Review of “The Problem of Political Authority”

tpopaIn his excellent book, The Problem of Political Authority, Michael Huemer takes a methodical and relentless approach to analyzing whether government is justified in doing things that ordinary people are not. People should not steal, but what about taxes? People should not brutalize potheads, but what about those who become federal prisoners for recreational drug use?

Concluding that government has no such authority, Huemer recommends a system where such authority is unnecessary. He explores the alternative of anarcho-capitalism and shows that even though anarcho-capitalism is not perfect, it is superior in every way to statism. Huemer makes the point that it is important not to compare some ideal anarchy with obviously flawed states, such as the USSR, but to compare the best realistic government with a realistic system of anarchy. (p185)

For those already on friendly terms with anarcho-capitalism, this book is still a worthwhile read if only for its lucid deconstruction of social contract theory. It knocks down each variation of the social contract, which is sure to be useful when talking to the kind of people who heard something about a social contract and assumed the debate was over.

Huemer also takes time to analyze why people go along with government even if they have no reason to. He reviews some insightful psychology experiments, such as the well-known Stanford prison experiment (p109). While the results of these experiments do not bode well for a quick end to statism, it does make it seem likely that an anarcho-capitalist society would be very stable once it place.

Yet, the book’s greatest value will likely prove to be the gentle approach it takes to introducing and advocating anarchy. Huemer makes a point of reasoning from generally accepted notions such as the fact that most people think murder is wrong.  This soft touch makes the book an effective outreach tool for libertarians and the book can be given with confidence even to those who are not deep into political theory.

The book did have some odd parts. First, while Huemer makes a point that governments regularly kill their own people in false flag attacks and commit crimes in secret (p131) he gives them the benefit of the doubt on 9/11 (p105). Second, he occasionally makes arguments in favor of coercion. One pages 94, 99, 152 and 161 he justifies coercion in emergencies and gives implausible justifications for the use of force.

Still, this is an uncompromising attack on the state combined with a clear libertarian alternative. Five Murrays.

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2 thoughts on “Review of “The Problem of Political Authority”

  1. Pingback: Review of David Friedman’s “Machinery of Freedom” |

  2. Pingback: Reviews of The Problem of Political Authority | The Problem Of Political Authority

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