Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Left-Libertarianism Is Not Communism: A Reply to Joel Davis

It appears that over at Reddit.com, a fellow going by sblinn decided to share one of my previous posts on resource-egalitarian left-libertarianism with the rest of the Reddit community.  So a big thank you goes out to sblinn for checking out my work and posting it over there!  I received some criticism, though, in the comments section of the listing by someone named Joel Davis, who appears to be a communist [edit: later in the comments thread, Joel claims not to be one, so I'm not entirely sure what to make of the fact that he defends points he calls communist throughout his reply...].  Joel clearly put a lot of time and effort into his comments, and so I wanted to try to think about some of his points here.

First, Joel wonders:
Isn't "property" itself a system? Can't we solve this "problem" by just choosing not to enforce property, thus securing egalitarian conditions through a net decrease in coercive authority?

I do agree that property -- or more specifically, any society's set of conventions for recognizing claims to possessions and adjudicating disputes arising over those claims -- is a system of social organization, and that such a system could be dispensed with if a society so chose.   And I can see why Joel would conceive of such a move as involving a net decrease in coercive authority.  After all, by abandoning a set of social conventions for dealing with property claims, we would seem to dissolve the mechanisms by which those conventions were enforced, and also the mechanisms by which those kinds of conventions were formed in the first place.  And that seems like a curtailment of a certain kind of authority.

But it's less clear to me why Joel thinks that such a move would bring us closer to egalitarian ideals.  It seems like in the absence of a property system, there would either arise a set of social relationships that were substantially similar to a sort of property system, except without any unifying set of conventions (since that would seem to be a property system itself), or else there would be a system in which claims over possessions were not widely recognized and protected.  

In the former case, we seem to wind up right where we started.  I don't see why having a pluralistic system of property rights would militate against inequality any more than a more universal system of property rights would.  To defend this, one would only need to point out that whatever possession-respecting manner in which some members of a pluralistic society related to each other with egalitarian results could simply be practiced on a society-wide scale.  And by doing so, we could coherently claim to have instituted a sort of property system, though it would likely need to be different than the sort of property system we generally see in practice today.

In the latter case, where there is no generally accepted set of cultural institutions regarding possessions, and where individuals have not created a similar -- though pluralistic -- system to put in the place of one, it would seem like the only remaining alternative would be to not recognize claims to property at all (since doing so would seem to involve one of the two possibilities already discussed).  But such a system would be anarchy in the pejorative sense of the word.  People would simply do whatever they wanted with other people's property -- remember, if they restrained themselves from this, we would be dealing of an example of the sort discussed in the previous paragraph.  If this would bring about egalitarian consequences, it would only be in the sense of mutual destruction.  But more likely, egalitarians would be angered to find that the strongest could exercise their power over the weakest, generating a different sort of inequality, but inequality nonetheless.

So I really can't see why Joel would think that the abandonment of property altogether would tend towards egalitarian goals.  It must be noted here that I have spoken of property in a broad sense, and many people have historically talked about the elimination of capitalistic standards of property as if they were talking about dispensing with property altogether.  But presumably, there would still be a desire to kick trespassers out of one's house in the communist utopia, and to have the trespasser seen as the morally faulty party in such a scenario.  And one simply can't make sense of this besides through an appeal to something like a right relating to one's own house, which would be a sort of property right.  A property right of a different kind, to be sure, than the one which enables the capitalist to bequeath access and title to the means of production to his children, but a property right nonetheless.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the latter sort of system would not be something that left-libertarians would want to endorse, at least as far as I can discern.  Most left-libertarians seem to be in favor of property rights of some kind, though they might be open to the second sort of set-up in which there is no property system as such, but rather a kind of pluralistic, decentralized approach to dealing with these rights.  And the reason it makes sense that left-libertarians favor these rights is that left-libertarians believe in self-ownership partly because they want people to have the freedom to "do what they want with their own."  Hence Peter Vallentyne began his entry on Libertarianism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy with the claim that "Libertarianism holds that agents initially fully own themselves and have moral powers to acquire property rights in external things under certain conditions." So in summary, I agree that one can abandon a property system if one wants, but I don't see why this would tend to encourage equality, and unless the alternative to a property system were substantially like a property system, I don't think a left-libertarian would want to endorse it (remember, my post was about left-libertarians, and so might not respond to other sorts of views).

Joel's next substantive point is this:
It (obviously) doesn't follow that just because there will be some inequality that we need to endorse a system of property as it exists today.

And this is undoubtedly true. I certainly didn't mean to suggest in anything that I said that the only alternative to the left-libertarian views I challenged in my other post involved a wholesale endorsement of today's property norms.  Even the most right-wing libertarian views don't entail that.  So to the extent to which my previous post suggested anything like this, I apologize for the confusion.

The point I had been trying to make starts with the claim that with an egalitarian initial allocation of resources, differences in luck, effort, and ability would eventually bring it about that some individuals would end up with more than others.  This would not be the case because of any defect in the initial distribution's fulfillment of egalitarian ideals, but rather because it would simply be impossible to engineer an egalitarian distribution such that the tendencies towards movements away from equality would be preempted indefinitely.  This is not a point that I introduced, and is accepted by both right-libertarians like Nozick and egalitarians like Cohen.  I didn't think it particularly necessary to defend it in depth because...well...very few people disagree with it.  But I again apologize if I didn't articulate the point as clearly as I might have.

This is important in the context of our discussion of left-libertarianism because the reason that the left-libertarian wants the egalitarian distribution of resources in the first place is because she wants there to be equality without the kinds of coercive redistributions that I and others have claimed would be necessary to preserve equality, even with an egalitarian initial distribution.  That the left-libertarians in question want this can be easily evidenced by Michael Otsuka's somewhat recent choice to name his excellent book Libertarianism Without Inequality, and I think you'd be rather hard pressed to find one of these people who would disagree with that characterization.  Accordingly, my argument is that if it isn't true that an egalitarian initial distribution would ensure equality over the long term, then the left-libertarian argument would essentially just be an objection to the mere fact that there was not an egalitarian intial distribution -- that is, that a society did not have the right kind of history.

Joel's next point is:
...if [by "self-ownership"] you mean control of your body, then most communists would agree with that as a human right. If you mean it (as is often the cause) already-bundled with private property, then they would disagree, but only for the propertarian aspects. If "property" isn't legitimate in the first place, then denial of it can't be an infringement on self-ownership. Just like a person who dies can't claim that the still living "stole time" from him. The time wasn't his, he has no natural or moral claim to it, and he's just being an obstinate spook.

The problem here is that what communists think is entirely beside the point.  A left-libertarian is not a communist, and vice-versa.  So it may be true that one can save self-ownership by making it purely formal, as Joel suggests, but this option is not open to the left-libertarian, and so this point is a non-sequitar.

This applies to a number of Joel's next points, which I will not address here.  The problem appears to be that Joel thinks that I was trying to engage with communists, when I simply was not.  The article was about a very particular approach to political philosophy, and I think I made that very clear.

A point that I will address, however, stemmed from my claim that there would not be any objectively acceptable way to implement the left-libertarians' principles even if we accepted them at face value.  Joel responded that all moral codes suffer from the same problem of non-objectivity.  But I think that Joel misunderstood my point.  I didn't mean that the left-libertarians' moral principles were not objectively true, and that this was a problem for them.  If I had argued this, then Joel's criticism would be a good one.  

But my argument was that even if we grant the left-libertarians their point, and accept that what one needs to do is perform an egalitarian distribution of resources that ensures that everyone gets their fair share, the left-libertarian would have no way to carry out such a plan.  It simply doesn't make sense.  Accordingly, they'd need to construct a somewhat ad hoc system to approximate their ideal.  And this would be fine except for the fact that their approach to political philosophy is a rationalist one, and not an instrumentalist one.  This, I think, creates a tension for their view, since on one hand they seem to want to set the conditions that would allow for an impartially legitimate society, but on the other hand it wouldn't be strictly possible to determine how to set those conditions.  That seems like it's a problem to me.

I guess having gone through this, all I can say is that I don't really know what Joel was trying to accomplish here.  He very rightly showed that my critique of left-libertarianism is not a very critique of communism, and basically tried to show that my points of contention with the former view can be avoided by taking a position incompatible with that view.  And in some cases, I haven't disagreed.  But I don't really 
[Hmm...I'm not sure what happened here, but it looks like the end of this post got chopped off. Oops!]

16 comments:

Joel Davis said...

thank you for taking the time to respond, here is my clarification/response.

Joel Davis said...

I should also point out that I had to split my post into two parts (length requirements) and part two was written as a response to the first part. (just in case some comments get added inbetween now and when you read this.)

Danny Shahar said...

Joel, I haven't had time to read through your comments in their entirety, and will try to do so soon. But one point of contention seems to be clear from the outset: you're defending a system of thought that my initial post was never intending to attack, and which has nothing to do with the paradigm to which my initial comments were addressed.

It's true that there are a number of people who consider themselves to be "left-libertarians" who are anarcho-communists, mutualists, Geo-libertarians, and the rest. I haven't gone back to look at my phrasing in the original post, but I do think I may have been clumsy up to now in talking about resource-egalitarian left-libertarians, since these folks would also fall under this umbrella.

However, I didn't think it would be necessary to specify exactly who I wasn't talking about since the person asking the question to which the post was a response was very specific about who he was talking about. As you've repeated that you aren't particularly well-versed in the literature behind these issues, I won't blame you for being confused. But it's important that you understand whose philosophy I was talking about before trying to dissect my critique. The original questioner asked about the left-libertarianism of Hillel Steiner, Michael Otsuka, and Peter Vallentyne. My comments engaged their ideas (which are not uniform themselves, but which I take to have common themes as I discussed in the post). And they engaged only their ideas!

So I'm going to read your comments when I get a chance, and I'll let you know what I think. But before you try to poke more holes in what I'm saying, I recommend that you actually find out what Hillel Steiner, Michael Otsuka, and Peter Vallentyne think, and then reread my initial post to see if what I said made sense. Right now, this conversation amounts to me saying "Idea A is wrong for reason X," and you responding, "But idea B is immune to objections based on reason X!" It's just not worth either of our energy.

Joel Davis said...

well my point was that a discussion of communist principles might not be totally out of line in a discussion of resource egalitarianism. I didn't set out to 'defend' or 'attack' any given ideology, just that I see an ideology as this and that, and feel it has some bear on the specifics of what you were talking about.

I'm saying I categorically disagree with what you're saying, just that considering communist lines of thought in certain areas might help give us all a clearer picture of the different ways in which the system can be worked out.

Danny Shahar said...

Well that may be true, but in that case you shouldn't be objecting to anything; you're just changing the subject. And you certainly shouldn't be saying things like "Too bad this fellow doesn't know much about anarchy." That's just sort of a mean way to start a conversation, especially when you clearly don't have a deep background in the subject. To be sure, I'm happy to discuss these things with you, but it would be nice if you treated me like someone who you had contacted out of the blue to talk about philosophy, rather than like some idiot who has made an ass of himself in a public forum.

It is undoubtedly the case that a wide range of paradigms are able to avoid the problems that create issues for left-libertarianism of the kind I was discussing. Because communism rejects a lot of the positions to which left-libertarianism is committed, objections to those principles won't apply to communism. Communism must be objected to on its own terms if it is to be rejected.

Unfortunately, it will be impossible for me to engage your views if you only tell me what you would conclude in certain cases, which is what you've done up to this point. In order for me to talk coherently about your ideas, you'll need to explain to me what they are. Otherwise, I can't coherently object. You aren't, for example, obviously putting forward a sort of Marxism or mutualism or geo-libertarianism. So I need a little bit of help if you want to discuss whether or not the "communism" that you have in mind represents an improvement over left-libertarianism or whether it has serious problems of its own.

Danny Shahar said...

Specifically, a few things that need clarification:

1. In your first post, you mentioned that more egalitarian conditions could be reached through abandoning a property system. But in your follow-up post, you say that you are not "anti-property," and discuss a position by which the property system could be amended in order to make it more fair. What do you actually think about this, and why?

2. When you talk about "harm" in appropriation, what do you mean? Nozick's discussion of the Lockean Proviso set the stage for the modern discussion of this issue, which was followed up by Cohen, the left-libertarians of the sort I was discussing in my earlier post, and eventually by libertarian-leaning liberals like David Schmidtz. But your discussion seems to reject their conclusions in favor of something like Mutualism. However, not only do Mutualists embrace private property, but egalitarian Mutualists are also vulnerable to the objections to Marxism introduced by Cohen in his Self-ownership, Freedom, and Equality -- namely, that the very same kind of interference with self-ownership to which Marxists object in capitalist relationships is present in the relationship between the individual and the collective under the Marxist (and Mutualist) regime. This is why the left-libertarians sought to create a political philosophy which avoided the use of coercive redistributions. Why is your view not vulnerable to this objection?

3. You talk a bit about anarcho-communism, which is built on the idea that egalitarian results would be brought about through voluntary communal organization, and so no one would need to be coerced. Why do you (or anyone, really) find this to be a plausible conception about how society would work on a large scale? I mean, it just lies in the face of everything we know about how people are...

Joel Davis said...

>Well that may be true, but in that case you shouldn't be objecting to anything; you're just changing the subject.

I'm not changing the subject. The fact that some communist ideas might come to bear on certain issues like resource egalitarianism


Take, for example, your first objection in the original blog posting. Might a (boring a ancomm concept) noncoercive method of redistributing resources be some measure of a "use" facility? Maybe doing something like disallowing large inheritances would help redistribute resources without the need for someone to get hurt.

The logic from there gets pretty straightforward.

>That's just sort of a mean way to start a conversation, especially when you clearly don't have a deep background in the subject. To be sure, I'm happy to discuss these things with you, but it would be nice if you treated me like someone who you had contacted out of the blue to talk about philosophy, rather than like some idiot who has made an ass of himself in a public forum.

Well I'm sorry if some of my comments came off as abrasive, and the anarchy comment was actually supposed to be kind of neutral (those on the "libertarian left" don't necessarily call themselves anarchists)

but in my defense, perpetuating the idea that communists (whether you were intentionally referencing them or not) are somehow advocating coercive institutions is as offensive to people I do know and respect and who I don't think are really want to advocate the construction coercive institutions, is pretty offensive by itself. This is especially true if the commenter you were referencing in the post implied that communists were "evil" and your response to the first commenter in that post began with "I don't think you're a libertarian at all" Once again, after talking with you I realize you probably weren't doing it on purpose, however many times that is where more conservative people go with it.

I don't feel like I'm changing the subject at all. You referenced anarcho-communism indirectly both in terms of your subject matter and bordering on explicitly on point 2 ("we would seemingly need to have coercive enforcement of use limits.")

>Unfortunately, it will be impossible for me to engage your views if you only tell me what you would conclude in certain cases, which is what you've done up to this point. In order for me to talk coherently about your ideas, you'll need to explain to me what they are. Otherwise, I can't coherently object. You aren't, for example, obviously putting forward a sort of Marxism or mutualism or geo-libertarianism. So I need a little bit of help if you want to discuss whether or not the "communism" that you have in mind represents an improvement over left-libertarianism or whether it has serious problems of its own.

Well my point was basically twofold: a) take issue with what I considered an unfair treatment of anarcho-communism (defense of "use rights" being called coercive meanwhile implying that private property would be less so somehow, or that liberalizing property restrictions somehow introduces uncertainty of proper, socially beneficial and allowable uses of resources) b) introduce the idea that if one seeks "redistribution" of resources, that a system can accomplish it almost as easily through passive nonenforcement criteria that continually tends towards the levelling of resources (like usage and harm criteria) as with active expropriation.

My issue is more with your intermediate logic than with your final conclusions. as i said I'm a propertarian for reasons of industrialization and separation of interests.

Joel Davis said...

>In your first post, you mentioned that more egalitarian conditions could be reached through abandoning a property system. But in your follow-up post, you say that you are not "anti-property",

Well no you classified the communist position as being anti-property. I don't believe I ever would have been that categorical about it.

We're also not talking about my political or social ideology here, we're discussion a line of social thought and and I'm talking about how it might be brought to bear on certain assumptions that you've made here.

I'm not a communist, and (like I said) not not-a-communist.

>Nozick's discussion of the Lockean Proviso set the stage for the modern discussion of this issue, which was followed up by Cohen, the left-libertarians of the sort I was discussing in my earlier post, and eventually by libertarian-leaning liberals like David Schmidtz.

But you were being categorical, and I was saying that some liberalization of property restrictions could be made to support their system in the real world. Some concept of property that cofactors an individual's finite capacity of usage into it's calculation of whether or not an individual can enforce those rights can be as redistributive as active expropriation.

Supposing you agree with my logic up until that point, the conclusion changes from "nothing there" to "it remains to be argued completely" as I don't know many prominent people who would consider themselves propertarians and also advocate a loosening of property restrictions as a means of leveling resource distribution. That being my perception of the goal of resource egalitarianism.

Of course, one problem that may exist mixing the two, that's a running game, so it applies as well to them as to their predecessors. So if the proponent wants initial egalitarianism followed by complete propertarianism, that may be problematic at first (although I don't doubt there's the capacity to make such an argument.)

>But your discussion seems to reject their conclusions in favor of something like Mutualism.

You keep trying to make my arguments more absolutist than they are. I'm intrigued by communism and it may be a better system than mutualism, but I don't see a realistic way of safeguarding mementos, industrialization and the complete separation of interests (the latter possibly being a boogeyman of my own making.)

I am unconvinced of the arguments for communism, that's different than rejecting them.

>namely, that the very same kind of interference with self-ownership to which Marxists object in capitalist relationships is present in the relationship between the individual and the collective under the Marxist (and Mutualist) regime.

Well first off, I call myself mutualist since I have ideas that I think it's fitting to anchor myself against that particular label. I'm propertarian within certain limits (stealing food when starving shouldn't be prosecutable, I tend to take a softer line when considering actions others see as violations of private property, etc.) Even given that. Carson's book is great, preserves self-ownership and everything. He argues (rightly) that markets of predominately autonomous craftsmen and worker cooperatives is in fact the hidden norm of markets, and it gets obfuscated by modern interference with the market (and self-ownership.) it's a difference of conclusions more the actual premises. Land ownership and ideas are about the only thing communistic about it. However, even if it was communist in everything, if self-ownership doesn't translate into monopoly of labored resources, then it just simply doesn't apply. "self-ownership" is only tangential to that discussion.

>Why is your view not vulnerable to this objection?

Well libertarian communism isn't vulnerable to it because it's talking about a detente on existing coercion by reducing the amount of enforceable property rights.

Mutualism isn't, because it's leftwing anarcho-capitalism with a different anticipation of the consequences on noncoercive societies.

>You talk a bit about anarcho-communism, which is built on the idea that egalitarian results would be brought about through voluntary communal organization, and so no one would need to be coerced. Why do you (or anyone, really) find this to be a plausible conception about how society would work on a large scale?

As I said, I don't know how property restrictions would be worked out for what they consider to be "socially beneficial" labor (like factories, retail stores, etc) but just because I'm not aware of what their solution to the problem doesn't mean it doesn't exist or if it does that it's somehow invalid.

>I mean, it just lies in the face of everything we know about how people are...

I don't think that's true.

Danny Shahar said...

I guess the question that immediately jumps to mind is: exactly what are you hoping to get out of this conversation? You've specifically said that you don't hold any particular position, and you're responding to my critiques of a position that neither of us holds. You've said that loosening certain rules that characterize our current system -- like removing standards of absentee ownership and reinterpreting what it means to harm someone by damaging or destroying their property -- would be consistent with the views of a school of thought that neither of us endorses, and have thus far failed to give any coherent reason why anyone should care. And you've suggested that you think that an unenforced standard could somehow affect movements in the direction of egalitarianism in spite of not actually having any impact on the world, which seems immensely difficult to believe in the absence of extremely altruistic and committed individuals, without offering much of an explanation except -- as far as I can tell -- that you think that it's reasonable. But you've also said that you don't necessarily think that such a system would be best. So I guess I just want to know: why are we having this conversation?

Joel Davis said...

>would be consistent with the views of a school of thought that neither of us endorses

Ideas aren't nationalities. Ideas present within one system can still be made to survive (and in this case I believe maybe desirably so) in a different context.

One can make reference to the consequences of some German legislation without being German oneself.

>and have thus far failed to give any coherent reason why anyone should care

because I had imagined that the idea of a passive redistribution of resource might be appealing to libertarians, even those who are more propertarian but still want a more egalitarian access to resources.

you apply the ideas of communism to say abolish/minimize inheritance and to get an idea how one can treat mineral resources as a commons without strict ownership controls by taking a look at communism to see how it solves its usage problems.

>And you've suggested that you think that an unenforced standard could somehow affect movements in the direction of egalitarianism in spite of not actually having any impact on the world, which seems immensely difficult to believe in the absence of extremely altruistic and committed individuals

The more legalistic aspects of it doesn't really have any bearing on incentives, especially if you retain a large portion of the concept of "property" in the system of logic developed.

If, just as an example, if you somehow define mineral extraction as a justifiably common endeavor, and abolish inheritance. That has next to no impact on incentives once the mineral is taken out of the earth and labor is mixed with it somehow. Abolishing inheritance is rather easy as well, you just stop enforcing property restrictions at all and let the resources go to the crosswinds, which has the general effect of "recycling" previously concentrated resources amongst many people. That's just one way I can think of something like that working.

The main point of this whole idea of mixing is to take issue with your more categorical statements in point 1 of the original blog entry that pretty much said that redistribution had to be coercive. Which is another problem I had with the blog posting. You made it sound like anarcho-communists (I realize now it was probably unintentional) were Stalinists in disguise.

>But you've also said that you don't necessarily think that such a system would be best.

You're trying to turn it into an absolute again. Again, I'm not not-a-communist. I'm a not-convinced-of-communism.

The issues I have with it have to do with, while being libertarian in nature, I don't understand (by way of ignorance on the subject, I'll admit) how they work the concept of "social harm" and "socially useful work" into their system of ethics. I know those are concepts within anarcho-communism but I'd just not convinced of the practical details as of yet and argue mutualism as more of a default position.

>So I guess I just want to know: why are we having this conversation?

Initially it was my belief that you were giving anarcho-communists a bad wrap and that their beliefs might actually help more propertarian libertarians in their own deliberations.

After that the conversation kind of branched out in all directions.

Danny Shahar said...

I guess here's what it comes down to: As of right now, I don't care about any of this. It has nothing to do with what I wrote in my initial post, and because it's an unenforced and anarchistic point of view, it's entirely consistent with my paradigm.

Here's what could make me care:

1) If you could demonstrate how a system of property rights which prohibited absentee ownership would be more effective than one with a more inclusive system which allowed both co-operatives and more traditional structures of organization and management to the point where we should somehow try to non-coercively eliminate the latter.

2) If you could explain why a system of purely voluntary redistribution under anarcho-communism -- or whatever it is that you want to call your non-position -- would be fundamentally different from the charity system that we already have in place, to the point where we could expect it to create an egalitarian society radically unlike the one that currently exists.

3) If you could show why, in the absence of a state entity to deal with newly-unowned estates, we would expect anything but chaos from a system that abolished all inheritances.

Joel Davis said...

>It has nothing to do with what I wrote in my initial post

Yes it does. It goes to points 1 and 2 in the initial post. You made categoricals about the necessity of coercion on the redistribution of resources and I said that redistribution could be accomplished through passive nonenforcement.

Additionally, I also said your initial post, I perceived as being hostile to communism in general. A title which you're now in the process of regaining.

>how a system of property rights which prohibited absentee ownership would be more effective than one with a more inclusive system

The same way any system would be inclusive I guess. What guidelines would you use to separate those who are propertarian? The same guidelines would apply to any communist/propertarian hybrid you create.

>If you could explain why a system of purely voluntary redistribution under anarcho-communism [...] would be fundamentally different from the charity system that we already have in place, to the point where we could expect it to create an egalitarian society radically unlike the one that currently exists.

Because "charity" has to do with a voluntary surrendering of property rights that you are seen as entitled to. This is about certain property rights not being observed at all.

>-- or whatever it is that you want to call your non-position --

You're still calling me an anarcho-communist, just in a different way. These ideologies are just labels for groups of ideas that are grouped together. You don't have to be strictly anarcho-communist to look at their thoughts for guidance in some area.

> If you could show why, in the absence of a state entity to deal with newly-unowned estates, we would expect anything but chaos from a system that abolished all inheritances.

I don't see how it would be. Financial institutions would just close accounts without refunding any money. Unsold stock in corporations becomes considered "dissolved" (or however you want to term it.) and perhaps local communities and/or family members seize property in some appropriate way (i.e: not kicking widows out into the street.)

There are a variety of ways the legal details could be worked out.

Danny Shahar said...

Okay, one thing at a time. The first objection is this: "In a society where people are free to exchange, trade, and be entrepreneurial, people will end up with materially unequal shares of wealth. It is not reasonable to expect that these people will voluntarily give their property to those who have less if there is no way to pressure or force them to do so. Accordingly, freedom generates conditions in which inequality requires coercive redistribution."

How your rebuttal works isn't exactly clear to me. Part of your argument appears to have something to do with rich people dying and other people being able to take their stuff, but that doesn't seem like it would ensure egalitarian outcomes, since why would only the poor people get the stuff? In the absence of a coercive central authority to design such an outcome into the system, I can't see any reason that this would be an effective system for leveling.

Another part of your argument appears to have something to do with society stopping to enforce certain kinds of property rights. Exactly what kinds of property rights you think might be eliminated, though, is unclear to me. It seems like if the rights are to produce egalitarian outcomes, the most obvious move would be to say that wealth possessed by a person in excess of some "fair share" would be open game. But this would seemingly just be a semantic play to call theft non-coercive because the victim was rich. That is, theft is coercive because of the relationship that people have with their property, and there's no reason to expect that a rich person wouldn't have that sort of relationship with a given thing that could be taken away under a non-property-recognizing system like one that only enforces property rights to one's "fair share."

So if that's not how you're going to make the system work, I'm not sure what you're proposing here. Could you explain how it's supposed to work without pulling out little quotations and giving two-sentence responses? It's almost impossible to follow what you're trying to say when you do that.

Gene Callahan said...

Sorry for butting in here, but I'd jettison that 'self-ownership' bit.

Eric Voegelin:

"The history of political thought does not offer an attack on the dignity of man comparable to [Locke's] classification of the human person as a capital good, to the undisturbed economic use of which one has a natural right. The ancient division of men into freemen and natural slaves, or the modern distinction of superior and inferior races, admits at least of the dignity of a part of mankind and justifies he disregard for the rest by the argument that it consists of an inferior breed of man. But the blunt assertion that man is an instrument of economic production... is again as unique an idea as the Lord's Lunch."

Danny Shahar said...

Hi Gene! I'm no friend of the language of "self-ownership," but Voegelin's critique strikes me as totally unfair to the ideas that Locke was trying to convey. Granted, it's been a while since I read Of Civil Government all the way through, and aside from a few chapters in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding I've never read anything else he wrote. But I can't see how you can get that out of Locke's perspective. Could you elaborate maybe?

Harriett said...

The guy is totally just, and there is no skepticism.

Philosophy Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory Libertarian Blogs Add to Technorati Favorites Back to the Drawing Board - Blogged
"Rational philosophy is on the march. It will f--- up all of your sh-- and leave you without any teeth."