish the intended ends" independently of "is this morally legitimate." What I am insisting on is that to reject custom you would have to show that a custom does not accomplish its intended end OR it is morally illigitimate (a judgment that must be based on the nature of the thing in question...and a government is not an individual).

Geoff said...

"However, he does not aquire authority by merely being involved in the conception of the child. He does not have authority until he accepts the responsibility/privileges of fatherhood.

True. Mere conception does not a father make. One "accepts the responsibilities of fatherhood" at the moment the man and woman freely take their marriage vows.

"One chooses to submit himself to authority. I don't have to dispute this. I have already argued that by living in society you have consented to the government."

I choose to live in a society. Not under a government. The two are not inextricably linked.

It sounds as though you believe that coercive government is as natural as fatherhood. Coercive government is to an abusive father as a good father is to uncoercive government.

"How do you know what things would be like before the fall? How do you know that a government is not a God-ordained institution?"

I said there was no coercive government before the fall. Was there violence before the Fall? How do you know?

Regarding the communists, I beleive that their actions to undermine morality (e.g. sexual morality) is sufficient grounds to resist it with violence. However, a libertarian would say, "As long as they were consenting..."

Sincerely, do you want to protect virtue with violence, rather than with virtue itself? Do you intend to use violence to keep people moral? Because there are no limits on that. Why stop at sexual immorality? Why not keep going? What are your practical limits on using violence to protect morality?

"In your last paragraphs you conflate reasonableness and morality. Why? They are distinct."

You are conflating government with coercive government. Why? They are distinct.

But I can't prove to you that taking property against people's reasonable will is unreasonable. I can't prove to you that using violence against innocents in order to protect innocents from violence is irrational. You have to discover that on your own.

Andy Bodoh said...

I choose to live in a society. Not under a government. The two are not inextricably linked.

You choose to live in a society. That society by its nature incarnates partitular customs. You cannot separate the benefits of society from the identity of the society, and the identity of the society is essentially based on its custom. Government is only one part of this custom.

It sounds as though you believe that coercive government is as natural as fatherhood.

No, I am saying that custom is as natural as fatherhood, and that government is only one part of society's custom.

"I said there was no coercive government before the fall. Was there violence before the Fall? How do you know?"

Geoff, read your post. You said, and I quote, "There's a difference here: marriage and the Church are natural and supernatural institutions, both instituted by God. There was no violence before the fall. Therefore, governments which ultimately use violence to effect their ends are NOT natural." Is this your only argument for saying that a coercive government is not natural?

"Sincerely, do you want to protect virtue with violence, rather than with virtue itself?"

No, I am not talking about protecting virtue. I am talking about protecting myself and my community--the society in which I live--from extinction through an attack on its very identity. Man is a social creature--he establishes relationships as ends and means. The network of relationships that constitute society are directed towards the satisfaction of man's basic needs and wants. If someone assaults that network of relationships, it is legitimate to respond in a proportionate measure.

"Do you intend to use violence to keep people moral?"

I support a society's right to use law in a reasonable and moral way according to their customs so as to exclude behavior from their society that they consider damaging to their society.

"You are conflating government with coercive government. Why? They are distinct."

Wherever my argument supports "government", feel free to read is as intending to support "coercive government".

"I can't prove to you that using violence against innocents in order to protect innocents from violence is irrational."

Is one who refuses to pay taxes when the law requires him to always innocent?

Geoff said...

You choose to live in a society. That society by its nature incarnates partitular customs. You cannot separate the benefits of society from the identity of the society, and the identity of the society is essentially based on its custom. Government is only one part of this custom.

Can I not justly strive to change the custom of a society? Abolitionists fought to change slavery, and you and I fight to change the custom of abortion. I have always maintained that I intend to bring this change about by convincing other people, not by force and drastically "restructuring" society against its customs. As you admitted, just because a society has a custom, it does not mean it is necessarily good.

"Geoff, read your post. You said, and I quote, "There's a difference here: marriage and the Church are natural and supernatural institutions, both instituted by God. There was no violence before the fall. Therefore, governments which ultimately use violence to effect their ends are NOT natural." Is this your only argument for saying that a coercive government is not natural?"

One can have a successful marriage that does not inflict violence on non-aggressors as a means. One can have a successful Church that does not inflict violence on non-aggressors as a means. You cannot have, by definition, a coercively-tax-based government that does not inflict violence on innocents as a means. You can, however, have a volitionally-funded government that only inflicts violence (when absolutely necessary)on unjust aggressors. "Not natural" is not my concern, as we discussed before. The means used to pursue the end are my concern.

"If someone assaults that network of relationships, it is legitimate to respond in a proportionate measure."

True. The key word is proportion. If they use lies to undermine the existing network of relationships, use truths to combat them. Can you morally deck someone for slandering your good name?

"I support a society's right to use law in a reasonable and moral way according to their customs so as to exclude behavior from their society that they consider damaging to their society."

Society, like any other organization, has no rights. Individuals who make up the organization have individual rights. Take the Boy Scouts of America, for example. Nobody who lives in a particular geographical area is forced to be a member of the Boy Scouts. If I do not believe that taxation is necessary to be a good, productive member of society, why am I forced to pay taxes? I don't want their services, yet they force me to take them. There is no place I can go to avoid it.


Is one who refuses to pay taxes when the law requires him to always innocent?

Only as innocent as those who refused to give up their seat on a bus for a white man, contrary to the custom.

If a group of people working toward a common goal decide that forcing non-aggressors to surrender money is an effective means to maintain peace, it does not make it a just means. It looks like you're saying that whatever the majority wants is wise, prudent and just. The means in itself must be just. Taking property from another person is not just unless the person cannot reasonably refuse. I can reasonably refuse. But apparently, I can't, because society and its customs are the only arbiters of what is "reasonable." Society? No. In Realityville, it is the coercive government, with its force of arms, that really decides what is "reasonable."

It makes no sense to erect a system in which aggressors are suppressed by people who become aggressors to acquire money to suppress those aggressors, but then, if you refuse to surrender your money, you, too, somehow become an aggressor. It is the ultimate Catch-22.

Andy Bodoh said...

"Can I not justly strive to change the custom of a society?"

Geoff, where have I said that you can't? Wghere have I said that you have to personally adopt every social custom as your own? Where have I said that you can't try to convince someone of your position?

I have not. If you read my arguement, all I am saying is that it is wrong to live in a society and not respect social custom, provided that the custom is reasonable AND moral. I know that you believe that taxation and coercive governments are unreasonable and immoral. All that I am asking of you is to convince me. Show me why it is unreasonable (does not accomplish its intended end). Show me why it is immoral (contrary to human nature). You have argued the last point--that it is immoral--on the grounds that man has a near absolute right to property. What I have asked for and not seen is an explanation about what the right to property is, based on human nature, such that a man in grave need can take property of another, but that the government can't (I am not equating the two, but merely saying "give me the reason that the one fits but the other is excluded.").

However it is my position and has been since the beginning (read the first words of my first reply on this post) that your position--namely, that no government is legitimate but the libertarian government (one that at the very least does not coersively tax its citizens, and only acts to protect life liberty or property)--is intrinsically disrespectful to custom because it would reject a community government that has developed and is in line with the community custom from collecting tax money from all the members of the community and punishing the freeriders who could pay but refuse, and you would prohibit that government from protecting the customary way of life of that community by prohibitting by law behavior that the society sees as destructive to that way of life.

Let me be clear--I am not opposing you for saying that a libertarian government is the best form of government. What I am opposing you for is saying that libertarianism (as I described it above) is the only legitimate form of government.

"It looks like you're saying that whatever the majority wants is wise, prudent and just."

I have never said anything about a majority or a minority. I have said "custom". There are many historical instances that I could point out in which a wave of public opinion sweeps the community, even gaining a majority of people, that is not custom or is even counter or anti customary. I am not supporting every majority opinion. I am supporting proper respect for custom.

Furthermore, and read this carefully, I am not saying that whatever the government does is customary or that the government is the arbitrar of custom. As I have said, the government can and has often done thing contrary to custom. This is grounds for resistance and purhaps even revolution. (You say "fight lies with truth." True enough. But I am not saying that I would fight communists for lying, but for substantial violations of the principal of subsidiarity.) However, the government is the agent of society. You seem to imply that government are in fact the only arbiters of "custom". This is not true. You conception of "government" in this regard is a government totally insulated from the people. First, if a government is totally insulated from the people then it is violating it authority. If it is disproportionately insulated from the public on any area, then it is violating its authority. However in "Realityville" as you call it, there is politics. Politics in this sense is any means that individuals use to influence public policy or policy makers. In other words, my conception of government recongnizes that a government has to be open to the opinion and custom of the people they govern in order to be legitimate. That is part of the reason behind the principal of subsidiarity--by making government local you make it less insulated from people and more open to the influence of competing interests in society and closer to the source of custom.

"You cannot have, by definition, a coercively-tax-based government that does not inflict violence on innocents as a means."

Geoff, a parent's authority to punish is authority to punish a child if they do something wrong. It is true that a parent could raise their child without ever needing to discipline him, but only if that child never does anything wrong. Similarly, a government, even a coercive government, can not ligitimately punish a person unless they did something wrong. If it is conceivable that a parent never punishes a child, then it is no less conceivable that a government never legitimatley punish a person. All that it would take is total obedience to legitimate laws. We just happen to be debating what laws would be legitimate.

On this point, a government does not punish, coerce, or do violence against someone who pays his taxes according to the laws any more than a government punishes, coerces, or does violence against a person who doesn't murder anybody, according to the law. Why is a tax law "intrinsically" coercive if a law against murder is not? Is it because a tax law requires a contribution? Don't say that it is because a tax law is illigitimate or illigitimately deprives a person of property or that one who violates tax laws are "innocent". That would be begging the question.

"Society, like any other organization, has no rights.

What is your basis for saying this? The definition of "right" that I was using goes back to what I said in June. "A right is the power to command the obedience of others in regards to a specific obligation of justice." There is nothing intrinsic in this that says that rights are totally based on individuals. Man has a social nature--he seeks relationships with others as ends and as means. Man is incomplete in himself. Because man naturally seeks interpersonal relationships, he has a right to protect these relationships from people who would unjustly attack them. This is a right he has potentially, but it has not significance unless he is in a relationship with another. Society is a network of interpersonal human relationships, and custom is a natural outgrowth of society. Once man enters into society, rights that had been purely potential are actuallized. However, these can hardly be spoken of as individual rights, because individuals don't actually have these rights apart from the relationships that they are in. So what I mean when I say "I support a society's right to use law in a reasonable and moral way according to their customs so as to exclude behavior from their society that they consider damaging to their society," is that "I believe that the use of law in a reasonable and moral way according to a society's customs so as to exclude behavior from the society that the people as a matter of custom consider damaging to their society follows from natural human rights that individuals have as members of a society (i.e. establishing themselves as part of a network of interpersonal human relationships)." Read this. Read this again. Go back and read what I have been saying about respect for society's custom. Then tell me why you object to it.

"If I do not believe that taxation is necessary to be a good, productive member of society, why am I forced to pay taxes?"

Are you a member of that society? Are you using society to pursue your daily needs and wants? Does that society believe that taxation is legitimate? Is the taxation reasonable (does it accomplish the end intended)? Is the taxation moral (not contrary to human nature)?

If you say no to any of these questions, then it goes to a matter of prudence. However, even if it is wrong in a particular case, or wrong in every existing particular case, does not make it universally wrong. To make the custom of taxation universally wrong, it would either have to be unreasonable (cannot accomplish its intended end) or immoral (contrary to human nature).

Take the Boy Scouts of America, for example. Nobody who lives in a particular geographical area is forced to be a member of the Boy Scouts.

True. But many societies have mandatory conscription. This is another custom enforced by law. What is your opinion of it? Mine is that to reject it you would have to demonstrate that it is unreasonable or contrary to human nature.

Your entire response to the last question begs the question of whether tax laws can ever be legitimate. If tax laws can be legitimate, then one who does not pay is not innocent and society is not an aggressor to require payment. But your response, particularly "It makes no sense to erect a system in which aggressors are suppressed by people who become aggressors to acquire money to suppress those aggressors, but then, if you refuse to surrender your money, you, too, somehow become an aggressor" does nothing to show that tax laws are, in fact, illigitimate.

"If a group of people working toward a common goal decide that forcing non-aggressors to surrender money is an effective means to maintain peace, it does not make it a just means."

What if the supposed "non-aggressor" is a freeloader? What I am possiting is that society is directed to the satisfaction of the member's needs and wants, and that taxation is one of the customary tools they use to keep it going. No one is obligated to stay in their society, but you cannot justly freeload on there group and then refuse to pay taxes. It would seem to me that the freeloader is the unjust one and not the one that the society establishes (by custom) to collect the taxes.

Geoff said...

Your main point is that society, a network of free and uncoerced interactions, somehow has a right to something. Not the majority of individuals. Not the minority of individuals. Not those with power. Nothing that is not a person has a "right." Only persons have rights, Andy. A marriage, which is a society, does not have a right. The individuals who are married have rights. And they come from mutual self-surrender, not suppression of the other.

The Church, another society, does not have a collective "right." The individuals in their different spheres have rights. But Catholics don't have a right to excommunicate Protestants, because the Protestants do not subject themselves to the authority of the Church in the first place. On a practical level, the Church only has binding moral power over people who claim to be Catholics. Protestants do not commit a mortal sin by eating meat on Fridays in Lent.

The Boy Scouts does not have a "right." They have rules voluntarily agreed to by everyone who wants to be a Boy Scout. Everyone. The Sociestate of which you speak? It's nothing like the Boy Scouts, or the Church, or a Marriage. It's an extrinsic institution founded by individuals. Not by "society."

"We the people" sounds really elegant and florid on parchment. But I see very few signatures at the bottom of that fragile sheet of parchment. I checked. Mine ain't on it. Neither is inscribed "Society" at the bottom.

As for the right of parents over their children? Does an adult really only have authority over a child if it's his own child? Cannot any adult issue a morally binding order to a child that he could not issue to another adult? I think he can. Any adult can tell a child to put on a coat when he goes outside, and have it be morally binding. That is because the child is not yet fully formed in his will or intellect. An adult can make that decision on his own.

Society is not a volitional entity. It is not a person with rights. It is a network of mutually beneficial free-willinteractions. Taxation (coercion) can never be an intrinsic aspect of any society, which is by nature a collection of free-will interactions.

healthily sanguine said...

Eek, I hope not every adult walking down the street will have authority over my kids!

Andy Bodoh said...

"Your main point is that society...somehow has a right to something."

Geoff, read my argument carefully. This is not my main point. This is a brief summary of my position. I tried to clarify this summary in my last post. I said:

"So what I mean when I say "I support a society's right to use law in a reasonable and moral way according to their customs so as to exclude behavior from their society that they consider damaging to their society," is that "I believe that the use of law in a reasonable and moral way according to a society's customs so as to exclude behavior from the society that the people as a matter of custom consider damaging to their society follows from natural human rights that individuals have as members of a society (i.e. establishing themselves as part of a network of interpersonal human relationships)."

Read carefully, this does not society has rights independent of individuals. Indeed society is non existant independent of individuals. However, what it does imply is that individuals have conditional rights and duties by nature. The "rights of society" that I described are, more properly speaking, the rights and duties of individuals that are conditional upon them being a member of a society, being part of a network of interpersonal relationships directed towards the acquisition of their day-to-day needs and wants.

You cannot deny that conditional rights exist. A person's right to sexual relations is conditional upon them being in a monogomous marriage. In contracts generally, the right to something is conditional upon the obligations of the contract. In morallity even, the "right" to say something is conditional you not believing it to be false.

Similarly, man is a social creature directed truth. These qualities produce custom, which is in part man's effort to create a good society and good life. Law, governments and taxation have emerged in societies as a means towards this end. You reject them in whole or part, but have not demonstrated that they are unreasonable (incapable of achieving their end) or immoral (contrary to human nature.

I believe that it is the right of individuals in a society (a right of individuals conditional upon their being in a society) to be able to structure their society in a way following their customs, so long as the structure is reasonable and not immoral.

""We the people" sounds really elegant and florid on parchment. But I see very few signatures at the bottom of that fragile sheet of parchment. I checked. Mine ain't on it. Neither is inscribed "Society" at the bottom.

First, the Constitution was ratified in general accordance to the customs of the people. Secondly, you are not bond to the Constitution. You are only bound if you stay. You are bound if you stay because you are accepting the benefits of the society, and so it is unjust of you to reject the obligations.

As for the right of parents over their children? Does an adult really only have authority over a child if it's his own child?

Geoff, I have never said that he has.

"Society is...a network of mutually beneficial free-will interactions.

While this is not entirely wrong, it is not entirely right.

A network is not a mass of points. A society is not a mass of autonomous individuals. A network--societies included--need a real connection between the points. This is the place of interpersonal human relationships within society. Furthermore, society (as it is ordinarily understood) includes interactions that are not bemeficial mutually beneficial. Society as it is ordinarily understood is not an abstraction based on the goodness or badness of individual actions. It is about real connections between real people that ordinarily arise as people seek their day to day needs and wants.

To define society as a collection of interactions cannot be considered a network, but a pool. Your definition doesn't fully reflect reality. It ignores the place of relationships in society, relationships that are essential to the formation of social customs and law.

Taxation (coercion) can never be an intrinsic aspect of any society, which is by nature a collection of free-will interactions.

You mentioned the Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts have dues. If a Scout does not pay dues, then he is kicked out. Is this wrong?

Most (all) societies have taxation. If a member of the society does not pay taxes, then their property is (generally, but not necessarily) seized. You did not have to be in that society, but you chose to be.

Geoff said...

I am sorry that a majority (or minority) of individuals with individual rights, under the guise of "custom" (habits of voluntary acts) decided to go beyond custom and perpetrate aggression by denying non-aggressors of their property under the guise of "protecting property."

If I live on a piece of land that I have tilled and cared for, and someone builds a cage around my land to protect me, and said, "You have to pay because we built this, in part, for you. In addition, we believe that by establishing a government before you were even born, we made it possible for you to have this property. Love it or leave it. If you continue to live on the land that you have labored for, you owe us. Pay or die. We consider your continued presence as consent to have your property taken."

I would say, "You are absolutely, certifiably insane. First, you are unable to prove that I never would have been able to purchase and keep this land without your 'help.' Second, if all you other people, majority or minority, custom or no, want to arrange a collective protective force for yourselves, go for it. But you members of society, as individuals, or as a non-volitional entity with no rights, cannot morally force me to subsidize your misguided efforts. Get off my land, aggressors."

The use of violence against those who have not aggressed against anyone cannot justly be a "custom." If a few people in my town enacted a custom of running an air-pollution scrubber to benefit the whole of the town, then bless their hearts. Even if I benefit, they don't have a right to make me subsidize their very noble efforts. I'm not aggressing against them for refusing to support that which may inadverdently benefit me, either. Yes, it's a good cause. That doesn't mean it imposes an obligation in justice to monetarily support it.

My remaining in a particular area, interacting peacefully with others, does not impose a "duty" upon me to surrender my property against my will, regardless whether my will is "reasonable" or not. The duty isn't there. I have a duty to treat every man justly. Justice is to render what is due to every man. I still fail to see how I owe any man in particular, or owe an entity with no rights, for peacefully interacting with other men.

My capability to peacefully interact with others comes from an internal source by virtue of my human nature. The capability to peacefully interact with others is not externally imposed. In justice, I owe nothing except to those individuals with whom I have some form of interaction, whether it be personal or written.

I do not owe "society" as a whole. Others may harm me, but you know what? That's for me to deal with, not "society" or my neighbor. I can either deal with it myself, or, more prudently, garner public support to ensure that my actions are approved and/or blameless. Order would be very well maintained in such a manner. In fact, it would be better maintained in this manner than the current tax-based system (or a reformed version thereof.)

Look at it from a welfare perspective: when you take away from everyone to give to an individual, is that person (in practice, not in a moral sense)accountable and beholden to every individual? No. He has little incentive to work hard or do his share. The same happens even on a local level, when it comes to judges. A judge is beholden to the majority of voters who can keep him in power.

Any coercively-based justice system, operating on any level, has a vested interest in making sure that it has a steady supply of work. The means of achieving this steady supply of work are: A) Passing arbitrary laws and B) Making criminals do time and be a further burden on society, rather than forcing them to repay their victims, and C) letting the offenders go again and again. We see all of these things happening on every level: locally and not-so-locally.

Who imposes the "duty" to pay taxes? Who has the "right" to impose them? Society as a whole does not choose a government. Individuals do. Society does not have a right. Individuals do. Society doesn't force me to pay taxes at gunpoint. Individuals chosen by individuals do.

Society and custom are very important in maintaining order. However, the nature of both social behavior and customs are individual acts that are mutually consensual. Because of these facts, a coercive, taxative government can neither be an integral aspect of society, nor is it a custom. Custom is ultimately a free will decision on the part of participants to participate in the custom. To pass a law to uphold a custom is ultimately to take it out of the realm of custom, which is by nature freely-participated in.

Andy, again--violations of custom: which ones would you punish with violence?

It is a custom to stand during the playing of the National Anthem. Does that mean that someone may morally use violence in order to force you to stand? Why not? Because it is not a violation of the rights of others. Society, through the individuals that comprise it, may freely refuse to interact with someone who refuses to stand, but that is only because no one can force them to interact with anyone. No one has ever signed any social contract to stand during the playing of the National Anthem. As a friend points out, society may exclude someone from itself (a network of free-will interactions) by not interacting with him. The alternative is violence. I see a problem with using aggression to punish an act that has not violated anyone's rights. Don't you?

Andy Bodoh said...

I am sorry that a majority (or minority) of individuals with individual rights, under the guise of "custom" (habits of voluntary acts) decided to go beyond custom and perpetrate aggression by denying non-aggressors of their property under the guise of "protecting property."

What?

If I live on a piece of land that I have tilled and cared for, and someone builds a cage around my land to protect me, and said, "You have to pay because we built this, in part, for you. In addition, we believe that by establishing a government before you were even born, we made it possible for you to have this property. Love it or leave it. If you continue to live on the land that you have labored for, you owe us. Pay or die. We consider your continued presence as consent to have your property taken."…

Geoff, your hypo has not even pretended to assert 1) that you live in a society (network of interpersonal relationships), 2) that this action is remotely connected to a societal custom that you ought to respect, 3) that the custom, if it is exists, was reasonable, 4) that the custom, if it exists, was moral. I would reject their actions on any of the four grounds. Your hypothetical is totally uncompelling.

The use of violence against those who have not aggressed against anyone cannot justly be a "custom."

I have never said otherwise. However, I would imagine that anyone who claims that such-and-such “customary” action is unjustified would be able to show why that action is specifically either 1) unreasonable (doesn’t accomplish its intended end) or 2) immoral (contrary to human nature). You have yet to show that taxation is unreasonable or immoral.

If a few people in my town enacted a custom…

Geoff, I will stop you right there. You don’t enact customs. You can enact laws according to customs, but you don’t enact customs.

My remaining in a particular area, interacting peacefully with others, does not impose a "duty" upon me to surrender my property against my will, regardless whether my will is "reasonable" or not.

First, I have not related your “will” to “reasonableness” in any way. My argument doesn’t require it. The only place I have brought “reasonable” in is in relation to custom, whether a custom was reasonable or not. Second, a simple test. Where are you right now? Either you chose to be there, or you are compelled to by obedience to someone else to be there (e.g. a parent who you are dependant on has chosen that you be there). If you chose to be there, then that choice may carry additional obligations (i.e. obedience to custom). If you are compelled to be there by obedience, then it was still someone’s choice, and that choice may carry additional obligations.


I still fail to see how I owe any man in particular, or owe an entity with no rights, for peacefully interacting with other men.

I am not claiming that you owe other men for peacefully interacting with other men. I am saying that if you are a member of a society (a member of a network of interpersonal relationships) then you are obligated (by justice) to respect the customs of a society (customs being bound to the very identity of a society of which you are a part). By definition, you are not a member of a society unless you are somehow benefiting from society (relationships by nature are a two-way street), and if you are benefiting from society then you are obligated to respect a society’s custom (one of which may involve taxation). You owe not for interaction, but for choosing to be a member of a society.

In justice, I owe nothing except to those individuals with whom I have some form of interaction, whether it be personal or written.

Really? Why?

Look at it from a welfare perspective…

Once again, if it is unreasonable or immoral, I agree. What does this prove?

The same happens even on a local level, when it comes to judges. A judge is beholden to the majority of voters who can keep him in power.

You are assuming an awful lot here. You seem to assume that “beholden to” (whatever you are implying by that) is necessarily a bad thing. You seem to assume that this happens in every society and there is no way around it. You seem to assume that the possibility of “beholden judges” in some societies proves your point that all coercive government is bad.

Any coercively-based justice system, operating on any level, has a vested interest in making sure that it has a steady supply of work.

Even if it does, you seem to assume that it won’t work any way. What about part time judges who work full-time jobs in society and serve as judges only when diputes arise (i.e. judging cases costs them something in terms of time)? What about salary judges who are watched over by the people paying their salaries?

The means of achieving this steady supply of work are: A) Passing arbitrary laws and B) Making criminals do time and be a further burden on society, rather than forcing them to repay their victims, and C) letting the offenders go again and again. We see all of these things happening on every level: locally and not-so-locally.

Geoff, I honestly can’t believe that you think that judges do this just to have more work to do. More power, maybe, but more work? And isn’t it possibly to minimize these abuses? Does the existence of these abuses prove your point? Again, all I have to say is that which is immoral or unreasonable is not obligatory, and you aren’t bound to stay in a bad society.

Who imposes the "duty" to pay taxes? Who has the "right" to impose them?

The legitimately established government (i.e. the government established and maintained according to the reasonable and moral laws and customs of the society).

Society as a whole does not choose a government. Individuals do. Society does not have a right. Individuals do. Society doesn't force me to pay taxes at gunpoint. Individuals chosen by individuals do.

I agree. This proves nothing, Geoff, if a government can have legitimate authority (which is precisely what is in dispute).

The nature of both social behavior and customs are individual acts that are mutually consensual.

I don’t know that this is true…it depends on what you mean by “mutually consensual.

Because of these facts, a coercive, taxative government can neither be an integral aspect of society, nor is it a custom.

Point not proved…Look to what I have said about your choice to join a society as obligating you to respect the customs of a society. Your choice to be in a society may suffice for “mutual consent”.

Custom is ultimately a free will decision on the part of participants to participate in the custom.

I don’t believe that this covers all types of custom. Customs are not always “participated in”, and remember the distinction I made between respecting customs and adopting customs.

To pass a law to uphold a custom is ultimately to take it out of the realm of custom, which is by nature freely-participated in.

First, you imply a implicit contradiction between law and freedom. Such a contradiction does not necessarily exist. Second, you imply that law and custom are mutually exclusive. I see your argument but I have never agreed with the argument. I grant that they are distinct, and I even grant that if a law is made to support a custom and the custom passes away, one is not morally obliged to follow the law. I think Thomas has something to say on that point. However, a law can be voluntarily complied with. Most of the time most people do comply with most of the laws.

Andy, again--violations of custom: which ones would you punish with violence?

It is a custom to stand during the playing of the National Anthem. Does that mean that someone may morally use violence in order to force you to stand?...


It aggravates me that you raised this objection and I responded, you raised the objection and I responded, and you raise the objection again without having once explained why my response does not satisfy you. Read “ON THE LEGITIMATE USE OF VIOLENCE TO PROTECT SOCIAL CUSTOMS”

As a friend points out, society may exclude someone from itself (a network of free-will interactions) by not interacting with him.

I am amused that you see every person in government intrinsically suckered into doing wicked things for more power or (of all things) more work, yet you think that a society would be stable if only individuals would have the chance to exclude individuals they don’t want. First, your methods worked…and got us segregation. They worked only because there was a strong and immoral bias (read custom…immoral custom) against negroes. Your society might work…if there was a strong custom in favor of it. Of course, I have never said otherwise. However, as a practical matter, do you really think that individuals in a society would not be swayed to interact with an “excluded” individual (no matter what they did) when the individual could offer them some benefit that would out way the risk? The best or only coat maker in town might be a child molester. Do you think that this will keep people who want a really nice coat from interacting with him? Economics says no. Is that really the society that you would want? Not me.

I see a problem with using aggression to punish an act that has not violated anyone's rights. Don't you?

First, what do you mean by rights? Your ill defined rights to life, liberty, and property? How do you know that these the only relevant rights? Second, we have talked a lot about taxation, but you have not yet shown that someone who doesn’t pay taxes that he is legally obligated to has not violated other people’s rights. If there is legitimate authority, there is legitimate (moral) obligation.