Anarchy and National Defense

January 28, 2009

One of the most pressing difficulties for stateless government would seem to be national defense. While police protection can be well internalized, being primarily a service to individuals, businesses, or neighborhoods, defense against foreign enemies yields non-rival and non-excludable benefits to all, and thus would seemingly encounter a severe public-goods problem. But, in associating national defense with a military, I believe that we may be equivocating. If the nation can be made secure without the need for a military, there is no defense problem with anarchy.

I can see two reasons why one nation might invade another: preemption of threat, and ambition for land or resources. The first reason, preemption,1 need concern us little. Preemption is, by nature, against a threat; a nation that does not threaten others need not fear preemptive action against itself. If a nation has too weak an organized military to defend itself, it cannot have enough to pose a threat to another, and need not fear preemption; if it has a strong military, then concerns about its military weakness are unfounded. Therefore, in no case is defense against preemption a unique concern for an anarchal nation.

Thus, we are left with defense against territorial expansion. In this case, the aggressing nation does so with expectation of benefit; an expected cost greater than the expected benefit would suffice to deter the threat, even if it could not avert suffering if the attack were made.1 Furthermore, even conventional national defense does not prevent harms; consider England during WWII. Thus, all increases in the cost of a successful invasion equally serve national defense.

In considering this, I believe that Machiavelli’s argument from Ch. IV of The Prince is relevant: “[H]e who considers both of these states will recognize great difficulties in seizing the state of the Turk, but, once it is conquered, great ease in holding it…. But it is impossible to hold with such tranquillity states constituted like that of France. Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Romans in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these states, of which, as long as the memory of them endured, the Romans always held an insecure possession;” Although a decentralized state may not erect such a hard outer defense, and thus may be easier to defeat in pitched battle, it leaves no centralized mechanism with which to seize control of the country. Look at the Vichy government of France during WWII: once the military fell, the country on the whole (neglecting isolated private resistance, which would be if anything greater were occupied nation originally anarchist) served the purposes of the conquerors in subduing the country. If a decentralized nation is difficult to govern, how much more one with no institutions of government, with its people accustomed to freedom?

Iraq, too, presents a good example. Hussein’s regime should be the model of those who look to government for national defense: a centralized state lacking democratic hindrances to its warmaking and with a high military budget.2 Yet each time the United States invaded, the demoralized military of Iraq crumbled. Notably, the last time, when we sought to gain control of the government (rather than mere military defeat), a private resistance arose which we have not yet quelled, despite the support of Iraq’s government and much of the population. How much more problematic would be an invasion of a nation with no legitimacy and no domestic support on the side of the conquerors? Thus, it seems to me that far more effective at deterring invasion than a conventional military would be the assurance that an invader would have to suppress the population man by man, without support from the local state. A privately funded military is, I admit, difficult to conceive; but we must remember that a military is but a scarcely sufficient and wholly unnecessary means of achieving national defense, which could be as well or better achieved by other means under anarchy.

Thus, I think that national defense under anarchy would not consist of multi-billion dollar jets and a vast military-industrial complex, but rather the free ownership of weapons and the reluctance of free men to submit to tyrants. Even a committed minority of the population could make invasion prohibitively costly. Such a defense would be far less costly, with respect to both resources and rights. Gone would be the annual 650 billion dollar drain on our nation’s resources. Gone would be the ever-present excuse for violations of our rights that “wartime necessity” demands them. And, of course, if a group of people thought that an aircraft carrier would be a good thing to have, they would be free to fund one–but with their own money, and not, as at present, their neighbors’.

1 Exactly the same justification as for imprisonment of criminals: imprisonment does not seek to alleviate the original wrong, but seeks to alter the costs considered by the prospective criminal in order that he might not commit the crime. That imprisonment does not prevent the crime from occurring if it does occur need not influence our practical analysis of its effectiveness (although from a consideration of justice, I think that imprisonment and such defense as I describe are wholly incommensurate).

2 National defense being considerably more difficult in a democracy or under Constitutional government, why do not those who raise the objection to anarchy also raise it against limited government as a whole?

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Regarding the works of M. C. Escher

January 20, 2009

At some point over the past week (I oddly cannot remember any specifics), I encountered two of M. C. Escher’s drawings, and it struck me that he is truly doing nothing more than combining well-formed units into not-well-formed wholes,1 a process that should be very familiar to us in a different context.

In the English language (and, mutatis mutandis, any using a phonography or syllabary, although not a logography), the fundamental unit of writing is a letter. Letters are composited into words; words are composited into sentences (this three-level hierarchy is somewhat arbitrary; in an inflected language, one could say that letters are composited into roots and endings and these into words, while in most languages one could say that words are composited into subjects and predicates and these into sentences. However, three levels are all we need here). One could print letters at random, but the result would make no sense. Thus, we may distinguish a written word (a sequence of letters) as well-formed if it corresponds to a conceptual word and ill-formed otherwise. Any sentence (a sequence of words) that involves one or more ill-formed word is inherently meaningless; among sentences of well-formed words, we may distinguish between well-formed sentences where the sequence of words corresponds to a thought and ill-formed sentences where it does not. Hence:
“Adw” is an ill-formed word
“Adw oin wfe.” is a sequence of ill-formed words
“Cat” is a well-formed word
“The cat sat on the rug.” is a well-formed sentence
“The cat rug sat the.” is an ill-formed sentence

What does this have to do with Escher? Escher is not, strictly speaking, an abstract painter: no aspects of their paintings are well-formed, and thus the lack of proper formation does not seem incongruous (whatever its artistic merits, or lack thereof). Escher, on the other hand, clearly does use well-formed elements; most sufficiently small sections of his paintings correspond very well to what we see in reality. The painting as a whole, however, is not well-formed; while each flight of stairs corresponds to something that might exist in reality, the staircase as a whole could not.2

What causes our reactions to Escher’s paintings to differ from our reactions to ill-formed sentences? I cannot say for certain. But I cannot escape noting that while language deals primarily with the constructed, sight deals primarily with the natural. All writing is directed by the mind with no structural barrier to the production of ill-formed sentences; only the fact that ill-formed sentences do not serve the purposes for which we use language cause their rarity (at least among the mature). Sight, on the other hand, primarily looks upon what actually exists. Only through some hindrance or through some artificial object of sight (artificial here meaning not man-made, but a means of presenting the eye with an image intended to be taken as something other than the physical object beheld) can sight yield an ill-formed image. When the sight is hindered, as by water or a deficiency in the eye, one tends to recognize it quickly (and, moreover, typically all levels of objects perceived are equally ill-formed, e.g. as out of focus for a near-sighted man. Thus, hindrance of the sight tends to produce ill-formed images, not ill-formed composites of well-formed images). In other instances, such as the infamous case of the oar in the water, while the hindrance causes the image as actually received to be false (here thinking of the image before the mind compensates for hindrances), it does not cause an ill-formed image. Only in the case of drawings such as those of Escher does the eye behold without deficiency an ill-formed composition of well-formed objects. Thus, what seems the product simple lack of skill when it occurs in language, a medium to which ill-formed figures are natural, may seem quite tantalizing when met in a medium to which ill-formed figures are foreign.

1 Well-formed: a composition of symbols that possesses meaning, without regard to whether the meaning is true or false (true meaning “corresponding to reality”; a well-formed image corresponds to what could exist in reality, a true to what does exist).

2 Note that here I distinguish between images and diagrams. A well-formed image produces an image in the eye that corresponds to the image formed by a potential reality; a diagram is meant to communicate a concept without such correspondence. Escher’s diagrams must be classified with images because they move the mind to attempt to imagine the object that would produce the corresponding image, even though the attempt cannot succeed.


Concerning the Prosperity of the Wicked

January 15, 2009

I have seen two objections raised against the combination of God’s goodness and providence: how a good God could create evil, and how a good God could permit the wicked to prosper. The first is easily addressed, so here I shall treat the second which, in fuller form, is that while justice dictates that the good should prosper and the evil suffer, it is observed that in many cases the good suffer (witness Job) and the evil prosper.

Key to this is an understanding of true and apparent prosperity. Certainly, justice demands that the good reap good (“to those who have much, much will be given”). But the good granted in reward ought to be the ultimate good, not an apparent good. Similarly, the punishment inflicted on the wicked ought not to be apparent, but actual.

What, then, is ultimate good? Not wealth, for the true good must last, but here “moths and rust destroy”. The true good must inspire confidence, yet the wealthy fear for their wealth. Not comfort, for the true good must beget no ill, and comfort often breeds complacency. Not even life, for nothing is better than the true good, and yet there are some things more valuable than life. Not power, for power wielded poorly is the greatest evil. Not glory, for glory depends on men, and the reward given to men cannot be given by themselves. Rather, the true good is to behold God. All else is only a contingent good, valuable insofar as it serves the ultimate.

Thus, when we behold the wicked man living in comfort and affluence, we should feel no envy, for he possesses not true goods but phantoms. Rather, we should feel pity, for if those mistaken in how to achieve lesser goals are to be pitied, are not those mistaken regarding the ultimate goal to be pitied far more? But yet their wealth may, in the end, bring good, although not as its possessors intend: for he who relies on wealth but has it not can blame his lack of wealth for his sadness, while he who has wealth but not happiness can better realize his mistake as to means and correct himself: “And all that mine eyes asked I kept not back from them; and lo, the whole is vanity and vexation of spirit, and there is no advantage under the sun!” Similarly, we are not to be troubled by the good man living in poverty, for he to may learn a lesson thereby: he has happiness, having been granted a knowledge of God, may yet not know wherein he has this happiness; his poverty can prove to him its true source, while prosperity might lead him into error: “Lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your god”.

Riches are no true reward, but a lesson through their futility, a lesson needed by the evil, not the good. Therefore, worldly goods better befit the wicked than the good.

“Give me neither poverty nor riches
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say ‘Who is the Lord?'”


Goodness and the Natural Law

January 12, 2009

While at a low, practical level, tastes are subjective, what is ultimately beneficial for a man is determined neither by choice nor by accident, but is immutably determined by the nature of creation (the concept of “rightly understood interests” to which some praxeologists refer, that people’s interests are not necessarily what they sincerely desire). What is ultimately desirable in this manner is called “good”.1 However, only rarely can action reach such an ultimate good directly; more often, approach to the ultimate good requires many intermediate steps, which may also be called good by imputation from their object.

Furthermore, causes are attached to effects.2 While many actions (voluntary causations) produce proximate effects that are of no intrinsic desirability, the desirability of their ultimate effects depending on external circumstance, certain actions, even though the specific net state change effected may vary with circumstance, are invariant in the desirability of that change; these actions may be termed absolutely good or bad, depending on the nature of their effects.3

Thus arises a natural law for human behaviour: certain actions are contrary to nature and will always bring harm upon the actor.4 This natural law is not extraneous to creation but an integral part of it, a direct consequence of causality and the existence of universally desirable ends.

This natural law must be differentiated from divine law both in nature and in consequence. Natural law is a property of creation, incapable of change without a change to the created order, with its punishments similarly innate to cause and effect. Divine law, on the other hand, is extraneous to creation, revealed directly by God, and with its punishments accomplished in this world by divine intervention (which need not, of course, be immediate). The two are in consonance, for the creator who commands what he has ordained to be harmful in his creation would be truly perverse (or, from the other perspective, who would arrange creation to punish what he commands). The two need not, however, be coextensive; revealed law may command what is not commanded by natural law, but will not command what is forbidden by it.

The clearest application of the natural law is to individual behaviour; once an action has been determined to be contrary to the natural law, it may be avoided with no need to rederive the harm produced. But natural law seems to have found its greatest influence in legal theory; its application there is murkier. Clearly, a legal system not in consonance with natural law cannot, from the definition of natural law, be beneficial; the same also applies to laws. But consonance with natural law does not (at least directly) imply that laws ought to add to the punishments prescribed by the natural law, for it is in no need of assistance in that respect. Instead, it means that the enforcement of the laws must not involve a violation of the natural law by any party. What this specifically means for government I shall address in a later post.

1 “Good” is predicated of actions, objects, and people in analogous ways; strictly speaking, it refers to a gross state. Attributed to an action, “good” means that the action will result in a better state than the present (but not, it must be noted, necessarily better than all possible states of affairs, for which reason what is good in itself may not be good in a specific instance); attributed to an object, that possession of the use of that object would result in a better state; attributed to a person, that the person does what is good. God is good in both of the latter senses; association with him is desirable and he does what is desirable (the latter being a simple deduction from his omnipotence and omniscience).

2 For the purposes of this discussion, I divide effects into proximate effects, which necessarily and immediately arise without dependence on circumstance not assumed by the action, and ultimate effects, the net state change resulting from the action. Between those extremes is a spectrum of mediate effect.

3 This is a specific case of the general principle of action that certain means are inappropriate to achieve certain effects (such as that price controls are an inappropriate means to achieve the reduction of a shortage); to be termed good or bad, an action must be inappropriate not for one specific ultimate effect, but for all bad or good effects, respectively.

4 Natural law is descriptive, like all other laws, but it describes effects, not behaviour. Many people have commented that it is possible to violate natural laws, albeit with penalty, while it is impossible to violate physical laws; this misstates the point. The actual law is the penalty, not the prohibition.