We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Not getting it yet

The state of nature is not the halcyon, bucolic life of myth. Existentially, the state of nature is a place of predators and prey. To escape that uncertainty, predators or prey can join together in mutual association, forming societies. Associations of individuals seeking escape from the state of nature can take one of two existential forms: Collectivist or Individualist.

In a collective existential state, society is one living organism: society and its members are one, and individuals exist only as inextricable parts of collective society. Society itself is alive – so by extension, the rights to liberty and property are also vested in society. Collective societies may grant privilege to members, but they may not recognize individual rights. All rights fall to the living collective society.¹

A collective society must have self-preservation as its primary function, and disentanglement of a collective is the death of something that had life.² In a collective existential state individuals are integral to the community: societal authority must control who joins or leaves the society. Collective societies without strong borders and powerful immune systems lack protection from external and internal threats. Let either its borders or its internal ‘immune system’ fail, and a collective society will bleed out its energy or be overwhelmed by parasites. Allowing departure enables internal threats to reposition themselves as external threats. Allowing departure allows the most productive and capable producers to escape with their skills to where they may benefit the enemies of the collective. This is why, as collectivist societies approach ideological purity, they invariably embrace genocide.

In an Individualist existential state, life is unique for each individual. Individuals are entitled to their own personal life and have no authority over the personal life of anyone else, regardless of whether acting alone or en masse. All individuals are entitled to their own unique liberty, and have no natural right to the liberty of any other person. An individual who is denied liberty is denied that much of their life. Individuals may spend a portion of their life accumulating property. In an individualist existential state each individual must be entitled to own property, and must not forcibly take the property of any other person. If an individual is denied any of their property, they are denied the portion of their liberty and life spent creating or acquiring it. Life equals liberty equals property.

Individuals by nature hold differing opinions on where the boundaries between unique individuals lie. For mutual benefit, individuals may cooperatively and consensually recognize acceptable locations for those boundaries, and these agreed-upon boundaries mark the scope of mutually recognized rights. To secure these boundaries/rights, individuals create governments. Governments created with the consent of individuals legitimately continue to exist only by such consent. A government exceeding its charter usurps individual prerogative and can, by the nature of the deed, only be collectivist – a mutant entity engaging in conquest. Once an initially individualist government abandons its proper function of maintaining the boundaries between individuals, it becomes a slime mold, devoid of cellular partitions, voraciously feeding on the individuals it was charged to protect.

Existential Individualists are only obligated to recognize the authority of governments to which they have consented. Individualists born or conscripted into a government they reject are not morally obligated to accept its authority, but neither do they individually have the might necessary to stand in defiance. Having dissolved the ties that bound them to an association/government – however flawed it may have been – unassociated individualists revert to the state of nature. There are no rights in a state of nature: rights are the creation of individuals acting in voluntary association. You cannot physically claim a right to act unimpeded, you can only recognize the rights of others as restraints on yourself. In a state of nature, might rules. Rights cannot be gathered to one’s self, only extended to others.

There is no possible compromise between Individualism and Collectivism. Regardless of how determinedly, or even how intentionally, various members of a fractured society are pushing towards either existential collectivism or existential individualism, the two choices are exclusionary. Every activity choice is alternatively good or evil, depending on whether you hold an Individualist or a Collectivist system of values: splitting the difference is irreconcilable. Traditionally, ‘conservative’ collectivists have held that social activity must be under collective control, and ‘liberal’ collectivists have held that financial activity must be under collective control. Each specific right can only be assigned to one or the other sphere; to the unique individuals or to the amorphous collective. To compromise successfully on the Collectivist/Individualist dichotomy, each possible human activity must be assigned uniformly by all individuals to either the collective or the individual sphere.

Collectivism/Individualism is not a scale between one and the other. It is not an adjustable lever. Collectivist/Individualist is an incomprehensibly long line of switches, one for each possible human activity. ‘Compromise’ is agreeing on how each of those switches should be set, not how far a single lever should be pushed. Universal agreement to all of the myriad distinct points in need of ‘compromise’ is only possible under an imposed order. Every compromise with Collectivism brings more synchronization, lessens human uniqueness and advances the destruction of individuality desired by the Collectivists. Even if some of the switches are set to ‘individual’, the precedent of collective will is established. Thoughtful Collectivists know this and demand ever more compromise.

Even now, mainstream defenders of the Constitution and of the individual right to life, liberty and property, do not recognize the single-minded purpose underlying the manifold attacks on individual liberty. They listen to the journalists, K-12 educators, academics, mega-corporation executives, trade unions, and even visibly corrupted politicians – yet still believe the rampant growth of government accompanying every deed is rooted in benign, albeit misguided good intentions. Whether by inattention or psychological denial, individualists have not yet recognized the coherent force of organic collectivism, which is taking on life that transcends any of its expendable members. Even if the intentions of some of the expendable members are benign, the collective entity has evolved to the point that it actively destroys threats and nurtures processes that advance it.

Either Collectivists and Individualists must segregate and live apart, or one of these groups must prevail. Reconciliation through deliberation is not possible. It never was.

¹ That society itself has life is self-evident to a collectivist – yet inconceivable to an individualist. This is the source of confusion and misunderstanding when individualists encounter reverential collectivist attitudes towards ‘society’. Individualists see society as a means of human interaction, collectivists see society as the repository of humanness.

² Death of leaders and other leadership transitions are deeply traumatic in collective societies, even when the fallen authority terrorized and terrified the members. The death of many vile despots has been met with massive and genuine outpourings of grief from their collective victims. Deeply immersed in the collective consciousness, when part of it dies, part of them dies in proportion to the magnitude of the authoritarian presence.

71 comments to Not getting it yet

  • Robert

    Well said!

  • HappyAcres

    Bravo. You get it.
    I’m passing this around.

  • Laird

    Excellent article, Mid.

    Incidentially, to your point “Existential Individualists are only obligated to recognize the authority of governments to which they have consented“, if you haven’t already read it I would commend to you Randy Barnett’s excellent book “Restoring the Lost Constitution.” http://www.amazon.com/Restoring-Lost-Constitution-Presumption-Liberty/dp/0691123764/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359566743&sr=1-1&keywords=randy+barnett#reader_0691123764 The good professor provides a long, serious discussion of how a constitution, or any law, can be morally binding upon anyone who hasn’t personally consented to it. Definitely worth a read.

  • Regional

    There’re privileged predators in a collective society they’re politicians and their cronies i.e. Union bosses, lawyers, judges, the bureaucracy, etc

  • Rich Rostrom

    Before accepting this screed as having any actual content, I would like to see some historical examples of “collectivist” and “individualist” societies.

    In which category would the author place Periclean Athens, the Roman Empire, Visigothic Spain, pre-Viking Ireland, medieval Poland, the Golden Horde, the Republic of Venice, Tokugawa Japan, the Iroquois Confederation, Switzerland, pre-1950 Tibet, the Second Empire of France, the Transvaal Republic, Fascist Italy, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, or Zaire?

    AFAICT, none of them fit either of his definitions, though he insists that all societies must be one or the other, and that “no compromise is possible”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    The problem with the good Prof’s book (and he’s long been my favorite of the bunch…though less so since last June) is that to my mind he doesn’t solve the “consent” problem at all. For unless he persuades the unconsenting that they are still “bound in conscience”*, from their point of view they are not “bound in conscience,” since at least in a modern understanding of the phrase they specifically do not experience this binding in their own, real, individual, personal consciences. So as a practical matter he has the problem of making his rule stick against their will.

    There ARE real-world cases where we do that, of course. We limit the autonomy of one who is a murderer, whether he “consents” to that or not…but we have devised (or discovered among the Laws of Nature) a rule that allows us to do so, namely that one who usurps the autonomy of others waives his own right to same.

    *”Binding in conscience”: When I first read that phrase in Prof. Barnett’s book, having never run across it before, it struck me as peculiar phraseology, sounding to me as if it were somewhere out of Catholic doctrine. Catholic? And him a nice Jewish boy??? Plus, trying to make out just what the heck it means. Well, I did finally track it down to St. Thomas Aquinas (yay ME!), but no help as to the meaning. And then I discover that he’s greatly influenced by Henry Veatch…whence the Catholic turn of phrase. In the end I decided it means “morally binding,” so I’m glad to see that Laird has reached the same understanding.

    I really think this way of looking at things will not lead us to any answer. The only way there can be true consent is in a situation where non-consent without coercion is possible.

    However, even an “anarcho-capitalist” society must have SOME basic rules.

    So…we should be aiming at a society where anyone is free to get up and go, no permission needed, and that WITH all his possessions except the non-transportable one, namely land; but I do not see any reason why the society he’s leaving has any obligation to give him a stake to take into the outside world. Also, he doesn’t get to argue that in effect he’s compelled to stay, hence has NOT consented, just because going Outside is too difficult physically or emotionally, or because he can’t find anyplace more to his liking (every place having its flaws). Sorry Charlie, that’s Reality for you.

    Or so it seems to me, anyway. It also seems to me that the time to flee the U.S. is past, unless you’re young enough to start over elsewhere and earn enough new wealth to carry you through the less-well-paid years…as Uncle seems to have thoroughly absorbed the idea that he’s entitled to every cent he can wring out of you. But perhaps I’m being a little too pessimistic there? If so, please please tell me!

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    Rostrum. Since “AFAICT” is what passes for a reasoned presentation of contrary evidence in your epistemology, I’ll not bother refuting you.

    Your reading skills come up short as well. I explained as clearly as I could that Collectivist/Individualist is either/or for “every activity choice”, not for society in toto. I even used the term “fractured society” to describe societies that, neither fully Collectivist or Individualist, are in conflict. I stated that as Collectivist societies approach ideological purity, the embrace genocide. Epistemology again, if only societies approaching purity engage in genocide, then pretty obviously most societies are not pure but fractured. They are divided on which activities should be collectively controlled and which are individual decisions. If you have a plan for how an activity choice, say drinking Birch vodka, can be both the choice of the individual and the choice of the collective, then present it.

    If you are claiming that all of that list of societies you recited were neither Individualist, Collectivist, or in conflict, evidence please. While it is certainly possible that somewhere, in some time or other, there existed a society that was neither fully Collectivist or fully Individualist yet had no conflict over the extent of the personal and collective spheres of authority, it is a black swan I haven’t seen.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)


    Originally, I held a “Natural Law” view of morality. I think I just absorbed it from the Founders’ documents. But the more I have thought about it, natural law is the state of nature, predator and prey.

    Addressing the confinement of a criminal, we only avoid the raw state of nature when we are within the protection of an association. If, either by its own authority in a collective, or by authority is was loaned in an individualist society, it recognizes someone as not a member and not under its protection, then that person has passed into a state of nature. This is the origin of the label “outlaw”. Paul Marks can address the provenance better than I can but societies leaning heavily individualist were, de facto, associations you joined and could be expelled from. Once expelled, you forfeited the protections extended and rights recognized by that society.

    My idea of an anarcho-capitalist society is one of multiple, overlapping contracts of association. Associations could in turn have higher level contracts that would have a lower but still useful level of reciprocity between members of different associations.

  • Laird

    Julie, I agree with you that Barnett’s answer isn’t entirely satisfying, but it’s a very interesting discussion of a thorny philosophical issue which I haven’t seen anyone else tackle. (Of course, there’s a world full of books I haven’t read, so it’s probably out there somewhere. I’ll bet RRS would know, if he’s lurking anywhere about.)

  • Julie near Chicago


    I only refer to it as “Natural Law” because that’s a common name for the general idea. Actually somewhere in the last few months I ran across a label that struck me as much more apposite–but I can’t remember what it was! 🙁

    As far as your “state of nature” is concerned, if you mean that you do not hold the Lockean, Noble-Savage idea of it, well, neither do I. Far from it! Of course I don’t believe that such a thing as a “State of Nature before the invention of Society” ever has nor ever could exist. I say that all men at all times are born into some sort of pre-existing human society, even if it’s only that of a family of some sort.

    To me this thing that I am calling, for want of the proper term, “the Law(s) of Nature” is a set of POSTULATES (in the logical, the mathematical sense: the foundational presumptions behind any logical system of thought) that many of us find it reasonable to assume as our moral-ethical logical foundation, because the body of such seems to represent the rules-for-living-among-men most congenial to human flourishing–given general human nature as we believe we observe it to be.

    It is thus most certainly NOT a thing authorized by any person, or thing, or entity, save possibly — if our understanding is correct — Reality itself. And it is certainly not merely “behavior dictated or required by some external entity.”

    As to societies retaining the right to expel those it considers undesirable, yes; the difficulties would come in working out the details, but we’re in agreement there provided everyone retains the (political/positive-law) “right” of exit.

    Your description of an an-cap society sounds to me like polycentricism, which is Randy Barnett’s preferred ideal.

    Thanks for your response. 🙂

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    To me this thing that I am calling, for want of the proper term, “the Law(s) of Nature” is a set of POSTULATES (in the logical, the mathematical sense: the foundational presumptions behind any logical system of thought) that many of us find it reasonable to assume as our moral-ethical logical foundation, because the body of such seems to represent the rules-for-living-among-men most congenial to human flourishing–given general human nature as we believe we observe it to be.

    The problem is that postulates require the presumption of shared values. By the time you agree to postulates regarding what is congenial to human flourishing, or for that matter, what is human (see footnote 1), you are already 90% on your way to a consensual association.

    I’ve never found a way past the need to force ‘consent’ on somebody who does not share my perceptions or values or choices for interpreting and pursuing them. Best to just dispense with trying to find an external authority granting its benediction on my choices of association and admit they are of my own preference and choosing.

    I ran into too many problems trying to justify an external authority that I could invoke to constrain others. Even if I choose one, I must still resort to force on those who do not voluntarily consent to it. Alas, the baggage was too great and in the end, nothing is gained, force is still invoked. Rights are a human construct that, without stipulating values (which are legitimately subjective), have no basis in nature. All natural law sorts of arguments that invoke the laws of physics first presume a shared set of values, goals and purposes.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird (and Mid),

    I used to complain often that everybody seems to want to DERIVE Reality–“derive” in the sense of reasoning forward from some profound, absolute-in-the-sense-of-“God-guaranteed” principle to arrive at reality, as one derives the solution-set to an equation. “Even,” I squawked,”people who should know better: mathematicians themselves!” Unfortunately I can’t give you an example offhand because I quit obsessing about it awhile back, but the fact is that people seem to be very uncomfortable with the fact that we build our edifices of intellectual understanding out of POSTULATES that we make up ourselves as to how things are.

    (N.B.: This says nothing whatever about the existence or non-existence of G-d.)

    I just wanted to reiterate that, because I think that a lot of the “philosophical difficulties” of the “Natural Law position” only arise because people are so bent on discovering the Absolute Fundamental Root of It All. But that approach will never work, because in the end the Fundamental Root is just…a set of postulates, that we construct out of what we believe we observe.

    Moving on: As I see it, compliance in the real world with the laws of the state in which one finds oneself has less to do with one’s actual, freely-given consent than with one’s unwillingness to undergo whatever torment those in power choose to apply if one fails to act as if one consented. It’s not that I CONSENT to live under the laws of the State of Illinois and of the U.S.A., but rather that I’m constrained to do so unless I can work out a method of taking myself elsewhere.

    In short, I no longer feel morally bound to follow laws I believe are wrong or evil. Take THAT, Randy!

    As for consent to live under a regime which conforms properly to our Constitution–that I would willingly give, but then again such a regime would understand that it lacks the power to prevent my leaving, with all my possessions save only land. (I can take my mule on shipboard with me maybe, but that 40 acres is a problem!)

    Anyway, Laird, I quite I agree that Recovering and also The Structure of Liberty are very interesting books indeed.

  • Julie near Chicago


    The thing about postulates is that no one is constrained by others to accept them. In fact, that’s a main part of the point! If you have some other set of postulates that works for you, fine, I have no problem. I only have a problem if your moral code, based on your different postulates, allows you to break my bones or steal my stuff, or otherwise permits you to enforce your will over me regardless of my own interests (and you have the will to act on that part of your code). In that case, we duke it out, or one of us gives in because of some further factor.

  • Julie near Chicago


    “Postulates require the presumption of shared values.”

    No they don’t! If your values are different from mine, your postulates are informed by your values. The results may or may not be at odds with my postulates, but even if they are, so what. Besides, even people who are in reasonable agreement about their moral postulates can have differing reasons for adopting those postulates, based on somewhat differing observations and informed to some extent by dissimilar values.

    At the core of all this talk is the need to make sense of the world, and to find the most sensible ways of acting within it. Different people come to different conclusions about both of those issues. And sometimes the conclusions are inimical. *Shrug* such is life. 🙂

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)


    And while you were writing that, I was writing this. It sounds like we are yet again in fundamental agreement. For the sake of clarity when arranging my interpersonal ground rules with others, I leave out how I arrive at my opinions (including my postulates) as they are irrelevant if we disagree on the interpersonal rules of engagement and unnecessary in the case of agreement.

    To elaborate, there are people whose perceptions and interpretations of reality I entirely disagree with. But we agree on interpersonal ground rules so it doesn’t matter. Live and let live. There are people with whom I share quite closely perceptions and interpretations of reality. But as they hold collectivist values, we cannot agree on interpersonal ground rules, so it doesn’t matter.

    In the spirit of Occam, I prefer to stick to negotiating the ground rules and not try to morally justify why my values are best. As long as they can agree to live and let live, the rest is fine tuning.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Agreed, Mid. 😉

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Midwesterner: Thankyou for a great post. Thought-provoking.

    Looking at it in terms of religio-political ideologies, the ideologies of the Individualist and the Collectivist are antithetical – a dichotomy – i.e., they would seem to be opposite and irreconcilable, as suggested in your post.

    Now look at America. Being born a British European and educated in Europe, I am not qualified make any comment on or to argue the merits of “The American Way”, as I have a limited knowledge and understanding of the US Constitution and its Amendments.

    However, some things that seem to stand out (and if I have these more or less right) are:
    * That the wise men who applied their minds to establishing a workable US Constitution saw the Individual freedoms of citizens to be paramount.

    * That the formation of a Collective (a government for the society) by those individuals was to be a thing that was always to be the servant of and under the control of the Individuals.

    * That, if the Collective outlived its usefulness, then it could be democratically dismantled and reformed by the Individuals.

    * That, if the Collective resisted being open to being democratically dismantled and reformed by the Individuals, then the Second Amendment was there, for the Individuals to protect/defend themselves from the Collective and to enforce their wishes to democratically dismantle and reform the Collective.

    The thinking that lay behind this was apparently founded on the bitter experiences of hard-won freedoms wrestled from tyrants – e.g., including from a tyrannical economic and colonising power in the shape of the British Empire.

    Some people (not me you understand) might say that all this recent talk of “Gun Control”, or “Gun Safety” by politicians could reasonably be construed as just so much smokescreen to conceal the greater reality that the Collective wishes to override the Second Amendment and maintain its power indefinitely. They might say that “Next stop, the entire Constitution” and that in this, the Collective would seem to be more certainly becoming a greater potential enemy of the people, at least. These people might go on to say that there is some evidence to suggest that the Collective may already recognise that the people are to be the enemy, based on the State’s unexplained order for hundreds of millions of rounds of hollow-point ammunition (ammunition which civilians are apparently not permitted to buy), with which State troopers (via the Department of Homeland Security) are to be armed. But I couldn’t possibly comment on any of this.

    There is some relevant information about the hollow-point ammunition, in examiner.com: Department of Homeland Security buys even more hollow point rounds.

    Some people (not me you understand) might say that Americans living in America should not allow politicians to distract their attention with bogeymen – e.g., the “Fiscal Cliff” or the mythical threat of CAGW or “Climate Change” – but should focus on arming themselves, just in case. These people might go on to say that the citizens should be at least as well-armed as the State officials, and that if ever there was a time when Americans should arguably be out there buying M16(?) or AR-15 rifles, as a prudent preparation against State tyranny, then this could be it – and that the same goes for hollow-point or other ammunition. But again, I couldn’t possibly comment on any of this.

  • Mid,
    I am genuinely unsure what precisely you mean by your use of “existential” in this piece. A bit of elucidation would help because I think what you are saying is very interesting but can’t entirely tell!

    I mean for me “existential” refers to either a polo-neck French Philosphe with a fuming Gitane in a Parisian cafe trying to sound unbelievably clever* in order to get Simone de Beauvoir into the sack or a backwards capital “E” – the existential operator in mathematics. I don’t think you mean either. I’d really love to know.

    *unbelievably clever in every sense of the way.

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    The collective is an illusion. Human beings cannot pool their consciousness so a general will of society cannot really exist. The appearance of one can only be created by a small number of individuals giving orders which are obeyed without question. Therefore a collectivist society requires a rigid hierarchy in which the leaders can impose their individual preferences on everyone else. It is actually a system of predators and prey, and as such it can never completely escape the state of nature.

  • ‘Catholic? And him a nice Jewish boy???’ Ashkenazi Jews and Catholics have a lot in common, in my experience – specifically, the ‘conscience’ argument, otherwise known as using guilt as a bullying weapon. Not that I think it is necessarily built into Catholicism – and I do know for a fact that it is absolutely foreign to Judaism. But there we are.

  • I beg to differ, Andrew – please see Mid’s second footnote.

  • Paul Marks

    Interesting post – and discussion.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)


    Good comment. Here is something that you may find useful. I started a few years ago using either “cooperative” or “collective” to the exclusion of each other. In the case of your comment the US Constitution forms a cooperative, not a collective venture. Distinguishing them is simple. A collection has a collector; it is a two tiered relationship. In the case of collective societies, the society collects people. In the case of a cooperative, think of any buying cooperative, the individual reads the terms and can either join or withdraw by consensual terms. There are two tiers to collecting, the collector and the collection. There is one tier to cooperating. The members are each co-operators.

    Regarding the ammo, a correction (from the state of a half million deer hunters). Civilians are allowed to use hollow point ammunition, it is the best choice for killing larger game. It is less likely to create a survivable wound and more likely to kill. My understanding is (and I invite correction) that it is the military that is prohibited (by the Geneva Convention?) from using hollow point ammunition. This makes the question, why is the civilian government stockpiling so much ammunition designed specifically for a maximum fatality rate and yet prohibited and useless for military purposes? It is a very legitimate concern.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)


    I thought about it quite a bit and chose to use “existential” as the modifier to denote “existing comprehensively as”. Existential philosophy deals with how one relates to existence and can take the form of atheistic existentialism, theistic existentialism, absurdism, or nihilism. There may be more, I don’t know. They all represent ways of fitting one’s self into the world they perceive. In a very similar way, I am using “existential collectivism” and “existential individualism” to indicate ways people have of fitting themselves into the world they perceive.

    In the case of collectivists, many cannot be said to think of themselves that way, they just are. Every time I leave the house I encounter them, I’m sure you do to. An example is a friend of mine who was a Hilary supporter in 2008. Every time I met him he opened with a salvo against Obama. Once Obama won the nomination, he seamlessly moved with the party line and became a full fledged Obama supporter and Hilary was ‘under the bus’. He lives in an existential state of group-think. I doubt he does it consciously, it is just the way he his.

    Summarizing, I am using “existential” to reference how somebody views the world they exist in and how they place themselves (consciously or not) within it.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)


    I chose the title of this article with people like you in mind. Among Individualists, your opinion probably places you in the majority. I used to hold it myself. I encourage you to keep your mind open to what I am laying out here. A collective may have a rigid hierarchy of leaders, but it isn’t essential. Group think exists and despots are torn down and replaced with new despots when the collective consciousness reaches a tipping point. Keeping the collective consciousness invested in the leader is one reason they see the need to ornament their realms with shrines to themselves. If it was fully as you say, there would be no need for that.

  • RRS

    Laird & Julie:

    on the philosophical side the current treatise related to this discussion is:

    The Problem of Political Authority – an examination of the right course and the duty to obey

    by Michael Huemer.

    There is an excellent commentary by Arnold Kling on this disquisition, currently at the “library of economics and liberty” segment at the libertyfund.org website (scroll down to articles).

    In addition, there is a very good ongoing exchange, including Heumer’s responses at ArnoldKling.com, which is Arnold Kling’s blog, known as “Ask Blog”

    Huemer’s book is easy reading, much more so than Gordon Tullock’s The Calculus of Consent, which is concerned with the political (rather than philosophical) organization of a free society.

    While approached obliquely in many works, going back into the Scottish Enlightenment, I have yet to find a work that concentrates upon man’s search for commonality among and with others of his individual sense of “oughtness,” which seems to me to be the basis for “morality” in the social orders that come into being.

  • RRS

    Sorry about the title of the book. I am using voice recognition.

    The subtitle is:

    An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey

  • RRS


    I encountered Maimonides through Thomas Aquinas who in his time discovered Aristotle through Maimonides (who would probably fall in the Sephardic category).

    I have wondered what Isaiah Berlin would have produced had he pursued an examination of the linkage of the Great Doctor’s precepts that are still with us to origins in Hebrew philosophy.

  • RRS: if by the Great Doctor you mean Maimonides, he is the Hebrew philosophy – at least as we understand it today. Unfortunately, this would be about all I could contribute to a discussion on that front (which would be way too OT anyway):-)

  • Laird

    Thank you, RRS, that Huemer book is going onto my “to read” list. I knew I could count on you!

  • Julie near Chicago

    As one who is not (and never was, not even pre-Vat. II) Catholic, I probably have a lot of chutzpah commenting on any aspect of Catholic phrasings or doctrine at all. Still, never let ignorance spoil a good theory!

    In particular, this “binding in conscience.” As I understood it, pre-Vatican-II Catholic Doctrine held that the Church, via the Pope, was the earthly Authority empowered by God to inform us in all matters dealing with His Creation (not that there IS anything else); so that what is “binding in conscience” is whatever the Church tells us it is. Thus for at least the pre-V.-II Catholic, his direct own individual conscience might easily lead him astray; so the issue of having to satisfy that individually-experienced, individual sense of conscience is not on the table. It’s “binding in conscience” if the Church/the Pope/God says it is, and that’s flat. Another way of looking at would be that those acts which are “binding in conscience” are DEFINED to be the moral requirements laid down by God. (I would assume that we are supposed to direct and train our consciences to respond in accordance with these moral requirements, of course.)

    Which gets us remarkably close to the moral dimension of Divine Law theory.

    It also is a very good illustration of the simple fact that some belief systems quite legitimately (within their logical framework) regard certain matters as self-evident, while others do not.

    [Which does not make the (philosophical) study of such matters meaningless or unimportant, of course. God may have designed the thing we call “gravity” and given us as a matter of Divine Law that if you defenestrate yourself, wingless and bungee-cord-less (etc., etc.), from the 35th floor you will travel Earthward, hitting the ground with a forceful SPLAT! — but that does not make the phenomenon of gravity unworthy of study.]

  • RRS


    No, I did not mean the physician and scholar of the Mishneh Torah, as the Great Doctor, I meant the Great Doctor of the doctors of the Church. That is not to say that Maimonides was anything less than his equivalent in philosophy, as well as their comparative theologies.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa (1/31 at 12:27 p.m.),

    You write,

    …I do know for a fact that [guilt-tripping] is absolutely foreign to Judaism.

    Is that what you meant to say? The rest of your observation reads to me as though you think it likely that Catholics and Jews, at least those from the Ashkenazi branch, have this unfortunate tendency in common.

    Just to clarify. 🙂

    . . .

    As a matter of fact, I would think prevalence of the tactic is at least as much a cultural as a religious result. I suspect all cultures do it…moral bullying and blackmail are weapons SO ready to hand! It would be interesting to study cultures that have been Protestant since Protestantism arrived among them, and cultures out of the Judeo-Christian (and Islamic–I just know they do it too) ambits altogether for the use of this method of control.

    Perhaps it finds its way into the religion from the culture, rather than vice-versa?

  • Julie: yes, that was what I meant – at least that’s my anecdotal impression.

    I’ve long been interested in the culture/religion chicken-egg dichotomy. My take on it – until further notice – is that culture creates religion, but then they feed and recreate each other.

  • RRS


    Like you, I am not RC, but am derived of Anabaptists who settled somewhere west of Chicago (and thrived).

    As a lawyer (ret.) And reader of Thomas Aquinas, whose philosophy was not accepted as the philosophy of the church until the year of my father’s birth, I suggest an easy way to understand the Fourth Article of Question 96 in terms of “disobedience to an unconscionable order.”

    Basically when can one no longer avoid personal responsibility for actions by simply “following orders,” or “obeying the laws.”

    Like reason the conscience may err; but it cannot be “bound” by the rules that grow out of social custom, which we refer to as human laws. It is that inner sense of right and wrong. It was the basis upon which Equity once stood equal with Law, and there were courts of Law and Equity. The Force of Equity Was to Chastise the Conscience. Thus Equity superseded Law in matters of justice in human conduct and relations.

    In my time we have dispensed with the distinctions between Law and Equity. What have we gained?

  • Julie near Chicago


    Thanks for the reference to the Huemer book. I have to admit to being so far not terribly impressed with Mr. Huemer, but since you recommend him I will have a look at the OLL site, and at Amazon, and perhaps come away with a somewhat different opinion. :>)

  • Julie near Chicago


    Your sense of the chicken-egg relationship between culture and religion, but with a given religion’s likely originally growing out of the home culture, is the same as mine, I’m happy to say!


  • Julie near Chicago


    “West of Chicago”? Just how far west? I’m originally (well, since age 2) from 100 mi. straight west. :>))

    I’ve never heard of the Equity business. Very interesting! (Something more to read up on on these cold winter nights. *g*)

    Doesn’t the statement that “the force of Equity is to chastise [train by rebuking?] the conscience” boil down to saying that Equity IS, specifically, a matter of man-made moral law, and that (making a leap here) the purpose of the Court of Equity would be to bring to bear the force of social pressure on the psyche of the presumed moral miscreant? (Which would amount to guilt-tripping him. Not that I object to guilt-tripping Ted Bundy or Pol Pot. Or the Sith & cohort.) I suppose I must misunderstand completely, but I am ready and willing to be educated on the matter!

    One thing I need to clarify perhaps: That business about the indivdual’s conscience not being the correct decider of moral duty was intended to apply ONLY to those who believe that some Authority — some sort of conscious, intentful “G-d” — external to the individual has absolute say over what is and isn’t moral. Now that is NOT the same thing as saying there can’t be an ideal of morality toward which all humans (except the fringe psychopaths, profoundly retarded, etc.) grope, as a matter of their nature as humans. And it’s also NOT the same thing as saying that “the moral law” is “man-made.”

    [The postulates of which I spoke earlier are our attempts to lay the logical groundwork for a cogent, i.e. reality-based, logical system of morality. They can be widely different because differences among us lead us to different ways of looking at things; and our differing experiences leaving different impressions upon our different psyches. Also, for instance, there might be two or more different theories of the Plodz Effect in physics, both explaining what we see today…but in 10 years’ time, or a century’s, we come to see that one of the theories explains observations better (in whatever sense) than the others, so we accept that as part of the postulational scaffolding of physics. Yet along comes an entirely different theory, in apparent conflict with the earlier one, which seems to work even better–at least in certain regimes (contexts, for you Objectivists out there)].

    Unless we have some sort of authoritarian belief system, our postulates are all we have — but I think most of us choose the ones we do precisely because they seem to us self-evident, or unquestionable, in some regard.

  • Midwesterner (Wisconsin, USA)

    I see morality as a derivation of values subjected to one’s own best estimate of reality. Values x reality = morals. Values are and can only be subjective. Even the most elemental one, passing on one’s genes, is by no means universally good.

    Case in point, a woman who was my mother’s best friend for very many years had a daughter who was born with profound brain abnormalities. She and her husband were understandably broken up by it and, in keeping with the times, took the professional advice to commit her into institutional care. The doctors assured them it was a fluke. They had another daughter, exact same condition. It turned out that they carried a 50% probability of having children with that condition and a 75%(?) chance of passing on the gene for it. At that point, the husband and wife decided to not continue their gene pool any further. They kept home and invested all of their love and care into the second daughter. By that point the first daughter had been institutionalized too long to be anywhere else, her window of opportunity had passed. To the best of my knowledge neither daughter ever had children either. Can even the most vehement propagationist say these people committed a moral wrong by electing to end their genetic line?

    Even taking the life of another person – in a collectivist society, ending the life of someone who is no longer benefiting the collective but has become a burden on it, is the morally and ethically correct choice. Such is the nature of collectivism, their mere existence has become an aggression against the collective. But in my individualist value system, it is cold blooded murder.

    Can my craving for self-ownership be proven to be more right or wrong than a collectivist actor’s craving for the adulation of the crowd? Attempting to apply proofs to values is a dangerous diversion from the actions and decisions necessary to protect and pursue those values. Values are subjective but reality is not. Having values, one can then construct a moral code by pursuing courses of action that advance one’s chosen values. But not very well if we encumber ourselves with the need to prove our values are the correct ones.

    A big part of my point in writing this post is to highlight the error of trying to justify our moral beliefs, reasons and motivations. We are each what we are and, as an individualist, I have no problem with that. To quote Julie from farther up the thread, “I only have a problem if your moral code, based on your different postulates, allows you to break my bones or steal my stuff, or otherwise permits you to enforce your will over me […]” The most useful course of action is to find others who, regardless of whether they are religiously fundamentalist, devout atheists, or shrugging agnostics, agree to reciprocity of rights with me.

    I am always eager to discuss the what and why of my moral code with people who share my values, but that is for my benefit, not necessarily theirs. It has nothing to do with evangelizing a moral construct, everything to do with improving and refining mine.

  • RRS


    Malta Township in DeKalb County. The family was Swiss. Mother was from Chicago of Norwegian ancestry. I am a “Southerner.”

    No, the Courts of Equity were not to bring “social pressure.” They were under the jurisdiction of the Chancellor, who was a cleric. The writs of common-law ran short of assuring that people, particularly people who had authority or superior positions to others would do what they “ought” in “good conscience” do. Things such as keeping faith to the purposes of an objective of an established trust, and not run off with its assets or income.

    Technically, many of the doctrines and remedies of Equity (such as injunctions) are still incorporated in our civil law. Yes, by all means, learn what you can about Equity as part of a system of justice, which has now been codified to make it available for use by particular interests in seeking ideological, economic and political objectives. I think it would be very difficult for those uses to be made of Equity.

  • RRS


    I don’t “recommend” Huemer’s views, nor the “conclusions” (so far) of his work.

    It and the colloquies around it are simply the easiest to consume of the current disqisitions related to the topic Laird mentioned.

  • Julie near Chicago


    Howdy, neighbor! I’m from Amboy township, Lee County, the northern half of which abuts DeKalb County–but I’m (I was) on the S. side of Rt. 30 (Lincoln Highway). My sister-in-law was of Swedish extraction, from the DeKalb-Sycamore area. And my daughter and s-i-l did time at Kishwaukee and NIU, respectively.

    “Now [you’re] a Southerner”…my Dad was from New Orleans. He and his parents emigrated from British Honduras when he was a kid.

    I really will read up on the Equity business. In view of the present wars over Constitutional interpretation/construction, Common Law becomes more and more interesting as a major thread in our history. I wish I could remember where I read somebody’s opinion, very recently, that there IS no way to interpret the Constitution. Does this sound at all familiar to you?

    Gotcha re Huemer. I’ve read some of his comments from his “OWL” days on Usenet, and his “Critique of Objectivist Ethics” and Richard Lawrence’s reply at noblesoul.com. But if you found his work on consent interesting, that to me is a good reason to look into it a bit. 🙂

  • Slartibartfarst


    …Here is something that you may find useful…

    Thankyou I do find that (the idea of mutually exclusive concepts of “cooperative” v. “collective”) useful.
    Thanks also for explaining the correct ammunition details. I can see why, as you say:

    It is a very legitimate concern.

    I think that issue alone would make me more than a tad concerned, if I lived in the US.

  • Julie near Chicago


    I realize it doesn’t concern you since, as you say, you’re elsewhere — but up until recently I didn’t pay too much mind to the talk about all the firepower the feds seem to be amassing.

    But I confess I’m beginning to become a little concerned that the PTB may decide to institute martial law, on some excuse — or none.

    (No, I don’t think the Newtown massacre was a Reichstag operation. But I do think that as usual the press played fast & loose with the facts.)

  • RRS


    Gee, I apologize if I was not clear. The fact is that I could not find that Heumer address the issue of “consent” in this work; nor did he deal with the implications of “representation” (representative government; the fable or myth of republics). That very issue has been part of my commentary on other blogs related to or critiquing his work.

    You may be thinking of the piece by James Stoner: Why You Can’t Understand the Constitution without the Common-Law, which appeared on December 2 as part of the Law Forum in the “Library of Law and Liberty” section of the libertyfund.org website. You can still access that by clicking on Law Forum in the top tabs. I express no opinion.

  • Paul Marks

    Barack will not go for formal martial law – unless people play into his hands.

    He is an evil man and has been educated into an evil belief system – but he is also careful.

    And, I suspect, that he lacks “grit”, courage in a tight place.

  • RRS


    He who does not trust cannot be trusted.
    He who cannot be trusted does not trust

  • RRS

    To the multitude:

    My apologies for the length of the following, but it is the best I can do to clarify for:


    Here is my exchange with Dr. Heumer:

    RRS to Heumer:

    Your work has driven me back to cf. The Calculus of Consent and Gordon Tullock’s much more difficult prose for the political aspects of the human relationships conducted through the mechanisms of governments.

    On the philosophical aspects of those relationships (so conducted), I am still searching for your observations on “consent” to authority, or individual and group assumption of obligations (presumably for some reciprocal benefit), that predicates the acceptance of, or acquiescence in, delegation of that power via representation.

    Frankly, I think such “representation” or the function of that notion is a myth.

    But, somewhere we have to “fit in” this concept that the authority is that of ourselves, acting through representatives, coercing ourselves.
    Could you address the errors of that concept of representation as you did others in dealing with the Authority of Democracy.

    Heumer’s response:

    [RRS] asks about representative democracy. I think the idea that representative democracy generates authority is rebutted by the Bar Tab example at the beginning of chapter 4. Presumably, matters there are not improved if the other people at the table all vote that Bob should coerce me to pay for everyone’s drinks, rather than everyone’s coercing me directly. Just the fact that you chose someone else to do the dirty work doesn’t make the coercion permissible.

    The phrase “ourselves coercing ourselves” seems to be ambiguous between (1) each of us coercing him or herself, (2) each of us coercing the others, and (3) the majority of us coercing a minority. The first is permissible; the second and third are much less so.

    Dr Heumer,

    Your response does not seem to go the essence of the question I raise.
    In the example you cite there is no representative function by any of the actors (other than for their individual interests).

    Had we agreed on ordering that payment obligation would be determined by the vote of 3 waiters selected by our consensus or vote, would that have created a kind of “consent” to the authority of the waiters? Is that not more to the point I raise?

    This goes to a consideration of what exactly (or approximately) is the nature of so-called Representative Government, and thus the requested disquistion on its authority over the participants.

  • Julie near Chicago


    I agree about the lack of grit. And I surely hope you’re right about the martial-law bit–whether formal or merely de facto.

    Somebody has suggested a Million-Gun-Owners March on Washington….


    Gosh! In the first place I presume to instruct my elders and betters: NEVER apologize for the length of a useful, or meaningful, or entertaining posting or comment! 🙂

    Also, thank you for going to such lengths to clear up confusion, at least some part of which involved giving me a further start on my homework. (I assume your attempts to get Dr. Huemer to clarify were not entirely altruistic on my behalf!)

    And thank you for sharing.

    By the way–out of the Cobwebs of My Mind I think I have dredged up the memory that whoever it was said the Constitution can’t be interpreted (nor properly understood) because even the Framers were too much in disagreement as to the precise meanings of the terms of the documents–let alone the general disagreement amongst the public at large.

    And now, I shall go see what Mr. Stoner has to say, per your suggestion. :>)


    Related thereto, someone recently said that it’s really necessary to immerse oneself in the writings of the times and the century-and-a-half or so preceding, at a minimum, in order to begin to approach the Framers’ frames of mind based on what they wrote, or are reported to have said. Perhaps that was Paul, or RRS–I think it was someone here.

    In any case, having just begun Forrest McDonald’s Novus Ordo Seclorum (prompted by a boot in the rear from The Sage of Kettering–with thanks for the cognomen to Mr. Ed *g* in a comment at CCiZ), in the first few pages he refers to the same point, and also observes that many political terms were either in a state of flux or just beginning to come into use at the time. He also (IIRC) notes that scholars where beginning to take an interest in this field of study. I assume (hope!) progress has been made since then.

  • Julie near Chicago


    While I am in the mood for Giving Thanks, I say Thank you for posting such an interesting, thought-provoking piece in the first place, and for your subsequent remarks as well. The proof of the pudding is in the long, meaty discussion which is the result thereof. :>))

    PS. “The proof of the pudding is in the meat”???? 😉

  • Midwesterner

    It started out to be just a couple of paragraphs grabbed out of something I wrote in 2003 and before. But as any of my friends will tell you, once I get started I don’t know when to shut up. 🙂

    Since this seems to be working out okay, I may try to post more brain register dumps from time to time. If anyone finds them tedious, they have a scroll key and can move on to the next article on the blog.

    It still has another 4 days on the front page so maybe more will drift in and find the article and thread interesting. Just remember, “If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?”

  • Midwesterner

    Julie, I’ve been reading back through the thread.

    Of course I don’t believe that such a thing as a “State of Nature before the invention of Society” ever has nor ever could exist. I say that all men at all times are born into some sort of pre-existing human society, even if it’s only that of a family of some sort.

    I disagree. The state of nature is with us all of the time. It lives in the crevices between the civilizations we create. Between societies, it is predator and prey, might rules. Whether at the borders of warring nations or between superpowers like the US and the Soviet Union, one need only step away from the protective shelter of a society to find oneself in a state of nature. Even small societies themselves are in a state of nature when a larger society devours them.

    More unsettling yet, the state of nature infiltrates the cracks of fracturing societies. Look at the collapse of any society and before a new order asserts itself, the state of nature prowls through looking for unprotected scraps of humanity. Is this what we have to look forward to? When the police don’t respond to calls and the gangs no longer fear the law, what is that but a state of nature? Jackals with guns.

    In a later comment you said:

    As I see it, compliance in the real world with the laws of the state in which one finds oneself has less to do with one’s actual, freely-given consent than with one’s unwillingness to undergo whatever torment those in power choose to apply if one fails to act as if one consented. It’s not that I CONSENT to live under the laws of the State of Illinois and of the U.S.A., but rather that I’m constrained to do so unless I can work out a method of taking myself elsewhere.

    You are indeed always free to break the bonds of the state and see how far you can get before it notices you. Where are you once you become a fleeing fugitive but in a state of nature? For now, aren’t the torments of the state still less than the torments of the state of nature? Rumsfeld and then later Obama’s administration put forward the idea that there are people who have neither the protection of the US Constitution nor any other international convention. Lacking a state to claim them, they are mere prey for larger beasts. Looking at our own situation, isn’t it fear of the unchecked appetites of predators that keeps us aligned for longer than is safe or sane with states that have run off the rails? Don’t we continue to play along because we fear the Crips and Bloods, or from the neighborhood in Chicago where I came from, the Latin Kings and the Vice Lords, running unchecked across what’s left of civilization?

    We are reaching the point where the choice we face is the unchecked state of nature or the Collectivist rendition of humanity.

    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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    Only when the prospect of a transient state of nature looks less terrifying than the permanent destination our ‘leaders’ have chosen, will people take their chances and break their bonds with the vestiges of this state. Unless/until that tipping point is reached, I’ll spend my energies helping try to stuff this government back into its constitution.

  • RRS

    That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

    One must parse that statement with great care and understand that governments are not necessarily established by derived powers, nor are all powers just (though they remain powers all the same); and the qualifications for what constitutes “consent” quantifies what is “just.”

    See, The History of Government From The Earliest Times by S.E. Finer (5 Books, 3 Vols Oxford 1997)

  • Laird

    Fair enough, RRS, although I would posit that it’s pretty clear what the word “just” modifies (it certainly doesn’t imply that all governments are established by legitimately derived powers, or that all governmental powers are just). The issue of what constitutes “consent” is non-trivial, though.

  • Midwesterner

    You may need to expound on that a little bit RRS. “Non-derived” appears in this context to mean “not granted”, not gotten from anywhere. Things are “derived” from something else.

    It sounds like you are saying governments, assuming non-derived powers, can create themselves. Or perhaps, governments derived from consent can ‘run off the rails’ reestablishing themselves in a new form w/o deriving the newly invented powers from the foundational consent. And, continuing, that those non-derived (aka unconstitutional) powers, not having been acquired through the consensual (constitutional) process, are hereby declared “unjust”.

  • RRS


    In the broad history of governments, most have been established on the foundation of powers already acquired (principally through some form of violence)and not derived (that is taken from some other source of origin).

    That is why I cited the text.

    Can it be said that governments have only “just” powers?

    And exactly how are “just powers” taken from (derived of) those who consent to be governed?

    Sorry. I seldom try to deal with proofs of negatives.

  • Midwesterner


    If your point was that governments that don’t have the consent of the governed get their power by force and violence, that observation is intrinsic to the article.

    You said “nor are all powers just (though they remain powers all the same); and the qualifications for what constitutes “consent” quantifies what is “just.”” which I interpreted to mean “that those non-derived (aka unconstitutional) powers, not having been acquired through the consensual (constitutional) process, are hereby declared “unjust””, IOW, that the Declaration of Independence declares and defines “just” to mean “by the consent of the governed.”

    Since parsing sentences seems to be the activity, this statement of yours “And exactly how are “just powers” taken from (derived of) those who consent to be governed?” leads me to encourage you to reparse “deriving […] from the consent of the governed”.

    First, derived does not mean “taken” (which implies “forcibly removed from” (my wallet was taken), but rather received, originating, inferred or deduced from. Secondly, just powers are not derived “from those who consent” but is inferred, received or deduced from their consent.

    In light of this, I’m not seeing your intent much beyond pointing out that most governments historically have been violent thugs. That much I agree with.

  • Paul Marks

    Julie – I hope you are enjoying reading Forrest McDonald’s work. Sadly he is reaching the age when he may be leaving this world soon.

    Historical scholarship will miss him.

    Alisa – I am not sure what you mean in the context.

    If you mean feeling guilt one’s self I must be a closet Catholic, as I feel it a lot (alas – it does not stop me doing terrible things…..)

    Although it is wrong to try and make someone else “feel guilty”.

    Unless, of course, it is useful to do so……………

  • Paul, by now I have no idea what the hell I was talking about…:-)

  • Julie near Chicago


    I am indeed enjoying Dr. McDonald’s book. For one thing…it’s readable! And, of course, informative, except that every page mandates another 6 months in the stacks at a top-notch university library somewhere.

    Thanks very much. 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago


    I still haven’t made it to the Huemer column and subsequent discussions, but I did read Prof. Stoner’s piece and thought it was interesting. Even more so, I thought, was the Response piece by Hadley Arkes, entitled “Peeling Back the Common Law.” I’ve been trying to read the other response piece, by John McGinnis, but to me it’s kind of a slog getting through it.

    Drat, I wish you would opine on some of these pieces! 🙂

    And thank you again for your remarks and suggestions. :>))

  • Julie near Chicago

    Regarding “…deriving their just powers…&c,” my understanding for what it’s worth:

    …That to secure these [unalienable] rights [with which men are endowed by their Creator], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,….

    It seems to me that this says, or directly implies:

    1. The proper purpose of Governments is to protect the unalienable rights of Men*. This implies that the rights do exist prior to governments and specifically says that they come from “[Men’s] Creator,” hence specifically not from the governments themselves.

    No surprise to any of us, but not such good news for Legal Positivists and those who think “rights” are necessarily and specifically creations of some human-created and human-staffed legal regime.

    2. Said governments “derive…” answers specifically the question, “On what or whose authority do governments, if, or to the extent that, they are valid or legitimate governments, govern?” (Answer: Said authority comes from “the consent of the governed.” –See Pt. 4.)

    3. Said governments “derive their just powers…”: So this clause does not refer to ALL the powers governments may arrogate to themselves, but only to those which they “justly” assume and exercise. (This does NOT say that powers justly derived from […”consent”…] deprive the consenters of anything, and in particular not their pre-governmentally-issued unalienable rights. Working out the limits within which the “derivation” might REQUIRE “deprivation” in the real world is another matter.)

    4. The JUST powers of said governments come specifically from [“deriving their just powers from”] the CONSENT of the governed.

    “Just”: Legitimately or validly acquired and exercised.

    This part does not tell us exactly what real-world powers governments justly have; it merely (but what a “merely”!) gives us ONE criterion a governmental power must meet if it is to be properly considered “just.”

    *”Men”: I see no reason whatsoever to assume that the Framers did not consider women a part of humankind, thus also possessed of the “unalienable rights of Men.” Their civil rights (that is, rights under statute law) would be a different matter. Still, isn’t it the case that under law in some Colonies, and also going back in English history, women had more civil rights than we, in our morally superior age, tend to suppose?

    . . .

    It strikes me that this statement about “consent” is almost more “an expression of pious hope” than anything else…because it’s hard to think of any governmental power or edict to which every member of the jurisdiction would consent without coercion, human nature being what it is–and the less unified the outlook of the populace, the truer that becomes.

    It seems to me the only way to make rational sense of this is to take it pretty much the way we always have–namely that almost all of us agree that our government is supposed to be accountable to us, is not supposed to trample on our rights as human beings, that our treatment or rights and obligations under the law is not supposed to differ based on wealth, status, clout, or, latterly, race or gender; and that as long as it behaves itself we will go along with it without, in the main, making too much of a fuss.

    But as to whether any one of us “consents” to any given Act or action by his government is another matter entirely. As I said before, there’s plenty to which I acquiesce only because I don’t care enough to be punished for non-acquiescence. This is distinctly NOT “consent” in the sense of “willing consent,” which is the only understanding of the word “consent” in the clause quoted above that says something meaningful instead of merely issuing a meaningless platitude.

  • Julie near Chicago


    Your 9:55 p.m. on 2/1 immediately prompted me to think of suggesting that just between the two of us we could easily spend the final four days of Front Page Status in discussing these and related matters.

    Then I saw your next posting, and I had to laugh. “See? I TOLD you so!” 😉

    . . .

    Actually the devil is in the details in a lot of my positions. I do try to keep them logically consistent, but often enough they look inconsistent on the face of them, even to me. And of course, often enough my attempts fail. 🙁

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mid, 2/2 at 2:20 a.m.:

    I think the difference between us on this issue isn’t a difference on an issue so much as on what we mean by a “State of Nature.” To YOU, I understand you to mean that a person is “in a State of Nature” precisely to the extent that he is not under the physical protection of some group (or to the extent that he uses force or coercion against someone–whether as aggressor or defender). But nobody is under the physical protection of some group against ALL comers and at ALL times. By your meaning, aren’t all of us at all times at least potentially in a State of Nature with regard to someone? If some dude goes postal in a Pizza Hut, everybody else there is in a State of Nature with respect to him, and he likewise with respect to them. Heck, if some guy wounds himself picking blackberries and breaks into my house in search of Neosporin, he puts himself and me in a State of Nature with regard to each other.

    As to MY meaning, you (correctly) quote me:

    I don’t believe that such a thing as a “State of Nature before the invention of Society” ever has nor ever could exist.

    The bit “before the invention of Society” is the point I was trying to make, which is only that virtually all of us are born into SOME society or other (even an infant dropped in the middle of a wolf pack and brought up by them would be born into a society–just not a human one). Whether the society in which we find ourselves proves able and willing to extend to us its protection in all cases is another matter. When it isn’t, we are in your State of Nature but, as we are still members of a society (however useless or counterproductive to us it might be), not mine. The one exception would be some guy who chooses to be a hermit for whatever remains of his life and therefore forgoes all further human contact forever.

    In fact, a good example is the “citizen” (so-called) of North Korea, who is certainly in your State of Nature with regard to his government and many of his fellow “citizens” (I daresay)–but, as he’s still a member of the NorK society, such as it is, he’s not in my state of Nature.

    All that is only clarification (I hope I’ve understood you correctly). As to the rest — as I pontificated up above, I think that strictly speaking coerced political acquiescence is not the same thing as political consent at all. Actually, even the State of Illinois probably has one or two laws I think just. [Hmmmmm…wracks brain trying to think of example…I know! The law that says you mustn’t lift a 10¢ stick-figure horse made of blue beads strung on wire from Gamble’s 5-&-dime in 1955. –I’m SUCH a bad person! It’s only safe to confess because the statue of limitations has run out. I only did it to see if I could (I could), and how it would feel (awful). Every so often I have to confess all over again.]

    In any case, I don’t see anything you wrote on that subject that I disagree with. Except that if Things Were Different I really would consider expatriating. There are, in fact, people who do manage a peripatetic lifestyle in which they have, de facto, little if any formal protection (at least) from any government. I think that in such cases, properly greased local palms may remove them farther from their State of Nature with respect to the host government than any governmental edict anywhere.

  • Midwesterner

    If some dude goes postal in a Pizza Hut, everybody else there is in a State of Nature with respect to him, and he likewise with respect to them.

    Er, yeah. Kind of blows every definition “civil” and “society” to infinity and back I sure hope.

    Being raised by attentive and protective parents is pretty obviously possible in a state of nature. Family and tribe are also common in the state of nature as demonstrated by everything from wolf packs to prairie dog towns.

    One transcends the state of nature anytime one refrains from acting on one’s own animal instincts and emotions as a condition of association. Not sneaking apples from your neighbor’s tree because you fear him and his pack is a state of nature. Not sneaking your neighbor’s apples because it is “theft” transcends the state of nature. Yes, the slaves of a collective are prey in the state of nature, but collectives also have many willing and even eagerly subsumed members.

    What are not found in the state of nature are thoughtfully constructed systems of unnatural responses and interactions. Engaging in reciprocal restraint when the thing received in return for your restraint is “to be named later” or is “for the common good” is not “natural”.

    By your meaning, aren’t all of us at all times at least potentially in a State of Nature with regard to someone?

    There are always potential predators. What is unnatural is for you to protect a stranger from predators because you’ve entered into a contract that binds you to protect each other. Defending the right to speak of those arguing against you is not natural. Aiding someone in danger because emotion and empathy pushes you to is natural, but helping a competitor or opponent because you think “that could be me” is not. Lloyds or State Farm is not “natural”. Tort law is not “natural”. Honoring contracts in defiance of emotion is not “natural”.

    To the people of North Korea, or collectives in general, have you ever had pets or livestock? The ones I’ve had certainly did not exist in a state of nature. They were very much under my protection whether they liked it or not. Whether one’s scope of activity is collectively or cooperatively constrained, it is still constrained. So, no, the people of NorK do not fit under my state of nature. At least not unless they go renegade.

    Back to that dude in the pizza joint, for a period disorder existed. He recreated the disordered state of nature. As soon as a person or people acting in cooperative (or collective) association could achieve it, they restored order. Unfettered aggression, both acquisitive and emotional, is the state of nature. Cooperative order is decidedly not natural. There will always be predators who cannot or will not be restrained. For them, fear of getting caught is the only restraint. The veneer of any society is fragile. The veneer of Individualist society is the most fragile of all, but its resilience I suspect is the greatest.

  • Paul Marks

    On the philosophy of law I am with Bastiat – “The Law”. I do not think that most of the Founders would have disagreed with Bastiat about what the principle of justice (to each their own)is and how law should be an effort to apply the principle of justice.

    Without this understanding of what jurisprudence (the philosophy of law) should be, then things like the Ninth Amendment make no sense.

    Sadly Common Law lost its way.

    One can see that partly in Blackstone (which is why the Founders were so wary of his writings) with his cultish view of the importance of Parliament – seeming to place it above natural law (natural justice).

    It becomes obvious in the 19th century with the work of Maitland – the leading historian of the law in Victorian Britain.

    In Maitland the principles of natural justice are totally lost sight of – and the law simply serves a vague function of helping the community (the greatest good of the greatest number?) and how it is to do this is totally under the control of judges and Parliament with no PRINCIPLES checking their power at all.

    Maitland mentions (in a sneering, contempt filled, way) that some people held that could be such irational or unjust Acts of Parliament that they should be opposed as not true law – but he then makes the claim that “no such statute has ever been passed”.

    He makes this claim in a land (England) which had seen statutes past that tried to make free men de facto serfs (Statute of Labourours), that tried to force townspeople to follow the occupations (Statute of Artificers), that applied the death penality to many quite minor crimes (the “Black Act”) and on and on.

    It is impossible that Maitland (an historian of the law) did not know this – his problem was not ignorance of the facts, it was ignorance of the law (i.e. of the philosophy of, the PRINIPLES of, law).

    This “legal positivism” the idea that whatever the rulers say is law is law (the idea of the Roman Empire and of Thomas Hobbes) won out in the 20th century.

    Legal philosphers such as Hans Kelson (see Hayek “Constitution of Liberty” for how blatent some of these people were) openly mocked the idea of natural justice or any connection it might have with law.

    After the Hitler regime (which took these “legal positivist” ideas to their logical conclusion) there was a reaction against this collectivism – this statism.

    However, people no longer understood what “natural law” meant -they were reaching out in ignorance.

    Hence the modern confused lists of “rights” – which confuse limitations on force (what the American Founders, and the old Common Lawyers, would hae understood as the principles of law) with goods and services financed by the state (or forced by regulations).

    People at least know that “legal positivism” (basically “the law is whatever government says it is”) is madness – just as “logical positivism” (“good and bad are just boo and cheer words”) is folly, and theological “voluntarism” (nothing to do with free will – it is a sort of theological positivism with “good” and “bad” simply being the ARBITRARY WILL of God – nothing to do with moral reasoning) reduces God to a mad dictator in the sky. Not God as the Founders (and the thinkers of the Common Law) understood Him.

    However, people do not know what to replace “positivism” with – they are reaching out in the darkness.

    Moral reasoning (in its religious or secular form) has become alien to our culture.

  • Paul Marks

    Julie – glad you like the book.

    On the book references.

    We are supposed to be living in the internet age – I am useless at such things, but more and more books are supposed to be “on-line”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    LOL! Paul–there is no shortage of reading material on-line! (Although for most of the modern books you need either an excellent Uni library, or else independent wealth–since they’re still under copyright though often no longer in print.) No, the problem is that the books requiring reading proliferate quickly to infinity, whereas the Kraussian lifespan remains finite. 🙁

    However, I will add to the misery of such others who, like me, may be interested in this topic, by suggesting a couple of web pages by Rob Natelson, An Authority *g* on Constitutional interpretation, formerly a professor of Constitutional Law at the U. of Montana Law School, and now Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence at The Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado (also the home base of Second-Amendment activist and attorney Dave Kopel). First, “A Bibliography for Researching Original Understanding” by Rob Natelson is at


    Also, there is a pdf by Mr. Natelson entitled “A Founders Hermeneutic: The Original Understanding of Original Intent,” which can be downloaded at


    Is he as good as his billing? Heck if I know, but it’s a starting-point. He seems to be quite involved with the “Tenth Amendment movement.” Further deponent saith not.

    . . .

    The Online Books Page at the University of Pennsylvania has links to two editions of Blackstone in html. St. George Tucker edited the first, and added some notes; it was published in 1803. The second is the original edition, published in 1765-1769 by The Clarendon Press, Oxford. Finally, there is a link to Vol. 1 at Project Gutenberg, which can be downloaded in any of several formats:


  • Julie near Chicago


    I’m afraid you’ve lost me. 🙁 It seems to me that your various statements about your meaning of “the state of nature” are somewhat contradictory. Perhaps I should just let what you’ve already said percolate for awhile, unless you feel the urge to try again. Anyway, as I said before, an interesting discussion indeed–yes, plenty of meat. (I rather like Pinky, in small doses, and I do think somehow those kids’ singing manages to evoke the very essence of brattiness!) 🙂

  • Julie near Chicago


    Reporting in: I have now tracked down Arnold Kling’s back-and-forth with Michael Huemer. Haven’t read it yet, but it’s a start.

    I did look up your citation from the Great Doctor (non-Jewish variety). I have an observation and a question. Observation: Just as one would, naturally, be expected to know automatically who is the Great Doctor, I see that the G.D. himself expects one to know automatically who is “the Philosopher.” Hee hee … I know very well, thank you!

    The question: Do you think Mrs. Aquinas would mind terribly if I married him? (This is my hopefully-humorous way of stating that I really do like that passage and the forcefulness of the Saint’s opinion that no one has mastery over another, period. And I think his language there is surprisingly modern.)

    Everyone: if we didn’t get it before we surely do now: RRS’s citation of Aquinas shows already why Miss Rand said he was the only other philosopher (than Aristotle) whom she admired. And she sounded quite convinced, too. :>))

    RRS: You wrote something else that I like a lot — as it affirms a conviction of mine. Namely, you spoke of

    “…the linkage of the Great Doctor’s precepts that are still with us to origins in Hebrew philosophy.”

  • Paul Marks

    Julie – good to see there is such a lot “on line”.