Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In Defense of Anarchism

So, that's the title of a book I've just been reading.  It basically consists of a formal evaluation of Democracy's claim to increased inherent goodness over other forms of government.  Its initial premise is that every person is morally autonomous, and its conclusion is that there is no morally valid form of government, and that Democracy  is no better than anything else in this regard.  Here are some interesting highlights:

1. Direct Unanimous Democracy is the only way to reconcile moral autonomy with state authority.  In other words, the only morally valid state is one which only has laws agreed upon by every single one of its citizens.

2. There is no extant democracy which is even internally consistent.  In other words, majority voting systems can produce results that are internally inconsistent.  This is related to Arrow's Impossibility Theorem which is a super interesting result demonstrating the impossibility of generating reasonable voting systems.  Direct Unanimous Democracy is not subject to these challenges because, well, it only does something if every single person agrees.

The basic argument of the book is that we are all obliged to carefully consider what is right and wrong and act accordingly, and that acknowledging the authority of another is tantamount to abandoning that responsibility.  In other words, if you say someone is an authority, you are saying that you should do what they say because they are the ones saying it, not because you agree with them or whatever.  If you grant that an entity has authority, then you are saying that, within the scope of their authority, their moral judgement supersedes your own.  Therefore, authority is fundamentally at odds with moral autonomy.  The only way to get around this problem is to ensure that the authority in question is in fact only enforcing your own moral judgments upon you.  The only way to guarantee this situation is for the authority to only enforce laws upon you to which you have explicitly agreed.  That way, if you step out you're doing so against your considered moral judgement, and it is right and just that the state place you back on your proper path.  It basically makes the state a giant shared conscience.  Of course, direct unanimous democracy is tantamount to anarchy.  

Wolff argues that this means that no practical and morally valid government can ever be constructed.  Before I read the book, I agreed with him.  I think that he provides a way out of his contradiction, Which I'll discuss in my next post.

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