Escape from Jan Lester Part 1

In Escape from Leviathan, Jan Lester claims to use critical rationalism and to defend anarchocapitalism (ancap). I think that many of the arguments are wrong and some of them contradict good Popperian ideas. This post is about one example.

On pp. 137-138, Lester writes:

Popper sees that the people ‘never rule themselves in any concrete, practical sense’ ([1945] 1977, 1: 125). His understanding of ‘democracy’ is not rule by the people but rather a way of limiting bad rule, ultimately in order to preserve maximum equal ‘freedom’ – or so he asserts. But from a libertarian viewpoint, liberal democracy is a practical contradiction (at least, to the extent that ‘liberal’ means having respect for interpersonal liberty): the more liberty individuals have the less they can be ruled by ‘the people’ (or anyone else). A liberal democracy is a sort of substitute for all-out civil war. The winning side imposes its rules on the others by force and the threat of force. The taxation and regulation of people who are not imposing on anyone are themselves forms of aggressive imposition rather than peaceful persuasion. Popper insists that ‘any kind of freedom is clearly impossible unless it is guaranteed by the state’ ([1945] 1977, 1: 111). The possibility of competing private police and courts protecting persons and their property and of anarchic defense are beyond rational consideration for Popper.

He writes that the question “‘Who should rule?” … begs for an authoritarian answer’ ([1963] 1978, 25). Libertarians disagree. ‘Each should rule himself: a sovereign individual’ is a coherent non-authoritarian answer. Popper prefers to ask, ‘How can we organise our political institutions so that bad or incompetent rulers … cannot do too much damage?’ ([1963] 1978, 25). But this clearly does presuppose the necessity for political authority over subjects. The very possibility of individual sovereignty, rather than the ‘institutional control of the rulers’, is also ‘thereby eliminated without ever having been raised’ ([1945] 1977, 1: 126). And with libertarianism, analogously with Popper’s defense of good democratic institutions, the institution of individual sovereignty would ipso facto be maximally spread for safety.

Popper is right when he writes that the question ‘Who should rule?” … begs for an authoritarian answer’ and Lester is wrong when he claims that in a free society the individual would rule. Suppose that I was walking down the street in a future ancap society and somebody tries to mug me. We have a violent struggle and he dies as a result. My guess is that this series of events would lead to an investigation by ancap protection agencies to check whether I was acting in self defence or if I just murdered the mugger. As a result of this investigation they might use force against me if they decided I had murdered the mugger. Whether the protection agencies would use force or not would be a result of them applying principles and rules of law. The legitimacy of their decision would be based on whether the people conducting the investigation had acted properly and competently. The mere fact that they work for a protection agency wouldn’t be sufficient to stop people from criticising or overturning their decision. Nor would the fact that I acted on my own judgement be sufficient to defend me against a charge of murder. Under some circumstances, such as when a person is accused of a crime, the actions of an individual or an ancap protection agency would be under the control of institutions in an ancap society. So Lester is wrong and Popper is right on that particular issue even in an ancap society.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

2 Responses to Escape from Jan Lester Part 1

  1. Lester seems unaware of the concept of limited government. Also, ugh, his argument quality is awful.

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