A response to the "Occupy Movement"

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bob reinvents anarcho-capitalism?

Hi all,

[My name is Parke. I live in Eureka. I met Bob several years ago at meetings of the Voter Confidence Committee. I think Bob also attended a Ron Paul meetup back in late 2007 or early 2008.]

[This post is a response to Bob's post entitled: The Precepts of Entrepreneurial Humanism.]

In his "Precepts", Bob references the Declaration of Independence. I think it is worth re-reading the central sentence of Declaration of Independence for comparison.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

When I first read Bob's Declaration of Commonality, I was skeptical about points 1-5. They seemed vague enough to be used to justify a wide range of eventual conclusions.

Point 6 is the first radical and distinctive point of the Declaration. "A socio-economic system that truly does work well for most people most of the time cannot be coerced or legislated into existence." This is amazingly similar to the non-aggression principle of libertarian political philosophy: the rejection of the aggressive use of force (or coercion) as a political tool.

In Point 7, Bob suggests that all laws are of the form: "If you DON'T do this, I will hurt you." I would call this a "positive" law, in that it requires a certain action. But there are also "negative" laws, that forbid certain actions: "If you DO do this, I will hurt you."

If you subscribe to the libertarian non-aggression principle, the distinction between positive and negative laws is less important. All just laws have the form: "If you attack me, I will defend myself." Consequently, no law should authorize the aggressive use of force or coercion, and any laws that do are illegitimate.

Point 8 has shades of the Declaration of Independence's claim that "[Governments] deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed".

Point 9 echoes Thoreau's Civil Disobedience: "That government is best which governs least."

In points 10-14, Bob basically (re)invents anarcho-capitalism: the abolition of government (political hierarchy), and the belief in private property and free markets.

Googling turns up an "Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto". The Manifesto is probably not a recruiting document (it won't inspire converts), but it does clearly identify and separate the key concepts of anarcho-capitalism.

Wikipedia also has an article on Anarcho-capitalism.

Point 12 ("The way forward...") describes what I have heard is one of the scenarios by which a society could decide to live in an anarcho-capitalistic manner - namely, that a majority of people in the society would recognize that government does more harm than good, and decide that they would be better off without it. An alternative approach might be to work within the current governmental/political system to repeal the excessive quantity of laws our current government has foisted upon us.

I do see somewhat of an inconsistency in the Declaration of Commonality regarding what the proper nature and role of "the law" (governmental law) is. In 9, Bob writes we should "reduc[e] our body of law and its machinery to the minimum", which implies that we should keep some small amount of governmental law and governmental machinery in place. But then later, in 12, Bob writes that "The way forward is ... not by voting for representatives or legislation", suggesting that he might want to abolish all legislation (and also the governmental machinery that goes with it). How you answer this question determines whether or not you are an anarchist. If you refrain from anarchism, you probably want to encourage citizens to work inside government to shrink it. Alternatively, if you subscribe to anarchism, you might instead just encourage citizens to ignore government on the grounds that it is illegitimate and will eventually go away.

How Bob wants to improve his Precepts and Declaration really depends on what he wants it to accomplish. I might make some minor improvements here and there. But most changes should be driven by what the goal is, and that is not a decision for me to make.

Interestingly, I had dinner with a couple of anarchists in Reno in September. As a result of that discussion, I thought about trying to rewrite the Declaration of Independence not to justify the "instituting of Governments among Men", but rather to call for the abolition of governments, on the grounds that government itself is the biggest threat to our Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Unlike Bob, I never started writing it. If I had, I would have tried to mirror the (linguistic) structure of the Declaration of Independence as closely as possible, in order to highlight the specific differences between it and my "Declaration of Peace and Prosperity" (working title).

My thanks to Bob for starting this blog off with such a substantive post!
The Precepts of Entrepreneurial Humanism

I am presenting these ideas in a form similar to the Declaration of Independence, because I believe that the challenges that we face now call for as sweeping and passionate a statement of principles as that one.

I present it here not as a completed work but a starting place for dialog, in the trust that we will somehow find the language to inspire the re-birth of a nation, and the commitment to make it so.

Declaration of Commonality

We who desire peace and prosperity for ourselves and for all people hereby declare our belief in the following principals, our commitment to living these principals in our daily lives, and to creating a nation and a world in which cooperation and goodwill are the norm.

1. As human beings, we are more alike than different.
2. The basic needs common to all humans include the physical (e.g., food, shelter,) and the emotional and metaphysical (e.g., companionship, a sense of belonging and success in the world.)
3. There is an inherent human dichotomy between the need to stand out and the need to blend in, to cooperate and to compete, to contribute to the collective good, and to create and acquire for one's self.
4. Given this inherent dichotomy, and the subjective nature of our emotional and metaphysical needs, no socio-economic system will ever function equally well for meeting the needs of all the people all the time.
5. What is achievable, given strong enough consensus and self-discipline, is a socio-economic system that works well for most people most of the time, and in which there is mutual respect between the least and most prosperous.
6. A socio-economic system that truly does work well for most people most of the time cannot be coerced or legislated into existence. It can only come about through the cooperation of a clear majority of citizens who honor both the common and individual good, and who take personal responsibility for creating and upholding both.
7. The dichotomy of individual vs. common good applies to government in all forms, including taxation, and all law embodies some degree of coercion. ("If you don't do this, I will hurt you.")
8. In a system that depends on the ongoing cooperation of a clear majority of citizens to function, all law (and all of the 'machinery' that goes with it , including taxation,) must always be kept to an irreducible minimum.
9. In reducing our body of law and its machinery to the minimum, we must take personal responsibility for creating institutions of cooperation to replace the institutions of coercion.
10. This means that a clear majority of citizens must look closely at our own beliefs and behaviors, evaluate these in terms of the balance of individual and common good, and do this in community with other citizens. In this way we can all see what we're doing, why and how we're doing it, and how what we do as individuals will impact the larger whole.
11. Democracy, as it is currently defined, is about trying to put the creation of law into the hands of the people who will be governed by it. But the ways in which we've practiced it have created a juggernaut of laws that only lawyers can even pretend to understand, bureaucracies that can create as many problems as they solve, and a burden of taxation and national debt that threatens to crush our entire nation under their weight.
12. The way forward is a new democracy of personal responsibility, in which a clear and conscious majority of citizens cooperate to fulfill their desires for peace and prosperity - not to the exclusion of voting for representatives or legislation, but primarily by consciously shaping our own behaviors to create it.
13. The cornerstone of a democracy of personal responsibility is the power of the marketplace, because the personal behaviors that have by far the greatest impact on the common good are the ways in which we spend and earn money.
14. By earning and spending money in awareness of how we impact the common good, and doing this in conscious cooperation with like-minded citizens, we create a new marketplace, a new economy, a new nation, a new world.

Bob Olofson