Talking Past the Danger of the State, Research Time, 24/09/2014

A shorter post today, after my weeklong engagement with my thought processes that led me to reading Robert Nozick in full, years too late, and my initial reactions to the philosophical premises and ideas that animate his thought. This is a little more small-scale than some of my other ideas, really only a few paragraphs work. It should be something of a relief after the extended meanderings of my previous “The Right Wing” posts. 

As well, rehearsals for You Were My Friend have begun at the Pearl Company Theatre down on Steven Street in east Hamilton, which I’ll be regularly promoting on this blog through my own individual effort, and in as many other media as we can find through the effort of my working group at Sheridan College’s Corporate Communications program. So my posts leading into the weekend will probably discuss how my script is mutating into a wonderful, strange, living creature made of a director, a set designer, two actresses, and a theatre.

Plus, my old friend C, who I’ve known since we were 18 years old an in our first weeks of university, is getting married at the Sandbanks out by Belleville this weekend. And my girlfriend and I will be there, trying desperately to avoid getting lost on our way to the locations. So that will probably pause the blog for a few extra days. Hell, I won’t even be able to watch Doctor Who for days after transmission. And it’s Gareth Roberts’ episode!

October is going to feel so relaxed.

But I have a bit of a beef with how Nozick, with his individualistic philosophical premises, seems to have misunderstood a key argument of traditional anarchist thinking. The philosophy of libertarianism has so many common features with anarchistic political movements that they should be natural allies, but Nozick has the advantages of revealing the central premises that keeps the two camps forever opposed.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon really was the most
crotchety of all the revolutionaries.
In this early chapter of Anarchy, State, and Utopia, he describes what he takes to be the anarchist reason for refusing the authority of the state, quoting Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s theatrical list of state coercions. It really is quite impressive.
To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.
From this, Nozick concludes that the anarchist motivation is the same as his own libertarian motive: that by forcing us to subsidize the protection of others from violence, the state violates our rights to autonomy when we do no active harm to others. 

But the anarchist motivation doesn’t actually lie in opposition to this protective device called the state security apparatus. Nozick is writing this way because his social contract thinking that began the book prioritizes protection from violent vigilante retribution as the essential function of the state. From the anarchist perspective, the state is a giant institution of vigilantism that we’ve all become accustomed to accept. The state has the power to do all these actions to you, but with no assurance that the people who work in state institutions have the intellectual and ethical capacity to use these powers wisely. An anarchist is anti-state because investing so much military and police power over a society in a single institution is a very dangerous thing; nothing prevents the military or police from going to war on its own population for the institution’s own ends. 

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