Political philosophy begins with the question: who should have political authority and why? Anarchism answers: no one. Popular mythology tells us this is synonymous with chaos and disorder, but there are many reasons to doubt this must be so. In this episode, I argue that anarchism – properly understood – is in fact the correct answer to the problem of political authority; it is the only answer that avoids unjust hierarchies, provides for individual and social freedom, and optimizes for general welfare. This is because, in a word, society is best seen (and run) as a web, not as a pyramid.
Much of my focus is on specifying what I mean by anarchism, and which version of anarchism I’m arguing for. Specifically, I argue that the notion of a free market – again, properly understood – is at the heart of anarchism. At the same time, I argue against “capitalism” as being a confused and rather unhelpful notion, quite removed from the notion of a free market. I also argue against popular libertarian approaches to free markets and anarchism, such as the so-called “non-aggression principle” and property rights. Instead, I zero in on a notion of free market defined as a cultural norm in which monopolies are viewed as unacceptable. Only this definition, I argue, properly communicates what a free market really is and only it provides the necessary conditions for a free and prosperous society. It is, at the same time, a maximally permissive definition: it requires no particular views on interpersonal ethics or lifestyle, and is as compatible with (for example) communism as it is with more familiar notions of “free markets”.…
Roderick Long’s essay “On Making Small Contributions to Evil” tackles a deep problem in ethics and rational actor theory. Suppose you, individually, decide to stop recycling – will that make any detectable difference for the environment? Suppose you stop eating meat for ethical reasons – will that result in the death of even one less animal? Suppose you vote in the general election – will that make any detectable difference to the election result? Most likely: no, no, no.
This seems like a problem. It feels like there are ethical imperatives involved here – certainly, we should recycle if it is good for the environment. At the same time, are there really ethical imperatives without consequences? Does that make sense?
Eradication of evil as a public good
Long’s essay conceptualizes this issue as one about the provision of public goods. Public goods are goods that are non-excludable (that is, it is very difficult to exclude someone from using them) and non-rivalrous (their utility isn’t diminished by one more person’s use). A beautiful sunset is an example: anyone can benefit and it doesn’t diminish anyone’s benefit if an additional person benefits. Same goes for lighthouses, national security, and asteroid defense.
Public goods tend to be underprovided by the market because of the “free-rider problem”: if the good is non-excludable, why would you ever pay for it? If you had the choice, would you pay in for national security? Why bother? Even if you don’t, so long as your neighbors do, you’ll still benefit.…
In part 1, I defined the state as a pattern of behaviors coupled with a collective interpretation of that pattern. In this second part, I move on to the case for anarchism proper. I begin by showing that the case for the state is inherently one from necessary evil. If I’m right, and it turns out that the state is not necessary after all, it follows that it is undesirable. This is what I argue in the first half of the episode. I conclude with an extended discussion of strategy. If the state is undesirable, then how should we go about getting rid of it? By analyzing what the state is, we see that both revolution and activism are unlikely to succeed. The only path forward with a real chance of success is agorism.
Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
0:20 – Quick part 1 recap
1:05 – Necessary evil
4:39 – “Necessary” is part of the CIF
6:43 – General rule: less is necessary than appears to be
8:30 – The significance of empirical counterexamples
11:52 – Polycentrism
14:50 – Competition facilitates accountability
22:13 – Against revolution
24:44 – Against activism, for agorism
30:28 – Obsession with combating Trump
34:06 – Objections to “see no evil”
36:00 – Empirical effectiveness of activism
38:12 – Capitalism v.…