Monday, June 02, 2008

Crispin Sartwell's Challenge on the Moral Justification of State Power

Crispin Sartwell has a new book out and issues this challenge:

My irritating yet astounding new book Against the State (SUNY Press) argues that

(1) The political state or government rests on violence (force and coercion).
(2) Violence is always wrong if it can't be morally justified. (That is, violence is wrong if it lacks a moral justification.)
(3) The arguments for the moral legitimacy of state - for example those of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Hegel, Rawls, and Habermas - are unsound.
(4) Hence, state power has not been shown to be morally defensible.

Until you show me otherwise, I insist that government power is in every case illegitimate.

Not only are the existing arguments for the legitimacy of state power unsound; they are pitiful, embarrassments to the Western intellectual tradition.

So I issue a challenge: Give a decent argument for the moral legitimacy of state power, or reconstruct one of the traditional arguments in the face of the refutations in Against the State.

If you can't, you are rationally obliged to accept anarchism.

Henceforward, if you continue to support or observe the authority of government, you are an evil, irrational cultist.

You're an anarchist now, baby, until further notice.
We don't let "irritating, but astounding" go so easily around these parts, buddy.

The rub here is that one would have to read the book to see if premise 3 is correct, but my line would have to follow Thomas Hobbes. I've been swayed by Hanno's non-standard reading of Hobbes wherein it's not that we all are psychological egoists (people who can only act in our own perceived best self-interest), but it is a fact that no matter where we are there will always be an asshole among us. If we do not have a strong enough state to keep the asshole in check, no one thrives. Given that human flourishing is a significant moral good, state power at least to the point of keeping that amount of order which provides the social infrastructure for human flourishing would be morally justified. It may be a live question how much government that is, but that at least some is needed seems legit on this basis. You can watch Crispin's response to the social contractarian line over at his blog Eye of the Storm.

So, what's your take?